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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 23, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 47
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Outstanding performances helps Green Book stay on the road
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

GREEN BOOK
Now playing


In 1962 New York nightclub bouncer Frank Anthony Vallelonga, aka Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), finds himself in-between jobs as he waits patiently for the Copacabana to be renovated. It is suggested he go interview with Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) for a temporary position as his driver during November and December, the job paying a substantial amount that will keep food on his family's plates throughout the holidays. To Tony's surprise Dr. Shirley literally lives above Carnegie Hall in a spacious apartment. Even more of a shock? He's not a medical doctor but instead a world-renowned classical pianist. He also happens to be Black.

Dr. Shirley needs someone with Tony's skills as a fast-talking bouncer more than he needs a chauffeur. He's about to tour the Deep South, and having someone along who can take care of themselves, and more importantly him, if trouble were to arise, is one of the requirements the record label is imposing upon their artist before they allow Dr. Shirley and the other members of his trio (Mike Hatton, Dimiter D. Marinov) to play these concerts. For Tony, a job is a job, and he's more than willing to do what's asked of him. For Dr. Shirley, he's never encountered a man as rough around the edges as his new driver and protector proves to be. Unexpectedly, as each mile on the odometer clicks by the pair ends up forging a rather strong bond, and as their trip nears its end and their time as boss and driver comes to its climax it's equally apparent their future as friends has only just begun.

Based on a true story, Green Book is about as gigantically a crowd-pleasing piece of socially conscious entertainment as anything I've seen in ages. Magnificently acted by Mortensen and Ali, confidently directed by Peter Farrelly (There's Something About Mary), there's a lot to love about this jovial comedy-drama hybrid. At the same time, it's equally apparent that for all its good intentions and technical excellence this is another story about race and racism in America as seen almost exclusively through the eyes of white man. More, it is one where said white man actually starts teaching his Black employer about his own Blackness, and if that's not a quietly unsettling little trait for this story to possess I'm not altogether certain what else would have been. As enjoyable as this film undeniably proves to be, and as contented and as happy as it made me by the time it came to an end, there was still something of a sour aftertaste left in my mouth once the curtain closed, and as such I'm a little conflicted just how much praise I want to throw this motion picture's way.

And, make no mistake, I do want to toss plenty of said praise in the film's general direction. While I have no idea how closely Farrelly, Brian Currie and Nick Vallelonga's screenplay mirrors the actual events of Tony and Dr. Shirley's trip, what is here is still pretty darn engaging. Better, it oftentimes feels authentic and real, Farrelly rarely pandering to the audience in overtly sentimental or mawkish ways that could transform this story into a distaff Driving Miss Daisy meets The Help variation. It should also be said that Mortensen and Ali are superb. The pair have an effortless chemistry that grows in resonance as things progress. They are given almost equal screen time and practically even opportunity to make their imprint upon all that is happening. They give themselves over to the material entirely and in the process help give the film a lived-in stylishness that's undeniably captivating.

Then there are the technical facets. Sean Porter's (Green Room) cinematography is outstanding, the feature always feeling as if it is in motion whether Tony and Dr. Shirley are driving to their next gig or stopping at a roadside diner for a quick bite to eat. Kris Bowers' (Monsters and Men) exquisite score is also pretty great, as are Betsy Heimann's (A Walk Among the Tombstones) vibrantly withered and fashionably chic costumes. I also liked the way that editor Patrick J. Don Vito (My Life in Ruins) fashions the various pieces of this story together into a magnetically cohesive whole. Finally, Linda Cardellini delivers a sublime supporting performance as Tony's wife Dolores, and even though the majority of her scenes are of the talking-on-the-phone or reading-letters-to-the-kids variety she still finds a way to ground things with such naturalistic grace I was amazed by what she was able to accomplish.

