This article will have short reviews for the following films in this order: Shoplifters, Stronger, Donbass, Tape, and Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
Beautifully shot and acted, Shoplifters will first warm your heart and then shatter it time and time again. It’s a very loving story with dialogue that felt incredibly realistic. In this story, we find a handful of interesting characters that all have their flaws though are always likable in their own way, and that were performed authentically. It felt as if I was watching a real family rather than actors pretending to be a family. The sets are gorgeously decorated and feel very lived in. There’s some beautiful symbolism in Shoplifters as well, however, it’s not that hard to figure out.
Stronger gives us a nuanced portrayal of the life of one of the victims of the Boston bombing, and it explores his complex personality thoroughly. Jeff, the victim, is put in an interesting position, and the film delves deeper into that aspect. It shows us in great depth how it both affects him, and the people around him. While the focus lies on Jeff, his girlfriend with whom he’s had an on-and-off relationship is a multi-layered character as well. She’s faced with difficult tasks, decisions, and a constant sense of guilt. We spent quite some time with her, exploring her as a person, making the whole film feel more colorful, rather than the black and white by the books biopic this could have been. Nonetheless, the film does have quite a few clichés and cheesy moments, and it could get sappy at times, though it’s still able to deal out some emotional gut punches. Also, as to be expected, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany were both excellent in their roles; truly overlooked by the Academy.
An anthology horror film set in Ukraine with the horror aspect replaced with political turmoil, adds up to Donbass. The film has a relay race style of storytelling, as it passes the metaphorical baton from character to character in different, creative ways so that a large group of people, all from different backgrounds and in different situations, can voice their sides about the conflict going on. Sometimes, the link between two characters was not clear at first, but after a while, it could turn out to be something clever. The performances all felt very naturalistic, making the film feel very grounded and more powerful. I also have to commend the director for his long takes and how he transitioned from two storylines in the same scene. The different stories the film tells are often hard-hitting and confronting, though I also liked that they did not only highlight the negative aspects, and how it showed joyous people getting married, for example, in such a dark time. Additionally, the film’s also quite funny, but never in an overbearing way that takes away from the film’s dark tone, but rather in a satirical and natural manner. The ending is excellent as well, bringing the story back to its start, leaving us with a sad and baffling feeling.
Take a brilliant script and equally as brilliant performances and you have yourself one of Linklater’s most underrated films, Tape. Every actor was absolutely phenomenal and managed to give a nuanced performance, like Ethan Hawke, for example, and how his performance slightly altered according to which drug he took previously, while still staying true to the character. As the story progresses and you learn more about the motives of the characters, your perception of them changes and you start to question the morality of their actions. At first, these actions might’ve seemed morally right, but as scenes pass by, they might be interpreted as something immoral. If I were to re-watch the film with the knowledge that I have now, it’d be an entirely new experience because now I know what the characters know and I might interpret their performance differently. It’s that complexity in both the characters and their actions that make Tape so interesting and compelling, which makes it easy to forget how cheap the visuals look. However, that doesn’t mean that Linklater didn’t do anything interesting with the camera. He made use of quick camera movements panning between actors to build a certain connection between the characters, but also to create a nice flow to the entire scene. He also placed the camera at all types of angles and spots to evoke certain emotions with the viewer. It’s just that the overall look of the film comes across as rather cheap, due to the low-quality camera and unprofessional lighting.
Gus Van Sant tells the story of Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot in a creative manner, that makes the film a whole lot more engaging. There’s some really great, though odd, editing at play that helped to tell the intertwining stories in a clear manner. It also employs some cool transitions, that were used with a great emotional impact. At the center of the story, there’s an interesting and well-developed protagonist that Joaquin Phoenix managed to portray incredibly well. Gus Van Sant had a very unique directing style, that much like the editing had an odd, though effective, way of influencing your feelings. It’s a style different from the ones he’s used before, though it fitted the film really well. Even when he didn’t use any zooms or creative transitions, he often added an extra layer to the conversational scenes, via the simple shift of the camera or something likewise to symbolize a certain change in the conversation. Also, I really loved how they visualized the cartoons made by Callahan, as it really brought them alive and emphasized their humor. My biggest gripe with the film is with one scene in the middle of the film that came across as rather comical than emotional, but outside of that, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is an excellent, though, unfortunately, overlooked film.