There’s a pattern I’ve noticed in films that were booed off the stage at Cannes. Often they are just movies that can’t quite be processed yet and haven’t found their audience due to challenges, dense themes or unconventional execution that simply isn’t received well off the bat. They’re usually rich, deep pieces that just need a little time to settle into the landscape before reaching deserved status, whether cult or beaten path. Atom Agoyan’s The Captive is one such film, a masterful meditation on loss and unrest following the kidnapping of a young girl whose parents simply cannot put her memory to rest.
On a remote, snowy stretch of Ontario highway, landscaper Ryan Reynolds stops at a diner for a quick second and in that second, his ten year old daughter vanishes without a trace. The film shows several sides of the whole scenario but chooses to display them non-sequentially so we end up as confused and disoriented as the characters must feel in such a situation. Reynolds and his wife (Mireille Enos) do their best to grieve but the event drives a wedge in between them. The two cops assigned to the case are an impatient hotshot (Scott Speedman) and an intuitive specialist (Rosario Dawson) but even they grasp desperately at straws in their ongoing investigation into child abuse. What’s interesting is that the film shows you pretty much in the opening scene what happened to their daughter and who took her. In the present time she’s eighteen and has been held captive by an unnervingly calm weirdo (Kevin Durand) and used as an online lure to catch other children for the pedophile ring he runs. So the suspense here isn’t really about ‘what happened to her’ and more like ‘how does it affect the people in her life and what comes next?’
So then, why was this received so badly? Well, I’d imagine it’s the structure and overall information passed to the audience, or lack thereof in cases. The events of the film are shown completely out of order, some sequences even split up so you don’t get the impact of the latter half of a scene until later on in the narrative. Additionally, when the end rolls around there are still many questions left unanswered and we get the sense that a great deal of the story is left out of our sight and minds, buried under the proverbial snowbanks that blanket the breathtakingly gorgeous visual palette of the film. It’s often tough for audiences to make do when left with a difficult, opaque and incomplete story, and the natural reaction can often be frustration or open hostility (just ask David Lynch, who has a film of his own that was verbally bashed at Cannes and is now considered his masterwork). Narratives like that are like protein for my senses though, and the gut reaction I have is always good, which often results in me being on a hill somewhat alone in enjoying divisive films. This is one of my favourite thrillers in recent years because of how unique it is. Reynolds has never been better displaying the raw anguish of a father who both blames himself and rages at the forces of darkness around him, while Enos embodies desperate grief in heartbreaking fashion when tormented by her daughter’s captors. Dawson grounds her cop role in empathy and dignity, while Durand looks like a vampire slinking from room to room observing unspeakable things on video monitors and somehow seeming like both a moustache twirling villain and a restrained one. Alexia Fast is haunting as the eighteen year old incarnation of their daughter, she plays it strangely lucid and does a beautifully eerie cover of Jennifer Castle’s ‘Remembering’ that echoes across the snowy landscape and bookends the film in grave but gorgeous ambiguity. As for Egoyan, he isn’t interested in pleasing the crowd or eliciting pleasant reactions, he wishes to tell a difficult, tragic story in an appropriate fashion. He could have made it straightforward, satisfactory and easy to digest, but where’s the fun in that? A masterpiece in my eyes.
You’ll be double checking that your doors are triple dead-bolted after The Strangers, the finest pedigree in home invasion/stalker chillers, a film so lethally unnerving that even a few moments in the trailer alone can get people squirming. On a dusky autumn’s eve, Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler arrive at their remote cottage to get some downtime. Giving each other the cold shoulder following a spurned marriage proposal, the mood is anything but romantic, but that’s nothing compared to the nightmarish arrival of three masked intruders who terrorize them the whole night through. First time Writer Director Brian Bertino has a brutal, bleak edge to his script and knows how to stage the scenes of fright in gut churning, uncomfortable fashion. Nothing about these Strangers is ever divulged, motive nor backstory, they’re just relentless phantoms of the night who chose this poor couple simply because “they were home.” The cinematography is gorgeously auburn and amber burnished, full of rich deep shadows that could be hiding anything, and quite often are. 1970’s inspired design creeps into the detailed production design as well as the soundtrack, and all the elements contribute to an immersive atmosphere. The ending has always been a point of contention amongst people since this came out (Ebert wrote an unfair, misguidedly scathing report), and it’s understandably tough for audiences to sit through such a depressing, hopeless conclusion. But considering this is Hollywood, where every film and it’s mother has a happy ending or something numbingly predictable, it’s a nice swap to get bludgeoned out of nowhere by a complete, no fucks given conclusion that leaves no way out for anyone and an upsetting, anxious feeling in the air. I love that the director had the stones to finish off the film like that, and I love even more so that the studio let him keep it, other outfits should take note of where and when to dole out creative control at the expense of making a memorable, lasting experience. A no frills nightmare that sends you straight to anxiety-ville. Keep those lights on when you turn in tonight and don’t answer the door if someone knocks. Don’t even move or breathe.
