Hold the Dark (2018)

Released: September 28, 2018. Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier. Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgård, James Badge Dale. Runtime: 2h 5 min.

After the death of three children suspected to be killed by wolves, wolf expert Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) is hired by Medora Sloane (Riley Keogh), the mother of the latest missing boy to track her son down in the Alaskan wilderness, or at the very least kill for the wolves for vengeance.

In “Hold the Dark,” Core takes the job to try and help find the boy and give a family closure. He understands and respects nature, and he’s remorseful about hunting and killing a wolf and writing about it. Medora wants the wolf to suffer. To that, Russell replies: “Natural order doesn’t want revenge.”

As for everyone else, revenge is on all their minds. The only one who wants that more than Medora is her husband Vernon, played with a menacing calm by Alexander Skarsgård. It’s the kind-of blankness that’s unpredictable – he could be emotionally vulnerable one minute, and then just relentless the next. He’s introduced in a memorable fashion on his tour in Iraq (the film is set in 2004).

Hold the Dark featured

Jeffrey Wright in “Hold the Dark” (IMDb).

I thought this might be something like Joe Carnahan’s “The Grey” but don’t make that same mistake of thinking that. This is a genre-bending piece in a league of its own in terms of uniqueness. The only real similarities there are the wolves and the frozen tundra, and James Badge Dale. Here, he plays Donald Marium, a city cop in the town of Emery that’s close to Keelut, the small village where the disappearances occurred. He’s like the face for the mainland, and the people in Keelut like to be left alone. Medora thinks of Keelut as truly Alaska, as she says about Anchorage “that city is not Alaska.” Vernon’s friend named Cheeon (Julian Black Antelope) is one of the most memorable characters here as someone with a dislike for outsiders.

The mystery of the film is capable, and twists in the first act really made the screenplay unpredictable. Frankly, some of this was hard to think of what direction it was going in because some of it just went way over my head. Macon Blair’s writing is smart, but the characters are so complex it’s hard to fully understand their psyches and their darkness. But they help paint a cool look at human nature. They are intriguing characters that deal with their grief in their own unique, intense ways, but I had more questions than answers by the end of it all.

The story didn’t completely work for me, but the cinematography (by Magnus Nordenof Jønck) looked great and the performances from everyone are truly top-tier, especially from Jefferey Wright, who captures his character’s loneliness and remorse well.

No matter how strange or bizarre the film becomes, it’s grounded in realism. That’s something I love about Jeremy Saulnier’s style. His films always feature violence that’s brutal and raw (at least with “Blue Ruin” and “Green Room”) – and with William Girardi’s dark source material, he has a lot to work with in terms of violence. A mid-film set piece is the film’s best scene, and the carnage in it is bonkers. This is my least favourite film by Saulnier – but that’s not a bad thing.

Score: 65/100

The Giver (2014)

The GiverReleased: August 15, 2014. Directed by: Phillip Noyce. Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep. Runtime: 97 min.

Note: Sorry for the font inconsistencies – I really couldn’t figure out how to fix it. 

The Giver starts out exactly like Divergent; with a basic review of what this futuristic community is like, followed by a ceremony where occupations are chosen for each citizen at their 18th birthday (where those in the premise of Divergent were put into different groups of basic personality traits). The second similarity is a love story – which is interesting to think this was a thing in Young Adult literature circa 1993, so not much has changed – but it’s essential to the narrative. These similarities are where they begin and end.

This is a unique young adult novel adaptation because it depicts a perfect world (a utopia, rather than a dreary dystopia in The Hunger Games), one with no violence, pain, suffering, differences or choice. A young man, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites in his first big starring role), is chosen as the Receiver, a position chosen every ten years or so – and it is a position in which he will become the future Giver – to assist the elders with making decisions for the community. You see, the Giver (a mesmerizing Jeff Bridges) has the most knowledge and experience in the whole community, because he holds all of the memories of the old world. The one with hideous violence, but also wondrous beauty.

I think Brenton Thwaites’ (OculusMaleficent) performance is actually memorable because he is different from his peers and not absolutely robotic. He brings some humour to his character, and hope to his peers. Jeff Bridges as The Giver is great because of his love of life and his need to get beauty back to the community. He also brought a welcome amount of humour to his character, though I am almost convinced he’s still stuck in the voice he used for Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. A charming young Israeli actress Odeya Rush (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) portrays Fiona, and is also notable for how well she captures her character’s fear and natural curiosity for change. Taylor Swift portrays one of those characters who play a crucial role in a character’s development but only show up for five minutes. A scene she shares with Bridges and a piano is just lovely.

I think these performers set themselves apart from the rest because everyone else just feels so plain. Especially Cameron Monaghan and Katie Holmes who are both quite boring. Alexander Skarsgård is still boring, but less so than the others. These characters, and every other cookie-cutter citizen, are all about never lying and using the precision of language – so for example, if you want to ask someone if they love you, you must ask instead if they “enjoy” you. At times I wondered if this is what the modern grammar Nazi sounds like.

One enjoyable technical aspect is the utilization of black and white film – which is about half of the runtime, but the other half is in colour. You might notice as the film progresses that B&W and colour are used more and more as a storytelling device to set the film’s tone. Black and white scenes are more robotic and plain, while scenes in colour are usually captivating and intriguing. The more it got into the heart of the film, the more I found myself enjoying it – after a very boring first twenty minutes (though the final minutes left me dissatisfied). One more comment on the technical aspect – the cinematography is absolutely stunning, in both B&W and colour. The Giver is filmed in South Africa, where the settings and nature complement the film’s quality and beauty.

It’s an ugly truth in this premise that in order to have no violence, one also has to surrender race, religion, uniqueness, decision-making, and emotions, among other things. This community is created by characters who focus on the hideousness of the old world, and want to shelter the citizens from it. This character – mostly the Chief Elder – is portrayed by an adequate Meryl Streep. However, the citizens are also being sheltered from the beauty of the world – namely colours, sunsets, and double rainbows. Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poets Society said, “…The human race is filled with passion… Poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” That quote does not describe The Giver‘s community, even though it is considered a “perfect” community. Even though our world has violence, one can escape in the beauty of everything around you. It has poetry, romance, love, beauty – but most of all – creativity, and that sounds like the true perfection to me.

Score67/100

A late post for today’s birthdays!

Happy birthday to Sean Connery (82); Blake Lively (25).

Sean Connery

Sean Connery has played great characters: James Bond (often coined the first actor to portray him), but I’ve only seen him in Finding ForresterMarnie and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I’ll have to see the J.B. films before I die, but for now that’s all I’ve seen him in (that I can think of). He’s one great actor and he has a really cool voice. Connery won the only Oscar he was nominated  for; for his work as the character Jim Malone in The Untouchables.

Blake Lively

This girl is one of my favourite actresses, for both her talent and her sexiness. The only films of hers that I’ve seen have all been good (well, no, except for Green Lantern but I’m not counting that because I just couldn’t find it in myself to finish it). While she doesn’t have a very large filmography, she’s been in such films as The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (which was her breakout performance), The Town, Savages (which is still in theatres, and gets released on home media October 23, 2012) and her best known role as Serena van der Woodsen on TV’s Gossip Girl. I always like to see perform.

Other people who were born on this day are Tim Burton (54), Alexander Skarsgård (36) and Rachel Bilson (31).