Heartthrobs are not usually correlated with former Ghostbusters stars. Chris Hemsworth bucked the trend on that with his appearance in 2016’s Ghostbusters remake, but Bill Murray gave it a go. There was a small window of opportunity for the Academy Award-less star to make his mark and nab a golden statue. Lost in Translation preceded the perfect work he provides on Broken Flowers, possibly the most deserving and intimate performance of his career. For a man that brought so many classic characters to life, it is intensely heart-warming to see that his greatest peak was actually his most recent. The full circle of an actor, the cycle of coming back over on yourself and feeling the comfort of a vulnerable role. Murray relies on that throughout this Jim Jarmusch feature.
Naturally, Murray is on top form. He is a credit to this Jean Eustache and William Shakespeare homage. That is quite the beautiful pairing and naturally, Murray exudes the wry charm and cold-faced brilliance he so often does. His life is empty but complete. The flash house, the freedom of time and the benefit of good friends and neighbours are not made any fuller by the series of partners he sees in and out of his home. Jarmusch’s dialogue does much of the work here, the introductory back and forth between Murray’s Don Johnston and Sherry (Julie Delpy) is phenomenal. Seeing Johnston cuddle up with himself on the couch, face down in that pit of misery is just as touching as it is pitiful.
What is life without the elusive strangers guiding the hand of the leading man? Broken Flowers is intent on showing what life is like without the mystery. The intrigue of another to render some lead point. Johnston traverses through the highs and lows of his life and much of it makes for a roundly intense performance from Murray. He brushes shoulders with some of the all-time greats. Jeffrey Wright features briefly, but the performances of Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton all make their mark on a film that dares to question the traditional role of the masculine womaniser coming to terms with the reactions his actions have caused. So crucial to that is Johnston’s likeable nature. His charisma oozes out, Murray is a convincing macho character but also a caring symbiote that latches onto anyone that can spare him the time of day.
Broken Flowers is an anxiety-ridden acceptance of guilt in the face of lost loves. What spurs Don on through the journey of his past is the unknowable feeling that he made for himself and the regret of doing so. To even pursue it is a step in the right direction. Murray captures that intricately, beautifully and with that gifted nature that presents him so well as a wry and seemingly cold lead. As the anonymous letter that sends Johnston on this journey says, “sometimes life brings some strange surprises,” and the true surprise to Broken Flowers is its slow-burn build, the sudden crash of knowing a shift in control and life is approaching, the brace for impact and the stuttered, shocked stop when it doesn’t hit or misses the target. Beautiful, chilling too.