Tag: joel edgerton

The King


The King (2019)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Leave it to director David Michôd for pushing a more introspective take on a typical historical drama in which a person who does not wish to be king ends up with the throne, the crown, and every problem that comes with it. Based on several plays from William Shakespeare’s “Henriad,” “The King” stars Timothée Chalamet as Henry Prince of Wales (referred to as “Hal” by those closest to him), the wayward son of King Henry IV of England (Ben Mendelsohn) who would rather drink all night, sleep all day, and spend time with muddy commoners than to learn the finer points of how to lead a kingdom. It is an inspired choice of casting because the performer knows precisely how to convey crippling loneliness, as he has shown in Luca Guadagnino’s sublime “Call Me by Your Name,” and Hal is a subject plagued with this emotion from the moment he agrees to take on the responsibilities of a king.

Propelled by a slow but calculated pacing, I admired the writers’ decision (Michôd, Joel Edgerton) to focus solely on who Hal is as person—a young man with a title but without power—for about a third of the picture. (An exploration of who he is as a leader comprises the rest of the film.) It is a risk because political machinations are pushed to the background and we hear of civil unrest and war abroad mostly in passing. It would have been the more generic choice to insert confrontations among old men of power—whether it be war of words or weapons—in between moments of characterization in order to compel the audience into paying attention. Here, overt action is used sparingly; most of the action employed is internal.

Instead, the viewers are flooded with instances of Hal being tested prior to becoming ruler. We learn about his level of patience, what gets him angry, who he considers a friend, what qualities he respects in a person, his fears. We take note of his weaknesses which may come to haunt him later. And so when he becomes king eventually, we have an understanding or appreciation of his core values. We expect how he might react to certain challenges surrounding his crown and country, but he retains the ability to surprise—just like a real person. Chalamet ensures to highlight the flaws of his character, especially during moments of deafening silence, because imperfection is interesting.

The relationship between Hal and Falstaff (Edgerton) is begging for refinement. For far too long Falstaff is shown as a jesting fool who just so happens to possess bouts of wisdom. Later, he is revealed to have a prodigious reputation. It would have been a compelling angle to tell their stories in parallel: the directionless young man who would don the crown and the drunken buffoon who must revert to becoming a warrior-tactician. Particularly during the latter part of the story, when political machinations and war have migrated to the forefront, I felt as though the friendship is somewhat disconnected rather than one that functions as symbiosis. I did not feel the big emotions being conveyed during critical moments.

It is without question the filmmakers are intrigued with political chess. The number of meetings that must be had is somewhat amusing, and these give way for the more colorful personalities to stand out or be introduced. Most memorable is the Dauphin of France who claims to enjoy speaking in English because it is simple and sounds ugly. This rough, vile, hilarious character who deems himself superior to everyone else is played with infectious joy by Robert Pattinson. He demands to be heard, to be seen, to be respected—just like Hal, interestingly enough. But there is a vast difference between the two figures. It is a risk-taking performance because most will regard the Dauphin as a joke. Yet he proves to have a venomous bite.

“The King” shows that a period drama need not be stuffy to be respectable. It is accessible, intelligent, aware of how human nature and psychology works. There are short as well as drawn-out battle scenes—every single one well-choreographed—but these are not the central attractions. Instead, we are invited to learn about a person who must find peace—peace for his kingdom, peace within himself—amidst the chaos he inherited. Ultimately, it is a sad story, I think, because although Hal is a king, an argument can be made that from the second he agreed to carry on the torch, he has chosen to become a prisoner of tradition, of great expectations.

Boy Erased


Boy Erased (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The purpose of “Boy Erased” is straightforward: 1) To further expose the cruel and downright predatory practices of gay conversion programs, their pseudoscientific practices still legal, at the time of writing, across 36 states across the U.S.—all having the power to subject even minors through all sorts of humiliating and traumatizing situations, and 2) To inspire a change in us and also on a legislative level. Although it succeeds on this front, what I admired most about the film is that it is a specific story first and foremost. And so a topic that may sound or feel abstract to some is anchored to something concrete. A viewer need not know someone who has gone through such “therapy” to be able to empathize with the heartbreaking and maddening occurrences on screen.

Lucas Hedges shows once again why he is one of the best performers of his generation. He plays Jared Eamons, eighteen-year-old son of a preacher/car dealer (Russell Crowe) and hairdresser (Nicole Kidman), whose family is deeply religious. Standing toe-to-toe against veteran actors like Crowe and Kidman is not easy, but he makes it look effortless. For example, he makes the intelligent choice to adopt Crowe and Kidman’s approaches to their own characters, the former nearly inaccessible, quiet, his nose often buried in the Bible, and having the tendency to look down during moments of confrontations while the latter’s technique is almost the exact opposite.

