Whether 2011 goes down as one of the all-time great years for movies or merely a very good one may well be decided over the course of the next week. It’s been a middling year for blockbusters so far, but the art-house has been hopping with last fall’s festival favorites (like Certified Copy, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and Meek’s Cutoff), as well as some of the best from this year’s Sundance (The Interrupters, The Future) and Cannes (The Tree Of Life). And starting today, the Toronto International Film Festival will be screening much of the rest of the major titles from Sundance and Cannes, including Sean Durkin’s riveting cult drama Martha Marcy May Marlene, Jeff Nichols’ pre-apocalyptic mood piece Take Shelter, Lars Von Trier’s haunting Melancholia, Nicolas Winding Refn’s car chase thriller Drive, Lynne Ramsay’s long-awaited adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s school-shooter novel We Need To Talk About Kevin, and Michel Hazanavicius’ homage to silent black-and-white comedies, The Artist.
TIFF is also the annual kick-off to Oscar season, with star-driven mainstream dramas and comedies building buzz up here before making their way across the states throughout the fall and into the holidays. In other words: the Clooney level is high, with George appearing on behalf of both his directorial effort The Ides Of March and his star turn in Alexander Payne’s family dramedy The Descendants. We can also look forward to Glenn Close as a woman posing as a butler in Rodrigo Garcia’s Albert Nobbs, Michael Fassbender as a sex addict in Steve McQueen’s Shame, and Woody Harrelson as a bad cop on Oren Moverman’s Rampart. And we’ll get reintroduced to some of our favorite filmmakers, as Werner Herzog returns with his new death-row documentary Into The Abyss, Cameron Crowe covers one of his favorite bands in Pearl Jam 20, Nacho Vigalando follows up Timecrimes with Extraterrestrial, Yorgos Lanthimos follows up Dogtooth with ALPS, and the long-absent Whit Stillman comes back with Damsels In Distress.
Which movie will be this year’s The King’s Speech or Slumdog Millionaire, riding TIFF enthusiasm straight to Oscartown? Which will be the from-left-field discovery that’s not on our radar yet? For the next seven days, we’ll be filing morning reports from the field, with capsule reviews of everything we saw the previous day. (And for even shorter, more immediate reactions, follow us on Twitter: @NoelMu and @scott_tobias.)
But first, we’ve already seen a few of the movies playing at this year’s TIFF, either at Sundance or at advance screenings. Here’s our respective takes:
Director/Country/Time: Jonathan Levine/USA/99 min.
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick
Program: Special Presentations
Headline: Terms Of Endearment, Amended
Scott’s Take: “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion,” says Dolly Parton’s character in Steel Magnolias, and she’d have surely loved 50/50, which aims straight for that sweet spot. Adapting his own memoir about a 27-year-old (played here by the reliably excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt) diagnosed with a nasty, multisyllabic form of cancer in his back, Will Reiser and director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) tell a personal story that looks a lot like a movie, specifically Terms Of Endearment, albeit more profane. Some of it feels a little buffed-out and commercially minded to read as real—and the film errs severely by depicting the protagonist’s reluctant girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) as two-timing and villainous, rather than merely overwhelmed by a commitment she can’t make—but damned if it doesn’t get the laughter-through-tears effect it wants anyway. The comedy goes a long way toward keeping the sentimentality at bay, with Seth Rogen, playing a version of his real-life self, showing how the affection and support between male friends can be smuggled into teasing and gallows humor. (Along with Knocked Up, this is now the second movie in which Rogen’s give-a-shit attitude is belied by his secret reading habits.) As Gordon-Levitt’s hospital therapist-in-training, Anna Kendrick gives the Anna Kendrick performance—terse, high-strung, fast-talking, a little awkward—but there’s a touching interplay between her uncertain attempts to remain professional and her genuine feelings for her charge. And it’s nice to see Philip Baker Hall steal a few scenes as one of Gordon-Levitt’s fellow chemotherapy recipients.
The Cat Vanishes
Director/Country/Time: Carlos Sorin/Argentina/89 min.
Cast: Beatriz Spelzini, Luis Luque, Maria Abadi
Program: City To City
Headline: What made the madman mad?
