The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola’s treatment of the adolescent Angelino thieves that burgled a handful of celebrity homes in 2009, concludes with the six or so central criminals getting arrested and receiving varying jail sentences. Despite the seriousness of the charges and the punishments, however, the writer-director makes no movement toward suggesting that these teens will ever learn a lesson or grow consciences in the wake of their crimes. The film’s final scene features a member of the gang, Nicki (Emma Watson), getting interviewed about her time in jail, and in Watson’s expert comic approximation, the whole ordeal sounds about as life-altering as a trip to IKEA.
Watson’s dimwitted sexpot may be the most embellished of these greedy nitwits, but she’s hardly the most unaffected. As led by Rebecca (Katie Chang) and enabled by Marc (Israel Broussard), the teenage crooks nab money, jewels, clothes, and designer bags from the unattended homes of Megan Fox, Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, and Lindsay Lohan, but they act as if they’re browsing Forever 21. The danger and consequences of crime has been bleached out of Coppola’s narrative completely, thus allowing a more concise, illuminating analysis of behavior and the deceptions of imagery.
The talk between the teens is cheap and consistently without consequence, while photos on Facebook pages, blogs, and image searches are prominently, sometimes crudely featured, but that’s just the point. Only the clothing and accessories resonate (what’s referred to, on occasion, as “style” by the lead characters), and when it comes to Coppola, the subject of style in relation to substance is always pertinent. With The Bling Ring, the writer-director performs a quiet self-excoriation by aligning herself with a risible breed of entitlement without giving up her film’s visual allure, jettisoning the male paradigm that’s often powered her narratives, often attributed to her relationship with her father.
Here, the only major male character (Marc) is often our primary perspective, but he’s innocuous and dominated by the unnervingly vapid Rebecca. He’s also the only person even remotely close to a moral center, less because of his ultimate betrayal of his friends than his genuine sense of fear. In a distinctly unsettling moment, Marc frightfully bats away a gun being waved around by Sam (Taissa Farmiga), Nicki’s adopted sister, who clearly gets off on both the image of the pistol and its ability to make Marc squeamish; later on, she nearly blows her lover’s head off by accident. Coppola knows she’s indulging in the same vanity as her subjects, but she’s also entirely aware of where the peril is in focusing so much on the image, not just in terms of moral, societal, or cultural decay, but also in a further disassociation between cause and effect.
This is very similar thematic ground to The Virgin Suicides, and the films are strikingly similar in structure. In particular, both films flash forward to an investigation of their respective events. In this case, there’s a Vanity Fair reporter, a proxy for Nancy Jo Sales, the author of Coppola’s source material, while Coppola’s debut is told in flashback by a haunted admirer of the Lisbon sisters and features a present-day interview with Lux Lisbon’s first lover. In The Virgin Suicides, the allure of Kirsten Dunst’s Lux, and the other Lisbon girls, was haunting, even morbid, whereas Marc’s fascination with Rebecca and, to a lesser extent, Nicki and Sam is much more chilling, abstract, and, yes, often infuriating. The Bling Ring isn’t the indictment of culture rot that many wanted it to be, but it shows an interesting variation and ever-so-slight critique of Coppola’s established vision. What’s so consistently attractive about all of Coppola’s films, including her latest, is less her glowing, rich aesthetic than her empathy for even the most recklessly over-privileged and despicable figures, reaching beyond judgmental haranguing to find compellingly odd and disquieting notes in seemingly unforgivable superficiality.
The Bling Ring would be notable for the sole fact that it was the last film shot (mostly) by the great Harris Savides, who passed away last year. Lionsgate, for their part, have given the film an excellent visual transfer. The top-shelf wardrobes shine here, both in terms of bold colors and a fantastic sense of texture, and the detail on everything from Paris Hilton’s shoe bunker to the hot-spot club the teens frequent is stunning. Black levels are good and inky, and any image manipulation is entirely negligible. The audio is even more impressive, which is requisite for a film that dares to open with Sleigh Bells’ eardrum-eradicating "Crown on the Ground." The dialogue is clear and out front, and the soundtrack, which also features Kanye West, Rick Ross, and Azealia Banks, sounds crisp alongside effects and the score by Daniel Lopatin and Brian Reitzell.
Three mildly interesting featurettes, sadly, don’t make up for the lack of a proper commentary track. That one of them heavily features Paris Hilton doesn’t help matters, even if she’s attempting to relate some sense of her real experiences with the robbers. The other two are more beneficial, respectively exploring the making of the film and the actual events that spurred Coppola’s latest, but neither really lend context to what happened or how Coppola came to be fascinated with the story. A trailer is also included.
Sofia Coppola’s beguiling, expertly directed true-crime tale nabs a fantastic A/V transfer from Lionsgate, but the accessories are not exactly designer.