A little abrupt this week, we’ve had an unexpectedly busy day.
+ "Red Road": Generally fondness for Andrea Arnold‘s surveillance camera directorial debut, part of a (planned, at least) three film rule-bound set called Advance Party. "No one does poetic British miserabilism with more remorseless hyperrealism than the Scots," writes the LA Weekly‘s Ella Taylor, "and Arnold…directs with a precociously sure touch and a taste for raw, graphic sexuality thatâ€™s rare in a woman director, yet feels organic to the filmâ€™s paranoid, loveless milieu." Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE finds the film "combines elements of both no-nonsense realism and Foucaultian paranoia to produce a unique, not soon forgettable drama." Andrew O’Hehir at Salon reviewed the film at Sundance and declared it "dynamite, the kind of sexy, paranoid, creepily atmospheric picture that invades all your senses at once." He also points out the "this is the first thriller I’ve ever seen with a female protagonist in the prototypical noir hero role of pursuer and sexual aggressor."
At the New York Times, A.O. Scott writes that Arnold’s "style of shooting and editing is like a more artful, more expressive adaptation of the fuzzy, haphazard movements of the surveillance cameras… Her deft juxtaposition of sound and silence â€” the City Eye cameras have no accompanying ears â€” adds to the atmosphere of paranoia and dislocation."
Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club likes the look of the film, but thinks that "there appears to be an underlying struggle between the movie Arnold wanted to makeâ€”an elliptical study of obsession and voyeurismâ€”and the necessary backstory that [executive producers Anders Thomas] Jensen and [Lone] Scherfig provide." Nick Schager at Slant finds that "Red Road" is "a hybrid of Dogma veritÃ© aesthetics and manipulative storytelling, a conflict her intermittently bracing film never properly reconciles." And Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader shrugs that "filmmaker Andrea Arnold kept me intrigued, but beyond a certain point the movie’s ambiguity fades into indifference."
No one seems to like the ending, which is labeled as everything from "pat uplift" (Taylor) to a conglomeration of "Sundance hallmarks â€” in particular a familiar dialectic of abjection and redemption" (Scott).
Itâ€™s a film about what it means to devote yourself to something other than your fears and desires, to shed that hard, durable shell called selfishness. It is, rather remarkably, an inquiry into empathy as a state of grace. And if that sounds too rarefied for laughs, rest assured, itâ€™s also about a stone-cold beautiful freak.
Also pleased is Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, who goes so far as to say that the film "deserves the same admiration accorded Joan Didion‘s exceptional memoir The Year of Magical Thinking…the depth of loss felt by Peggy for [her beagle] Pencil is expressed with observations just as acute and honest as any in Didion’s lauded account. And an amazing, translucent Shannon is fearless too in exposing Peggy’s naked sadness."
Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly adds that "[s]o oppressive is Peggyâ€™s world â€” Year of the Dog is the best evocation Iâ€™ve seen of how much worse it is to be depressed in a sunny climate â€” that when she finally loses control, it feels more like catharsis than madness, and a form of dissidence from the American way of converting every aspect of life into work."
At Salon, Andrew O’Hehir calls the film "an enjoyable, patchy, rambling affair, a series of bittersweet comic sketches strung together with thin wire," while Dana Stevens at Slate suggests that despite "small inconsistencies of tone" the film "succeeds in so many other ways. Year of the Dog asks how far we should be willing to go for the love of animals, and for that matter, for love itself. The movie’s sophistication lies in the fact that White isn’t sure there’s any one right answer." Nathan Rabin at the Onion AV Club calls Shannon’s performance "revelatory" and writes that "[l]ike a distaff Marty, Dog indelibly chronicles the emotional thaw of a woman seemingly resigned to living life quietly on the sidelines until fate spurs her into action."
Nick Schager at Slant calls the film "sweet if somewhat slim," adding that "if its style is a bit derivative and its reserved humor tends to wax and wane, the film is nonetheless reasonably playful and charming, and benefits immensely from a sterling lead performance by Shannon." Rob Nelson at the Village Voice is a bit ambivalent, writing the "unlike [Todd] Solondz‘s, White’s humor isn’t merciless. If anything, Dog’s bark is more like a lonely howl; its comic bite never breaks the skin, and its kisses are sloppy."
And we’d be remiss to not mention Peter Sarsgaard, who gives a memorable performance Stevens sums up thusly: "Sarsgaard excels at capturing a type I’ve never seen portrayed in a movie before: the passive-aggressive, ambiguously gay celibate."
We quite liked the film ourselves â€” hopefully we’ll finish up our languishing review tomorrow.