The Deep Blue Sea (2011)
Dir. Terence Davies
Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea is a masterwork that transforms its source material, a play by Terence Rattigan, into pure cinema. The dramatic tension is overwhelming from its opening sequence and the psychological intensity of the protagonist’s state of mind is conveyed so palpably, with perfect cooperation from sound, image, and Rachel Weisz’s performance as Hester. The blurry glow of memory permeates the mise en scène, creating a dreamy, glossy but altogether gloomy Postwar London. It is this context of Postwar London, which rarely interferes with the plot but somehow always drives it, rendering the anxieties of the suicidal Hester almost synonymous with that of a nation recovering from such a confusing trauma. The opening and closing images say it all—mirroring crane shots of a London street and home, at first pristine and then all but destroyed—creating a before & after dynamic that is echoed in Davies’ stylistic choices. Emphasis on reflections, and windows create a sense of before & after in every sense—before & after the war, before and after love, before and after happiness. When all that is good seems to be in the past, the choice is to live in it and succumb to it, or to look forward, against all reason. This is the mental battle Hester wages with herself. Were this released here in Vancouver last year, it would have made my top ten of 2011, but now it’ll have to settle for being the best new film I’ve seen in 2012.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Dir. Lynne Ramsay
We Need to Talk About Kevin is an irritating mess of a film, made up of interesting individual pieces that do not fit together. It is straightforward and simple, but made to seem complex by an embarrassingly pretentious structure, choppy associative editing and “look-at-me” images that all say very little. It is at once a film about the bond between mother and child, a horror-ish film about an evil child, and a film about a woman trying to live with a difficult past, and finally, it seems, a film critical of the human voyeuristic craving for carnage. Lynne Ramsay experiments with different styles for each, alternating between naturalism, suspense, ironic detachment, and even dark humour. In no way do these things function as a whole. John C. Reilly’s unsurprisingly great presence is ultimately wasted, and even Tilda Swinton’s performance feels undermined by Ramsay’s erratic choices that never feel precise and never feel part of a unified vision. The most serious problem with the film is how unconvincing its relationships are rendered by Ramsay’s direction. It is difficult to care about a mother/son story when one has difficulty believing in their relationship. The fleeting flashbacks to his childhood are too detached, and one can only gain a shallow sense of their history. Ramsay’s ambitions ultimately are too ill-conceived to make for anything other than an interesting failure.
The Raid: Redemption (2011)
Dir. Gareth Evans
After its problematic first few minutes dominated by exposition and a dangerous black & white moral setup, The Raid accelerates and innovates, creating a celebration of violence that destroys itself. We have no one to root for (aside from maybe one character). Both the criminals and the cops are made up of bad people, and the brutality they exchange with one another becomes interesting in that we don’t really care about who is left standing, but rather are invested in seeing them all fall. Though it isn’t until its second half that the choreography takes over (as it should), there are sparks of genius. The most memorable sequence is when the police are all trapped on the 6th floor, the lights are out, one floor above them the armed criminals look down, but neither can see each other. The camera cranes up and the light ever so slightly brightens so as to allow the audience to understand the situation. The suspense is, as they say, nail-biting, and the ensuing chaos actually feels like chaos—thanks to a “shaky cam” that still knows how to be coherent in the midst of franticness.