Take a Drink: whenever Louise is a pain in the ass
Take a Drink: for bluecoat atrocities
Take a Drink: for that asshole dog
Take a Drink: whenever Augusta does something stoic
Take a Drink: whenever Mad looks or acts tired of this shit
Do a Shot: whenever a white person drops an N-bomb. It’s worth a wince, history or no history.
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
One of the juiciest showbiz controversies over the last few years has been the many travails of Natalie Portman’s feminist Western Jane Got a Gun. It’s lost a rolodex’s worth of high profile talent, including Michael Fassbender, Jude Law, and Bradley Cooper, but the root of its ills appears to be original director Lynne Ramsay’s bailing on the film just as it was about to begin filming, likely due to producer final cut shenanigans. Now Gavin O’Connor is in the director’s chair (with Portman, Ewan McGregor, Joel Edgerton, and Rodrigo Santoro starring), not exactly the first director that comes to mind when you hear “feminist film”.
Kind of the opposite, actually, but in a good way.
One name that does come to mind with “feminist film” would have to be Brit Marling, and with The Keeping Room, she’s stolen a little bit of Portman’s thunder. To be fair, this is more what Quentin Tarantino would call a “Southern”, as even though it has the structure and tropes of Westerns, it’s a Civil War tale set in rural Georgia, in the path of Sherman’s March to the sea. Marling and Hailee Steinfeld are sisters left at home with only Muna Otaru, playing a slave woman. When a pair of Union marauders (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller) pose a threat, these three women grab their guns and get ready for a battle.
The Keeping Room is lean and mean, full of brutal, beautifully shot imagery, right from the opening scene. This beginning is a kick in the teeth, setting the tone for a movie whose unifying thesis appears to be “War is Hell, and doubly so if you’re a woman.” Each woman gives us a different aspect of this- Steinfeld is a girl still, really, unwilling to accept her new reality and with no conception of how dire their situation really is. Marling is the opposite, the older sister stepping into the shoes of the men of the house- tough and practical, but with femininity that may have been pushed to the side, but is still very much present.
Girls can shoot squirrels, and assholes, too.
Otaru is the standout, though. Her character is sweet and unassuming on the surface, but underneath is a spine of steel forged by a life of horrors stemming from both her race and gender, and the exploitation that invariably lay at their nexus in the rotten to the core Antebellum South. Soller and especially Worthington are suitably menacing, with the latter in particular adding shades of depth to his character in ways we haven’t seen him use since Terminator: Salvation.
Aka: when we thought the woodenness was on purpose.
Director Daniel Barber (Harry Brown) and DP Martin Ruhe deliver a uniformly excellent-looking film, and particularly impressive is the way they use lighting sources, especially natural light and lanterns. One simple scene of the three women ascending a spiral staircase with hand lanterns is stunning. The editing and use of Mearl’s very fitting score are both bold and leave an impression, never more so than its arresting final image.
The Keeping Room might be a little too lean, with its plot focused on hitting very clear marks, not leaving much time to put some meat on the bones of its themes. Also, Steinfeld is fine, but her character’s teenage rebellion is gone to a bit too often as a driver of drama. It feels manufactured.
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess writer Julia Hart is from the South. Or somewhere blissfully ignorant of real race relations, because there’s some historical whitewashing going on here, some anachronistic white guilt high fives, with the relationship between Otaru’s character and the sisters. “Our home”, my shiny, white, can’t and won’t begin to presume the sorrows of slavery, ass.
The Keeping Room suffers a tad from shallowness, particularly in regards to race, but that doesn’t diminish its power as uniquely female-focused horrors of war thriller with a real Western sensibility.