But the truth still remains that I often felt like this story was being told through the wrong person's eyes. Even though he's the co-lead, Dr. Shirley stills get the short end of the stick far too frequently, and the scenes where Tony instructs him on the best ways to embrace his cultural identity are awkward and uncomfortably off-putting. There are times Farrelly's film comes perilously close to being one of those 'white savior' dramas from the 1980s or the dreaded 'magical negro' fantasies cinema has been obsessed with for far too long, and it's understandable if some viewers will be so put off by both of those elements that they'll be unable to embrace the numerous moments of this endeavor that are darn near perfect. Heck, even the 'green book' of the title (a travel guide to safe lodging and dining options for African Americans during the era of Jim Crow) is something of a red herring, and I can't exactly say its importance on the narrative is ever as substantial or as noteworthy as I kind of think it should have been.

I still like Green Book. Quite a lot. If Mortensen finally wins an Academy Award for his performance here I won't complain. If Ali follows up his own Oscar for Moonlight with a second one for his work as Dr. Shirley I might just stand up and cheer. But the movie, for all its strengths, still isn't without a few speed bumps. There are elements that do not work, while other pieces feel as if they've been pulled from bygone cinematic eras making some of its observations about race feel slightly regressive. While I can recommend the drama, it isn't without a few rather substantial reservations, and as glorious as the blossoming friendship between Tony and Dr. Shirley is I still can't help but wish I'd spent more time seeing this world through the latter's eyes instead of his Caucasian chauffeur's.


Warmhearted Instant Family an enchanting delight
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

INSTANT FAMILY
Now playing


Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie Wagner (Rose Byrne) have a good life. They have a successful business renovating old houses and then flipping them for a tidy profit. But their mutual obsession with forging a successful career had them put some of their other aspirations, especially as they pertained to children, on hold. After looking at adoption websites and reading literature pertaining to the volume of kids currently in the foster care system, Pete and Ellie decide to go to a local agency and take all the necessary classes to maybe become foster parents themselves. At the end of this training the couple takes three children, opinionated teenager Lizzy (Isabela Moner) and her two younger siblings Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz), into their home. But this form of instantaneous parenthood isn't without its challenges, and it soon becomes a genuine question whether or not this ragtag quintet can become the one thing all of them desire most: a family.

Inspired by his and his wife's adoption of three children, including a teenager, and the ups, downs and unexpected in-betweens they all ended up experiencing as they built their lives together, director and co-writer Sean Anders has outdone himself with the emotionally resonate Instant Family. The man behind such over-the-top comedic entertainments like Sex Drive, Horrible Bosses 2 and the two Daddy's Home motion pictures tones things down considerably for this thought-provoking and warmhearted drama. Working again with frequent screenwriting collaborator John Morris (Mr. Popper's Penguins, She's Out of My League), Anders has brought a story to life that mostly eschews cheap humor or overt sentimentality and never feels melodramatically ponderous or takes itself too seriously. It's an honest film filled with laughs, tears, heartache and smiles, everything building to a suitably uplifting conclusion that sent me out of the theatre feeling as if all was right with the world and everyday people truly can make a positive difference if only they choose to do so.

Not that the director can't check himself completely. There are plenty of instances where he allows things to descend into a comedic abyss that doesn't feel entirely genuine. As lovely as it is to see Airplane and Lost in America legend Julie Hagerty up there on the screen as Ellie's mother, what Anders asks her to do is oftentimes so obnoxiously cartoonish her appearances don't add anything substantive. Margo Martindale, as Pete's jovially eccentric mom, fares a bit better but not much so, her excitable exuberance wearing a little thin. There are also some strange cameos near the end that took me entirely out of the movie for a brief second or two, one in particular during the stretch where Pete and Ellie are pulling out all the stops to get Lizzy to understand just how much they truly do care for her and her siblings particularly so.

Yet the core of the film is so strong, so pure, that any missteps Anders might take with this story don't feel as egregious or as damaging as they have in many of his more unabashedly slapstick endeavors. Pete and Ellie's marriage is genuine, as is their desire to help others and to try to form a lasting familial bond with Lizzy, Juan and Lita. I really loved how the film took the time to show how hard foster parenthood can be, that it didn't soft peddle or sugarcoat any of the inherent difficulties. I also like that Anders balanced the comedy and drama with such deft precision, the ability to laugh when dealing with trauma an almost automatic defense mechanism for most that shouldn't be minimized. Most of all, even with some fairly outlandish subplots and narrative asides, the heart beating at the center of this movie is vibrant and strong throughout, its refreshing sincerity filling my soul with joy.