Noel’s Take: Carlos Sorin’s ultra-low-key suspenser stars Luis Luque as a normally staid history professor who’s just spent time in an institution for freaking out and pummeling a colleague. When he gets out, his wife Beatriz Spelzini tries to make everything just so around the house, to make him feel comfortable. But she’s worried that he’s going to snap again, and it doesn’t help his disposition that their cat keeps hissing and scratching at him. There’s not much to The Cat Vanishes, which mainly follows the arc of Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion: Spelzini hovers on the edge, wondering if every little quirk in Luque’s behavior is a sign that he’s cracking. Why does he seem so sweet? Why does he seem to hear things that aren’t there? What’s with his sudden interest in taking a beach vacation? Why is he waking up in the middle of the night to rearrange his books? The movie works because of the measured performances by Spelzini and Luque, who make the edge of madness seem a lot like normality. Sorin follows suit, mixing an ironically lush and romantic soundtrack with dramatic stings, and moving the story calmly towards an almost unbearably tense ending, at which point he springs one more disturbing mystery.
Death Of A Superhero
Director/Country/Time: Ian FitzGibbon/Ireland/98 min.
Cast: Andy Serkis, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Aisling Loftus
Program: Special Presentations
Headline: Dying teen would rather not seize the day, thank you very much.
Noel’s Take: How do you tell a coming-of-age story about a boy who may not live long enough to be an adult? That’s the dilemma faced by director Ian FitzGibbon’s adaptation of Anthony McCarten’s novel Death Of A Supehero, which stars Thomas Brodie-Sangster as a cancer-ridden teenager who draws comics, daydreams about sex, and puts himself in mortal danger on a regular basis, hoping to slip up and just die. His parents put him in touch with a therapist—a “thanatologist”—played by Andy Serkis, who tries to talk the boy into embracing life while he still can. But Brodie-Sangster is more encouraged when he meets Aisling Loftus, a moody classmate who attracts him with her “to hell with everything” attitude. The individual elements of Death Of A Superhero feel awfully familiar—the attraction between two self-defined “freaks,” the unconventional shrink who helps a kid get over his rage, the cancer—but FitzGibbon’s cast is excellent, and the movie’s animated interludes liven up what could’ve been thoroughly pat. It’s easy to care about these characters, which gives the movie a lot of power as it moves toward what is clear will be an unhappy ending. Then again, because the cast and the characters are so strong, it’s also easy to wish that they weren’t stuck in so many stock situations: the pot-smoking scene, the room-smashing scene, the party where Brodie-Sangster drives Aisling away because he won’t call her his girlfriend, et cetera. FitzGibbon and McCarten succeed in integrating cancer into a slick teen romance, but in the process, they rob of it of some of its necessary pain.
Director/Country/Time: Nicolas Winding Refn/USA/100 min.
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks
Program: Special Presentations
Headline: To Live And Drive In L.A.
Scott’s Take: In critical circles lately, there’s been a lot of talk about “chaos cinema” (as video essayist Matthias Stork put it) or “intensified continuity” (as scholar David Bordwell put it), terms defining the current action-movie style, which favors rapid-fire editing and schizophrenic camera moves over a more coherent construction of visual elements. To my mind, Nicolas Winding Refn’s minimalist thriller Drive settles the argument: It’s lean, efficient, and sharpened to the finest point, with every shot and every line of dialogue serving a purpose, deployed for maximum impact. Owing a debt to the Zen-like simplicity and nocturnal L.A. ambience of Walter Hill’s The Driver—which, in turn, took a page from Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï—the film may be little more than an exercise in style, but it’s dazzling and mythic, a testament to the fundamental appeal of fast cars, dangerous men, and tension that squeezes like a hand to the throat. Gosling plays “The Driver,” a stuntman, getaway driver, grease monkey, and would-be stock car racer whose affection for his next door neighbor (Carey Mulligan) leads him to get involved in an ill-advised heist. Drive doesn’t get any better than the gripping opening sequence, which has him calmly navigating a getaway car through a dense web of cop cars and police helicopters. But it’s genre heaven all the way through, from Albert Brooks’ unexpected turn as a vicious Hollywood gangster to a rich, moody atmosphere that feels imported from ‘80s films like To Live And Die In L.A. and Thief. (Cliff Martinez’s mesmerizing score is very Tangerine Dream or Wang Chung.) The plotting involved in this titanic confrontation is dense, but made to seem elementary, and the major setpieces, when they arrive, rip through the quiet like a thunderclap.
