Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film that is available on DVD or an instant-streaming service. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and more reviews.
If you had the chance to go back in time and kill the person who ruined your life, would you do so?
Such is the premise of the new film from the Spierig Brothers, Predestination. The Brothers, Michael and Peter, showed great promise in their first two films, The Undead (2003) and Daybreakers (2009). The first film featured zombies and the second, vampires; both were innovative and fresh takes on overworked genres, and Predestination does the same with science fiction. The brothers write and direct their own material and after three films, I can safely assert they seem to be following in the footsteps of the Coen brothers.
It’s hard to say too much about Predestination without giving the story away, so I will stick to an analysis of the film without significant plot description. The plot I can describe is as follows: a time-traveling Temporal Agent (Ethan Hawke) travels back in time to track a serial bomber. On one trip, posing as a bartender, he meets a mysterious man with a miraculous story and … well, let me just say that the rest of the film is fascinating, mind-bending, and will leave your head hurting as you exit.
Beyond the intricate plot, the style is inviting. Set up as a Film Noir thriller, we easily fall into the hypnotic rhythm of the film, even through long stretches of dialogue. The classic Noir films often organized themselves through flashbacks, and the flashbacks here not only serve a plot purpose but they also serve theme. And when the flashbacks turn into something else … well, let me just say that the term “mental gymnastics” was invented for a film like this.
The direction is excellent and the acting is even better. Ethan Hawke is sincere, provocative, and alternately disturbing as the Temporal Agent. But it is Sarah Snook who eats up the screen and provides intelligence, sensuality, and depth as the mysterious bar patron.
Dark, moody, shadowy, and close, the cinematography is elegant and suggestive. When you rewind the film in your mind after you’ve seen it, you start to pick up the plot clues as well as the visual clues. We are not tricked, as we were in a film such as The Sixth Sense; rather, we are given clues to a unique plot but we choose to mentally construct a linear narrative as we watch. Oh dear, now I’ve said too much.
You will like this film if you enjoyed Primer, Timecrimes, and/or The Thirteenth Floor. Starts at the Sie FilmCenter on 1/9.
A priest sits in the confessional, waiting. We hear the confessor enter. “I am going to kill you in one week,” says the confessor.
Such is the provocative beginning of John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary, his follow-up to The Guard, a fantastic first film that also featured stalwart Irish actor Brendan Gleeson.
In this film, Gleeson plays the threatened priest, and his performance should certainly earn him an Academy Award nomination. Thoughtful, troubled, and even tortured, Gleeson’s priest struggles to make sense of his life in that one week, all the while helping everyone around him make sense of their own lives. It seems as though the emotions displayed on Gleeson’s face are endless, yet we easily understand every nuance.
The plot device is screenwriting gold, and as Gleeson makes his way through the town and everyone in it, we are immersed in his journey and we make judgments about everyone we see based on the opening sequence. Gleeson’s priest, like most filmic incarnations of clergy, is no saint. He is a man, struggling with his past, his vocation, and his increasingly short future. Aren’t we all.
McDonagh smartly stays out of the way and allows Gleeson to shine and carry the film. The cinematography is simple with flourishes of majestic brilliance, perhaps mirroring the priest’s life and journey. The long shots of the Irish coastline are at once grand while reminding us of how small we really are. The best films can tackle the big issues while still penetrating the psychological. This one certainly does.
You will like this film if you enjoyed Locke, Doubt, and/or The Guard. Available on Amazon Prime and at Redbox on 1/6.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., teaches Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.