Review: Manchester By The Sea (2016)

img_1286Kenneth Lonergan’s latest film – his first since the long-delayed Margaret – is an affecting and eloquent family drama of sorrow and endurance. It’s led by a terrific performance from Casey Affleck, who plays Lee, a man haunted by his past who obtains custody of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), when his brother dies of a heart attack. Continue reading “Review: Manchester By The Sea (2016)”

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Review: Take This Waltz (2011)

Freelance writer Margot (Michelle Williams) is married to Lou (Seth Rogen), a cookbook author who specialises in inventive chicken recipes. Their relationship is cosy and tender, yet uninspiring and routine, though neither seem interested in confronting those marital issues that bubble under the silken surface. But, when Margot unexpectedly crosses paths with handsome neighbour Daniel (Luke Kirby) on a writing trip, her heart is pushed and pulled to the limit Continue reading “Review: Take This Waltz (2011)”

Review: Meek’s Cutoff (2010)

Meek’s Cutoff is a new take on the western genre by acclaimed indie director Kelly Reichardt, and stars Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Bruce Greenwood, Shirley Henderson, Will Patton and Zoe Kazan.

The film follows a group of settlers, traveling through the Oregon desert in 1845. When they find themselves stranded in this harsh environment, they capture a lone Cayuse Indian in the hope he will lead them to water.

The style is austere, minimalist even – for long passages there’s no dialogue, and Jonathan Raymond’s meandering, prudent script deflects traditional narrative conventions, instead shifting focus onto the characters, letting their arguments and troubled minds drive the narrative.

The languid pacing not only begs us to contemplate the characters’ world, but also allows us to further enjoy the visual poetry in the lingering and extraordinary camerawork.

Reichardt’s direction is sublime, carving a distinctive and atmospheric tone that compliments the passive narrative perfectly. With the help of cinematographer Chris Blauvelt, she’s able to indulge in some extraordinary panoramic shots, using the landscape as a mirror for the characters’ hopeless trek.

The restricting format Meek’s Cutoff is filmed in, and the very little music used, gives the boundless desert a distressing claustrophobia and repetitiveness. These factors all exquisitely add to the almost frightening atmosphere, and highlight the apparent feelings of alienation, isolation and loneliness that taint the weary travelers.

Michelle Williams’ performance is a tour de force. She is tremendous in her role as the strong-willed Emily. It’s clear she feels comfortable with the material, and Reichardt extracts the best in her, rivalling her award-nominated turn in Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine.

Kazan and Henderson are respectable as the films key supporting acts, both responsible for the films timid yet slick comic interludes.

Perhaps the only problem is how underused and underdeveloped the male characters feel. The men are theoretically in control of their female companions, but they are never given enough screen time for this idea to develop, or for their characters to truly flourish. Dano, Patton and Greenwood are all fantastic actors, so it’s a shame to see their involvement so mishandled.

Meek’s Cutoff is a beautifully evocative, sophisticatedly directed, and astonishingly acted portrait of life on the Oregon Trail.

Poster: Meek’s Cutoff

Director – Kelly Reichardt

Starring – Michelle Williams, Brian Greenwood, Shirley Henderson and Paul Dano

Trailer: Meek’s Cutoff

Director – Kelly Reichardt

Starring – Michelle Williams, Brian Greenwood, Shirley Henderson and Paul Dano

Review: Blue Valentine (2010)

Derek Cianfrance directs Blue Valentine, an exacting, achingly distressing look at the complexity of a marriage and its steady dissolve.

The narrative unfolds in a non-linear fashion over two timelines as it tracks the burgeoning romance between Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams), and its eventual breakdown.

The action flicks back and forth, transposing the bright optimism of their young romance – each yearning for one another’s veracity – against the buried anguish and turmoil the dissolve has lead to.

Gosling’s Dean, through flashbacks, is seen as a charming, caring guy, while Williams’ Cindy is an intelligent, wholesome girl attracted to Dean’s fun-loving nature – beautifully captured in a scene where Dean’s playing a ukulele as Cindy dances along.

Their personalities age with the turbulent marriage, Gosling undercuts his characters’ charm with a frightening anger and eruptiveness. Williams’ contained performance as the older Cindy exudes despair and hopelessness, surmising her feelings towards her changed husband.

Cianfrance beautifully transposes the two different time periods with pitch-perfect direction. He uses penetrating camera angles and subdued lighting to represent the turmoil the relationship has become, while intercutting this with bright, snappy flashbacks to convey the puppy-love beginnings.

The film is a deeply visceral experience, pulling you from one emotion to another as it skips so dramatically from the giddy hopes of young love to the painful sorrow of this union’s death throes.

Grizzly Bear’s stripped back tracks are used to great avail as the films core soundtrack, further adding to the emotional integrity this film boasts.

Equally, in the scene where Dean sing’s “You Always Hurt the Ones You Love” and Cindy dances along, the emotional devastation set to behold the troubled pair is hinted as subtly, yet devastatingly so.

Blue Valentine is an emotionally affecting, raw and impeccably acted portrait of a doomed marriage, making brilliant use of the complex, non-linear narrative structure, gaining complete control over the audiences emotions from start to finish.

A breathtakingly real piece of filmmaking from a talented up-and-coming director.