I’ve always been spectacularly underwhelmed by anything within a ten mile radius of Stephen Dorff. He is in a ton of stuff I haven’t seen, to be fair, but then again most of those seem like instantly forgettable action flicks with airy titles relating to crime (Felon, Officer Down, .45) or cars (Brake, Carjacked) or just ambiguously intense shit (Heatstroke, Riders, Deuces Wild). Maybe there’s an unseen masterpiece buried in there somewhere. The things with Dorff I’ve had the distinct pleasure (ahem) of enjoying (ahem) have been Blade, in which he plays the most annoyingly puerile vampire this side of Twilight; Immortals and The Iceman, which I had to look up to make sure he was actually in because I don’t remember him at all; and, of course, those stupid ads for Blu Cigs. To boot, I mix the guy up with Skeet Ulrich, and that’s never good.
And yet Johnny Marco from Somewhere is a categorical douche, and wouldn’t you know it? Dorff is actually a great choice for the part. After he breaks his arm falling down the stairs at a party, Hollywood actor Johnny spends a few weeks at a high-price resort in the Hills getting pampered and watching strippers flail around in his room. He drinks and smokes. He sits. He orders room service and opens another beer and returns to the couch to smoke and sit some more. Every now and then his phone buzzes, receiving texts from a private number that say things like You’re a fucking asshole and You think you’re such hot shit, don’t you? and Johnny hardly manages a shrug as he lounges around his room.
Lest we get too carried away and actually give Stephen Dorff praise (the horror…the horror) it’s clear from the first second of Somewhere that director Sofia Coppola is completely in charge. Everything is intentional. The placement of the camera in the first shot glimpses Johnny’s Porsche as it zips around a deserted course, finally coming to rest precisely in front of Coppola’s lens. Everything else follows suit: planned, unwavering, methodical.
This intentionality extends to the consistent juxtaposition of one scene to the next. There is no scene of Johnny driving his car that isn’t complimented later by another. There’s a shot of him in the shower, holding his arm cast up out of the stream of water so it doesn’t get wet, and then that shot is duplicated later. Even the Guitar Hero scene finds a later parallel when Johnny and his young daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) listen to a parlor guitarist in the resort lobby.
There is something undeniably poetic about filming Somewhere this way. Johnny lies in bed watching twin pole dancers twist and glide around at the foot of his bed, but the only movement of the camera is a lethargic cut every now and then from the dancers to listless Johnny and back again. It serves to make the dancers completely unsexy, because where a lesser director might have succumbed to filming every curve and fishnet stocking Coppola’s motionless wide angle instead captures every creak of the makeshift poles, every huff and puff as the girls try to impress Johnny. They don’t seem like they’re dancing so much as clambering around each other, and I think the inescapable realism of that can be attributed solely to the way it’s captured on film.
Again, the scene-by-scene juxtapositions can add to that poetry. The pole-dancing is complimented by a later scene of Johnny watching Cleo ice skate, which is likely meant to be a slightly disturbing parallel considering Cleo is eleven years old. Still, as profound as that structure can sometimes be, there’s also something exhausting in being so methodical about everything. It’s cold and removed, and part of the issue is that Johnny is already a fairly unsympathetic character. Filming his life in such a flat and straightforward way certainly does get across the enervation of his day-to-day existence, but it also makes it nearly impossible to try to identify with that existence.
Johnny’s at his most interesting in his immense loneliness. The synopsis says he’s “hard-living”, which conjures up images of him partying and doing Wolf of Wall Street shit, busting down the door with Turtle and E and Johnny Drama at his back. That’s not him. He walks around a party saying hello but not really talking to anyone, smoking, drinking. He goes to bed with women but wakes up alone again and again — providing yet more scene-by-scene parallels — and is overall the most passionless guy around. If you’re on board with Coppola’s style in Somewhere, if you’re paying close enough attention to break beneath the surface of that cold and unwavering camera, then this loneliness is the most powerful part of the film. Coppola is completely in charge here, and she gives the sense that she could make any actor — even Stephen Dorff — into a tragic figure.