Child of God – a review

ChildofGod1

dang pa, that cwarfee be strong!

What happens when you bring together a dark story from one of America’s foremost writers of dark stories and multi-hyphenate, zeitgeist-uber-renaissance-actor-director-man, James Franco?

Well in this case Child of God, a dark and challenging movie, directed with notable control and competency by Franco and lifted from the bookof the same name by Cormac McCarthy (author ofThe Road and No Country for Old Men).

Enter Scott Haze who delivers a quite astoundinglydedicated and brave performance as Tennessee resident and social outcast, Lester Ballard. Haze embodies this almost primeval creature with a devotion that is staggering and his performance will surely propel him onto more leading roles.

Ballard is all snarls and guttural buck-toothed incoherence, which at first verges on irritation as not only is it hard to understand much of what he says but such intensity from a central character is difficult to take in the opening of a movie. He is so starkly separated from the world that surrounds him, so monstrously psychopathic, that it would be easy to view him as a simple villain. However, through Haze’s incredible commitment, he soon moves this strange creation of a man through a fault-line plot shift that, against your better judgement, only brings you more under his spell.

Franco adheres to the literary (un)conventions of McCarthy’s text, staging the film in three sections or ‘acts’ and having different and seemingly anonymous narrators speaking in voice-over, describing and explaining Lester’s life. A life detached from society that leads to a downward spiral of morality and descent into utterly sub-human behaviour. Through Haze’s absolute dedication to Ballard you can’t help, even in his darkest and most hideous moments, but root for him in some strange small way. Considering the subject matter this is a testament to the actor indeed.

Despite the marketing campaign and obvious need to try to ‘sell’ the picture based on Franco’s fame, he only appears on screen for (barely) two of the 104 minute running time. Make no mistake, this is Scott Haze’s movie. Thanks to him, and Franco’s controlled direction, Child of God is quite a provocative and worthwhile attempt at some very controversial source material. Worth watching for Haze alone.

Advertisements
Standard

Tracks – a review

TRACKS_1

Are we nearly there yet?

Tracks is a genuinely inspiring story about one woman’s quest to walk alone (well, aided by her three camels and trusty dog) across the Australian Outback. The film is washed in so much stunning cinematography that, sadly, as it goes through the movie magic machine all the drama comes out, leaving a very bright looking, albeit strangely empty, film. Maybe that’s the point, showing author and heroine Robyn Davidson’s isolation, but maybe it’s a result of the focus being more on style than substance here.

Overt repetition of the sweeping top-down shots of Australia’s scorched desert landscape convey the vast scope of Robyn’s journey and the reality of her solitude. Although necessary and unquestionably beautiful, maybe this dedication to the natural beauty of Oz comes at the expense of some solid connection with our protagonist.

Mia Wasikowska shows again that she’s a young star burning brightly towards a glistening career as one of Hollywood’s very best. And it’s her charismatic and dedicated central performance that carries the film and lends ample pathos that, you feel, without her presence it would lack.

Director John Curran handles Robyn’s story well though, encasing Wasikowska’s complex and vulnerable Davidson in a rich mix of supporting acting talent. The particularly wonderful Eddie (Roly Mintuma) bringing warmth and soul, as well as a fair share of humour, to the portrayal of Aboriginals in the film.

Adam Driver loans his considerable charms to a role that allows limited room for manoeuvre, in Rick Smolan, a goofy and irritating American photographer from the National Geographic magazine. He grows on you though, providing some much welcomed comic relief and more than that, as his strong caring personality, which effuses from that unorthodox yet handsome face, becomes pivotal in Robyn’s spiritual / mental survival.

And it’s this relationship, between Robyn and Rick / Wasikowska and Driver, that forms the emotional and romantic core of the film. Despite Robyn’s familial reasons being draped as the backdrop for her embarking on this journey, and the irksome flashbacks throughout that allude to these, it’s her bond with Rick that connects most. In her quest for isolation, to find (or lose) herself in the desert, and her apparent repulsion at other people, it’s with Smolan that she discovers her most telling intimacy, love even.

Ultimately, the story of Robyn Davidson is far more interesting than this film, although, thanks to Wasikowska, it’s plenty good enough to look at for a couple of hours. It might even get you thinking about making some tracks of your own…

 

first published on filmjuice.com

Standard

Locke – a review

LockeTomHardy2-625x429

Meet Ivan Locke, construction foreman, devoted father and loving husband. That’s how we meet him anyway. Apart from a glimpse in the very opening scene there is no one else on screen but Mr Locke for the film’s intriguingly succinct 85 minutes.

Ivan is driving home from work, just like any other day, when he suddenly turns right when he’d normally turn left at a set of traffic lights. Literally at a cross roads. This begins the gradual unravelling of the story, as we learn more and more about the reasons behind this decision, and, ultimately, of his life.

This is bold filmmaking, not because of any groundbreaking special effects or sweeping camera work but bold because it dares to trust its story, its director and lead actor. That director is Steven Knight and despite the obvious risk of claustrophobic limitation (we never leave the confines of the car) he creates a wonderfully expansive scope to Locke’s story, making it feel very real and immediately intense.

It’s Tom Hardy that drives the film, as his commanding central performance completely disarms and embroils you in his increasingly desperate plight. He’s not alone (well, actually he is), as his supporting cast – the always good Olivia Coleman, the exceptional Andrew Scott and a fragile Ruth Wilson – join him through the medium of his car’s in-built telephone system. An ingeniously simple use of dramatic convention, as the car starts to take on a character of its own, growing into the story as we spend more time, with Locke, in it.

What you do, the decisions you make, affect the people around you. Honesty is the best policy but at what cost? If doing the ‘right’ thing by one person destroys the lives of others, is it still doing the right thing? These questions form the moral core of this wonderfully simple gem of a film, making it much more than the sum of its parts.

Locke is cinema as it could be: brave, different, thought-provoking and really very human. Go see it, it’s interesting and, hopefully, will leave you thinking about whether you turn left or right…

Standard