Tag Archives: thriller

Way late review: The Hunter

I’m happy I finally gave The Hunter a try via Netflix streaming. Having been on my instant queue for a while, I almost put it off to the point where it ended up in my “sure, I’ll watch that someday (which means I’ll always find something else to watch)” list.

Martin (Willem Dafoe) is hired by a mysterious company to track down the last Tasmanian Tiger on the planet, kill it, and bring back DNA samples. His housing arrangement while on his mission includes a widower and her two young children in the middle of the Tasmania wilderness. Mystery surrounds every one of Martin’s moves. He poses as a scientist studying Tasmanian Devils, which makes the local loggers immediately hate him and the environmentalists suspicious of his motives. His mission is simple yet complicated not only by the locals who see him as a threat but also by the widower and her two kids. Mom is so depressed and drugged she sleeps non-stop, leaving the children to fend for themselves. The girl is spunky and her younger brother is silent. Martin resists getting involved as much as he can but finally succumbs to a family sorely missing the adult male, a role Martin fills simply by being present.

Making a terrible looking film shot in the majestic landscapes of Tasmania is probably near impossible. Regardless, director Daniel Nettheim still deserves credit for making the most of the gorgeous scenery as our protagonist tracks his prey. Martin sets out on a number of hunts throughout the surrounding area and each one is filled with less than thrilling action. He sets various traps, tracks his progress, and then cleans up after himself. While not exciting, the scenes are nearly¬†mesmerizing¬†with the calm, professional Martin tracking the elusive animal. During most of the hunting the tension is built knowing there are those who don’t want him there and the fact that Martin seems like a man with a heart but still goes about this mercenary mission of hunting the last of a species for monetary gain. Just enough happens during these journeys to make the suspense grow while not overwhelming the story with melodrama.

There are loose ends which never get tied up in a satisfying manner. The height of the mystery driving the thriller isn’t as clear as it probably should have been nor are the motives of at least one character. As a result, the story feels overly ambitious for what should likely be a story focused on Martin and his inner conflict.

Maybe all the pieces don’t add up in a completely satisfying manner, but that doesn’t stop the beauty of The Hunter from resonating. Willem Dafoe carries the quiet thriller on his back with a performance which is as much about the smallest moments, the slightest of facial expressions in the midst of a mysterious hunt for the most unlikely animal to be called a tiger.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: The Debt

The horror committed by the Nazis during WWII has provided no shortage of stories. As more true stories from that troubling time are told via Hollywood there is now an allure to tell fictional stories based on some loose version of that era. The Debt does its part as a film about a former Mossad intelligence agent reliving her mission to capture a Nazi war criminal. The screenplay is not based on a true story, instead it takes some horrific facts from WWII and the perpetrators and creates a smart thriller.

Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) is legend in Israel. Her daughter recently published a book retelling the events that made mom a hero to her people. In 1965 Singer joined two other agents in a mission to capture and bring back to Israel Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), aka “The Surgeon of Birkenau”. Vogel is based on the real life Nazi concentration camp doctor, Josef Mengele, a man who did monstrous experiments on camp inmates.

The retelling of Singer’s story is done in long flashback scenes with Jessica Chastain playing the young agent. Disjointing at first, the time shifted storytelling is put to good use as the truth comes out in pieces. Time shifting can be a cheat but here it serves the purpose, conveying the unreliable narrative of one character only to be corrected when the details of the present form the truth.

The methodical manner in which the plan to capture and smuggle Vogel out of East Berlin is executed is engaging, as it shows the preparation such operations require. There are no shortcuts. The love triangle that forms between Singer and the two other agents, David Peretz (Sam Worthington) and Stefan Gold (Marton Csokas), is not played as a distracting side plot but rather as at least one key motivator for some of the decisions that each agent makes along the way. The believability of it all remains thanks to strong performances (by both generations of actors) and a steady screenplay.

The primary dilemma at the center of the story is one relevant to today where leaders of countries often opt not to tell the whole truth in order to protect themselves and, often to a lesser degree, the people they serve. Consciences are seared all in the name of protecting one’s responsibility to a greater cause. The end result for the film is a bit of a compromise but the climax pays off nonetheless. True, that climax creates an identity crisis of sorts by reveling in a gotcha type thriller rather than a more reality grounded one which made up most of the film. A less than ideal ending does not ruin an overall strong film.

An uneasy thriller that feels like the initial premise could be based on a true story, The Debt delicately blends fictional entertainment with loosely based non-fiction based characters and events of the most sensitive nature.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

If the primary goal of We Need to Talk About Kevin was to incite the audience to want to cheer when a child is thrown across the room by his mom, then mission accomplished. Never before have I seen such an unlikable character on the screen as that of the title character Kevin. Whether it be the young toddler or the teenage version, both are intolerable. I suppose that’s the point but it wasn’t one that made a great impression on me.

Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Franklin (John C. Reilly) fall in love, get married, and have a child. I think it’s a child, though one could make a strong argument that it’s a demon in a skin suit. Eva is unsure of motherhood. As a result of her trepidation she fears she may have forever ruined her relationship with her son, Kevin. Turns out some kids are plain evil, at least that’s the lesson I walked away with after watching We Need to Talk About Kevin. Great lesson, huh?