Striking a balance between extreme characterizations, it helps on two fronts. First, it provides believability that Jared has in fact been raised in a particular household laden with many rules inspired by the word of God. Second, Hedges employs the opposite technique when facing either Crowe or Kidman, depending the scene, and so he does not get buried when an experienced performer sends wave after wave of powerful emotions, both subtle and dramatic.

The disadvantage, however, is most apparent when the three of them share a scene. Because Hedges is not as effective—yet—as his seasoned counterparts, there are times when he fades into the background just a little. And yet, thinking about it more thoroughly, perhaps this is the intent. Because Jared feels invisible when being around his parents, maybe the correct approach is to dial back, to blend into the surroundings. After all, the parents refuse, downright deny, a part of their son that is important.

Scenes at the Love in Action gay conversion therapy program, led by Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton—who also writes and the directs the film), are most effective when shot in a matter-of-fact way. Interiors are so barren and impersonal, notice no one wears a hint of bright color—for bright shirt might as well have been a rainbow flag. Most of the staff appear robotic and cold. No one cracks a warm or friendly smile because doing so may come across as suggestive. Touching, other than quick handshakes (firm handshakes for males, soft for females), is not allowed. Conversations are encouraged to be brief. There are even strict rules when it comes to going to the restroom.

We observe the entire process, from the personal items that must be checked in, what is brought up and explored during the program, to the long-term psychological effects of brainwashing. I appreciated that the material bothers to make a point that every program’s “client”—I prefer the word “victim”—responds to “therapy” in different ways. Appropriately, these are meant to make the viewers angry. More importantly, it urges us to empathize, to see that, clearly, these programs are a sham and those who choose to run them are swindlers. There is no curing homosexuality because there is nothing to cure. It is not a disease or a choice. It just is.

There are numerous genuinely affecting moments in the picture, like the talk between a doctor (Cherry Jones) who is tasked to draw blood from her patient (Hedges), but one that elevates the film greatly is the final exchange between father and son. To reveal as little as possible is ideal, but what is at stake is how the Eamons family will move forward. There is so much to say and express, but Edgerton chooses to be concise and precise. Beautifully shot and the dialogue so well-written, somehow the confrontation comes across both grand and deeply personal. It is a terrific closer to a wonderful film that just so happens to be well-intentioned.

The Great Gatsby


The Great Gatsby (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Young and ambitious Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who studied in Yale University with hopes of becoming a writer, moves to New York in the 1922 and snags a job in Wall Street selling bonds. He lives in West Egg, right next to a mansion owned by Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), known for throwing a lavish party every weekend—one that is open to the public, attended by who’s who of the city. And yet although people clamor to the estate by the end of the week, no one really knows Gatsby: his background, how he really looks like, why he hosts a party every weekend, not even where his money comes from.

“The Great Gatsby,” directed by Baz Luhrmann and based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is easy on the eyes and it offers real emotions on screen. Despite this, however, the movie is not a compelling watch, only superficially entertaining because there is always something to look at and the performers are good in their roles. One cannot help but feel like there is a disconnect between the source material and the way it is being translated on screen.

Others might find the anachronistic music to be quite off-putting. I liked it. The contrast between the Roaring Twenties and modern hip-hop and R&B creates a sentiment that while the parties are grand and everybody appears to be having a wonderful time, the charade remains temporary and superficial. The images and music function as a mask just like how Gatsby feels that he must put on a front in order to be equal to what he thinks a respectable man is like.

I found the romantic angle to be forced and, for the most part, tedious and unconvincing. While the screenwriters, Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, can only divert so much from the novel, I felt as though the conflict involving married people having or thinking about having affairs is not modern enough to be intriguing. Joel Edgerton and Carey Mulligan play Tom and Daisy Buchanan, respectively, the latter being Gatsby’s former lover, and both deliver what is necessary for the role, but there is no spice or much flavor in the twists and turns in their romantic entanglements.

Things get back on track, however, when the picture turns its attention somewhat on Nick and Gatsby’s friendship. It is interesting because when I read Fitzgerald’s novel in high school, I was convinced that Nick was a closet homosexual. (But it is not really the kind of thing one brings up in class… at least at the time.) The little nuggets are found in the way he describes Gatsby, almost glorifying him at times, versus the manner in which he is almost apathetic toward women. Elements of one-sided admiration, possibly romantic in nature, are present but neither prolific nor defined enough to establish a theme.

The film might have been more intriguing if it had embraced extremes. The middle portion is a slog at times and the latter section quite dull despite the supposed dramatic events that transpire. In the end, I found myself detached from the emotions and circumstances that the characters are going through.

I think people who are likely to enjoy “The Great Gatsby” most are those who have an eye for exquisite clothing. Certainly I noticed how the characters’ attires are inspired by the 1920s but there is almost always a modern to twist to them, whether it be certain patterns on a man’s tie or the sorts of accessories a woman wears to a party. It is predominantly a visual film. It is not for those who hope to be moved emotionally or be inspired to think critically.

