Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 2, 2021)
After I watched 1975’s Nashville, I tried to think of another film with an ensemble cast that even remotely rivaled the size of its group. While I'm sure there's one out there somewhere, I couldn't recall it.
Tarantino offered a pretty big crew in Reservoir Dogs, for instance, but it doesn't compare with the 24 characters Nashville touts.
However, that number seems a little deceptive, because it implies that all 24 roles receive equal treatment, and that becomes far from the truth. Although Nashville features no true leads, it's clear that some parts are favored above others, so many of those 24 characters are barely acknowledged through the course of the tale.
Many films feature 24 - or more - roles and don't make it out to be a big deal, unlike the pronouncements that Nashville concerns 24 "major" characters.
In this film, all these parts intermix as part of the music scene in Nashville. While we get perspectives of various careers, we also follow the political career of an anti-establishment presidential candidate.
With Nashville, I could either provide the intensely brief synopsis I offered or I could run on for many paragraphs in an attempt to cover those 24 roles. We really don’t get a true plot here, so that short overview made sense to me.
The only truly unusual aspect of this movie comes from the way that it does follow the different roles. While other pictures include that many parts, most of those participants appear in one or two scenes then are gone.
After all, it's not like we consider Greedo to have a major part in Star Wars, even though he plays a more pivotal role than many of the characters here. If he didn't get fried and he continued through the rest of the film - even in a very limited capacity - I guess you could make a different argument, and that seems to be the point made by the otherwise-illogical "24 major characters" assertions.
Despite that somewhat misleading bit of accounting, it remains true that Nashville does feature a larger main cast than just about any other movie, and it also lacks any true leads. While a few of the parts receive more screen time than others, I find no characters I would call the main focus of the film.
That's both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, I find it interesting to see a movie with such a large and varied cast that truly doesn't favor anyone in particular.
It's as democratic a film as you'll find, and one would assume that the broad nature of the group means there's something for everyone. At least you don't become tied down to one or two characters you may not like.
On the other hand, the variety means that the film fails to explore any of the roles with anything that remotely approaches depth. Nashville presents a scattershot film with a fair amount of improvised material.
That shows throughout the movie as it doesn't present much of a coherent plot, and lots of the dialogue seems unpolished and stiff.
Fans of the piece would argue that's what makes it great, as the natural flow of the story comes across as more real than the average film. I don't doubt that Nashville must have seemed fresh and new when it appeared in 1975. It used a form of "guerrilla filmmaking" that departed strongly from the norms, and director Robert Altman really tried to get a documentary feel to the whole thing.
For the most part, Altman succeeds in that way, but I don't think the movie as a whole stands up very well. It becomes more of a cool experiment than a compelling piece of work.
I think Nashville fails to deliver a great film mainly because it lacks depth. With so much happening, we never get enough time to explore anything in detail, so Altman's ambition outstrips his abilities.
I get the feeling that many of the movie's fans are those who saw it when it premiered more than 45 years ago, as the impact the film made in 1975 must have been tremendous. However, what seemed creative and clever then doesn't necessarily feel that way now, and that's why I don't think it's a terribly interesting picture.
To be certain, I don't dislike Nashville, as it offers enough to keep me interested. However, the characters and the events never really go anywhere, which is kind of like the story itself, as it just meanders along until it hits a semi-abrupt conclusion.
The film seems to think it has some sort of grand point to make, but if that occurs, I don’t see it. There's some semblance of a thesis about fame and America, but it's not well thought-out and it becomes jumbled in the mish-mash of events.
Nashville deserves respect as a pioneer. Altman showed that movies didn't have to be as cut-and-dried as one might think, and that events can be depicted in a seemingly-illogical or haphazard manner and still work. He started a form of filmmaking that has been well-executed by later talents like Quentin Tarantino and PT Anderson.
However, the big difference between their works and Nashville is that their movies have stories, well-drawn characters, and compelling dialogue and situations. Nashville lacks all of those things. As such, I regard it as a seminal work but not a very interesting one in this day and age.