Hell or High Water (2016)

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“Taut, tense and burnished by Jeff Bridges at his best. This is a deceptively simple tale of Texan cops and robbers that drags the Old West into the modern age.” – Empire ★★★★☆

It took a while to notice that David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water had made the list of Best Picture nominees at the Academy Awards this year, while we were so overwhelmed that Martin Scorseses’ Silence and Tim Miller’s Deadpool had lost the race. Here comes a throwback to the dusty rambling glories of Hollywood new wave Westerns, inspired by Depression-era thrillers, to reveal arguably the most understated and contemporary socio-political film of last year. That’s a mouthful.

Brothers Toby, played by Chris Pine, and Tanner, played by Ben Foster, first arrive at a remote Texas Midland Bank branch to rob every penny they can fit in their sacks. They make off with some loose bills, and proceed to rob every other bank in the region. Here, Toby is the mastermind, conveying his sincere and potent grievance from the foreclosure on the mortgage of his family property. But of course, with the death of their mother and an oil discovery on the property, Toby is infuriated with immediate eviction and recruits ex-prisoner older brother Tanner to help earn the property back. It’s the story of cowboy’s and Indians – onetime kings of the plains now suspended in a place where both are pushed to near extinction, and what evolves is greed, pain and utter heartlessness.

David Mackenzie’s direction makes the robbery sequences bubble with jolts of extravagant yet realistic violence, getaway action and car chases, on the backdrop of dusty plains. The casting of each character enhances the regional colour and tone of the film, drawing out incredible performances from Chris Pine and of course the highly praised Jeff Bridges. The present day atmosphere and lack of open-carry laws, mixed in with rowdy cowboys creates an amusing and unpredictable vigilante of local distress. But the script is notably the most powerful in this film, and the exchanges are superb in a film so entirely thick with it. The low-key humour, the poignant loneliness, the undercurrent teasing, Hell or High Water is nothing like anything you’ve seen before.

Hell or High Water is talking, character and western backdrop thick. Riding on the back of films such as No Country for Old Men, it draws out weathered storefronts, abandoned pastures, rusted farm equipment and oil derricks on the premise of a film set to define regional identity. Only enhanced by an overly impressive score, Hell or High Water is pleasant but not extravagant, and a delight for anyone with a soft spot for Texas.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 7.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 98%

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

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“Masterfully told and beautifully acted” Empire ★★★★★

“A minor key masterpiece” The Guardian ★★★★★

The stricken, painful, heart-wrenching transgression of life is the current of Kenneth Lonergan’s newest addition, Manchester by the Sea. A glimpse of life in the real world, of unfathomable heartache, of lessons unlearned. The film already hailed by many as a masterpiece, Manchester by the Sea combines Arthur Miller and Woody Allen to express a superb abundance of beauty in turmoil.

The remarkable Casey Affleck is Lee Chandler, a lonely Boston janitor who carries copious poisonous rage towards the world and himself. The death of his beloved older brother Joe, who resonates only in generous reminiscence, saddles Lee with the sole guardianship of his only son Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges. Anger pulses through Lee’s ingenious face and remarkably indignant smile. What unfolds before Lee is an offer of poignant redemption by the parenthood and friendship of one incredibly unstable child. Yet the film doesn’t work out as simply as that.

Manchester by the Sea is deep, thoughtful and intrusive – a story about the complexity of forgiveness and compassion within the struggle of relieving pain. It is a story of parenting, but of the biological and completely improvised kind. On the surface this appears as a duller twist on the tedious childish-adult-forced-to-grow-up formula, by throwing heartache, loneliness and one orphan minor into the mix. But Lonergan is too indulged in his sensational actors, his undivided audience and perhaps reality itself to showcase any irrationality or formulae. But with the dry comedy pace and uncomfortable aesthetic of the film, there remains nothing but reality itself. This film is simply remarkable.

I can’t beat this, I’m so sorry.”

From start to finish, Manchester by the Sea is powerful and thought-provoking. Rarely do films showcase the harsh reality of those who live with pain and loss, stricken by the fate of one horrible mistake. A story driven by characters whom the actors embodied with precision and with excellence, Manchester by the Sea is an outstanding addition to the Best Picture nominees this year.

★★★★★

Imdb – 8.1/10 Rotten Tomatoes – 96%

Fences (2016)

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Director and front man of Fences, Denzel Washington, brings the passion product of the year to life with high distinction and incomprehensible emotion. Awarded for four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress, Fences delivers a powerful, fervent and beautiful story on the backdrop sunlight, shadows and incredible performances.

An adaptation of August Wilson’s award winning stage play Fences, first performed in 1983, the film brings the daunting performances that haunted the stage to life. Troy Maxon is a middle-aged African-American man working as a garbage collector in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, whose vanished glory as a failed Baseball star gave him nothing more than a “pot to piss in, or a window to throw it off.” Perhaps Maxon’s cynical mood is the cause of his big appetite for booze, his loud humour, his wounded moods and his jolted pelvis, but the suppressed nature of the film is the contrast with his wife Rose, played by Viola Davis. What unfolds is one house struck with guilt and shame painted with spectacular attempts to mend an invisible fence of hopelessness and fear.

Fences is dense with such intelligence and compassion that you will struggle to tear your eyes from the screen. Although in single moments the air is thick with stage presence, the breathtakingly vibrant monologues and poetic stagecraft breath rare vulnerability of the characters to life. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are phenomenally well paired as husband and wife, drawing rich emotion from what feels like the depth of their souls.The camera captures each of these moments perfectly, always with the characters listening just as intently as we are. The character dynamics are simply unlike anything I’ve seen in cinema before.

“Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.”

Fences is fierce and powerful, and outstanding in the caliber of Best Picture nominees. There is a rich pleasure in watching phenomenal actors tackle issues of poverty, racism and death in a way that hits home with everyone in the audience. Fences is just as heartbreaking as it is beautiful, resonating in the hearts of all of us in one way or another.

★★★★★

Imdb – 7.5/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 94%

Moonlight (2016)

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Moonlight features a black man’s face as its landscape, divided into three slivers of different shades – from turquoise to amethyst to black. Little do you know, the face is cleverly depicting the faces of one man from boy to teen to man. Intricately and intensely, this becomes the very arc of Moonlight, the moving art of identity, family and masculinity.

The little boy we first encounter is known as Little, whom Alex Hibbert heartbreakingly composes with a depth of loneliness and fear that will bring tears to your eyes. Bullied by school kids, chased into hiding and neglected by his troubled mother, Little stumbles upon Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, who takes him in to safety with him and his girlfiend. What follows is the journey of one boy into adolescence and then manhood, battered by fears of belonging, fears of living and ultimately fears of his creeping identity.

These three age structures first composed by Tarell Alvin McCraney, inspired rising director Barry Jenkins, of Dear White People, to create an intricate masterpiece of an almost Black Lives Matter context, illustrating abuse and torment on a backdrop of poor black communities, drugs and violence. But in spite of the harsh complexities of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins finds a tenderness and compassion that could take your breath away. The search for manhood has never been so thoughtful or moving. But of course, Nicholas Britell’s score transports the visual beauty of Moonlight into more than just a story, but a dreamlike sphere, where single moments are filled with power, melancholia, liberation and pre-eminence. Illustrated with superb intensity, each moment is powerful in itself.

I wasn’t never worth anything. Never did anything I actually wanted to do, all I could do was what other folks thought I should do. I wasn’t never myself.”

The diversity of Moonlight’s visual poetry has a gentle ability to transport viewers into a hidden world with honesty and tenacity. Barry Jenkins has delivered a powerful film.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 8.2/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 98%