Mads Mikkelsen gets on the wrong side of a pitchfork-wielding mob and Martin McDonagh follows up In Bruges in searingly entertaining fashion on the fifth day of TIFF.
Thomas Vinterberg has finally delivered a feature with the same unpredictable emotional intensity as Festen and all he had to do was return to the world of child molestation to pull it off. That might not be a sweet spot most directors would be comfortable with, but Vinterberg seems to have a knack for finding new levels of audience discomfort with that material. This time the child abuse in question is a false accusation, yet the retribution is almost as severe. A modern day witch hunt (get the title?) for a man accused of an unforgiveable crime.
That man is Lucas (portrayed by the dependably excellent Mads Mikkelsen), a kindergarten teacher and beloved pillar of his community. He has a special relationship with one of the girls in his class named Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), who he will often look after when her parents (and his close friends) are fighting. One day she tries to kiss Lucas on the lips in class and after he explains that’s just for mommies and daddies, the imaginative Klara tries to get back at him by telling the principal that they engaged in some inappropriate behavior.
What follows is unbearably tense and difficult to watch. The audience knows Lucas is innocent, but he frustratingly can’t prove it. Everyone puts words into the little girl’s mouth to exacerbate the problem and soon the town torment turns physical.
It’s another of the director’s cynical studies of happy societies collapsing into vicious anarchy with the slightest push. What separates The Hunt from some of his less successful efforts is that Vinterberg never loses his realist thread. The abuse and ostracism Lucas endures is all too plausible as his inability to confess his innocence. Mikkelsen is ideally cast, able to communicate all of the character’s pain and innocence with few words, while his string of sinister roles (Casino Royale, Pusher II) helps sell the fact that an entire community turns on him instantly.
The symbolic closing scenes feel ripped from a different style of movie, but at least close the story on an appropriate note. It’s a powerful movie worth going through the inevitable round of depression that comes with a viewing and thanks to the ironic holiday setting, it’ll soon be a perfectly sick Christmas movie to put on for your family and erase any sense of holiday cheer.
Anyone expecting another tightly wound character piece from playwright-turned-writer/director Martin McDonagh following In Bruges might be left scratching their heads by Seven Psychopaths. However, if you loved that film for the dark humor, deeply odd side characters (don’t forget about the dwarf), unexpected bursts of violence, and fantastic performances, get ready for McDonagh nirvana.
His latest film is as wild and unpredictable as his last movie was carefully controlled. The writer’s distinct voice and Colin Farrell remain, but everything else comes filtered through meta-crime movie comedy, increasingly surreal digressions, and about 50 shades of insanity.
The plot involves Colin Farrell’s alcoholic Irish screenwriter named Martin (no comment) struggling to work his way through his latest script. All he has is the title Seven Psychopaths and he’s working on figuring out who those psychopaths are. He’s got a couple ideas like a psychotic Quaker (a silent Harry Dean Stanton, just as hilarious as it sounds), but nothing substantial.
That all changes when his out-of-work actor friend (Sam Rockwell) kidnaps a gangster’s dog with Christopher Walken and they all end up in the middle of their own crime odyssey. Along the way the meet a few other psychopaths like Tom Waits’ bunny loving killer of serial killers (even more hilarious than it sounds) and an increasingly insane Rockwell keeps trying to force their story into an action movie structure, leading to an amusingly self-conscious shoot out finale.
It’s hard to pinpoint another movie exactly like Seven Psychopaths even though influences are apparent all over the running time. The closest thing would be imagining a collaboration between Quentin Tarantino and Charlie Kaufman, but even that doesn’t quite do justice to McDonagh’s wild and crazy concoction of slapstick ultraviolence, amusing self-commentary, and eccentric characterisations.
The performances live up to the insanity of the screenplay with Rockwell’s overexcited nutball instantly qualifying as one of his best performances, Christopher Walken cutting another slice of deadpan comedy genius, Tom Waits being Tom Waits, Woody Harrelson snarling through a meaty villain role and Farrell grounding it all by proving he’s an excellent actor when he isn’t chasing around after CGI robots.
McDonagh has hinted in the past that he isn’t in a rush to crank out too many movies, which is a shame because he’s pretty damn good at it. Sure, his sophomore effort probably won’t add any awards to his mantle, but it just might find a cult following that’ll hopefully convince the filmmaker to increase his rate of production. But if that doesn’t happen, at least his brother should make a movie or two in the meantime.