Tag Archives: colin farrell

A24 Double Feature: The Florida Project and The Killing of A Sacred Deer

The Florida Project

What do you do when a film whistles just past you?

The Florida Project, director Sean Baker’s tale of the disaffected and forgotten poor on the outskirts of Orlando, Florida, is by all means a work of raw and honest beauty, something wonderful and deeply humanist in a way that absolutely deserves to be as celebrated as I can imagine this film will be.

Yet I must confess that something didn’t quite hit right for me about this, didn’t take that extra step from being a great made film into be something truly special. The Florida Project is a wonderful movie, yes, but what’s missing?

It’s not the cast, for sure. It’s a largely unknown/non-professional cast minus a few familiar faces, most notably Willem Dafoe playing the manager of the motel our main characters live in.

The story revolves around children, Brooklynn Prince playing a young girl named Moonee is our star, and yet all of them feel only as affected as children do. The performances don’t have that child actor showiness, but they still retain the artificiality that children naturally have, trying to figure out words and posturings they don’t know how to use just yet. Prince is particularly extraordinary, the perfect eyes to a world of wonder.

It revolves around the adults who raise them too. Their actors are all equally extraordinary. Newcomer Bria Vinaite, playing Moonee’s mom, is a powerhouse standing right alongside Willem Dafoe, giving maybe his most likeable performance ever. These are people who feel real in their quiet desperation, in the need to just get by day by day.

All of that is thanks to the filmmaking of Sean Baker, quickly becoming one of our best filmmakers telling stories of the forgotten people. The Florida Project really is a gorgeous-looking film, finding the wonder that children must in these dirty and dilapidated urban places. There’s an honesty to it that never loses a belief in the humanity.

The film is funny and charming and really deeply affecting in how much it loves and believes in the misfits that occupy its frames. Baker knows what it means to actually care about these people like few filmmakers do, never coming down to the level of tourist.

I mean all these nice things, truly. But I want to throw back to the film Sean Baker did right before The Florida Project for a quick point of comparison.

Tangerine, his iPhone-shot film about two transgender prostitutes (Alexandra and Sin-dee) in LA during Christmas, has a moment at the very end of the film where Alexandra takes off her wig and offers it to Sin-dee while she’s cleaning her own. It’s a raw and very vulnerable and beautiful moment, something so specific and such a moment of human kindness that feels like it peels back the layer of film artifice and feels like you’re watching this real moment of kindness.

The Florida Project never really has that. There’s a similarly honest feeling to the whole film, but never the moment that really digs down to be honest and raw. And it leaves the whole film feeling as though it tells an honest story in an artificial way. Never finding that moment where it can get real. Perhaps that’s where it just barely misses my heart.

Grade: B+

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

It’s rare for any year to yield a film as divisive and distancing and engrossing and fascinating and sickening as mother! It’s even rarer for a film to yield two films that you walk out of imagining that there’s a very real chance 95% of the audience hated it. But that’s 2017 for you.

While The Killing of a Sacred Deer is certainly not as jaw-droppingly audacious as Darren Aronofsky’s middle-finger masterpiece, it’s something just as difficult and insane to grapple with, something mythological and terrifying and confusing.

It’s hard to quite grasp what happens. Colin Farrell is Steven, a successful doctor married to Anna (Nicole Kidman), an equally successful doctor, with two children. Steven has also befriended a young boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan). The two have a past that seems to revolve around the death of Martin’s father as Steven operated on him.

Martin seems to blame Steven for it, and for not marrying his mother (Alicia Silverstone) and giving him a family, and chooses to take his revenge. Steven must kill one of his family or they will all succumb to a mysterious illness that may or may not be caused by Martin. It’s unclear.

An off-putting enough premise, but filtered through the Yorgos Lanthimos (director of The Lobster) lens it becomes something truly bizarre. The Killing of a Sacred Deer seems to eschew human belief and action totally, turning them into living embodiment of the avatars of narrative. Lanthimos characters are bizarre and stiff, like a robot pretending to be human, and it makes an off-putting story into something bizarre and hypnotic.

It helps that Lanthimos has such an incredible grasp and control of what he wants to do that it keeps all that from spiraling out of control. That bizarre detachment of his character is his whole world, something perfect and pristine in arrangement and design, terrifying in its coldness and threatened by somebody who is all willingness to tear the perfection down.

