Movie Review: The Bling Ring
If you’ve seen the previews or seen a cast list, you may be expecting a movie mostly centered on ‘Nicki,’ the movie pseudonym given for Alexis Neiers. Alexis is the most notorious member of the real-life theft ring which stole from celebrities, having had articles, reality shows, and news interviews galore. You may also be expecting a movie indulging in excess and gaudiness, perhaps with a shooting and editing style to match – hyper-saturated colors, quick cuts.
While a few of the interludes do indulge in flashy cuts and bright colors, most of the film is a slow, passive character study. In one sequence, the camera is up a hill and across the street from a burglary happening in a house with mostly glass walls. It slowly inches in as Marc and Rebecca run through the house, but though we can see their frantic grasping, we never hear anything more than the door clicking shut as they leave. And while Alexis is the key to understanding how it all happened, Rebecca and Marc are the central characters, so opposite and both lost in different ways.
Coppola doesn’t so much as tell a story as present events and examine the psyches behind them, but the devil is in the details. Of course Rebecca would call Paris Hilton’s dog by name, and of course Marc’s dad would wear a full Adidas tracksuit. Nicki’s tattoos are never flaunted but always obvious in the lower third of the frame. Megan Fox’s bedside table has a script laying on it. Rebecca ‘unfriends’ Marc right after telling the cops she was warned by her ‘friend Marc;’ the only time she uses the word.
The film isn’t entirely without sympathy. Thieving from celebrities gets the kids arrested as harshly as it probably would for a hit-and-run, and Marc is shown in the company of orange-clad men far older and likely more violent than he. When Nicki is arrested, we’ve seen her as a selfish, vapid clothesmonger, but we realize she’s also a young girl who has had no real guidance. That she doesn’t understand consequences apply to her is an irreparable parental sin, not an innate character flaw. After Marc, Nicki’s youngest sister Emily shows the most promise as a sympathetic human being, but we imagine Nicki may have been like that as a child. We also realize it won’t last long.
Amidst shots of obscene amounts of jewelry and kids doing drugs which leave one mostly numb-to-mildly-curious, there’s one scene which jolted me out of complacency, involving a gun found under a celebrity’s bed. Whether it goes off or not I’ll let you discover, but the blasé attitude with which it’s waved around is far more shocking than the lines of coke Marc does.
What sells all this is the acting, which is solid across the board. Watson, though, is the standout, not only playing believably against type, but acting without reservations. Though Rebecca may be the most cruel and conniving, and Marc may be the most self-aware, Nicki is both the most depraved and the least conscious of her depravity, and that’s a fine line to walk.
The cinematography by Savides and Blauvelt is open and washed out where it should be, and dark in the right places. The few times shallow depth of field or rack focus appear, they’re intentional and well used. The slo-mo is overused, but still generally effective. The sound mixing is also brilliant, with the music echoing in the audience’s ears when the characters’ hearts are beating either in fear or excitement. Note the way you can often hear Marc breathing heavily offscreen during the thefts, as good a reminder of his constant nerves as his urging everyone to ‘hurry up.’ (It’s hard to tell in a theater, but I believe they also pan the audio to whichever side of the scene he’s on, even though you can’t see him.) When the reporter is talking to Marc or Nicki, her pen scratches only occasionally. And when Chloe is eating breakfast and texting, the distant sirens, dad’s newspaper rustling, and dogs becoming agitated all slowly get louder as she gets uncomfortable, though she’s not sure why.
The film’s key scene is perhaps not the theft, or any of the character interviews, but the Vanity Fair reporter talking to Nicki and her mother. Both are desperately trying to upstage each other, and both ignore the lawyer’s warnings because “What I have to say is important.” In fact, what they’re saying isn’t so important as the fact they’re saying something to a Vanity Fair reporter. Stealing, lying, drugging one’s children, teaching school lessons on avarice: these actions can’t be bad, because they’ve attracted celebrity into their lives. This is what they’ve been working for their whole lives.
In the end, you realize there’s not a lot of character to be studied, but the film makes its points, and makes them in fine fashion.