Red Sparrow


Red Sparrow (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

A common complaint is the lack of sexual and romantic chemistry between Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton, the former portraying a Russian ballerina who becomes an asset for the Russian intelligence after a career-ending injury and the latter a CIA contact who is protecting the identity of a mole within the Russian government. After all, their relationship, however it is defined, revolves around the idea of what sacrifices one is willing to make to do what is right toward a moral obligation. But to criticize the film from this point of view is informative in that the person does not understand what the movie is about.

It is not supposed to be sexy, alluring, or romantic. Rather, it is supposed to be the opposite: methodical, clinical, and cold. Their world of espionage, double-crosses, and violence is meant to horrify and intrigue. On this level, “Red Sparrow,” directed by Francis Lawrence and based on the novel by Jason Matthews, is a success. It is able to weave together complex strands with enough precision that by the end it all makes perfect sense. The material demands that the audience is capable of paying close enough attention through several twists and turns of plot, including motivations that undergo constant states of evolution. It is not for those simply wishing to sit back and be entertained by generic action sequences. There is no explosion to be had here.

Implosions occur within our heroine. They take their toll. We observe the many horrifying events that unfold in and around Dominika, wondering at some point whether her strength, intelligence, and resolve would finally dissolve. We are meant to wonder if we have the same capacity to endure and think on our feet. I admired that Justin Haythe’s screenplay does not shy away from the struggles Dominika must tolerate so she can play the long game. She is raped, humiliated, and tortured. Early in the film, our protagonist is given a choice between death or attending what she refers to as “whore school,” led by an older woman simply called Matron (Charlotte Rampling—perfect for the role), where potential Russian assets are trained to seduce and manipulate targets using their bodies. Yes, we even watch the character being humiliated—sometimes because it is a part of her job.

Although different types of violence occur, these are never gratuitous since each one is relevant to the plot. The story is not simply an exploitative exercise of what filmmakers can get away with. Emphasis is placed on the effects of trauma and what it requires to overcome. Credit to Lawrence for playing the character with unwavering pluck and grace. (I wished, however, that her voice is dubbed at times given her inability to maintain a consistent Russian accent.) It is critical that she portrays Dominika in such a way that even though nearly everything is looking grim, there is always hope, even though it is minuscule, that she might regain control of the situation eventually. I enjoyed that Dominika’s political loyalty is a challenge to read while her personal loyalty is clear as day.

“Red Sparrow” invites viewers into a stressful world of espionage from the perspective of a woman who just wants to be able to provide for her ailing mother. It tackles a handful of subjects like fighting for personal freedom in a country that considers there is no such thing, the power of a woman’s body and intuition, what strength means for people who hold certain job titles or positions, and the like. These elements are there to be recognized, but they are never so ostentatious to the point where they distract from the project’s elegant, tension-filled entertainment.

It Comes at Night


It Comes at Night (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

Viewers not experienced with the kind of horror that “It Comes at Night” offers are likely to paint the picture as an exercise in pointlessness. There is no jump scare, no last-minute “I should have seen it coming!” twist, and certainly no convenient explanation about a mysterious disease that has infected the world’s population. Instead, the focus is on a family (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr.) living in isolation in the woods and their decision to help another family (Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, Griffin Robert Faulkner) during their time of need.

The type of horror it offers is of a psychological breed. The approach is interesting in that in order to amplify tension, the tone is consistently flat, supported by pervasive grays and dark colors, how shadows remain just so in order to for us wonder what’s hidden in a particular corner of a room or whether the person confessing is telling the entire truth. Through its calculated slow pacing, the audience is given plenty of time and opportunity to doubt nearly everything, including whether our protagonists really are the protagonists.

While part of the point of the story is facing doubt and mistrust during a time of survival, the execution of an otherwise initially fascinating material is far from exciting. About halfway through, I found myself checking to see whether the film is nearly over because I felt as though the screenplay was struggling to maintain its level of intrigue. For instance, as someone who had lived in a household of two families, I felt the material had missed the opportunity to explore complex dynamics, the challenges of having to compromise to the point where one’s lifestyle, or at least an aspect of it, is altered until breaking point.

I admired its decision to have a bleak ending because it is loyal to the universe it has created. However, its attempt to deliver the final irony lacks a certain energy or sense of urgency. Thus, I found it largely unsatisfactory, a missed opportunity to remind the people watching why this particular story is worth telling. Viewers who have struggled to keep their eyes open throughout are likely to miss the punchline because it is so subtle, it is less of a punch than it is a delicate nudge.

Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, “It Comes at Night” is a slow burn atmospheric horror that frustrates because it fails to capitalize upon its brimming potential. Those looking for entertainment are strongly advised to look elsewhere.