This is one of Wahlberg's most likable performances. The smugness that can frequently be a part of what he brings to the table, at least in a few of his more recent efforts like the risible Mile 22, Daddy's Home 2, the two Ted films or even in the otherwise excellent All the Money in the World, is missing here, his work as Pete a pleasant reminder just how charming the actor can be when he sets his mind to it. The scenes between him and Moner are especially strong, while his comedic back-and-forth rapport with Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro, portraying the two social workers running the local foster care facility, is excellent.

Byrne is even better. Granted, for those who have watched her bravura turns in features as diverse as Juliet, Naked, Spy, The Meddler, Bridesmaids, Get Him to the Greek and the two Neighbors films this will likely not come as much of a surprise. The actress is superb as Ellie, building layers of emotional nuance that are consistently compelling. Byrne makes Anders and Morris' script come alive in ways that amazed me, watching her give so much of herself over to the character a pure, dramatically satisfying treat I wanted to stand up and cheer.

There are elements of the film that do stumble into treacle. Also, as already mentioned, there were other instances where the comedy threatened to overwhelm things in ways that came perilously close to becoming inappropriately off-putting. But it's clear just how important this story is to Anders, and as such the director finds a way to re-center things whenever Instant Family starts to come close to going off the rails. This is a marvelously enchanting drama overflowing in good vibes and even better intentions, all of it coming from a place of a truthful authenticity that's nothing short of wonderful.


REAL LIFE: Director Sean Anders adopts a new comedic style for his latest film Instant Family
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

INSTANT FAMILY
Now playing


If it feels like making Instant Family was a deeply personal experience for co-writer and director and co-writer Sean Anders, that's because it was. While far from a true story, elements of this dramatic comedy dealing with the ups, downs and glorious in-betweens of foster parenthood were drawn from his own family's experiences. He and his wife made the decision to bring three siblings, including a teenager, into their home and it changed their lives forever. This was the starting point for the Horrible Bosses 2 and Daddy's Home director's latest endeavor, and as such this ended up making the film one he wanted to get the word out about every and anyway he could.

'I told the studio when we started production to send me everywhere once we were done to promote it,' says a jovial Anders triumphantly. I've been going non-stop for over four weeks now. It's exhausting, but this movie, this story, it's all so personal to me. I feel like the least I can do is crisscross the country talking to people about it.'

The two of us were sitting in a small conference room in the downtown Seattle Four Seasons. I was Anders' last interview of the day before he would leave to the airport and fly back home. 'Not going to lie,' he laughs, 'it's going to be great to get back home. But all of this has been such an adventure. As exhausting as all this travel has been, I wouldn't change a second of it. When you see how much the movie means to people, it feels pretty great.'

Instant Family stars Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne as a happily married couple who bring three foster kids into their home, the eldest of which is played by talented newcomer Isabela Moner. Co-written with frequent Anders collaborator John Morris, the movie is an honest, sweetly sincere drama that deftly tugs at the emotional heartstrings with relatively subtle eloquence. It's also quite funny, the filmmakers managing to balance laughs and tears with somewhat surprising dexterity.

Anders and I had about 20 minutes to chat about the film before he had to rush out and catch his plane. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation:

Sara Michelle Fetters: When you were sitting there, wondering what you were going to do next, when did you know it was the right time to tell this story? When did you realize it was the one you needed to tell?

Sean Anders: When you're living your life, even when you make movies for a living, you're not really thinking, 'This is a movie,' you're just getting through your life like anyone else. I make movies. My life isn't supposed to be one. You just don't think like that.

I was a few years into my process at this point when my writing partner John Morris said he thought it was time for us to consider doing a movie about [my wife and I] adopting our kids. I'd been telling him all the stories, telling him about everything that was going on, and it was all new to him. But it was new to me, too. When I first got involved, I didn't know how any of it [the adoption process] worked. I didn't know I was going to have to take classes. I didn't know I was going to learn all this about these kids, about these families. That I was going to go support group meetings.

