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How Long Will Blade Runner 2049 Run?

October 2, 2017

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When I heard Blade Runner 2049 runs 164 minutes, my first instinct was to run away. Ridley Scott’s original 1982 film spanned less than two hours; why would the sequel need an extra 45 minutes? I worried 2049 might feel like the film’s running time, considering the slow pace of director Denis Villenueve’s previous sci-fi epic Arrival. Amy Adams’ 2016 hit lasted less than two hours but felt longer — and that’s not a complaint. The deliberate pace contributed to the film’s hypnotic appeal. And after seeing two other 2017 films that move at measured clips, to great effect, I’m more convinced than ever that slow shouldn’t be a four-letter word when it comes to movies.

Lucky opens, aptly enough, with a shot of a tortoise crawling across a desert. That’s a clue to the poky pace of the movie — and its namesake, a nonagenerian loner played to perfection by Harry Dean Stanton, who passed away at 91 shortly before the film was released. As we watch Lucky go through his mundane daily rituals (yoga in the morning, crossword puzzles over meals, game shows in the evening), the movie, directed with no great haste by actor John Carroll Lynch, creates a profoundly moving portrait of a man coming to terms with his imminent demise.

It’s even more powerful when you realize how closely Lucky’s life story mirrors Stanton’s own. Both are World War II Navy vets who worked as cooks aboard Landing Ship Tank (LST), or “Large Slow Target,” as Lucky calls it in a wonderful scene with Tom Skerritt as an ex-Marine, and never wed nor had kids.

Though it runs less than 90 minutes, Lucky overflows with lovely interactions between the protagonist and various figures in his life, including his baffled doctor, dryly played by Ed Begley, Jr., who co-starred with Stanton in one of his most underseen films, 1974’s Cockfighter. The tortoise, as it turns out, is President Roosevelt, a pet who’s run away from his owner (another frequent Stanton collaborator, David Lynch).

That’s about as much of a plot as the movie has, but Lynch treats his actors with such love that you don’t mind watching them do virtually nothing. That’s the same feeling I got watching a film that in many ways is Lucky‘s polar opposite: Brawl in Cell Block 99, writer-director S. Craig Zahler’s follow-up to his 2015 breakout cannibal Western Bone Tomahawk. Both of the autuer’s movies are genre exploitation pieces that you’d expect to be quick and dirty — 90 minutes tops — but both run over two hours and take their time telling their stories and letting you get to know the characters in the long pauses between action scenes.

In Brawl‘s case, Vince Vaughn’s Bradley (don’t call him Brad) Pierce doesn’t even arrive in the titular cell block until roughly two-thirds of the way through its 141-minute run. Up to that point, we’ve gotten to know him as a down-on-his-luck working-class man who takes a job as a drug runner to provide for his beloved but flawed wife (Dexter‘s Jennifer Carpenter) and their unborn daughter.

His own moral code causes him to be thrown in jail — and costs a meth magnate millions — and to clear his debt to the kingpin, he has to kill an inmate of the maximum-security (or “minimum-freedom,” as its sadistic warden, deliciously played by Don Johnson, calls it) facility that gives the movie its name.

Brawl is the definition of a slow burn, or rather a slow limb-snap and face-stomp. But because Zahler has taken the time to make you care about his main character, it’s much more than just a guilty-pleasure beatdown. He also allows room for indelible scenes with skilled character actors like Udo Kier  (as a henchman known only as Placid Man), Fred Melamed (as a prissy prison employee) and Clark Johnson (as a detective who could be an even world-wearier version of his Meldrick Lewis from Homicide: Life on the Street).

As Zahler put it in a post-screening Q&A at Fantastic Fest in Brooklyn, he leaves in the scenes that other directors cut out, and you may find yourself wondering why you’re watching Vaughn drive around as old soul music plays on the radio, for example. Yet the way his eyes dart around, taking in the details of his downtrodden neighborhood, tells everything you need to know about how he’s constantly alert and on-edge, qualities that serve him well once the mayhem begins.

Having savored the slow pleasures of Lucky and Brawl in Cell Block 99, I’m ready to hunker down for Blade Runner 2049. And if I’m still hungry for another slow-cooked cinematic meals, maybe I’ll check out Frederick Wiseman’s new documentary on the New York Public Library, Ex Libris. After all, it’s only 197 minutes.

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