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Film review: Sleepy Hallow

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There seems no one more qualified to revisit the legend of Washington Irving's headless horseman than film director Tim Burton, a Peter Pan forever journeying from one forbidden world into the next.

Indeed, Burton's most memorable protagonists are hapless outsiders who have made a most uneasy truce with alien and often hostile habitats. There was "Edward Scissorhands" the endangered, wide-eyed misfit whose menacing appearance is wholly at odds with his most innocent of hearts. There is "Batman," the masked avenger of childhood injustice. There is the parallel reality engineered by "Beetlejuice," a Puck run-amok from centuries past. Even when Burton chose to make a film about Ed Wood - a director of '50s B movies- he envisioned Wood as a Don Quixote who suffers delusionally (and quite happily) from the belief that he was born to make movies.

In "Sleepy Hollow," Burton gives us yet another innocent Outsider: Ichabod Crane. As embodied by Johnny Depp, one of Burton's favorite leading men, Crane is the Scientist from the Big City, sent to disabuse "Sleepy Hollow" of its mythic horseman by delivering them from what Crane knows to be a murderer of flesh and blood. This stranger in a strange land, however, is one by one relieved of his own notions concerning Hollow's headless horseman.

Depp is an actor who relishes the subversion of his good looks and brooding persona. In "Hollow," he affects the air of an overeducated and emotionally underfed dandy, fond of pursing his lips and running away whenever the situation warrants it. It is only a blinding love of Reason -- purchased at great past expense through childhood tragedy - that propels Crane toward his goal despite his growing fear and lack of certainty. His other main motivation for an extended stay in Sleepy Hollow: winning the attention of Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci), the daughter of a man on Crane's shortlist of suspects.

Depp and Ricci seem eerily in sync with this period piece, set in New York circa 1799. This is due both in part to their unusual chemistry as well as their innate understanding of Burton's vision. The supporting cast is strong and the Christopher Walken cameo is a lot of fun. Note: A word of thanks must also go to Burton for giving a cameo to horror film icon, Christoper Lee, who has been too-long absent from the screen.

As with all of Burton's films, there is no one singular heartbeat that holds his films together. Each of Burton's films is the distillation of a complete and distinct vision, each the creation of its own separate world. Therefore, while not exactly scary, "Sleepy Hollow" is still quite a memorable film. Pay particular attention to Burton's stylistic salute to German Expressionist films of the 1920s and 1930s. (Murnau's "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, in particular.) This occurs mainly during the film's eerie dream sequences and it's a thrill to see on the big screen in 1999.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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