And that's where the script started. It started from that place. Nobody really knows about any of this. But, because John and I make comedies, we started talking about whether comedy was the appropriate genre for this kind of story. We knew if we made it a comedy it would have to be different than what we normally do. But we also felt it had to be a comedy, because so many of the stories that I had told John were really funny. It's all such an awkward situation. The whole thing. The whole process. It's life, you know? Real life. That's where it all came from. That's where the script started.

Sara Michelle Fetters: But how hard was it to mine this territory? This might be a fictional film, but so much of it is mined from your own family's story. Your own family's lived experiences.

Sean Anders: Well, it's certainly not easy. [laughs] It was difficult. Yes. But difficult maybe in ways you wouldn't think. When you're creating a story from scratch, you kind of have the opposite problem than if you were just jotting down your own lived experiences like if you were writing a biography. You're staring down at blank pages. You're trying to add things to this world you are creating.

When a story comes from your reality, you have a million things to start with and so you're trying to take things away, trying to pare it down to a story that you can tell in limited time. Because this movie isn't a biopic about my family we couldn't do that. While we weren't working from scratch, this is still a fictional story.

But there are stories here inspired by my family. Additionally, we also worked with a lot of other foster families. They all had amazing, wonderful, heartwarming and heartbreaking stories. For a while there, the floor of our office looked like the detective's office who was hunting the Zodiac killer. It was just index cards with a million different ideas on them strewn all over the place. I'm sure you can imagine but it was really hard to boil all that down into one coherent script, let me tell you.

Sara Michelle Fetters: What I love about Instant Family, and it is also what I love about Elizabeth Chomko's What They Had, is that you do find the humor in some incredibly tough subject matter. That you make it okay to laugh. With this film, humor and laughter are almost like a defense mechanism for some of the characters. That's real. That's real life.

Sean Anders: It is. That's why it was so important to John and I to reflect that in the story, to find that humor and to make it all right for the audience to laugh. But it was always obvious that this was never going to be anything to laugh at. It was a film we wanted people to laugh with but not at, and that's an important distinction. The support group, for example, in real life those support groups have so much laughter in them. People are telling insane stories. I mean heartbreaking, difficult stories. Stories overflowing in life. And people are laughing. They're laughing because you have to. You have to find the humor in all of this.

I feel we're in a weird time for laughter right now in our country, and maybe in the world, where people are incredibly sensitive. It makes people think that you can't laugh, that there can't be any laughter. Everything has to be very serious. We have to be angry. We have to be focused. I think there's a place for all that stuff. But I also think that we can't lose the laughter, because laughter is the thing that gets us through so many things, so many tough times. For me and my family, we laughed a lot, even during some of the hardest times. It always felt natural to me for this to be played as a comedy just as long as we paid the proper respect, which I think we do, to the difficult parts of the subject matter.

Sara Michelle Fetters: Coming off of Horrible Bosses 2, the two Daddy's Home films, was it difficult to find that balance? Those are, after all, comedies that purposefully take the humor to a whole different kind of place than this one does. Was it hard to reign yourself in like that?

Sean Anders: Sure. I guess. It's just a different form of comedy and, as I said, both John and I knew going in Instant Family would be a far different kind of comedy than Daddy's Home was.

A lot of the movies that I've worked on, they all kind of came my way through different avenues. For example, Daddy's Home, one of my main goals in Hollywood was to work with Will Ferrell. And when the opportunity to work with Will Ferrell on Daddy's Home came along I jumped at it. Because A) it was Will Ferrell, but B) because I knew what his character was feeling because I'm not the biological father to my kids, kids who I love dearly. That was my way into that movie. Yet from the beginning, it was understood by everyone that that was going to be a pretty broad, screwball comedy. And I love that kind of comedy! It was really fun to write. It was fun to make. It was definitely fun to watch with audiences.

But with this movie, it was pretty obvious from the beginning that you don't make a screwball comedy about foster parent adoption. It was going to have a different tone.