Dark Blue is the overlooked performance of Kurt Russsel’s career, and also the best. It’s also a film that brilliantly examines corruption, lies, brutality and abuse of power through a thoughtful narrative lens and via a powerfully moving story . So why then was it received with an unceremonious cold shoulder? Life is full of mysteries. I was too young to see it when it came out, or pay attention to the buzz surrounding it’s release, but I fell in love with it when I was older, and it remains one of my two favourite LA cop films, alongside Training Day. Kurt Russell throws himself headlong into one of the fiercest and most complex character arcs he has ever been in as Eldon Perry, an LAPD detective who comes from a long lineage of law enforcement. Eldon is a corrupt cop, but the important thing to realize about them is that they never consider themselves to be the bad guys which they are eventually labeled as. To him he’s on a righteous crusade, led by Captain Jack Van Meter (a purely evil Brendan Gleeson), a quest to clear the streets using any means necessary in his power. Eldon is blind to to the broken operative he has let himself become, questioned only by his wife (Lolita Davidvitch) and son, who are both thoroughly scared of him. The film takes place during the time of the Rodney King beating, with tensions on the rise following the acquittal of four LAPD officers. Ving Rhames is resilient as Holland, the one honcho in the department who isn’t rotten or on his way there, a knight for the force and a desperate loyalist trying to smoke out the corruption. Perry is assigned a rookie partner (Scott Speedman) and begins to show him the ropes, which include his patented brand of excessive force and intimidation. As crime ratchets up and a storm brews, Perry realizes that his blind trust in Van Meter and his agenda has been gravely misplaced, and could lead to his end. It’s a dream of an arc for any actor to take on, and Russell is seems is the perfect guy for the job. He fashions Perry into a reprehensible antihero whose actions have consequences, but not before a good long look in the mirror and the option to change the tides and find some redemption, before it’s far too late. It’s not so common anymore for crime films to cut through the fat of intrigue and action, reaching the gristle of human choices, morality and the grey areas that permeate every institution know to man, especially law enforcement. Working from a David Ayer screenplay based on a story by James Ellroy (hence the refreshing complexity), director Ron Shelton and everyone else onboard pull their weight heftily to bring this difficult, challenging, sure fire winner of a crime drama to life. Overlooked stuff.
Anamorph is a loving ode to the wilfully nasty serial killer flicks of the 90’s, obviously borrowing heavily from a few specific ones, the clearest example being Fincher’s Sev7n. It’s got the same dank, dispirited tone of that one, a restless urban nightmare wherein one lone detective searches for a heinous murderer that seems to elude him every step of the way, leaving increasingly grisly crimes in his wake. The detective here is Stan Aubrey (Willem Dafoe), a troubled fellow suffering from OCD, as if he didn’t have enough to handle, with a killer on the loose. Dusky New York streets are the predator’s playground, and he kills using some very elaborate, and very u settling techniques. Anamorphosis is a method used during times such as the Renaissance, where a painter would create a seemingly nonsensical sprawl with neither shape nor form, but when looked at through a tiny window of exposure (camera obscure), or from a painstakingly meticulous angle, a new image comes to light, in this case providing Dafoe with clues. Now this isn’t any Renaissance painter we’re dealing with, and he doesn’t use oil base, if you catch my drift. The crime scenes in this film are very, very horrifying and hard to watch, almost on the level of Sev7n. Dafoe gets help from his art fanatic buddy Blair (Peter Stormare), and tries to look after the troubled Sandy (a moody Clea Duvall), the relative of a deceased friend. There’s also work from Yul Vasquez, Scott Speedman, Don Harvey and the late James Rebhorn. Nasty stuff, this one, but stylish and well worth a late night watch with the lights low and your nerves on edge.