Stars: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, William H. Macy, Diego Luna
Release date: August 31st, 2016
Distributor: SND Films
Country: France, USA
Running time: 88 minutes
Best part: Gibson’s committed performance.
Worst part: The gangbanger villains.
2016 marks big, bad actor/director Mel Gibson’s shiny return to the big screen. Is it ok to accept the artist despite the controversies? Should we forgive and forget despite serious – and possibly unresolved – social problems? Whatever the case, Gibson is back with action-thriller Blood Father and directorial effort Hacksaw Ridge.
Blood Father kicks off with American war veteran and ex-hardened criminal turned convict John Link (Gibson) in a mediocre existence. Thanks to his parole officer’s orders, he is unable to drink, do drugs, or leave the state. Stuck in a dead-end tattoo business, housed in his caravan home, he longs to find his missing daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty). Lydia’s life goes from bad to worse. Influenced by her drug-running boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna), she joins his assault on tenants occupying cartel-owned homes. After an accidental shooting, she runs off and meets up with Link. The cartel’s baddest are hot on their trail.
Obviously, Blood Father lacks the big-budget prowess of Gibson’s 1980s/90s hey day. The veteran performer can do ‘dark and gritty’ this in his sleep. Director Jean-Francois Richet (Public Enemy #1, the Assault on Precinct 13 remake) boils everything down to essential elements. This little known director tackles one of Hollywood’s best (watch Braveheart and Apocalypto for confirmation) and gets his way. His style provides Gibson some meat to chew on. The drama builds slowly throughout the first half. As Link and Lydia steadily come together, the story delves into their broken lives. Richet and co. revel in Link’s dour existence. As Link and Lydia team up, the man-on the-run thread lightens the tone. That slight elevation from depressing to gritty builds the excitement.
Make to mistake, this is comfort food cinema. The ‘heroes are bad, villains are worse’ plot works well here. While the violence raises the stakes. Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff’s script provides fun surprises and an off-beat sense of humor. Their witty one-liners and lean sarcasm balance the jarring tonal shifts. The opening scene is a highlight; laughing at America’s lackadaisical gun laws. Link’s friend Kirby (William H. Macy), on the surface, is an nice-guy/target archetype. However, the writers and Macy make us care. His nasty gags and protective nature are worthwhile attributes for an otherwise throwaway supporting character. Gibson is the stand out performer – proving he still has the charisma and ferocity to pull off meaningful roles. Moriarty, however, is somewhat bland.
Blood Father recalls Gibson’s action-movie good ol’ days. Discussing the icon’s past, present and future, it is much deeper than most may give it credit for. At the very least, it is worth at least one Saturday afternoon viewing on Netflix.
Writers: Andrew Bovell (screenplay), John le Carre (novel)
Stars: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright
Release date: September 12th, 2014
Distributors: Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions, Entertainment One
Countries: UK, USA
Running time: 122 minutes
Best part: The electrifying performances.
Worst part: The monotonous pace.
Over the past thirteen years, filmmakers and studios have milked the proverbial zeitgeist teat. Though major political, economic, and cultural events have been re-enacted previously, the 21st century’s biggest issues are being flogged for our entertainment. United 93 and World Trade Center re-created America’s darkest day, Zero Dark Thirty depicted the hunt for Osama bin Laden, while The 25th Hour tackled the saddest New York imaginable. However, spy-thrillers like A Most Wanted Man face the nitty-gritty of post-9/11 paranoia.
Luckily, A Most Wanted Man takes the high road throughout. Looking into a distressing magic 8-ball, the movie refuses to offend anyone. However, it still tells an effective and meaningful tale. Adapted from acclaimed author John le Carre’s recent novel, this spy-thriller honours the legendary writer whilst taking a different path. In addition, the movie efficiently tackles the War on Terror. The title cards, layered over an arresting shot of the ocean crashing into a dock, inform us of important historical events. After learning Islamic extremist Mohammed Atta had planned the World Trade Centre attacks in Hamburg, Germany, the US Government developed a task force there to destroy future potential threats. In this fictional account, we meet the people in charge. In its latest mission, lead espionage agent Gunther Bachmann (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) tasks his team – bolstered by Erna Frey (Nina Hoss) and Max (Daniel Bruhl) – with tracking illegal immigrant Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin). Working off the local Muslim community and CCTV footage, Gunther’s team finds Karpov in a decrepit housing complex. Simultaneously, the team tracks Muslim philanthropist Dr. Faisal Abdullah(Homayoun Ershadi)’s suspicious activities.