I really enjoyed working on this tone. Working with Isabella Moner who plays Lizzy, working with the families whose stories helped inspire the plot, working with the social workers that consulted on the project, I feel like we really got to get into some really interesting psychological areas. In fact, we started to talk about how there should be a new type of therapy called, 'Movie Therapy.' I would talk to these families and they would open up to me because they really wanted the movie to be honest and real. They would tell me these amazing things, and then they would kind of have these small breakthroughs while they were telling me their stories.

And it was good for me, too! I got to spend a year of my life just talking about how much I love my kids. That's good for anybody.

Sara Michelle Fetters: I like that you brought up the context of this film in relation to current events and our collective need for laughter. But it also feels like a lot of the themes in this film in relation to hope, and to family and to togetherness, to kindness, to finding the ability to both forgive and to ask for forgiveness, to me, I can't help but feel as if those are themes that we need now more than almost anything else.

Sean Anders: I agree with you completely.

Sara Michelle Fetters: In this current political and social climate, do you have these conversations with the studio? Did you have to convince them to allow you to fashion your script and your story in the manner that you did?

Sean Anders: The simple answer is that you just try not to have that conversation with them; you just do it and hope people respond positively to what it is you've created. I think a lot of those themes that you're talking about, most of them are just baked into who I am.

I'm a big Frank Capra fan. I like movies that make you feel good. I like to make people feel good when I make movies, and you don't always get a maximum amount of respect for doing that.

I accept that. But I also know that my family has made me feel better than anything in the world. I'm a complete cheese ball when it comes to my kids and to my family and I don't care who knows it. For me to tell this story, and to take people through some traumatic, difficult times, but to take them into this laughter and this love that I get from my family, it was never a conversation about whether or not this is something that we need right now. It was a conversation as to what was the best way to serve the story. That always had to be paramount.

But it definitely is what I think we need right now. For me, at this time when people are so sensitive and so angry, so upset all the time, it was wonderful to be able to spend some time just talking about how much I love my kids. I feel this is the one thing we all have in common. We all love our kids. We all want the best for our kids. Even if we're diametrically opposed in a million other ways, we got that going for us.

Sara Michelle Fetters: You've worked with Mark Wahlberg a few times now. How did you know that he could pull this type of comedy off? How did you know he wouldn't play things too broadly?



Sean Anders: Well, Mark always seems to intuitively know just how far to take things. When you think about the comedy that Mark did in Boogie Nights, for example, which is not considered a comedy, Mark is funny as hell in that movie. That was really grounded comedy that he was doing. In other parts of that movie he was doing really intense drama. It's an incredible performance.

So I never had a doubt for a second. Mark approaches every role with incredible sincerity. He has a look on his face where he's just there, that he's in it, that he's in the moment. That's what we needed here. When Mark is all excited after he sees the speech from the girl and the first foster parent instructional class and he's talking about her like she's a house and he's all worked up, he totally commits to that moment. That's all him. He's a little dopey in that moment, but he's also worked up and genuinely excited. Later, when we get to the more emotional moments in the movie, he's just so sincere. I knew we needed sincerity from this character. And Mark oozes sincerity.

Sara Michelle Fetters: And then there is Rose. How are we not shouting her name from the rooftops as one of the great working actresses of today? How does she not have two Oscar nominations under her belt right now? Why is she continually so underestimated?

Sean Anders: That's so true. All of it. And she's so fantastic in this movie.

Sara Michelle Fetters: What was it like, standing there behind the camera and watching her give this performance?

Sean Anders: I'll be honest. The truth is, and I've said this to Rose, is that I sadly underestimated her, too. When she came in, I was so excited and happy that she wanted to be a part of our movie, but I never knew she was going to murder the material like she does.

Don't get me wrong. I had seen her in different pieces. I'd seen her in dramas. I'd seen her in horror movies. I'd seen her in comedies. But this one she really has to do it all. I mean, there's that scene where they go to the Fernández family for advice. The scene goes from fairly ridiculous comedy right into some pretty heavy moments of drama. Then, when they're walking away from the house and Rose is hugging Mrs. Fernández, that's all Rose. That wasn't in the script. That was just me saying to her, 'Why don't you acknowledge that this woman just slapped you?' And Rose just suddenly did this amazing, totally unexpected thing. I hope this movie is a big, giant hit and it makes people stop asking that question about Rose. She's incredible.

