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The Bling Ring

The Bling Ring

By Thomas Grieve • November 7th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 4/5

Release: October 28th, 2013
Running time: 91 minutes

Writer and director: Sofia Coppola

Cast: Emma Watson, Leslie Mann, Taissa Farmiga, Erin Daniels, Israel Broussard, Halston Sage, Katie Chang, Nina Siemaszko, Maika Monroe, Gavin Rossdale, Claire Julien

The Bling Ring

Precision jewel heists, testosterone fuelled bank robberies and meticulous cyber theft have long been cinematic bread and butter. The illicit thrill and heart stopping tension combined with the startling ingenuity of professional thieves have made for some of cinema’s most enduring works from Bonnie And Clyde to The Thomas Crown Affair to Heat. The burglaries at the centre of Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring are unlike anything I can remember and the professionals will be kicking themselves at not having had the idea first.

Set in suburban Los Angeles, The Bling Ring charts the true exploits of a group of high school teens that work out just how easy it is to raid celebrity wardrobes when the doors are unlocked. The friends raided the homes of Paris Hilton multiple times as well as those of Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox and Lindsay Lohan using little more than gossip sites, Google Maps and the keys hidden beneath expensive door mats. Coppola loosely tracks the rise and the well-publicized fall of the group as they wander through the Hollywood Hills more concerned with lifestyle than the material value of the estimated $3million worth of stuff they lift from the mansions that they raid.

On the surface, The Bling Ring looks to be a continuation, and perhaps even culmination, of the themes that have fascinated writer-director Sofia Coppola throughout her career. Youth? Check. Wealth? Check. Celebrity? Double check. Coppola’s critics have routinely and unfairly dismissed her for her supposedly limited scope. In fact there’s a subtle reversal of perspective with The Bling Ring, shifting her lens from the passively rich and famous of Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette and Somewhere to the rich and actively aspiring.

Identity is at the heart of Coppola’s latest film, her protagonists seem to have little sense of themselves and so spend their whole time trying to construct something. For them a gossip magazine becomes a catalogue and a Facebook page is no less than a personal TMZ. Moments are lived not for themselves but for the selfie, taken silently and uploaded right away – nightclubs and beaches become just more locations to bury yourself in a smart phone. Everybody’s more concerned with developing his or her own individual brand than experiencing what’s going on around them.

The Bling Ring

Wandering through the vast and well-stocked celebrity wardrobes, the camera drinks in the textures of the luxury clothes and glittering jewels, acknowledging and allowing us to bask in the vulgar opulence. Meanwhile our teenage burglars seem more excited at recognizing and seizing items from various premieres and paparazzi shots. Indeed there is little sense that all of this stuff is actually valued beyond its use as props in the next Facebook album. Social media is so important that being ‘unfriended’ on Facebook takes on a supreme viciousness when profiles represent such a thorough projection of oneself.

The Bling Ring is less an indictment of celebrity culture and excess, more an examination of youth’s tendency to define itself by surface and image. It’s no accident that the film has a deceptively lightweight feel to it, the apparently non-existent inner lives of its characters is kind of the point. Having spent time in prison with her one time victim Lindsay Lohan, Nicki (Emma Watson) is asked how the star looked. She answers in terms of orange overalls and hair extensions, the thought that the interviewer might have been enquiring as to the star’s mental state eluding her.

Noting teenage superficiality is nothing revelatory of course, but there is an excitingly modern inventiveness in Coppola’s presentation. Facebook shares screen time with red carpet camera phone snaps and screen-grabs from celebrity gossip sites. These things are not trivialized, as they The Bling Ringare not trivial in the world of The Bling Ring. It’s a part of what makes this film so fascinating; Coppola’s gaze lies somewhere between sympathy and wide-eyed horror. The soundtrack which includes M.I.A., Frank Ocean (Super Rich Kids – what else?), Azelia Banks and Kanye is pitch perfect; we cannot fail to notice the disconnect between the lives of the characters and the lyrics of the songs that they sing.

The gang carry themselves with a seeming invincibility. We see them snapping photos at the scenes of their crimes before bragging of their conquests to their friends at parties. Coppola has us witness an inebriated car crash followed minutes later by two of the teens, Marc and Rebecca, snorting coke during the drive to the next celebrity’s house. In one of the standout shots, another of the ring, Chloe sits at breakfast with her family, each member of which is isolated in their own morning routine, in the background the sound of a police siren grows louder. Nobody thinks for a second that the siren could be for them until there comes a knock at the door.

Such invincibility results from a warped perception of the future, an innate knowledge that everything will work itself out. This sense of invincibility is giddily indulged as the film begins mid break-in in media res, suddenly we think we hear sirens blare before the sounds reveal itself to be the opening of Sleigh Bells “Crown on the Ground”. It’s tempting to think that The Bling Ring shows these rich white kids get their comeuppance. Instead it’s important to recognize that they served only a few years in prison and emerged minor celebrities depicted by a major filmmaker – and make no mistake Coppola is major.

Formally and, yes, thematically, The Bling Ring marks a newfound direction for Sofia Coppola. Her adventurous structure and impressive mastery of tone are matched by the sensual cinematography of the late Harris Savides. (The lengthy long shot with which Savides regards the efficient ransacking of Audrina Patridge’s house is worth the price of admission alone.) What she has accomplished here is nothing short of an urgent, important document of a generation in danger of losing itself.

The Bling Ring

Thomas Grieve

Thomas Grieve

Tom is a Cardiff University Philosophy graduate from sunny Manchester. He favours filmmakers with edge and ambition, ones unafraid to subvert and disturb the status quo. This means directors such as David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, David Croenenberg and Terry Gilliam.

Usually found in front of a screen trying to catch up on an ever-expanding watch list he also occasionally finds time to write. He tweets once in a while too: @thomasgrieve .

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