Robin Wright taking time off from House of Cards.
Despite being Europe’s most prolific counter-terrorists, Gunther and co. must make their case before German security official Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock) and American diplomatic attache Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) take over. Obviously, A Most Wanted Man is devoid of a James Bond or Jason Bourne. Lacking gadgets, lavish vistas, or explosions, the average filmgoer might reject this intricate and claustrophobic effort. However, its narrative grips the viewer from the first to last frame. Its surprises, lacking the typical action-thriller bombast, are hearty breaths of fresh air. The mystery, placing professionals in realistic yet unpredictable situations, never relies on standard tropes. Standing alongside its competition, the story – aided by Andrew Bovell’s meticulous screenplay – rests on its characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Fuelled by intensive conversations and chases, the spying is as mature and concise as our characters. However, the story – depicting Gunther’s team forming alliances with distressed lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) and renowned banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe) – never delivers enough emotional resonance. Avoiding major thrills, the movie occasionally tests the viewer’s patience. Based around political conflicts and slow-burn espionage, some may beg for fistfights or shootouts. The first-two thirds, though peppered with harsh truths and tense sequences, won’t raise anyone’s blood levels.
“Every good man has a little bit of bad, doesn’t he? And in Abdullah’s case…that little bit might just kill you.” (Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), A Most Wanted Man).
Rachel McAdams making major career strides.
Despite the minor flaws, A Most Wanted Man‘s positives make for pitch-perfect sequences. Fuelled by witty lines and surveillance jargon, this glacially paced drama soars when required. The last third, driven by a heart-wrenching climax and bitter resolution, delivers 2014’s most gripping moments. Director Anton Corbijn (The American, Control) applies his strengths to each frame. Known for uncompromising flourishes, his style rescues certain sequences from tedium. Dodging The American’s immaculate sheen, his depiction of Hamburg is worth the admission cost. Enlivening each setting, he revels in the city’s architecture, grit, and history. In addition, Benoit Delhomme’s cinematography highlights each scene’s viscera and value. Beyond this, Hoffman delivers one of the year’s most profound performances. In his penultimate feature, Hoffman injects vigour and malice into this invigorating protagonist. In particular, one scene solidifies Hoffman and his character’s immense worth. After drifting out of bed, he rolls his eyes, downs a shot of whisky, then plays several notes on a piano. In this few-second scene, Corbijn cements Hoffman as one of this generation’s greatest talents. The supporting characters, though serving to boost Hoffman, further propel the story. Wright and McAdams bolster certain plot-threads with energetic and potent performances. In addition, Dafoe’s core strengths saves his plot-device role.
Delivering a fresh take on post-9/11 paranoia, A Most Wanted Man is an entertaining and comprehensive discussion of the past decade’s biggest issues. Blitzing similar pot-boilers including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Body of Lies, and Syriana, this spy-thriller embraces the simple to tackle the complex. More importantly, Hoffman’s scintillating performance highlights a remarkable career cut short. Like with his character, the movie’s nuances draw the line between success and failure.
Verdict: An intelligent and well-crafted spy-thriller.
Writers: John Slattery, Alex Metcalf (screenplay), Pete Dexter (novel)
Stars: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro
Release date: August 8th, 2014
Distributor: IFC Films
Running time: 88 minutes
Best part: The arresting performances.
Worst part: The incoherent narrative.
Once upon a time in sunny-side-up Hollywood, acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese said: “There’s no such thing as simple. Simple is hard”. Positioned above all the philosophically viable quotes one can muster, these two short sentences achieve true purpose. In fact, Scorsese’s words describe the filmmaking process as a journey of unconscionable measure. So, how does all this relate to kooky crime-drama God’s Pocket?
Phillip Seymour Hoffman & John Turturro in cool-cat roles.