Sara Michelle Fetters: The kids. How hard were they to cast?

Sean Anders: Not that hard, actually. Julianna Gamiz came our way fairly early in the process. We knew pretty quickly when she walked in the door she was going to be Lita. With Gustavo Quiroz, that is an interesting story. His character, Juan, was written differently than what wound up in the movie. So when he came in and read he wasn't quite right for the character that we had written. But we liked him better than that character, so we rewrote Juan to suit him. The great benefit of that is that he sort of inadvertently became more like my real son. He came in with such a big heart.

Then there is Isabella. She had worked with Mark before [in Transformers: The Last Knight] and I was initially against the idea of putting her in the movie. She had just worked with Mark as kind of a daughter figure, and I didn't know if it would be a good idea to have them repeat that. But then she came in to read for Lizzy and me and these two other grown men there for her audition were completely in tears. From there it went from thinking it wasn't the best idea to being absolutely desperate to get her in the movie.

Sara Michelle Fetters: I was going to ask you about casting Isabella. I mean, you ask a lot of her in this movie. She has to carry so much of it.

Sean Anders: We didn't make it easy on her, that's for sure. [laughs] She does carry a lot of the movie. That's true. The whole thing balances on her throughout the movie. Once Lizzy shows up, she's the center. Even just her entrance. I mean, how good is she in that entrance? She's got this confidence, this strength, and yet there's this vulnerability underneath all of it. It's a silly little intro that she is just incredible in and the scene becomes so layered because of what Isabella brings to it.

Sara Michelle Fetters: When the movie was locked, when there were no more changes or edits to be made, what went through your mind? What were you feeling?

Sean Anders: Well, it's weird to pin that down. I guess if I had to boil it down to a moment, it was the first time we showed the film to an audience. We were always trying to find this balance between the drama and the comedy, but you don't know if you've found that balance until you put it in front of an audience. When we saw the way the very first audience was reacting to the movie, both with the laughter and the emotions, it was one of the greatest thrills of my life. I felt we made a movie that no one else could've made. I'm so incredibly proud of the movie. If I never get to make another movie, I'm good.

I mean, I hope I do, of course. I hope I get to make another movie. But, if I don't? I'm good.


McQueen's Widows a socially astute heist thriller
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

WIDOWS
Now playing


After their husbands are killed during an attempted heist of $2-million in cash, distraught widows Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) find themselves thrown together in common cause against a murderous adversary. Previously strangers by design, now all of them are the target of Chicago kingpin Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry). He's currently in a heated campaign against veteran politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) to become his neighborhood's new alderman and is in need of cash for one last advertising blitz. It was Jamal's money Veronica's criminal mastermind husband Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) absconded with, and he's given the wives 30 days to make good on the debt otherwise his bloodthirsty younger brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) will be paying all three of them and their families a lethal visit.

Courtesy of her late husband's notebook Veronica has a plan. Harry had outlined one last theft of $5-million and it only takes a tiny crew to pull it off. She's certain that three of them can pull it off. She's also convinced her chauffeur Bash (Garret Dillahunt), a devoted friend and confidant, to be their getaway driver. Veronica thinks that she, Linda and Alice can do this mainly because no one expects them capable of such an audacious crime. But as well as everything seems to be going Jatemme is secretly monitoring the trio's every move, and while he doesn't know what it is they're up to, he's still positive Jamal won't mind if he keeps tabs on the women all the same.

Widows, based on the 2002 BBC miniseries from 'Prime Suspect' impresario Lynda La Plante, is magnificent. Director and co-writer Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Hunger), working with Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn on the adaptation, has crafted a drama that touches on ideas of gentrification, gender inequality, political corruption, racism, nepotism and a whole bushel of additional hot-button social issues, all of it concealed in the guise of an adult-oriented heist flick that would make Michael Mann, John Huston and Jules Dassin all proud. It is a terrifically complex thriller, everything building to a stupendous conclusion that melds all of the various themes and ideas McQueen and Flynn had been playing with throughout the story to something nearing perfection.