Director/Country/Time: Gary McKendry/USA-Australia/105 min.
Cast: Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert De Niro
Headline: Killing Time
Scott’s Take: Is there anything sadder than watching Robert De Niro drag his carcass from one uninspired project to another? Once the most intense, volatile, and scarily committed actors of his generation, De Niro has lately been content to downshift into character roles that demand as little as he appears willing to give. De Niro’s role in Killer Elite is a minor one—the damsel-in-distress who the film’s ass-kicking hero, Jason Statham, needs to rescue from the clutches of an evil oil magnate—but his presence typifies the by-the-numbers action in this dismal thriller, which would go straight to DVD with a lesser cast. Based on Ranulph Fiennes’ (kinda) fact-influenced novel The Feather Men, Killer Elite stars Statham as an assassin who works out a deal to free his veteran cohort (De Niro) by agreeing to kill three other assassins and make it look like an accident. Clive Owen’s mustache stars as his chief adversary. To quote an incredulous William Hurt in A History Of Violence: “How do you fuck that up?!” Casting three stars of iconic or near-iconic stature as rival assassins trying to take each other out sounds like a can’t-miss proposition, but director Gary McKendry punctuates a murky story with murkier action setpieces, with only Statham’s standard bone-crunching physicality coming across clearly. More perversely, he casts Yvonne Strahovski, the super-spy from Chuck, in the passive role of the woman waiting for her mysterious husband to come home. Was early ‘90s Anne Archer not available?
Director/Country/Time: Christophe Van Rompaey/The Netherlands & Belgium/119 min.
Cast: Emma Levie, Jeroen Willems, Niels Gomperts
Program: Contemporary World Cinema
Headline: Big girl tries to fit
Noel’s Take: Reminiscent of Rosetta and Fat Girl, Christophe Van Rompaey’s Lena stars Emma Levie as the title character, a dumpy 17-year-old who putters around Rotterdam on her motor-scooter, hooking up with boys for quick humps in dark corners, or meeting her best friend to go line-dancing or swimming. Her rail-thin, promiscuous mother treats her like a servant and belittles her for her weight—which isn’t really necessary, since Levie already looks around at other kids in their bathing suits and feels inadequate. Then she meets scruffy bad boy Niels Gomperts, who invites her to be his live-in girlfriend, in a house with his reticent jazz musician father Jeroen Willems. At first, she’s happy to be out on her own, proving something to her mother, but Gomperts isn’t all he initially seems to be, and when their relationship hits a rocky patch, Levie is adrift, unsure where she belongs. Van Rompaey holds close to his heroine, studying her cycles of joy and disappointment—and that there’s any joy at all automatically sets Lena apart from a lot of contemporary European character-studies. Van Rompaey and screenwriter Mieke de Jong are fairly forthcoming, encouraging the audience to identify with the heroine and to track the characters’ changes. The result is a fairly conventional melodrama—with a disappointingly stock ending—elevated by the way Van Rompaey tries to capture subjective experience and by the performance of Levie as a young woman who’s so used to taking care of people that she falls right in step when she switches one family out for another.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Director/Country/Time: Sean Durkin/USA/103 min.
