Movies follow a basic formula – a beginning, middle and end along with plot and character development. Sometimes, a film maker is lucky enough to invent a device that allows them to fill in gaps like Hitchcock’s MacGuffin; an improvisation on a character that has no real meaning, but produces a solution to a problem. Improvisation can be used in developing a movie, like Joe Swanberg’s brilliant Digging for Fire.
At its base, Digging for Fire is the story of a couple, Tim’s (Jake Johnson) obsession over a bone and a gun found in the backyard of a friend’s home in the Hollywood Hills. Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt), takes their son to visit her parents over a weekend, leaving Tim to his devices. They are supported by a bevvy of more famous actors, like Sam Rockwell, Orlando Bloom, Judith Light and Sam Elliott.
The story by Swanberg and Johnson is based on a real life event experienced by Johnson. Steeped in metaphors, the beauty of the story is in the level of improvisation. From the composition of each scene to the unscripted reactions of each character to one another, the movie works on so many levels. The score by Dan Romer has a nice beat, but it seemed intentionally one note. Even on the limited budget, they managed to capture the movie on 35mm Kodak film stock and convert it to 4K digital resolution where Ben Richard’s cinematography beautifully captures the essence of nighttime Los Angeles.
The improvised nature of the movie may displease some moviegoers. But that’s the spice of this movie’s life. And for this reason, this movie is recommended.