Midnight Special


Midnight Special (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Midnight Special,” written and directed by Jeff Nichols, shares one important similarity with great science-fiction feature films of the past: treating its characters as people with specific motivations—eschewing the black-and-white concept of good versus evil altogether—and allowing the conflict to churn and rise from decisions made by flawed but determined men and women. Such is one of the main anchors of this most mysterious and curious picture, carefully modulated in feeling, thought, and action every step of the way.

The government is convinced an eight-year-old boy named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher—excellent here as he was in Bob Nelson’s effective comedy-drama “The Confirmation”) is a dangerous weapon while a religious group, possibly a cult, believes he is their savior. Both groups are in pursuit of the boy while his father (Michael Shannon) and a state trooper (Joel Edgerton) do whatever is necessary—even murder whomever gets in the way—to get him to a specific location and time so that he can be safe. Meanwhile, an NSA agent named Sevier (Adam Driver) starts to piece together information that points to where Alton is heading.

The picture practices restraint in execution and performance. We discover Alton’s abilities in small doses. Initially, we start to wonder what he is. Over time, however, we consider what he is ultimately capable of. Because Nichols’ screenplay avoids demonizing government officials, there is a small part of us that wonders perhaps their fears are not mere trivialities. It plays upon the idea that we tend to default fearing what we don’t know.

In addition, as we learn about the boy’s powers, special and visual effects never become the point. When they are utilized, they usually inspire horror or a sense of wonder. It is often unpredictable which side of the coin we might encounter next. Oftentimes it is a mix of both—which is exciting.

Shannon plays the father as a man who is afraid to lose his son but at the same time one who must exude a type of strength, a constant awareness what must be done ultimately in order to spare the boy from harm. Roy is a man of few words and Shannon has a great talent of communicating plenty with silence by using only his eyes and the tightness of his jaw and mouth. One of the most touching scenes involves Alton assuring his father that there is no need to worry about him any longer. It emits special resonance because it is the son’s way of recognizing his father’s sacrifice without relying on an obvious or expected exchange.

To reveal more about the film is to perform a disservice. “Midnight Special” is a chase picture but one that feels personal despite the magic we encounter in its universe. Too many movies tend to want the audience to sit back and enjoy the ride. This film is quite proud to do the opposite: it dares us to lean in, to question, to consider motivations of the characters depending on which party they represent, and to wonder how we might respond if our ordinary lives crossed paths with magnificence. Would we wish to keep it for ourselves, share it, or set it free?

Exodus: Gods and Kings


Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
★ / ★★★★

“Exodus: Gods and Kings,” directed by Ridley Scott, is nothing but an exercise of special and visual effects. It does not bother to tell an engaging arc; it assumes that all audiences are familiar with the story of Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) so it relies on the template to burn off one hundred fifty minutes. Furthermore, it does not provide any surprising detail about the brothers and their relationship. What results is a limp epic consisting of solemn whispers and hyperbolic yelling—a bore down to its marrow.

Telling this kind of story with a forceful fist is an incredible miscalculation. Thus, it feels like an action film rather than one that inspires us to think a little bit about different aspects of spirituality. It should have been told with a certain delicateness in order to highlight the characters’ choices, recurring themes, and the emotions that they go through that drive them to make life or death decisions. Instead, the picture adopts a lethargic pattern: tragedy, close-ups expressing horror, and then more tragedy.

Even the ten plagues that come to haunt Memphis, Egypt do not command much impact. The only one that stood out to me was the death of all firstborn children. Notice how the scene takes its time as it shows darkness creeping across the city. There is fear in the wind as it blows candles from both poor and rich households. The camera slithers as souls are taken away from their host. I wished that the rest of the material functioned on such a high level. I could not look away.

And then we are back to the plot involving Moses attempting to persuade Ramses to free the Hebrews from slavery. Part of the problem is Bale and Edgerton being miscast—for two very different reasons. Bale is not very expressive here. Although his interpretation of Moses is one that is easily provoked, there are not enough moments in the script where we are made to sympathize with his predicament. Edgerton, on the other hand, is given more chances to express a range of emotions than Bale but the makeup plastered on his face prevents us from appreciating his increasingly desperate position. It might have worked better if a quieter, more thoughtful actor were cast as Moses and an actor who could carry a lot of makeup were cast as Ramses.

Scenes between Moses and Malak (Isaac Andrews), serving as a representation of God, are laughable initially and like pulling teeth later on. Their interactions are so forced that every time they are around one another, the scene comes across very rehearsed: the actors know the lines but the subtleties of emotions are simply not there. There should have been fewer of these scenes and the ones that are necessary ought to have been reshot.

Disappointing almost every step of the way, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is a colossal waste of time, an excuse to use money in order to create a project that is pretty at times but one that has no soul. Every minute is felt trickling by.