Well, with Scorsese’s influence casting itself over everything, God’s Pocket tries too damn hard to be simple. Betwixt by its own elaborate sheen, the movie aims for succinct but lands just short of pretentious. With too much going on at once, the movie wholly relies on familiarity and grit. In fact, this type of simplicity makes for a confusing and unexacting tale of woe and whimsy. However, despite matching up to Scorsese’s quote, it’s still a halfway descent first effort. The story, such as it is, examines one man and his sketchy practices. An outsider to the titular Philadelphian district, small-time crook Mickey Scarpano (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) has found solace in his surroundings. Struggling to maintain his marriage to Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), Mickey looks to his mates, gambling, and alcohol for guidance. Floating through day-to-day life, the man runs errands with best mate Arthur ‘Bird’ Capezio (John Turturro) and mob enforcer Sal (Domenick Lombardozzi). Sadly, Mickey’s existence is hindered by his abrasive stepson Leon(Caleb Landry Jones)’s industrial accident. Along the way, whilst Mickey is arranging payment plans with funeral director Smilin’ Jack Moran (Eddie Marsan), Jeanie calls for an investigation into her son’s death.
Christina Hendricks in post-Mad Men form.
Admittedly, I may’ve been a little harsh on God’s Pocket‘s overt modesty. The narrative’s low-stakes aura is, to a certain extent, refreshing compared to today’s big-budget offerings. Here, Mad Men star John Slattery slips past his TV series’ lavish world to pay homage to 1970s Middle America. Being Slattery’s first feature, his direction far eclipses his screenwriting. Co-written by Alex Metcalf, the screenplay takes to cliches and contrivances the way its characters take to booze and cigarettes. With several story-lines in play, Slattery and Metcalf throw in too many insufficient perspectives. After the dysfunctional family dynamic is introduced and deliberated on, we’re introduced to notorious God’s Pocket columnist Richard Shelburn(Richard Jenkins)’s peculiar lifestyle. Shelburn, an avatar for the novel’s author Pete Dexter, becomes an unnecessary antagonist in this free-wheeling narrative. In following the original material so closely, Slattery and Metcalf pick up and drop certain story-lines without warning. Infatuated with his own creation, Slattery gestates on certain plot-threads without giving them definitive beginnings, middles, or ends. In fact, several plot-lines are left wholly unanswered for. Despite the taut 88 minute run-time, the movie comes off like an underwhelming brawl between Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, and Ben Affleck’s directorial flourishes.
The working men of God’s Pocket are simple men. They work, marry, and have children. And, until recently, they die like everyone else.” (Richard Shelburn (Richard Jenkins), God’s Pocket).
Richard Jenkins as God’s Pocket’s top columnist.
Despite this hearty love letter’s overwhelming negatives, the final product’s positives reside in its all-around willingness to succeed. With Slattery paying respect to a long-lost era, his head and heart are certainly in the right place. In fact, thanks to emotional resonance and technical savvy, God’s Pocket achieves just enough to earn a low-3-star rating. Accustomed to period pieces, Slattery’s directorial motivations craft a rich, textured version of Middle America. The movie never screams out an exact date or time. If anything, this 70s-set crime-drama allows its audience to pick up certain nuances skidding across each frame. Depicting a horrific place to call home, Slattery’s version of God’s Pocket is defined by earthy colour palettes and specific iconography. Halfway through, you begin to notice the time period in all its glory. With browns, yellows, and greys amplifying certain scenes, Slattery depicts a world in which men are men and women succumb to those around them. Finding the ugliest of ugly folks, his attention to detail and taste for black comedy excel. In addition, Slattery draws dynamic performances from his talented ensemble. In one of his last roles, Hoffman delivers a mesmerising turn as the ultimate average Joe. In addition, Jenkins, Hendricks, and Turturro excel as downtrodden characters begging for justice and respect.
Stepping up to a blank canvas, Slattery makes a valiant first effort out of such broad material. Experimenting with specific stylistic choices, dealing specifically with its gritty veneer, this busting of the proverbial cherry could’ve been a helluva lot worse. However, unlike Mean Streets or Gone Baby Gone, this dissection of Middle America comes almost flatlines at opportune moments. If anything, Slattery would do well to sat back, relax, and reflect on the final few Mad Men episodes remaining.