The images on the screen are often unsettling. The story is told in a time shifted manner, rapidly switching between the past and present, which adds to a disorienting feel throughout the first act. In sharp contrast is a soundtrack that plays sometimes saccharine songs against scenes of Eva living her miserable life where people recognize her in town and seem to have one of two reactions: they give her dirty looks or they try to terrorize her with punches to the face, splashing her house and car with red paint, or smashing all the eggs in her cart at the market.

As strange as the reaction from the town’s people are to Eva, the behavior of her son Kevin is even more so. As a baby he his colicky; so much so that Eva takes refuge by walking him in the stroller near a jackhammer. The sounds of breaking pavement are soothing in comparison to her son’s non-stop cries. As a toddler Kevin refuses to listen to his mom. He destroys the home in every way imaginable. While he is the devil incarnate with mom, Kevin becomes the best kid ever around dad, which it becomes apparent is only to upset mom all the more.

The shocking ending is not much of a shock considering the sheer evil Kevin displays throughout much of the movie. Tilda Swinton puts on a stellar performance as a mom rattled by the reality that she has given birth to Satan’s little helper and the negative impact he has on her from day one. Her conflicted responses to her son’s actions would be compelling if Kevin wasn’t so detestable. The ending was less surprise and more relief that there was no more time to spend with our anti-hero.

 ★★☆☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Quiet yet creepy. Not exactly a drama, yet definitely not a horror film, Martha Marcy May Marlene paints a haunting picture of the effects of a Manson Family like cult on a young woman who fled the terrifying backwoods group and attempts a return to normalcy.

Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) reconnects with her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), after running away from the rural New York cult she called home for some time. Lucy hasn’t seen her or heard from Martha in at least a couple years. She is filled with joy to bring her home, yet perplexed by where her little sister has been all this time without contact with family or friends. Martha says very little. She is a ball of nerves yet outwardly appearing subdued. Lucy’s husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy), does his best to welcome Martha into his home. He too isn’t sure how to take Martha’s odd behavior. The first bizarre act being when Martha goes for a swim in the lake behind the house – sans clothes. Lucy yells at her sister to get out of the water and to put her clothes on. Marcy abides and looks honestly confused by the anger directed at her. Doesn’t everyone go skinny dipping in a public lake in the morning?

Since the story behind the film is a simple one, the director and writer, Sean Durkin, uses constant cuts between the current time line of Martha being with Lucy and Ted and Martha’s time with the cult. One moment is current and the next is in the past. Never jarring or confusing, the method works, as it slowly reveals Martha’s experience with the cult led by the best man for the job, John Hawkes. In a role and performance which makes one shiver, Hawkes demands attention during every scene he is in, no matter how much or little he speaks. His mere presence and sinister looks provide more than enough eeriness.

The tension of the film builds as we learn more about the cult and what fate likely awaits those who try to escape. What at first seems like hippies out in the woods living in a makeshift commune becomes a full blown cult, complete with violent rituals and the mandatory mind control. The reality of Martha’s current situation seems more dire as each flashback peels away one horrific layer after another to the core of her former life. Through it all, Elizabeth Olsen’s performance is near perfect. She behaves awkwardly with Lucy and Ted but never in a manner that feels melodramatic.

The ending is consistent with the rest of the film. Some may feel cheated, but no one can complain that the tone of the film drastically changes. It’s consistent to the very end; painting a disturbing picture of what it might be like to live through the experience of a violent cult.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Contagion

Sterile. That is the first word that comes to mind when describing Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, which is strange considering the film centers on a killer disease that threatens to finish off all of mankind. Maybe the paradox of a cold and calculated film about a disgusting and deadly disease is intentional. Outbreak it is not.

There is no time to waste. The first victims of the disease are shown traveling as they begin to show signs of not feeling well. Every item touched by one of these characters in these scenes is front and center. In case we weren’t already aware, it doesn’t take much effort to transfer many forms of sickness to one another, Soderbergh hammers home that point.

Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), one of the first victims of the disease, arrives home after a business trip in Hong Kong and dies shortly after her arrival. Things unravel from there with multiple angles of the story examined, much like Soderbergh’s Traffic. There are stories within the larger narrative but none of the stories overtake that narrative. Unlike Traffic, there isn’t a heightened sense of drama or emotion. The reality of the disease spreading, the fight to find the cause and cure, those trying to find the truth behind what is going on is handled in a matter of fact way, not unlike a documentary. The only time there feels like a message is being preached (ala Traffic’s (one cringe worthy) scene between Topher Grace and Michael Douglas) is when Jude Law’s blogger/independent journalist Alan Krumwiede is played for the straight up huckster and tin hat wearing crowd his character is meant to represent. It’s forgivable, if only because Law’s character brings so much energy to the screen.

Never completely satisfying as a drama or thriller, Contagion finds its sweet spot somewhere in between genres. And though it never connects on a deep emotional level, the end result is a well done film that tells a believable story about a scenario none of us wishes to experience.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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