Farrell and Kidman are great in this film, no surprise. Kidman is having a banner year and Farrell is having a late-career renaissance, Lanthimos’ ability to pull really reserved and mannered and complex characters out of him contributing to that. But the real surprise is Keoghan, playing perhaps the most terrifying villain of the year. He somehow manages to make his very presence unnerving, yet its hard to understand the true nature of his evil. He is something twisted and unknowable, all the scary for what we imagine he must be thinking as what is revealed.

Lanthimos has created something uneasy, something so pitch black that terror and comedy feel intertwined in the sheer ambiguous insanity of a work like this. He leaves no questions answered and seems to revel in making his viewer actively uncomfortable. A slightly-dragging second act notwithstanding, Lanthimos manages to keep such thrall over this bizarre world that you don’t mind how little he does to solve it, you suspect that was never the point.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is perhaps one of the most deeply unsettling things you’ll see this year (besides the aforementioned mother!). Its actual value is certainly going to be evaluated on a personal basis but undeniable is that Lanthimos swings for the fences to create something truly dark, truly disturbing, and truly worth watching.

Grade: A

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The Beguiled is too bloodless to even intrigue

As a filmmaker, everything for Sophia Coppola is just so. Arranged with the immaculate eye of a master, it’s hard not to marvel. Coppola makes films that are fragile, films that use that composition to let the emotions show just underneath the shimmering surface.

Yet it’s that same fragility that made a seemingly natural fit for a story like The Beguiled that ended up necessarily being its undoing. It’s a problem that plagued her on The Bling Ring, a story that demanded trash but Coppola didn’t get her hands dirty making.

Too campy to be a chamber drama, too polite to be a bloody gothic horror, The Beguiled ends up stuck in a netherworld of things that work almost solely on a technical level but have trouble finding the proper emotional hook to pull into the world.

A remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 film (itself an adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s book The Painted Devil), the story is set in the waning days of the Civil War in a girl’s boarding school somewhere in Virginia. Run by Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman), the school is an an enclave from the war raging around.

Until that enclave is disrupted by a Union soldier, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), injured and seeking refuge. Farnsworth and her teacher Ms. Morrow (Kirsten Dunst) take him into the school, setting off a steamy brew of sexual repression and suspicion.

I want to establish before anything else that the technical skill on display here is undeniable. Coppola has an immaculate eye for composition and directorial vision, and the look of this film is stunning, capturing better than any the feeling of the South in the Summer, that humidity that you can see dripping from the trees. She even gets what that might do to the environment, the way people react and live in a world like that, all about staying immaculate while everything around you makes you want to throw the trappings of society off.

I also want to make it clear that the actors are clearly giving it all they got. Kidman is clearly having a hell of a year right now and this is a role built for her at her most controlled. Farrell’s career revival continues unabated, Dunst does some fine work and Elle Fanning repeatedly proves my theory that the younger sibling is always the more interesting actor.

But all of that style comes at the service of not all that much substance. The Beguiled is definitely a fruitful story and one that you can see much to piece through.

The problem is the kind of story it is. The Beguiled is a Southern gothic horror, a story of sex and betrayal and intrigue and violence, supernatural maybe but otherwordly yes.

Coppola’s capturing something else, but she’s never fully diving in. For all her beautiful images, there’s no digging in deep. It’s a horror of manners, but the manners don’t end up revealing anything.

There’s no blood here. I mean, yes, there is blood, quite a bit of it. But the passion feels contrived at best, the sex and gore feels rote. You can’t help but cry out for anything, some bit of viscera or something that intrigues, that pulls into the film. Coppola won’t let the veneer down and it keeps The Beguiled too civil.

This means that veneer stays up over the characters too. We’re never let into the inner lives of these people, it’s hard to understand why any of them ultimately want anything they do besides raw knowledge of human behavior.

A major story point revolves around one of the schoolgirls Alice (Elle Fanning) and her desire for McBurney. Which is kind of dropped on us out of nowhere, given no actual buildup, and relies on the knowledge that sex is a thing people want.

Which if the film was willing to get messy, take some deviations, we might be able to take some time and get into the character psychology. But The Beguiled never does that and it ends up amounting to a whole lot of skill without an ounce of fire.

I want to like what I recognize is so well-made. But it seems hard to have such a pulpy story told by a filmmaker who wants to strain all of that out, a story that should splatter and is instead delicately drizzled.

Grade: C