Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos reteams with his The Lobster star Colin Farrell for another offbeat thriller with surreal twists. While this film has a bit less of the supernatural weirdness, it's a far darker story, verging on horror as it pushes its characters into a seriously messy exploration of the morality of revenge. In the end, the message might be a little unclear, but it's a rare film that has the power to leave our heads spinning.
It's set in Cincinnati, in middle America, where cardiologist Steven (Farrell) has finally conquered the alcoholism that threatened his career. His loyal wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) helped him through this, along with their teen daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and younger son Bob (Sunny Siljic). Now Steven is secretly meeting up with the 16-year-old Martin (Barry Keoghan), son of a patient Steven lost on the operating table. As they become friends, he introduces Martin to his family, and things take a strange turn as Martin's plan for vengeance begins to target Kim and Bob. And Steven and Anna are terrified when they think about what has to happen for Martin to feel like they're even.
With big moral questions that continually touch a nerve, the film sometimes feels like a particularly deranged Twilight Zone episode. And it also has a powerful emotional resonance, because the characters are so easy to identify with, including Martin. And since the actors underplay their roles, we can't help but put ourselves in their shoes. Farrell and Kidman find a terrific blend of vulnerability and tenacity in their roles, bringing these frightened parents to vivid life. Cassidy and Suljic are also excellent as intelligent children caught up in what to them is an inexplicable nightmare, while Keoghan steals the film with a casual intensity that becomes increasingly freaky without ever tipping over the top.
Continue reading: The Killing Of A Sacred Deer Review
One of the most extraordinary films of the year, this drama cleverly weaves in events from the news headlines to tell a raw, deeply involving story that's unnervingly personal. Irish director Lenny Abrahamson and writer Emma Donoghue bring these events to life with uncanny skill, using a young child's perspective to give it an extra-strong kick. And Brie Larson's central performance is so powerful that she's become the one to beat on Oscar night.
She plays Joy, a young woman who was abducted at 17 by a man she only knows as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). The story opens as her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) celebrates his fifth birthday in the single room where he was born and has spent his entire life. There isn't even a window to look out of so, to help him cope, Joy explains that there is no life outside the room, and everything they see on television is fake. She also gets Jack to hide whenever Nick visits, so they can't develop any kind of relationship. But as he grows up, Jack's curiosity demands more answers, and Joy finally decides to tell him the truth in the hope that he can help them escape.
Its halfway into the film when Jack's world is suddenly opened up around him in a rescue sequence that's exhilarating, terrifying and literally breathtaking. And from here, the film gets even more punchy, as Joy and Jack struggle to adapt to life in what seems like an alien landscape. Joy's parents (the great Joan Allen and William H. Macy) have split up, and her mother has a new partner (Tom McCamus), and their reunion is watched closely by the media, police and psychologists. All of this is seen through Jack's curious, observant eyes. Everyone is worried about him, but he perceptively notices that his mother is having even more trouble coping than he is.
Continue reading: Room Review
Throwing a solid Hollywood cast into a surreal arthouse satire, acclaimed Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) makes his English-language debut with a bang. This is a blackly comical parable about how it feels to be single in a society that only values couples. With its two-part structure it almost seems like two movies mashed together, exploring the topic in ways that are smart and revelatory, and utterly deranged. And the strikingly gifted actors bring it to life beautifully.
It's set in a remote hotel on the Irish coastline, where the recently divorced David (Colin Farrell) has gone to find a mate. Single people here have 45 days to find their perfect partner, or else they're transformed surgically into an animal of their choosing. David has opted to become a lobster, but is determined to find a wife. He watches as one guy (Ben Whishaw) fakes nosebleeds to appear more like a young woman (Jessica Barden). So David pretends to be something he isn't, but is caught by the hotel's imperious manager (Olivia Colman). He escapes into the woods, where he joins a desperate band of loners led by a fierce warrior (Lea Seydoux). There he falls for a woman (Rachel Weisz) who is short-sighted like he is, but romance is forbidden among the loners.
The filmmakers are inventively exploring some very real issues in society, which makes the story ring eerily true, no matter how relentlessly odd it gets. The script's action sequences sometimes feel a bit contrived, but they add to the characters' nagging sense of desperation as they're stuck in a world that simply won't accept them as they are. And it helps that the actors dive in without hesitation. Farrell has gained weight to play the middle-aged David, who had a happy life before being plunged into this nightmare. He's very easy to identify with, both in his awkward interaction and as he boils over in rage. Weisz adds a lusty, razor-sharp intelligence to her role. And Colman quietly steals the movie with her deadpan performance as the godlike hotel manager.
Sometimes this extreme satire feels rather on-the-nose, but it's also a powerfully provocative exploration of the way society forces people to comply, marginalising anyone who refuses to join the status quo. And Lanthimos is gifted at using comedy and emotion to deepen the characters and themes, digging beneath the surface while telling a story that's simply impossible to predict. So in the end, we're almost taken aback at the way all of this has wormed its way under our skin, revealing things about ourselves we thought we had suppressed. Especially the way we value or dismiss people around us based on factors that are utterly irrelevant.
