BFI London Film Festival 2017 - UPDATE #1
Wrath of Silence
Directed by Xin Yukun
Stylish but mostly empty, Wrath of Silence features a hardscrabble (and mute) young man on the search for his missing son; meanwhile, an evil mining baron works to expand his empire. The two plots eventually converge, though until they do, the way the film cuts between them feels awkward and haphazard. The main problem, however, is that neither of the two central characters are particularly interesting -- we only meet the father as he learns that his son is missing, so we never get a sense of who he is or what kind of relationship they had. As for the evil mining baron, he's the stock Evil Crime Boss to a T, without even a sense of flamboyance to make him entertaining in his hollowness (other than his habit of doing target practice with an elaborate bow and arrow. Hmm, I wonder if this skill will come into play later?). Director Xin Yukun has a decent sense of style -- the the neo-western aesthetic combined with the film's unique setting (a small mining town in China) keeps things interesting for a while. But there's only so much that compelling visuals can accomplish; eventually the thin characters and leaden pacing can't help but sink the film.
Directed by Nicolas Wackerbarth
Filmmaking is a fascinating enough process that movies about this topic are almost always entertaining at the very least. But in focusing single-mindedly on the casting process and emphasizing ceaseless conflict to an unpleasant degree, Nicolas Wackerbarth's Casting is mostly a misfire. It's well acted, at least -- in particular, Andreas Lust does some pretty great work as a professional scene partner who realizes that he wants something more. But the movie is all shaky cinematography, endless bickering, and Curb Your Enthusiasm-style cringe comedy -- only without the comedy. It's centered around a remake of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, which also features characters who spend a lot of time bickering; however, at least that movie had Fassbinder's captivating sense of style. There's not all that much to latch onto here -- it's just bickering, bickering, bickering and more bickering followed by an abrupt cut to black, and oh hey, I guess we all get to leave now?
Directed by Andy Serkis
UK/114 MINUTES/HEADLINE GALAS
Featuring Andrew Garfield in what is probably his best performance since the criminally underseen Boy A, Breathe is a solid biopic about Robin Cavendish, a paralyzed man whose wife helped him live the kind of life that was believed to be impossible. Like most actors who go behind the camera, Andy Serkis is able to get amazing performances across the board; aside from Garfield, Claire Foy is just as exceptional as the man's wife, with a performance that is understated and abundantly powerful. And though the film is visually as staid and unmemorable as you'd expect from an awards-contender biopic, it's certainly well made; there just isn't all that much that stands out about it aside from the superb performances. That being said, it's never boring and it absolutely accomplishes what it sets out to do vis-a-vis its status as a tear-jerker. Your tears will be thoroughly jerked.
Directed by Dee Rees
USA/132 MINUTES/HEADLINE GALAS
About two families in the 1940s South -- one white and one black -- and how their lives converge, Mudbound is sporadically powerful and mostly compelling. The film features solid filmmaking by Dee Rees and a handful of exceptional performances from people like Carey Mulligan and Jason Clarke -- though, surprisingly enough, Mary J. Blige might just be the film's MVP. She doesn't give the flashiest performance, but there's a level of warmth and gravitas to her work here that's undeniable. The film's over-narration can get a little bit grating at times (every major character narrates at some point), and though there are moments of great power, Mudbound is quieter than you might expect. With a couple of exceptions, the simmering tensions remain simmering for the bulk of the movie. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but the movie is so low-key that the 132 minute running time can feel a bit draggy. It's not always quite as compelling as it thinks it is.
-Reviews by Michael Nusair