The Films of David Mackenzie
The Last Great Wilderness
Spread (November 18/09)
Featuring one of Ashton Kutcher's most impressive performances to date, Spread casts the actor as Nikki - a charismatic boy-toy who proudly jumps from one bed to the next with such frequency that he doesn't even have a home of his own. Though he's got a good thing going with his latest conquest (Anne Heche's Samantha), Nikki begins to question his shallow existence after meeting (and falling for) a similarly less-than-ethical twentysomething named Heather (Margarita Levieva). It's an intriguing premise that's initially employed to above-average effect by director David Mackenzie, as the filmmaker does a superb job of imbuing Jason Hall's low-key screenplay with impressive bursts of style (ie an unbroken take that winds its way through a hopping Hollywood party). The inherently fascinating nature of the central character's hedonistic lifestyle certainly plays an instrumental role in capturing (and sustaining) the viewer's interest, with Kutcher's note-perfect work ensuring that Nikki consistently comes off as a compelling, thoroughly believable figure (and it's also worth noting that the actor doesn't shy away from sporadically infusing Nikki with far-from-likeable attributes). There's consequently little doubt that the unapologetically aimless atmosphere never quite becomes as problematic as one might've anticipated, although it's hard to deny that the movie does start to run out of steam as it progresses into its increasingly conventional third act. The inclusion of an unexpectedly poignant finale ensures that Spread concludes on a high note, however, and it ultimately goes without saying that the film remains worth a look primarily for Kutcher's magnetic central performance and Mackenzie's striking visual sensibilities.
A seriously bleak little movie, Perfect Sense details the chaos that ensues as individuals all over the world begin losing the use of their five senses (starting with smell) - with the narrative zeroing in on the impact this calamitous event has on an easygoing chef (Ewan McGregor's Michael) and an ambitious scientist (Eva Green's Susan). Filmmaker David Mackenzie has infused Perfect Sense with a subdued, deliberately-paced feel that proves an effective complement to Kim Fupz Aakeson's low-key screenplay, as the emphasis is, for the most part, placed on the ongoing exploits of McGregor and Green's respective characters (and it's worth noting that the director offers up a fantastic meet-cute for the pair). And although Mackenzie has peppered the narrative with a number of startlingly cinematic interludes (eg a montage of the virus first taking effect), Perfect Sense suffers from an often unreasonably sluggish midsection that does, on more than one occasion, test the viewer's patience. (It's difficult, however, to discount the effectiveness of several key stand-alone sequences, with the film's highlight an captivating scene in which Michael and Susan reveal their deepest, darkest secrets to one another.) The end result is an impressively downbeat and depressing drama that does, admittedly, pack a palpably (and unexpectedly) emotional punch in its final minutes, yet it's difficult not to wish that the remainder of the proceedings had been as wrenching and engrossing.
Tonight You're Mine
Tonight You're Mine follows up-and-coming musicians Adam (Luke Treadaway) and Morello (Natalia Tena) as they're unwillingly handcuffed together during a pivotal (and crowded) music festival, with the movie detailing the pair's attempts at adjusting to the unusual situation and, eventually, their growing affection for one another. Given that it was filmed entirely at a real-life music festival, Scotland's annual T in the Park, Tonight You're Mine occasionally does struggle to overcome the gimmicky nature of its premise - with obvious instances of improvisation only heightening the movie's less-than-polished atmosphere. The freewheeling vibe initially prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing the characters or their predicament, and yet filmmaker David Mackenzie has infused the proceedings with a sweet charm that immediately proves impossible to resist. It doesn't hurt, either, that both Treadaway and Tena are absolutely fantastic in their respective roles, and there's little doubt that Tonight You're Mine benefits substantially from Adam and Morello's palpable chemistry together. Tonight You're Mine's eventual shift from passable to entertaining is triggered by a wonderful sequence in which Adam hijacks Morello's on-stage performance with his own rendition of "Tainted Love," with the movie, past that point, operating as a thoroughly compelling romance that builds to an impressively moving finish (ie the film concludes with a larger-than-life gesture that packs an unexpected punch) - which ultimately confirms the movie's place as an erratic yet rewarding bit of guerilla filmmaking.
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Hell or High Water (August 12/16)
Directed by David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water follows brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) as they conspire to rob several banks to save their family's West Texas farm - with the siblings' efforts eventually threatened by a dogged police officer (Jeff Bridges' Marcus) and his long-suffering partner (Gil Birmingham's Alberto). It's apparent right from the get-go that the undeniable familiarity of the storyline isn't going to be the problem one might've anticipated, as Mackenzie has infused Hell or High Water with a gritty and irresistibly stylish feel that's heightened by a roster of superb performances - with Bridges' typically solid turn echoed by career-best work from both Pine and Foster. (This is despite dialogue that's often impossible to comfortably discern, as the actors' mumbling delivery is exacerbated by heavy Southern accents.) The pervasively bleak atmosphere - Mackenzie doesn't shy away from portraying the desolate nature of the movie's surroundings - is alleviated by unexpected moments of levity and an ongoing emphasis on gripping interludes, and it's clear, too, that scripter Taylor Sheridan does an effective job of peppering the narrative with appreciatively idiosyncratic bursts of oddness (including a fascinating encounter with a grizzled waitress). There's little doubt, however, that Mackenzie's lackadaisical approach to the material results in a few lulls along the way, with, especially, the somewhat padded-out vibe ensuring that the conclusion unable to pack the punch one might've anticipated. It's a fairly small complaint for a film that's otherwise quite engrossing and thoroughly well made, with Mackenzie, despite a stumble with 2013's Starred Up, continuing his streak of above-average endeavors that deserve a wider audience.