Verdict: An unfocused love letter to simpler times.
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi
Release date: January 16th , 2014
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Countries: USA, Japan
Running time: 118 minutes
Best part: Reeves and Sanada.
Worst part: The convoluted plot.
Inexplicably, the Western world looks down upon the East. In our ever-so-racist culture, we destroy cultural and social links due to prejudice, anxiety, and judgement. Despite multiculturalism’s benefits, we continually place people and communities into stereotypes. Thankfully, Hollywood is avoiding this dated societal practice. Thanks to China’s influence on the box office, big-budget extravaganzas are now aiming for international audiences. In fusing two contrasting cultures, Asian actors and characters are receiving significant attention. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s latest cultural mash-up, 47 Ronin, is an exorbitant waste of time and money. Sadly, the cast and crew are being named and shamed for their efforts.
Despite the final product’s overall quality, it’s difficult to blame everyone at once. Admittedly, there are flashes of brilliance in this otherwise disastrous action flick. Some cast and crew members aimed to develop an ethnically friendly and entertaining cinematic endeavour. Unfortunately, this $175 million catastrophe is the result of an untested director and hack writers. Despite Universal Studio’s commendable intentions, the company’s reach exceeds its grasp. The studio’s predictable actions and typical ideologies prove costly here. With 47 Ronin a critical and commercial bomb, executives, writers, and directors could face the chopping block. Outlining 47 Ronin‘s wasted potential, the movie is loosely based on Japan’s most influential historical tale. Clinging onto a haunting and enlightening tale, 47 Ronin immerses us into the Bushido code (way of the warrior). There’s a reason why I didn’t mention the Samurai elements earlier. Sadly, the movie is bafflingly disinterested in this enigmatic and respectable ancient culture. 47 Ronin hurriedly immerses us into 18th Century feudal Japan. After the exposition heavy and confusing prologue, the movie introduces its only white character. Escaping from a dangerous mystical society, half-cast child Kai is rescued by the honourable and domineering Lord Asano (Min Tanaka). Asano’s Samurai protectors treat adult Kai (Keanu Reeves) with distain. Teaching himself to follow the Samurai code, Kai becomes a distinguishable and skilled warrior. Reeves, overlooking the debilitating racial divide, delivers an enjoyable performance in his underwritten role. Delivering purposeful mannerisms, he allows his Japanese co-stars – Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, and Rinko Kikuchi, in particular – to propel this disenfranchising fantasy epic.
Thanks to its obvious and repetitive opening scenes, the movie swiftly descends into chaos. The awkward prologue, defined by poor animation, describes the narrative’s all-important intricacies. In fact, the overt narration specifically states: “To know the story of the 47 Ronin is to know the story of old Japan”. Featuring the movie’s only worthwhile line, the narration throws the besotted audience into this conquering story. Despite the intriguing premise and inspired concepts, the execution is beyond atrocious. In typical modern-fantasy-epic fashion, Kai falls for Asano’s remorseful and sullen daughter Mika (Kou Shibasaki). With forbidden love frowned upon by Japanese customs, Kai banishes himself into the woods. Damaged by this cliched peasant-and-princess-love-story sub-plot, the narrative abruptly transitions into a vengeance, discipline, and honour fuelled epic. After Asano is tricked, by sadistic witch Mizuki (Kikuchi), into attacking despicable master of ceremonies Lord Kira (Asano), Kai and Asano’s 47 brave protectors are banished from Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi(Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa)’s territory. With the Samurai warriors disbanded, Oishi (Sanada) finds Kai and convenes with his fellow ronin. From this point on, the movie delves into potentially graphic and enigmatic material. Fortunately, the narrative shifts out of its cloying and heavy-handed first third. Its many underdeveloped plot-strands and characters are sparingly introduced, set up, and shifted around. Despite the interesting premise, the movie’s absurd twists and turns distort this preposterous action flick. Thanks to its wavering pace and jarring tonal shifts, the first third stalls the entire narrative. With multiple character arcs and plot-strands alluding to specific revelations, Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini’s conventional and unintentionally laughable screenplay delivers overblown dialogue, tiresome cliches, and a broad presentation of ancient Japanese culture. After its tedious first act, the movie transitions into a conventional and exasperating fantasy-adventure flick.
