Without giving too much away it's fair to say that this isn't Lee's best film, and I'm counting Hulk in with that, actually I rather enjoyed the Hulk. I didn't enjoy Taking Woodstock.
He returns home to help them, giving up a chance to move to San Francisco with his friends and begin a bigger life. Returning home he starts up a commerce committee, trying to bring something to the town, and runs a regular small music festival, so small that sometimes they just play records in a small field.
However this gives him a music permit, and when he hears that a headlining music festival has just lost their permit and is struggling to find a new venue, he uses his permit to offer the festival a place to pitch up, but he just never knew how big it was going to be, for him, his family, or the town.
Taking Woodstock is a strange film. There are so many possibilities for the story and yet it seems to just skirt over them, even the potentially huge plot twists just seem to pass by as you sit there in a kind of sixties haze, just watching life pass you by. Perhaps that was the intention, but the film really does just wash over you.
Actually this feeling was so bad I ended up being distracted by the second Tomb Raider film that my wife was watching in the background. Now I had my iTouch on playing the film with noise cancelling ear-bud type earphones, turned away from the television and lying on the sofa, yet I still found myself being drawn to something that at least I knew would grab my attention.
For much of the first half of the film things just seem to happen, and there's only a few moments where the lead character actually feels like he does something, like for instance when he decides to phone up the people behind Woodstock and offer them the pitch. From there on in he, and we, are just along for the ride, not really doing anything, not really getting involved, just watching.
I'm sure this would engage with some people, for me I like a film that grabs me and pulls me into the characters, and that doesn't have to be with action, it just have to keep me engaged. Taking Woodstock didn't. For a lot of the film I felt I was watching a well filmed documentary that never managed to find the subject it was after, Woodstock or the people, it just skirts around the main issue.
There are some nice moments, but when it did get me feeling something it was anger and frustration at the wet leaf lead character who seemed to be two different characters in one. On one side, and all behind the camera, he's in control, confident and sexually awakening, on the other, the side we see in front of the camera, he mumbles, looks and doesn't do much else other than walk from scene to scene.
It becomes infuriating at times when we discover a huge plot twist that would normally have a devastating affect on the characters and the story, but what actually happens is, well, next to nothing. A little talking, a few shrugs, and that's that. Honestly, when you see how much one character has been used by another for all their life, you wonder why they didn't take everything and leave right at that moment.
Another time is when the lead character inadvertently causes the organisers of the festival to lose a lot of money, and I mean a lot, and the moment just happens and goes by with little more than a grimace from another character. Later we hear the organisers discussing the issue and they just pass it over in a few seconds of discussion and a shrug of the shoulders.
It's just not how people would behave, even in the sixties, and I think that's where this film really fails, it doesn't seem to understand the characters that it's portraying, in fact it doesn't feel like it's telling their story, and even when it injects some drama into the story it seems to want to race forward onto the next scene to show us more of what's happening at the fringes of Woodstock.
There are some inspirational moments though, and for me they all come from Liev Schreiber who provides an excellent performance playing a superb cross-dressing ex-marine.
Emile Hirsch gives a strong performance, but like so many of the other characters I am left thinking “so?” and just not seeing the point of his character on screen.
What is interesting is that Ang Lee has some strong visuals throughout the film and pulls in those split screens that he used so effectively in Hulk, and do still work here to build some pace into the story.
Something has to be said about the music used through the film, a good mix that at times will have you wanting to get hold of the soundtrack, and no doubt you, or your parents, or even your grandparents, will have some of the songs already. Check out their old vinyls!
Taking Woodstock is quite the disappointment. It does have a great story to work with but it doesn't seem to be interested in it, even when it injects some great dramatic twists to the story.
Ang Lee directs it well though and has some great music and style around the film, but the story and the lead just let the film fall to the floor and it's hard to be engaged or interested in it.
At the end, when everyone is leaving, the festival packed up, I was relieved.