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes, Hugh Dancy
Program: Special Presentations
Headline: You can take the girl out of the cult, but you can’t take the cult out of the girl
Noel’s Take: About halfway through writer-director Sean Durkin’s terrifying drama Martha Marcy May Marlene, the possibly crazy Elizabeth Olsen asks her uptight sister Sarah Paulson if she’s ever had trouble telling the difference between a dream and a memory. Paulson says no, but anyone who has ever had that trouble—and I count myself as one—will likely be extra-shaken by Martha Marcy May Marlene. When Olsen asks this, she’s just a few days removed from escaping a cult: a group of back-to-nature, share-and-share-alike, free-love types who live together on a Catskills farm led by the guitar-playing, cooly persuasive John Hawkes. Now Olsen’s living with her sister and her new husband in their swank lakeside vacation home in Connecticut. But at night she hears knocking sounds on the roof, which reminds here of the stones she and her fellow cultists used to throw at big houses, to see if anyone was home before they snuck in and burgled the places. Are her old cult-mates coming to take her back? Or—just maybe—is she completely misremembering what happened to her on the farm? That uncertainty about what’s real and what’s all in Olsen’s mind makes Martha Marcy May Marlene a little hard to follow in its back half, as Durkin flows freely between flashbacks to the compound and scenes at the lake-house, with little to indicate clearly where we are at any given moment. But again, maybe it’s because the movie plays on so many of my personal fears—including being in a remote house with big windows when intruders arrive—that I found even the confusion of Martha Marcy May Marlene to be effective, not sloppy. It helps that Olsen and Paulson give such strong performances, playing sisters who’ve never really gotten along and who have decades of painful memories between them. What makes Olsen’s cult experience so unnerving is that in many ways she’s a better fit there than she is in Paulson’s upper-class dream-world. She’s a true misfit, not sure of where to go or what to do. And then there are those damned windows, which Dukin keeps sticking into the back of shots, as a reminder that Olsen’s past could come back to consume her—and that part of her maybe wishes that it would. Grade: A-
Scott’s Take: The excellence of Martha Marcy May Marlene has already been well-documented on this site as the film has made the festival rounds, first at Sundance (it was Noel’s second best of fest; his take is above) and later at Cannes (where it was Mike D’Angelo’s best of fest). And guess what? I’d be pleasantly surprised if I see a film at this year’s Toronto Film Festival I liked as much. Durkin, in a precociously assured debut, finds the perfect structure to reflect Olsen’s state of agitation and disorientation, cutting back and forth in time with the associative daring of an early Nicolas Roeg film, but MMMM is much more precise than its freewheeling edits might suggest. (Durkin’s debt to the cold hand of Michael Haneke is no less substantial than his producing partner Antonio Campos’ Afterschool, but less apparent on the surface.) Durkin studied many different cults before writing the script—Noel describes the hippie-dippie nature of the one he ultimately conceived above—but what’s important to the film are the common denominators: A charismatic leader (John Hawkes, oozing a Mitchum-like, snake-oil-salesman charm), women who serve a brutal patriarchy, the distance encouraged between this surrogate family and its members’ real families. We can only speculate about the circumstances that led Olsen’s character to this cult—and her bourgeois sister (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy) can only speculate about where she’s been all this time—but the film makes you feel Olsen’s sense of distance from both situations. She’s haunted by her experiences in the cult, but can’t readjust to a spiritually empty society where she’s expected to produce. Durkin leaves a lot to the audience—it shares a ruthlessly pared-down aesthetic with Drive—and that includes a masterful final shot that has (and will continue to) provoke some chatter. Grade: A
Director/Country/Time: Lars Von Trier/Denmark-Sweden-France-Germany/135 min.
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland
Program: Special Presentations
Headline: It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And Lars Feels Fine)
Scott’s Take: With a nod to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Von Trier uses the proximity of a mysterious planet as the basis more for existential drama than science fiction. The planet, in this case, is a giant bottle washer headed straight for the little blue/white marble we call Earth. From the jump, Von Trier eliminates any suspense on whether or not Earth gets struck—I’ll let you discover that for yourselves anyway—so Melancholia focuses instead on how its characters grapple with the possibility of apocalypse now. Part 1 follows Kirsten Dunst, a young bride trying in vain to keep her crippling depression from spoiling her reception. (Udo Kier gets some big laughs as a wedding planner so annoyed by Dunst’s flakiness that he literally can’t bring himself to look at her.) Part 2 shifts perspective to Dunst’s sister, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, a more level-headed woman with a rich husband (Kiefer Sutherland) and young child. As the foreign planet approaches, their polarities shift predictably: Gainsbourg is seized by anxiety and doubt, and Dunst finds her doom-filled vision of the world affirmed. Unlike the Tarkovsky film, Melancholia is neither mysterious not terribly complex, and it doesn’t engage in philosophy beyond the blunt implications of the Earth’s possible demise. Yet it’s nonetheless eerie and restrained (by Von Trier’s standards, anyway), and bracingly personal: Von Trier suffers from bouts of depression, and I can think of no film that more accurately captures both its paralyzing effects and the immense frustration of those who care for the afflicted. Though it lacks the titanic emotion of Von Trier’s best films, Melancholia makes it up in stomach-churning dread as the planet inches ever closer to Earth and forces everyone to come to terms with it, regardless of whether they’re emotionally prepared to do so.
Director/Country/Time: Simon Davidson/Canada/94 min.
