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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Sean Durkin
prd Ed Guiney, Derrin Schlesinger, Rose Garnett, Sean Durkin
with Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Charlie Shotwell, Oona Roche, Michael Culkin, Adeel Akhtar, Anne Reid, Wendy Crewson, Marcus Cornwall, Francesco Piacentini-Smith, Charlie Shaw, Polly Allen
release US 18.Sep.20
20/UK BBC 1h47
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
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Earthy and intriguing, this intensely personal drama has a terrific balance of humour and darkness, keeping the audience on edge with a subtle sense of foreboding. Writer-director Sean Durkin is determined to subvert expectations, carefully guiding the point of view to deepen the characters in unexpected directions, mirroring the misdirection that fills each person's life. And even if the film meanders a bit, the cast relishes the sharp dialog.
In a leafy 1980s New York suburb, entrepreneur Rory (Law) and his riding coach wife Allison (Coon) have two teen kids, aspiring gymnast Sam (Roche) and loner Ben (Shotwell). They're so settled that Allison is annoyed when Rory decides to move home to London to take advantage of loosening financial regulations. In England, Rory rents an enormous 18th century manor house, and Allison feels better when her beloved horse arrives. But she worries that Rory's lavish spending is leading them into trouble, especially with his constant promises of a coming windfall.
There's a moment about a half-hour in when Allison has a subtle realisation that things are going badly wrong. Otherwise, Rory is on fire, working with his boss (Culkin) and a longtime colleague (Akhtar) to become a powerful financial player. Although it's not going as planned. And their kids each have their own issues. Durkin lets all of this unfold easily, never pushing the point, adding details that quietly twist the story. Then there are scenes that drop tiny bombs into the movie to throw us off balance.
Performances are naturalistic, creating sharply realistic characters whose day-to-day experiences resonate strongly. At the centre, Coon delivers a vividly textured turn that's powerfully gripping. Her no-nonsense approach is likeable, which makes her situation remarkably sympathetic. Law is superb as the high-flying Rory, so self-confident that he forgets to look at the details both in business and at home. And both Roche and Shotwell add their own important layers to the film.
It's fascinating to watch this family come unglued bit by bit, as unseen fractures inexplicably emerge. This is a vivid depiction of a loving couple divided by cultures and backgrounds. "Nothing is the same here," Allison moans about Britain, but what's really happening is that she has begun to see behind Rory's mask. Durkin has an unnerving storytelling style, resisting reaction shots to instead watch characters squirm. So as it builds to its nervy climax, the film becomes a bracing depiction of an all too familiar lifestyle that really needs to be challenged more often.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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