“I will search for you through 1000 worlds and 1000 lifetimes!” (Kai (Keanu Reeves), 47 Ronin).
Thanks to botched production and post-production schedules, this sprawling concoction of cliches, bizarre directorial ticks, and half-constructed studio decisions becomes almost unwatchable. Despite the following two third’s eclectic pacing and fun set-pieces, 47 Ronin never examines intriguing or thought-provoking aspects. Throughout its 2-hour run-time, the quest-based narrative follows a one-dimensional formula. Despite this tale’s heart-breaking messages, the movie’s emotionless and ignorantly offensive aura damages its beguiling action-adventure concept. Beyond the insignificant screenwriting tropes and directorial ticks, the movie’s ethical and moral conundrums lodge themselves into the consciousness. Each year, Japanese entertainment mediums deliver iterations of this inspiring story. Known as Chushingura, this practice, unlike 47 Ronin, examines and celebrates this spiritually commendable tale. Despite the story’s culturally specific roots, the movie, inexplicably, ignores Japanese culture’s most intriguing and informative elements. This Americanised and sugarcoated version of Japan’s most influential tale insults the Samurai code, Japanese history, and world cinema. Lacking any Japanese dialogue, this fusion of Japanese and Hollywood moviemaking tropes becomes a soulless creation. Honestly, hasn’t Japan suffered enough this decade? Constructing his first feature, commercial director Carl Rinsch (YouTube video The Gift) poorly grapples with vital moviemaking mechanics. Handling its incoherent production design and wavering structure, Rinsch’s disjointed and derivative style dampens the premise. His messy visual style borrows from contrasting influences and genres. The movie transitions from Chanbara flick, to exhausting sword-and-sandal romp, to inorganic fantasy adventure. Featuring bright, joyful, and alluring visuals, 47 Ronin insufficientlyfuses Throne of Blood,300, Clash of the Titans, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Snow White and the Huntsman. Following mentor Ridley Scott’s methodology, Rinsch’s sprawling and eye-catching compositions elevate certain sequences. Clashing colours, impressive creature and set designs, and sumptuous locations provide pleasurable distractions for this otherwise underwhelming blockbuster.
Delving into potentially entertaining material, 47 Ronin could, and should, have been an entertainingly gritty action-adventure flick. However, this derivative, messy, and uninspired fantasy epic wears Hollywood’s most aggressive and perplexing impulses. Like After Earth and The Lone Ranger, 47 Ronin presents a unique idea ruined by poisonous execution. Making a bad blockbuster is simple. However, this movie, despite the quick and hefty profit, isn’t even worth the admission cost.
Verdict: A silly, uninspired, and preposterous action flick.
In an Oscar season chock-a-block with dark docudramas, deftly comic road-trip movies, and visceral crime-thrillers, few movies have been brave enough to stand out from the pack. Despite the Oscar contenders’ overwhelming quality and relevance, movies that balance an entertaining action-adventure narrative with stark rawness become instant success stories. Delivering an engaging survival story, All is Lost delivers Oscar-calibre moments and thrilling set-pieces. It’s extremely difficult to mix these qualities together into a meaningful artistic endeavour. However, two geniuses reached out and grasped this fruitful opportunity.
With pulsating concepts and cultural preconceptions in hand, All is Lostdelivers edge-of-your-seat thrills whilst occasionally remembering to take deep breaths. This intricate balance places All is Lost in the realm of memorable and confronting survival-dramas. The story itself is incredibly straightforward. However, in an age of convoluted and self-indulgent blockbusters, simple yet effective action-adventure movies are indelibly refreshing. The movie kicks off with a man (Robert Redford) deliberating upon his dying wishes and deepest regrets. Why to himself? He writes these haunting words on a scraggly piece of paper before placing the note in a jar. These revelations become his final statements whilst his life raft floats across the Indian Ocean. The movie then jumps back eight days, and the man’s priceless yacht, Virginia Jane, crashes into a floating, bright-red cargo container. Filled with cheap shoes, the tough container tears an excruciatingly significant hole into the boat’s starboard side (right, I researched it). With guile and quick thinking, the man repairs the hole with a glue-like concoction and scraps. Unfortunately, the soft patch is far from the man’s most exasperating issue. Soon after, he sails into a gigantic thunderstorm. Tossing his boat into impactful waves and currents, the thunderstorm tests the man’s steely reserve. However, the boat is nowhere near as strong as its captain. With the boat’s final voyage concluding disastrously, the man must choose between a memorable life and a horrifying death.