I think what is most impressive is how the director juggles so many different plots and subplots with such effortlessness. Even more astonishing, McQueen and Flynn never lose sight that this is primarily Veronica's journey, and while practically all of the numerous characters populating the film are given their individual moments to shine, she remains at the center of the maelstrom. She is the one Jamal goes to with his demands. She is the one who must be the first of the women to set aside her grief in order to try and look at their collective problem as clearly as possible. She is the one who is able to connect the dots as to why Harry's plan went so wrong and resulted in catastrophe. She is the one that, if she doesn't already know all the players personally, has the resources to figure out who they are and make their acquaintance.

With all that and more to play with, Davis is superb as Veronica. Her grief is palpable. Her pain is omnipresent. Yet her intelligence is never in doubt, even during those moments when she is second-guessing her plans and wondering whether or not she and the other women are doing to the right thing. Davis has a way of making the character's stoicism feel like a shield against the trauma and the despair that's threatening to overwhelm her, the shocking, unexpected ferocity of her reactions to unexpected twists and turns catching me by surprise. It's a mesmerizing turn, one with delicate little nuances worthy of additional dissection and study, and for the Academy Award-winning actress this is a titanic performance that is unquestionably one of the finest of her justifiably lauded career.

She's not the only one doing career-best work. Debicki, so wonderful in films as diverse as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Great Gatsby, is a constant surprise as the browbeaten Alice, this damaged and abused woman finding an inner strength and a determined resilience she never knew existed in the first place. Then there is Kaluuya. In a performance that's as far removed from his Oscar-nominated turn in Get Out as you can get, the actor is a demonic force of nature as the pleasantly homicidal Jatemme, the shudders crawling up my spine each time the character made an appearance justified considering just how terrifying this killer proves himself to be.

But everyone in the cast is great, especially Rodriguez, Farrell and Henry, each taking what could have been stock genre characters and doing something unforeseen with all of them. I was also blown away by an unrecognizable Cynthia Erivo, the Bad Times at the El Royale chanteuse crafting a performance for McQueen as a quietly dogged single mother struggling to keep her head above water that's divine. Only Robert Duvall as the elder Tom Mulligan, constantly badgering his weasel of a son Jack, disappoints and not because the legendary actor gives a subpar performance. Instead, this is due to the routine way in which the character is scripted, his constant foul-mouthed antagonism more expected and commonplace than it is appalling or unanticipated.

From a technical standpoint, few 2018 motion pictures look, sound and move as well as this one does. Sean Bobbitt's (Shame) cinematography is a master class in framing, his use of shadows, light and explosions of color stunning. Same goes for Joe Walker's (Arrival) confidently kinetic editing, his ability to imbue each scene with a steady aura of menace and dread outstanding. As for veteran composer Hans Zimmer's (Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk) score, the way his music augments each of the individual scenes it's so cleverly utilized within is close to extraordinary, and it's hard not to believe a second Oscar might be on its way.

In the end, it is McQueen and Flynn's script that impressed me the most. It's apparent that they love these women, even the ones at the periphery portrayed by the likes of Carrie Coon, Jacki Weaver and Molly Kunz, the two filmmakers making sure each character has their own distinctive voice. Better, the duo allows them to have their own inner lives that they're currently attempting to navigate. This helps make all of the women, and not just Veronica, Linda and Alice, feel authentic in their emotional dimensionality, giving the film an extra layer of realism that's impressive in diverse specificity.

I figured out the story's core twist early on, and I'm not entirely certain McQueen and Flynn meant for me to do so. But this didn't weaken the film for me, its visceral power to amaze never waning, making the fact I figured out what was going to happen at the end not matter nearly as much as maybe it should have. The final scenes of Widows have a haunting truthfulness that left me both shattered and hopeful at the exact same time, the austere closing image a quiet plea for forgiveness, friendship and companionship that's nothing short of flawless. It's an unforgettable moment in an equally unforgettable movie, and I can't wait for audiences to sit in the darkened theatre and discover its magnificence for themselves right away.


