Take a Drink: every time Elle Fanning is exasperated or shrieking
Take a Drink: for talk of water or irrigation
Take a Drink: for alcohol
Take a Drink: for radio
Do a Shot: whenever Hoult puts a scheme in motion
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Paltrow. The very name strikes fear and loathing into the glitterati of the world, the pretty people who need whatever a goop is and who would prefer you don’t come near their skin with a T-shirt that costs less than 50 dollars, please.
Well, the Gwyneth reign of terror may be nearing an end, or at least lessening, as a new name has emerged as a power in House Paltrow. Yep, little bro Jake has finally amounted to something, directing his own film… and it’s pretty damn good. In a nutshell, in a near future where drought has crippled the “Flyover States”, one man (Michael Shannon) struggles to provide for his children (Kodi Smit-McPhee and Elle Fanning) and restore the land to its former fruitfulness. When a shifty, charismatic youngster (Nicholas Hoult) takes a shine to his daughter, a battle of wills rushes headlong into tragedy.
What will first catch your eye about this film, and what it does seriously well, is world-building. Jake Paltrow and his team imagine a future that feels like an entirely organic outgrowth of our own, yet lived in, well used… real. Everything from vehicles to guns to robots to condolence cards, and even a brief glimpse of the future of smartphone (-fan?) technology, have clearly logical evolutions from our day, and establish the setting without having to exposition dump elsewhere. It really is fantastic.
The robot mule? Yup, got those already.
Cinematographer Giles Nuttgens shoots it all beautifully, in particular with his long, expressive pull out shots, like one beginning on Shannon seated dejectedly and pulling back to reveal a window, the nails sealing it, and Fanning’s hand on the pane. Especially when the story finds its feet and is given a little room to breathe, this slow, expressive filmmaking, coupled with the film’s spare, harmonica-inflected traditional music score, really draws you in to the emotions and plights of the characters.
That story is divided into three chapters, named after each of the principal mole actors in the film, and each really shines (as does Liah O’Prey in a small role as a street-smart border smuggler). Shannon’s perspective starts things off, and he’s great as always, a relatively low-key, grounded character for him who is nonetheless haunted by his past, with the feral potential for violence that Shannon has almost made his calling card. The second follows Hoult, a conniving, borderline sociopath with his own motivations. It’s quite a gritty, morally complex turn from About a Boy. Lastly we have Smit-McPhee, who may be the best of the bunch. Ever since The Road, he’s been making interesting choices, and looks like the rare child actor who will effortless transition into a good adult one, like Christian Bale, or, well, Nicholas Hoult. Here he’s heartbreaking, especially in a masterclass long take that never cuts away as he processes a terrible revelation.
Wait… does this mean nobody makes Ho-Hos or Ding-Dongs anymore?
Especially at the beginning, the script is plagued with some first-time novelist turns of phrase, which ranges from kinda pretentious to just blindingly obvious. “Oh no, the machine. It’s gone.” No shit, Sherlock.
Elle Fanning is one of the most talented young actresses out there, but here she’s just terrible. When you demolish Michael Shannon in a overacting competition, you’re a few registers too high, honey. To be fair, the script gives her nothing to work with, basically making her a pawn in the game the men in her life are playing. It’s 2014, people!
While certainly showing some of the unevenness of a first time director (with a splash of unfortunate gender politics), this Neo-Great Depression Giant-style futuristic throwback melodrama has plenty going for it. I know I’ll be keeping an eye on what Jake Paltrow does next.