More Robert Redford.
Survival tales blend intriguing, multi-layered relationships with celluloid’s emphatic potential. With metaphorical and literal conflicts eviscerating the big screen, their varying twists and turns deliver enlightening and punishing rewards. Spiritually enriching journeys (Life of Pi, 127 Hours) and discomforting life-or-death situations (Buried) define this beguiling genre. With these movies becoming major box-office hits, this popular and note-worthy genre strives to grasp its true potential. All is Lost – defined by groundbreaking technological achievements, captivating set-pieces, and an invigorating performance – continually delivers emotional impact and thematic resonance. Here, the survival narrative rests on an understandable and harrowing scenario. With retirees and ambitious sailors taking around-the-world trips each year, horrific casualties continually arise. Despite the ambitious idea, tumultuous conditions and poor preparation deliver significant risks. All is Lost, ideally, focuses on a specific point in time. With its limited scope and enriching authenticity, this action-adventure conveys specific points about morality and mortality. Director J. C. Chandor (Margin Call) immerses us into one pressing and heart-breaking situation after another. Sticking with the boat throughout its 106-minute run-time, Chandor’s vision is astoundingly touching. Becoming Gravity‘s ocean-dwelling relative, All is Lost similarly transforms into a soulful, exhilarating, and modest survival-thriller. To examine this movie’s most engaging aspects, the viewer must recognise the valuable details that remain missing. The movie never travels to other setting or characters. We are never introduced to relatives, friends, enemies, or even strangers. Efficiently, Chandor seems wholly fascinated by Redford’s idiosyncratic features. Assuredly, the narrative effectively tests the character’s survival skills, will power, patience, and faith. Mutedly, this survival-thriller, like our main character, looks upward for an explanation. Is God punishing this man? Is God solidifying his internal strength? Or, realistically, did the man make wrong turns during his voyage?
“All is lost here, except for soul and body, that is, what’s left of them, and a half day’s ration.” (Our Man (Robert Redford), All is Lost).
Even more Robert Redford.
Lacking stupefying exposition, useless supporting characters, and obvious titbits, the movie allows the audience to piece together this mystifying puzzle. Pushing his only character to breaking point, Chandor’s latest feature tests humanity and Mother Nature’s boundaries. With thunderous weather patterns, dwindling supplies, waterlogged equipment, and predatory creatures affecting this journey, the movie, by pummelling Redford’s character, wallows in its harshly constructed world. Chandor’s style develops a picturesque and damaging reality. Here, Earth’s elements stand between the main character and a continued existence. Immediately stating that he is: “1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straights”, this atmospheric journey becomes an exasperating cinematic experience. Searching for land and/or passing vessels, this captain becomes a humanistic and conquering force of nature. Credit goes to Redford for delivering another textured and naturalistic turn. Reaching beyond his sub-par directorial efforts (The Company You Keep), Redford’s all-important physicality and charisma shine through this near-wordless role. Thankfully, Chandor’s directorial flair also provides an assuring and unconscionable aura. Exposed to the lead character’s drastic actions and recognisable reactions, we become one with his impressive yacht and amicable life raft. Frank G. DeMarco’s uncompromising and unique cinematography elevates unquestionably intense moments. Emphasising the man’s critically arduous situation, the camera commendably fuses with the movie’s desolate settings. Kept in close-up, the yachting sequences become heart-pounding and nail-biting roller-coaster rides. However, once the raft becomes key to the man’s survival, the camera dives into the ocean and soars into the sky. Immaculate pans and zooms establish this ordeal’s otherworldly impact. Graciously, chillingly powerful sound effects highlight crashing waves and tumbling vessels. However, the score becomes an unnecessarily overt distraction. The manipulative rhythms distort this otherwise organic and potent drama.