Character-driven Wildlife an emotionally raw heartbreaker
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

WILDLIFE
Now playing


Golf pro Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) has moved his family to a small Montana town to take a job at a local country club. Not only does this mean a new school for 14-year-old son Joe (Ed Oxenbould), it also forced his wife Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) to give up her position as a substitute teacher and become a full-time housewife. But when he shockingly loses his job after a bizarre misunderstanding with his boss, mother and son are forced to pick up the financial slack. Joe gets an after-school job working as a photographer's assistant while Jeanette puts her teaching skills to good use getting a part-time position as a swimming instructor. All the while Jerry quietly stews, their dual success making him feel emasculated as they're both out there picking up paychecks while he drowns his sorrows in a bottle of beer.

Even though the pay is terrible and the work is dangerous, Jerry joins a local crew to help battle wildfires up near the Canadian border. Jeanette is livid, thinking her husband is being an egotistical fool, that his anger that his wife is making more money than he is has caused him to take a job that could easily result in his death. In fact, she's so angry she begins to rethink why it was she allowed Jerry to move them to the middle of the desolate nowhere in the first place. Looking to rediscover her fading youth, and in her own attempt to battle her growing sense of loneliness, Jeanette begins a flirtatious friendship with wealthy businessman and war hero Warren Miller (Bill Camp). More, she allows Joe to see all of what is going on between the two of them, believing he has every right to know his parents aren't perfect and that they have personal lives outside of their raising of him.

Everything and nothing is happening inside actor Paul Dano's directorial debut Wildlife, a superb adaptation of Richard Ford's 1990 novel. Featuring a delicate, effortlessly balanced script he co-wrote with Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks), Dano's film has an observational spark of insightful intimacy reminiscent of Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women or Chloé Zhao's The Rider. It is a movie uniquely in tune with its early 1960s environment and one that grows in emotional urgency as it goes along. Featuring a spellbinding central performance from Mulligan and strong supporting turns from Gyllenhaal, Camp and Oxenbould, I kind of loved Dano's film, the fact that it has continued to haunt, vex and intellectually stimulate me over a month after my first viewing a big reason why.

A big reason for this is the fearless complexity of Jeanette's character. We do not typically see women like her in modern cinema outside of femme fatales, prostitutes or villains, especially not stories set in the 1940s, '50s or '60s. But Dano and Kazan allow Jeanette to be her own person, flaws and all. She loves her son. She maybe loves her husband. She wants to make their life in Montana work. But she also wants to be her own woman. She wants to feel valued. She doesn't want to be left at home wondering where the most productive years of her life disappeared to. This is a woman who makes painfully bad decisions but also tries to be as honest about them as she believes she can be. Jeanette is a walking, talking conundrum, her contradictions and shortcomings making her human and as such far more believably authentic than she otherwise would have been.

This unsurprisingly gives the talented Mulligan fertile emotional earth to plant seeds within, her performance blossoming into something gorgeously spectacular. The An Education Oscar-nominee is spectacular, and oftentimes it is what goes unsaid, the numerous quiet moments, where she proves to be the most heartbreakingly authentic. The jittery physicality of Mulligan's portrayal is frequently surprising. She shares scenes with Oxenbould that are mesmeric in their uncomfortable specificity, Jeanette's attempts to explain to Joe what is going on with her, his father and her relationship with Warren creating more self-inflicted emotional wounds than they heal.

There are some third act speed bumps. A fiery scene between Gyllenhaal and Camp doesn't work, Jerry's actions not ringing with the same sort of character-driven realism that almost everything else in the movie seems to showcase. Also, as good as Oxenbould is, and even though Joe is the observer whose eyes the audience views all of this marital self-destructive carnage through, I can't say Dano and Kazan's script treats him with the same sort of multidimensional nuance as it does either Jeanette or Jerry.

Yet this remains a movie I can't get out of my head. Dano's debut effort has latched onto me in ways that defy easy description. It pokes and prods, the film breathlessly unafraid to break its characters down to their most basic elements, stripping them naked so that their flaws are as clearly on display as their strengths are. Wildlife is a quiet, introspective marvel that only grows in lasting resonance the further away I get from it, the lasting imprint it has made upon my psyche one I'm going to treasure for some time to come.


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