Richard Lester

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Pauline Kael

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[Juggernaut is fast], crackerjack entertainment, with the cool, bitchy wit and the outrageously handsome action sequences of some of the best of the Bond pictures. It's surprisingly crisp fun, considering that it was directed by that most misanthropic of talented directors, Richard Lester. Though he eliminates practically every trace of human warmth, he manages to supply the characters with enough blackhearted existential bravado to keep the film sociable. Anybody who makes a picture like this one has to be a bit of a bastard, but Lester demonstrates what a sophisticated director with flair can do on a routine big-action project. (p. 347)

Lester lets you know right from the start that if the genre is basically the same as that of The Poseidon Adventure the tone certainly won't be…. He doesn't go in for scenes of panic or screaming hysteria; instead, he has the ship's social director … constantly rebuffed in his attempts to cheer people up. Where the usual disaster film gives us pathos, Lester gives us slapstick. The movie is a commentary on other directors' groveling for audience response.

Those not used to Richard Lester's neo-Noël Coward mixture of cynicism, angst, and anti-establishment sentimentality (is there anybody more British than an American convert?) may at first be thrown. He's a compulsive gagster, but the jokes are throwaway-fast and tinged with contempt. He uses famous actors, but he uses them like bit players—like props, almost. (pp. 347-48)

Lester likes to turn heroism into a joke, but in Juggernaut the derring-do isn't cancelled out, as it was in The Three Musketeers—quite the reverse. The cynical, dangling gags that counterpoint the gallantry make it more gallant. The picture has a structural flaw: it reaches its visual climax early, with the arrival of the dismantling team, who parachute down into giant storm waves and then fight their way up rope ladders to board the ship. The subsequent action sequences can't compete with the violent beauty of that arrival, and the actual dismantling of the bombs is too much like the prolonged safecracking scenes of heist pictures, though Lester and his cinematographer, Gerry Fisher, work microscopically close and achieve some almost abstract aesthetic effects. (p. 348)

Pauline Kael, "Stuck in the Fun" (originally published in The New Yorker, Vol. L, No. 33, October 7, 1974), in her Reeling (copyright © 1974 by Pauline Kael; reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company in association with the Atlantic Monthly Press), Atlantic-Little, Brown, 1976, pp. 342-49.∗

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