Pros: Good music, still better than Short Cuts or Magnolia
Cons: Do you need another reason to hate country music?
The Bottom Line: Down in Nashville, Tennessee...
One of the most acclaimed types of movie is the ensemble movie. These movies often win acclaim for being commentaries or satires of American culture. They often consist of large casts and multiple storylines that intersect in one way or another. Personally, I hate the things. Ensemble movies are usually overly long and bloated, and rife with just about every kind of expletive that a foul-minded director can fit into three hours. The characters are the types of angry, defeated people who float through waning days to no point or purpose. You never get a sense of attachment to any of them, as they range from cynical to outright loatheable. I will concede to admit many of them are well-directed and well-written, but even that only makes me think the directors who make them are starved for attention from ruthless critics. "Look at me!" The directors say, "I can create pretentious movie art for pompous film students too!" It's time critics quit showering them with accolades and started calling them what they really are: Vanity pictures.
Nashville is one of Robert Altman's most acclaimed movies, but it should be damned for being the grandfather of these self-congratulatory hour-eaters. A second concession from me admits that Nashville is considerably more tolerable than much of its demon spawn, like Magnolia or Short Cuts (also directed by Altman). The country music is to thank for that, and so is a politician who makes a lot of odd campaign promises during the first eighth of the movie. But remove those and add a couple hundred f-bombs and some gratuitous sex, and Nashville is just as bad as the other two. Most of the music scenes take place in a club at the end of each of the five days the Nashville storyline spans, so there's even a forced feeling to them, although they admittedly go well with the movie's flow and are quite lengthy.
Nashville is about five random days in the lives of 24 characters in the Country Music Capital of the World. Those characters include a country music dreamer who can't sing, a politician, a British reporter, a country music queen, and assorted others who I can't remember because they all had a bad habit of blending together after the first hour. I didn't feel any sense of loss over losing track of who was who because it's not like any of them were particularly likeable anyway. Though none of these characters made me want to see them receive a comeuppance like the quiz-show-kid's father from Magnolia, I just shrugged when the country music queen was shot at the rally at the end. I felt impartial toward her and every other character. If the city would have been rocked by a cataclysmic earthquake, well, where's the popcorn?
Robert Altman made Nashville with an apparent disdain for the close-up. Without this simple but effective camera device, Altman wasn't able to create any sense of intimacy between characters. There are few scenes in which characters stand alone, and in the ones that do exist, you don't really get to see the looks on their faces. This makes it hard to sympathize with anyone because you're not getting the opportunity to peer into their thoughts. Maybe Altman did this with the idea of detachment in mind, because Nashville feels that way most of the way through. There are a lot of crowd scenes and even though the main characters in those crowd scenes are given the necessary highlights you need to pay attention to them, the crowd still drowns them out.
The characters, like every other movie of the vanity picture brethren, intersect but only barely and briefly. The scenes in the country music club at the end of each day are clearly forced in because they are the only scenes in which some of the characters come into contact with others. They are also the scenes in which the music is the most prominent. Without them, there probably wouldn't be any point to the existance of Nashville. While they're well-directed, they're also longer than they need to be and serve no purpose other than letting the ensemble get together. The one exception comes near the end of the movie, when the dreamer performs an impromptu striptease after getting booed off the stage because she can't sing.
It's notable that an advertisement for the soundtrack is actually part of the movie itself. It comes at the very beginning and announces the names of the actors in the movie and gives you the names of the songs performed. It's useful to let you know who's who, but man, talk about throwing you out of the movie! These things simply can't be announced out loud. It's a long-standing golden rule.
Nashville may be a great place to go if you like country music, but it's a lousy movie to have to sit through. The music seems to be the main point of the movie. While music is the main point of several movies, you still have to have a freaking movie to sit down and watch! Otherwise, all you're doing is listening to music at an art gallery. The characters in Nashville all ensure that you would have more fun doing that than watching this. One of the top 100 movies of all-time? Never.