Continue reading: The Lobster Review
Even the lighter moments in this dark Irish drama are tinged with sadness, including a scene in which a tormented mother and son escape through dancing together ... to the strains of Soft Cell's Tainted Love. But the film is anchored by such a solid performance by Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction) that it's definitely worth a look.
Reynor plays John, a young guy in Dublin working extra shifts as a cab driver to support his alcoholic mother Jean (Toni Collette) and his younger brother Kit (Harry Nagle), who has been institutionalised with Down's Syndrome and is never visited by his mum, not even on his 18th birthday. But then she's too busy drinking herself into serious illness. John's only support comes from his best pal Sean (Will Poulter), who has problems of his own as his ex (Maria Carlton) is demanding cash to support their young child. When Sean opts to move abroad to find work, John decides to get his mother into rehab, consulting a counsellor (Michael Smiley) who tells him that she will require a lot more than the one week the state can provide.
Things take a bizarre turn from here that isn't very clearly defined, but then writer-director Gerard Barrett isn't interested in explaining all of the details, mainly because he's telling the story from John's frazzled perspective. John lives through all of this a moment at a time, so the past is irrelevant, he seeks brief moments of joy wherever he can find them, and he just gets on with the job at hand, however freaky it may be. Through all of this, Barrett keeps things intense and unsettling, never quite letting the audience get its balance. This bold approach makes us feel almost as overwhelmed as John does.
Continue reading: Glassland Review
While this comedy-drama is sometimes wilfully absurd, it's also exhilarating cinema, telling its story with conflicting amounts of warm emotion and prickly abrasiveness. Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did) is known for keeping his audience on its toes, shifting moods and navigating sharp plot turns. And while it takes a while to get into the rhythms of this movie, it ultimately wins us over entirely.
Loosely based on the true story of English musician Chris Sievey (aka Frank Sidebottom), the film centres on the art-punk band Soronprfbs, which is fronted by Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a gigantic papier-mache head both on and off stage. While touring in Britain, he recruits the nerdy aspiring musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) to join the band for a gig in Ireland and then stick around to write and record the next album. This means that Jon must figure out how to relate to the bandmates, all of whom seem to have serious issues. Frank's girlfriend is the freaky noisemaker Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and there's also hapless manager Don (Scoot McNairy) and opinionated but aloof musicians Baraque and Nana (Francois Civil and Carla Azar).
Abrahamson lets the film play out in the same utterly bonkers style as Soronprfbs' chaotic songs: veering from subtle harmony to soaring emotion to pure chaos. And through it all there's a remarkably resonant centre as we take this journey alongside Jon, who is played by Gleeson like the obnoxious little brother we can't help but love. Meanwhile, Fassbender delivers a remarkably soulful performance from within that big head, using his voice and body to add layers of intriguing depth. And Gyllenhaal continually surprises by undermining her intensely scary character with unexpected expressions of raw feeling.
Continue reading: Frank Review
Not only is this Irish drama sharply well written and directed, but it also features a jaw-dropping breakout performance by young Irish actor Jack Reynor. He's already been snapped up by Hollywood (Michael Bay has cast him in Transformers 4), but it's well worth having a look at his sensitive work in this haunting film.
Reynor is the eponymous Richard, an 18-year-old golden boy who charms everyone he meets. He's the natural leader of his local rugby team, attends university in his spare time and has a loyal gang of pals around him. Then one night he attends a house party with his new girlfriend (Murphy) and his closest pals (Drea and Walton), and a drunken confrontation turns ugly. What happens next is so sudden that it takes a couple of days for the ramifications to emerge, and Richard's life starts falling apart around him. He turns to his father (Mikkelsen) for help, but realises it's up to him to do the right thing. If he can.
The film is loosely based on a real event, and Campbell's script never over-writes the story, letting the situation develop in earthy, honest ways that focus on character interaction and introspection rather than big melodramatic clashes. And Abrahamson's astute direction makes it impossible to watch this film passively: we are thrown right into the situation along with Richard, forced to grapple with moral issues that seem very simple on the surface but ripple out in unexpected ways as the situation brings out aspects of his personality that he has always suppressed in order to live up to expectations.
Continue reading: What Richard Did Review
Riseborough gives her best-yet performance as Colette, a young IRA operative who visits London in 1993 and is arrested by MI5 agent Mac (Owen). He offers her a terrible deal she can't refuse: if she wants to avoid prison to raise her son, she'll have to return to Belfast and spy on her mother (Brennan) and activist brothers (Gillen and Gleeson). But when she gets home, she discovers that the IRA boss (Wilmot) knows there's a spy in their midst. Is he talking about her? Or is there another one? And Mac is also a bit nervous when his boss (Anderson) starts acting suspicious.
Continue reading: Shadow Dancer Review
Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) is an unpredictable policeman in a small Irish town. When a local murder is linked to an international drug-smuggling case, he's assigned to work with FBI Agent Everett (Cheadle), who like everyone else can't quite figure out if Boyle's a genius or an idiot. As they track down three notorious traffickers (Cunningham, Strong and Wilmot), the case gets increasingly complicated. But Boyle doesn't let it affect his private obsessions with hookers and drugs. More troublesome is his ill mum (Flanagan) and a young Croatian woman (Cas) whose husband is missing.
Continue reading: The Guard Review
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