Elevating itself above the already intriguing premise, All is Lost is a gritty, realistic, and unflinching insight into mankind’s most absurd and thought-provoking endeavours. Despite queasiness becoming a major concern, Chandor’s style hurls the audience into the movie’s discomforting and perilous journey. Most importantly, Redford’s towering performance silences the critics – illustrating his immense star quality and intense range. Despite the quarrels, this is a purposeful and delirium-inducing thrill-ride.
Verdict: An intensifying and creative survival tale.
Errol Morris’ award winning and influential documentary The Thin Blue Line was revelatory in its illustration of an important issue affecting the american judicial system. Its profound dramatisation of events is used similarly in the French docu-thriller The Impostor, a polarising look at one of the most inexplicable crimes in middle America’s history.
This event begins in 1994 with the disappearance of 12 year old Nicholas Barclay in San Antonio, Texas. Over three years later, Frederic Bourdin, a French teenager surviving the streets of Spain steps forward; claiming to be the sweet Texan boy presumed deceased. What unfolds is a character study based on the extremities Bourdin reaches to convince the still grieving and baffled family that Nicholas has returned. With several eyewitnesses government types and family members carefully tracing his every step before, during and after the shocking revelation, Bourdin continually recounts a life lead between his introduction into their world and eventual capture by Interpol.
Much like The Thin Blue Line, in which a vivid array of testimonials and re-enactments proved the case against convicted felon Randall Dale Adams to be fraudulent, The Impostor has the attractive elements of a gritty 90’s crime thriller with the informative structure of expository documentary film-making. Director Bart Layton has no immediate influence on proceedings. Instead he allows testimonials to speak for themselves, creating sympathetic yet questionable characters out of the victims and suspects of this story. Told in non-linear fashion, his low grade style of dramatisation allows for a nuanced narration of important re-enacted events from his interviews. Fluidly transitioning between past and present, The Impostor plays out like an on-going case, with Leyton continually changing sides on this important issue. The viewer will ultimately be polarised between the victims and suspects based on the harrowing evidence brought to light at every twist and turn. Leyton’s dramatisation of past events is created through a darker tone than most documentaries. The contrast created between the darkened, decrepit streets and orphanages of Spain, and the peaceful country lifestyle of San Antonio, develops a thought provoking motive for Bourdin’s sickening actions. The use of fluorescent lighting in particular creates a visceral edge for this dramatisation commonly found in David Fincher’s stellar crime-thriller creations such as Fight Club and Se7en.
“A new identity was a real passport, an American passport, I could go to the US, go to the school there, live with that family and just being someone and don’t never again to to worry about being identified.” (Frederic Bourdin, The Imposter).
The infamous phone booth scene.
Leyton’s objectivity is vital for re-creating the elements of this ordeal. Bourdin’s unsettling mind is chillingly examined through testimonial from Bourdin himself. Behind his creepy smile and wide eyes, a sympathetic yet unnerving young man with a strong determination for finding love through family bonds is uncovered as the motives and methods behind his many fraudulent and tortuous crimes are intelligently discussed. The viewer’s obvious choice to side with the grieving family may come at a cost as more is revealed about the origins of Nicholas’ disappearance. A noticeable level of ineptness is depicted through their testimonials as assumptions are slowly and carefully drawn about Nicholas’ living situation. “Spain? isn’t that on the other side of the Country?” Nicholas’ sister recalls saying through testifying her role in the ordeal. With many elements of this case based on poor judgements by the alarming number of american ambassadors, private investigators and Interpol officials involved, The Imposter makes a strong case for the number of bureaucratic post-war security hiccups to be considered a legitimate concern.
Being the most valuable film and TV genre, documentary can inject interest even the most trivial events and issues. Here, Bart Layton has done just that. Thanks to his attention to detail, his latest effort delivers more chills than most big-budget schlockers.
Verdict: An intelligently dramatised documentary with genuine chills.