Cast: Tyler Johnston, Jaren Brandt-Bartlett, Calum Worthy
Program: Canada First!
Headline: High school gamblers get in over their heads
Noel’s Take: It’s difficult sometimes for a young filmmaker to know when to pull back on the drama and let a movie breathe. Too little action can make it seem like a movie’s a big nothing; too much can seem desperate. Writer-director Simon Davidson’s The Odds leans too far to the desperate side, which is a shame, because otherwise Davidson shows a keen grasp of premise and place. The Odds stars Tyler Johnston as a cocky teenager who’s a high-roller in his peers’ underground gambling club, placing bets on everything from poker to high school wrestling. Then one of his friends—deeply in debt—turns up dead in an apparent suicide, and Johnston suspects foul play. He begins tailing some of the shadier members of his club, and discovers a dangerous criminal network behind what he’d always assumed was just a bunch of dumb kids misbehaving. The escalating threat level and the revelation of an unhappy home life for the hero pile up way too deep, especially since Davidson gets plenty of zip just out of the scenes of kids swapping bets via text message, and the scenes of the Tom Cruise-esque Johnston swaggering around like a big shot. Put plainly: The Odds doesn’t need as much plot as it has, given that the plot follows a fairly predictable line. Still, Davidson does get how high school kids like to play at being grown-ups, when they have no idea what’s really at stake.
The Other Side Of Sleep
Director/Country/Time: Rebecca Daly/Ireland/88 min.
Cast: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Sam Keeley, Vicky Joyce
Headline: Man, who did I kill last night?
Noel’s Take: Rebecca Daly’s debut film bears some strong similarities to Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar (in its look and tone) and Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene (in its plot and protagonist). Antonia Campbell-Hughes plays a small-town Irish factory worker who wakes up in the woods, bloodied and bruised, laying next to a corpse. She cleans herself up and gets back to work, feeling shaken but uncertain exactly what happened. Daly and her co-screenwriter Glenn Montgomery aren’t that open about it either. We learn a little about our heroine’s past, which involved finding her mother dead when she was a child, and we learn more about the life of the corpse, as Campbell-Hughes attends her funeral and cozies up to the boyfriend the dead girl left behind. But is Campbell-Hughes skittish because she’s guilty, or because she’s afraid that she’s a target for the real killer? (Or is she just really, really tired?) The filmmakers play it close to the vest for most of The Other Side Of Sleep’s brief running time, focusing on the rhythm of Campbell-Hughes’ workday and her interactions with her family friends—all of which are fraught with more tension given what we saw in the opening scenes. Daly’s a bit too enamored of the muted and the drab, which at times plays more like mood-overkill than suspense. That choice also keeps the lead character at arm’s length a little, which is problematic inasmuch we’re already unsure whether we should be rooting for her or not. But The Other Side Of Sleep looks gorgeous—all hazy, like a memory, with a judicious use of insert shots and the occasional jarring quick-cut—and it builds to an ending that’s cathartic than our woman would prefer, though it does provide a resolution that’s disturbing and hopeful in equal measure.
Director/Country/Time: Gus Van Sant/USA/95 min.
Cast: Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska, Ryo Kase
Headline: Harold And Maudlin (h/t to Keith Phipps for that headline, which say it all, really)
Scott's Take: Gus Van Sant’s up-and-down career has been mostly up lately, with the superb, career-revitalizing “Death Trilogy” (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days), the evocative lost-youth film Paranoid Park, and the biopic Milk, but gravity takes hold of Restless, his botched attempt at a modern Harold And Maude. Strip away the twee crapola, and Restless sounds promising, chronicling the friendship (and more) between a young man (Henry Hopper, son of Dennis) reeling from his parents’ death in a car accident and a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) in the final stages of terminal cancer. But Restless is virtually all twee crapola: Hopper’s ennui leads him to skulk around funerals uninvited and plays Battleship with an imaginary friend in the form of a downed kamikaze pilot named Hiroshi (Ryo Kase); Wasikowska is Manic Pixie Dream Girl who appears headed toward the most beatific death in cinema history; and the soundtrack includes songs by both Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens. There was a point where I wondered, “Wouldn’t this all be more affecting if it were more emotionally direct?” Then it got more direct and that didn’t work for it, either. Casting is a large part of the problem, particularly Hopper, who has precisely none of his father’s live-wire intensity and lacks the charisma to bring his character’s more earnest moments across. A few nice Van Sant touches aside—Harris Savides’ cinematography captures overcast Portland with grain aplenty, and the unvarnished look makes it seem less like Love Story than it otherwise might have—Restless is emo drama at its most insufferable.
