As an anti-Lost activist I was never that interested in Cloverfield and almost didn’t go because I was afraid the found-object recording was going to be an insufferable gimmick, but that image of the Statue of Liberty’s head crashing into the street got me in the door and I have to admit I loved every second of it! It totally worked and I thought it was one of the most suspenseful films I’ve seen in a while.
Perhaps it was my non-existent expectations that gave me the opposite experience of nearly everyone else who seemed to be driven mad with anticipation by Cloverfield’s teasing marketing campaign. Maybe because I hadn’t spent a spare second of the past six months wondering what the nature of the monster might be, I never felt frustrated by the first act’s introduction of the five main characters and their relationship to each other.
Even so, none of the characters are really important except for one. The only crucial bit of casting, fufilled perfectly by T.J. Miller, is the role of the amateur cameraman. We only catch a glimpse of him twice but it is his naive narration throughout the film that really carries it. His enthusiasm excuses his intrusiveness as a cameraman, but since he obviously isn’t the real cinematographer Miller’s job is hardly more than an on-set voice-over. An actor might consider it a thankless job since he follows the other actors everywhere to interact with them, but must always be kept out of frame. But his is the best acting in the film since he must convey his entire personality through his voice without reliance on gesture or facial expression.
The problem with World Trade Center was that it was too glossy, too polished, and any piece of amateur footage from 9/11 on YouTube is infinitely more interesting. JJ Abrams & Co. apparently recognized that fact in establishing the concept, and Matt Reeves has made a film that is in many ways more “pure” than Spielberg’s War of the Worlds.
Perhaps the negative reports of Redacted had soured my expectations for Cloverfield but aside from the formal conceit they couldn’t be farther apart. From what I can gather (because it hasn’t yet been released here) the gravitas of Meaning seeping through every frame of Redacted undermines its artiface of spontaneity and practically sinks the film, while Cloverfield pretends to eschew Deeper Meaning at every turn. None of the characters even mention 9/11, but its pretense of obliviousness is the agent that activates its inherent subtexts.