Picks and Pans Review: Dogville

updated 04/05/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/05/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany

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The latest from bad-boy Danish director Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark), Dogville will have audiences scratching their heads, wondering, "What does it all mean?" That is, if they make it through this nearly three-hour marathon in which actors stomp around on a close-to-bare soundstage with chalked-in outlines of rooms as they debate the meaning of life, freedom, democracy and mercy. A summer popcorn movie this is not.

The story, such as it is, involves a gangster's moll (Kidman) who, in the 1930s, escapes to a small Rocky Mountain town where the residents treat her kindly but later turn on her, forcing her into servitude and sexual slavery. She shows forbearance, but then—in a darkly funny, fiery finale—turns on them. It's like Our Town written in acid by Brecht. Von Trier seems to be criticizing the U.S. for being hypocritical, but mostly he just wants to provoke. Dogville is equal parts entertaining, infuriating and snooze-inducing. Never boring, though, is a resplendent Kidman, who gives her every scene a visceral kick. (R)

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