Director/Country/Time: Jeff Nichols/USA/120 min.
Cast: Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham, Jessica Chastain, Katy Mixon, Kathy Baker
Program: Special Presentations
Headline: Is there such a thing as being too prepared?
Noel’s Take: Writer-director Jeff Nichols re-teams with his Shotgun Stories star Michael Shannon for Take Shelter, a different kind of film. Nichols is still concerned with family legacies, and the ways that people in the small communities relate to each other, but Take Shelter is slower and smoother, deliberately developing a mood of creeping dread. Shannon plays a husband and father who works a good-paying manual labor job by day and then returns to a well-kept, decent-sized house at night. But then Shannon starts having a disturbing recurring dream, involving a massive, poisonous storm that prompts erratic behavior in humans and animals. Knowing that his own mother was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic in her mid-30s, Shannon takes steps toward getting treated, just in case it turns out that he’s mentally ill. But he also starts building an elaborate extension to his home’s tornado shelter, and laying in supplies. All the while, he tries to keep his wife Jessica Chastain from discovering what’s going on, because if it all turns out to be nothing, he’ll have worried her for no reason. He’d rather handle his own business. Take Shelter doesn’t need to tick along as slowly as it does, and it suffers a bit from what I call “domino syndrome,” in which a storyteller sets up plot-blocks solely for the purpose of knocking them down. (The moment Chastain gives thanks that Shannon’s employee health insurance will pay for their deaf daughter’s Cochlear implants, the clock begins ticking on how long it’ll be before Shannon gets fired.) Ultimately though, Nichols is less interested in the losses Shannon and Chastain suffer as he is in how they and everyone around them to react to Shannon’s mania. His friends and family want to knock some sense into him, while the pragmatic Chastain keeps adjusting her plans, trying to accommodate her husband within reason. But every time Shannon seems ready to turn everything around, he has another dream, and slips again. I won’t reveal the movie’s final assessment of whether Shannon is nuts or not, though I will say that even though I’m not wild about where Take Shelter ends up, I don’t think the ending is all that significant. Even the movie’s hero would likely acknowledge that it doesn’t matter whether his family will be wiped out by a Biblical-style apocalypse or by his mental illness. Either way, the very process of preparing for the worst constitutes a devastating storm in itself.
Director/Country/Time: Paddy Considine/UK/91 min.
Cast: Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan
Program: Special Presentations
Headline: Misery meets company
Noel’s Take: There are some genres and sub-genres I’m inclined to like even when the movies themselves aren’t so good. And then there’s the whole English/Irish/Scottish “extreme misery” genre, in which drunken louts wallop on their families for our amusement. That, I’m not so fond of. For his debut as a writer/director, Paddy Considine follows in the footsteps of his fellow thespians Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, making a movie so brutal and depressing that it practically dares the audience to watch. Peter Mullan stars as an angry widower who struggles to keep his emotions in check, but is so stressed out by the noise and stupidity he encounters every day that he frequently snaps, and takes his grudge against the world out on anybody or anything in range. (Case-in-point: Tyrannosaur opens with Mullan kicking and beating his beloved dog to death.) Then he meets Olivia Colman, a deeply compassionate Salvation Army shopgirl who finds her religious faith tested by the brutal humiliations and abuse heaped upon her by her husband Eddie Marsan. Both Mullan and Colman do stunning work here, accessing some of the rawest of raw emotions without ever becoming mere pathos-delivery devices. And I can’t deny that Tyrannosaur features multiple moments that are as riveting as anything I’ve seen on the screen (small or big) over the past couple of years. But those moments would’ve been even more powerful if the movie itself were less relentless. When a little neighbor boy of Mullan’s sees his favorite stuffed animal—the one his long-gone father gave to him—chewed up by a vicious pit bull belonging to his mom’s bullying boyfriend, that’s sad enough. But when that’s not even the worst tragedy the boy endures in the film… well, sure, life is pain and all but sheesh.
Tomorrow: George Clooney gets political, Wim Wenders goes 3D, and the return of Lynne Ramsay.