On this go around, we cover a Mexican take on their drug wars, a documentary about America's own domestic violence, and a cerebral drama about all violence: both subtle and overt. Let's start with...
Miss Bala - This film tells the story of a young girl who sets out to compete in her local beauty pageant and ends up caught between rival drug war factions. It is something of a thriller, complete with gunfights, car chases, and oodles of action. It would have a hard time being taken seriously as an American action film, though, because it also has a smart, original character driven script, creative direction and cinematography, fantastic acting, and something to say about the world.
If you haven't caught on, I really like Miss Bala, Mexico's snubbed submission to last year's Academy Awards. It is the first film I have seen by Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo, but I'm certainly interested in seeing more. I would review more American action flicks, if they were more like this. Lead actress Stephanie Sigman is very good, but the real stand out for me is Noe Hernandez, who plays her benefactor (?). The little bits of humanity that he let leak out of the character were the scariest part about him, as they should be. If you like action flicks and have the attention span to handle subtitles, I highly urge you to give this film a try. It belongs in its genre's pantheon with Die Hard and The Professional. Available on DVD. 4 1/2 of 5*
We Need To Talk About Kevin - When I begin my Best of the 2011-2012 Awards Season series of articles on July 1rst, it will already be shamefully far into the next year's races. There were a few films, though, that I had to await the DVD release of to feel that I was giving a truly educated opinion. This film has been near the top of that list for some time. It may be pathetic to release lists like this in July, but I'm so glad I waited for Kevin. It would have been completely unfair to writer/director Lynne Ramsey, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, co-writer Rory Kinnear, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, or the production or picture as a whole. Get the picture?
We Need to Talk About Kevin tells the story of the mother of a teen-age sniper living in the aftermath of his actions. It also tells the story of the place that violence holds in the universe. The violence in a baby's endless cries and the violence in the disdain it creates in the mother. The film shows where it hides in the tiny barbs and jabs between a difficult child and the parent who tries so hard to love them. It shows us violence in the stares and pranks and attacks of those looking in from the outside and judging, and taking their own frustrations out on the only person that they can reach with a tangible connection to the source of their anger. And of course, there is the violence of the event itself.
The film unravels in a non-linear manner, jumping backwards and forwards in time. Coupled with the inspired Cinematography and Art Direction (red, red, red, red, everywhere you look, often innocuous, but always red, red, red) this creates a very surreal atmosphere. The script and direction are smart enough to leave the viewer with enough markers to not get confused about where they are in time. Watching the film is much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, where quadrants of the story fill in at different rates at different times but you don't see it all clearly until those last few pieces fall into place. Relative newcomer Ezra Miller and unerringly impressive Tilda Swinton are just flawless. She is tragic and conflicted and he is tragic and scary. It is a disturbing film but one that is worth being disturbed by: one of my favorite films of the year. Available on DVD. 5 of 5*
The Interrupters - I almost decided to skip reviewing this film because I'm afraid I was too tired when I watched it to have given it a fair chance. My only exposure to the work of director Steve James prior to this film was Hoop Dreams, which I LOVED, so my hopes were quite high going into this. Somehow, though, it just never quite grabbed me. Maybe my experience was stunted by the weight of my own expectations.
It tells the story of three members of an organization of "Violence Interrupters" who work to keep some degree of peace on the streets of Chicago through personal intervention. They all have backgrounds that give them some degree of street cred in the neighborhoods they seek to protect. The most moving by far was the story of Ameena Matthews and her attempts to not only protect the general populace of her home town but also to rehabilitate her daughter. Most of the emotional impact of the film, for me, was in the vignettes focused upon her.
I felt more emotional disconnect to this movie than I expected. I feel like it is one of those documentaries that told such an important, tragic, and hopeful story that it got a reputation for being a slightly better movie than it actually was. I feel wrong for saying that because the work that these individuals do is so important and courageous, and I don't mean to belittle it in any way. However, I watch a lot of documentaries and long sleepy dramas, and The Interrupters, while a reasonably good film all in all, often failed to hold my full attention. Available on DVD. 3 1/2 of 5*