People apparently didn’t like Jade when it hit the theaters, and rather than talk about the film the critics seemed more interested in dissecting the alleged folly of David Caruso (who plays an ambitious assistant D.A., David Corelli) for having given Victor Sifuentes … er, Bobby Simone … I mean, Jimmy Smits a second dream-role, this one on NYPD Blue.
Who is who, which persona is hiding behind which mask, what is the play within the game — that’s the question Jade sets out to answer as the consequence of a peculiarly brutal murder of a friend of the governor of California. And, incidentally, I disagree with all those professional nay-sayers, for this is one terrific film indeed. Metaphorically underscoring this murky confusion is the use of masks, theater, and parades. Appropriately, but ironically (jade is a symbol of good luck in Chinese culture), Chinese opera and a huge parade in Chinatown come to signify the histrionic dimension of the major plot twists and the fakery in the legal and political communities of California.
Starting with the jittery music that backgrounds the opening credits, the action builds slowly and gradually to a rousing crescendo, and then lets us down gently to the final denouement. The photography of Andrzej Bartowiak is beyond class, all lush colors, moody chiaroscuros, and flickering psychology; he’s a master of the old ‘film noir’ techniques, and he brings them off superbly in this film. The pacing is outstanding, soft against hard, fast against slow, tender against savage.
Thrillers and detective stories have over the last decades fallen in love with the car chase. All too often this set-piece of modern cinema has become boringly predictable, more a kind of reflex after-thought than in any sense organically woven into the fabric of the film. In Jade, however, the case is rather different. In an obvious reprise of the famous car chase up and down the hills of San Francisco in Bullit (1968), David Caruso almost outdrives Steve McQueen in a frenzied and jolting pursuit of a hit-and-run operation that took out an important witness. The growling and screechy celerity of the first part of the chase stands in sharp juxtaposition to the sluggish inertia of an enveloping parade. I see this modulation as emblematic of the investigation itself, now seeming to race along almost out of Corelli’s control, now clogged and going nowhere thanks to operators behind the scenes.
Linda Fiorentino, the Venus fly-trap in The Last Seduction, isn’t quite as sizzling in Jade, but her throaty words still conjure up whatever you want conjured up. You keep wondering just how her little piece is going to fit into the larger puzzle. And Chazz Palminteri as Matt Gavin, a high-powered lawyer, plays her outraged husband with sleazy conviction. I’ve always thought Richard Crenna is a gratifying actor, and he doesn’t disappoint here as the arrogant governor. In this our political season of 1996, rife as it is with charges and counter-charges, Jade creates resonances of believability about the essential corruptness of power. We like to talk and talk and say nothing about the endemic corruption of other political systems, but we probably don’t need imports on this score. The native product is good enough.
The sharks we meet in Jade swim in some serious water: here are the hidden levers of power (since I am currently reading the Annales of Tacitus, I can’t help but think of his explorations of power, of the arcana imperii ‘the hiddens of power’), there the fixers pulling strings to make others dance their choreographed routines.
Time is an important element in the plot, circling, as it will, from the carefree distance of the past into the complicated present. Corelli, in investigating a seemingly random crime, must of necessity search crannies of his own past one feels he’d rather have left unexamined. How to deal with love unrequited, love thwarted, love corrupted? Time, while not healing, reveals, unraveling lives and reordering relationships, not by design but through the inadvertence that characterizes all our lives.
Jade is a gritty reflection of this human inescapable.