An emotionally burnt out journalist (Jack Nicholson) attempts to escape his own existence by exchanging identities with a dead arms dealer. Shot on location, the protagonist goes on a life-changing journey through Africa, Spain, Germany and England.
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THE existential film of my youth. Decades later it resonates even more profoundly. Only a very few films will ever, if your lucky, become so entwined with the fabric of your own life. This, for me, is one of them. Jack Nicholson, who is perfect for this role, fully understood what was required here. To put himself completely at the service of the master. It is his least flashy performance and tonally, exactly right.
So this is how Antonioni does a globe-trotting thriller: more suspenseful than you would expect, about as downbeat/existential as you would, and with characters and dialogue pitched frustratingly between "enigmatic" (which is a good thing) and "vague" (which isn't). Still, a geopolitically attuned look at anomie, apathy, and engagement, with a climactic shot that belongs to the long take hall of fame.
Not the why, but the what, when and, especially, the who, is this mesmerically transcendental study in identity and alienation. Between script and direction this stripped-out thriller redacts the expected genre trigger points into something closer to an existential meditation on the insignificance of being. Antonioni characteristically modulates with a beautifully spare use of time, space and sound. Superb.
Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider are what make this film so great. Antonioni guides these two great actors through a series of events that feel like an espionage thriller but is that what is really going on here? That is the beauty of Antonioni's films, the story isn't what matters it is the emotions displayed.