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dir-scr Oren Moverman
prd Lawrence Inglee, Julia Lebedev, Eddie Vaisman
with Steve Coogan, Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall, Adepero Oduye, Michael Chernus, Charlie Plummer, Chloe Sevigny, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Miles J Harvey, Joel Bissonnette, Laura Hajek
release US 5.May.17, UK 8.Dec.17
Raise a glass: Coogan, Linney, Gere and Hall
BERLIN FILM FEST
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Filmmaker Oren Moverman takes an ambitious approach to an engagingly complex story, with a splintered, introspective structure that mimics Lynne Ramsay's work. But it never quite connects with the material, so the plot feels both manipulative and unfinished. This also means that the themes become rather moralistic. Even so, the actors are terrific at creating flawed, engaging characters.
As Congressman Stan (Gere) heads into the final stretch of his gubernatorial campaign, he and his tetchy second wife Katelyn (Hall) take time out for dinner with his brother Paul (Coogan) and his wife Claire (Linney) at a ridiculously exclusive restaurant. As the meal's elaborate courses arrive, both couples avoid the reason for this meeting: a discussion of the criminal actions of their sons (Plummer, Davey-Fitzpatrick and Harvey), which threaten Stan's career. But there's a lot of other baggage they're carrying tonight, including Paul's recent mental breakdown.
Moverman shoots the film with insinuating style, dropping hints in flickers of flashbacks (or maybe flash-forwards) and jarring editing choices. The dinner itself is intercut with moments from each character's past, including key meetings and events. And as it goes along, Moverman also dribbles bits of the fateful night when the three teens were out on the town menacing a homeless woman. But this blatant misdirection leaves the audience out, because the characters knew everything from the start.
Coogan has the pivotal against-type role here as a man who is simply no longer willing to just go along with the status quo. He clearly has issues with his brother, but these emerge in unexpected ways and are very nicely played. Gere is also solid as the slippery politician who reveals some surprising things about himself. And both Linney and Hall shine in their roles, which are meaty and packed with sharp interaction. Even the side roles are cleverly played, including Oduye as Stan's assistant, Sevigny as his first wife and Chernus as the smiley restaurant host.
Along the way, Moverman continually obscures elements of the plot and characters for no real reason. Surely knowing what these people are trying to talk about (or rather to avoid discussing) would have made their interaction more pungent from the moment they meet. And nods to big issues like mental health, privileged youth and homelessness feel cursory at best. At worst, these big themes are used as mere plot points to preach a rather obvious message. And even an ambiguous ending can't obscure the filmmaker's intentions.
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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