LFF 2018: Lizzie

Year: 2018
Directed by: Craig William Macneill
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Chloë Sevigny, Fiona Shaw

Written by Sarah Buddery 

A story that will no doubt be familiar to fans of true crime, the infamous Lizzie Borden who murdered her father and step-mother is now the subject of this film, starring Chloe Sevigny as the titular character, and Kristen Stewart as her maid/lover/accomplice Bridget Sullivan.

Treading precariously between bodice ripper and period horror, the tonal balance of ‘Lizzie’ is one which is not always well executed. What does work is the exceptional sound design. By punctuating the film with violent and jarring outbursts, the sound design and score cut into the stifling silence in a way that is unnerving and builds the slow burn of dread effectively.

A far cry away from her Twilight days, Kristen Stewart continues to astound, and this is another solid performance from her. This film is in fact anchored by its performances, most notably from Stewart and Sevigny. Stewart provides an emotional core to the film, the person that the audience is most easily able to attach itself to, whereas Sevigny plays cold, calculating and callous to absolute perfection.

Where the film works is in their performances, the dynamic between their characters and the ways they interact with each other. Sadly where it doesn’t work is everything else, and the overall result is a bit of a mess.

The overly starched nature of the film is perhaps necessary in conveying Lizzie’s broiling inner anguish towards her father, but it unfortunately results in the film feeling distant and cold, and in a film where you know the outcome, it is hard to stick with it.

Bearing in mind that this film starts with how it ends – that being the bloody murder of Lizzie’s parents – the film somehow feels it is necessary to revisit the same bit over and over again. The multiple viewpoints approach is something that can work, but in the case of ‘Lizzie’, it just tips over to the point where it feels it is gratuitously revelling in the bloodshed; something which feels tonally out of step with the quietly surfacing horror of the rest of the film.

At times, it feels like the film has something to say about both proverbially and literally smashing the patriarchy, but it fails to settle on a message or an angle and instead throws a whole load of ideas into the mix in the hope that something – anything – will stick.

Despite its strong performances, ‘Lizzie’ falls short of the mark, failing to find its feet and settle on a tone and voice which feels consistent. It’s certainly not without merit, but overall, a bit of a disappointment.

SARAH’S RATING:

3

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The Rider & Lean on Pete

Year: 2018

WRITTEN BY FIONA UNDERHILL

Two films have come out in recent weeks that are portraits of young men in the American West, made by outsiders. Chloé Zhao is from China and this is now the second film she has made examining life on Native American reservations. Andrew Haigh is from the North of England and this is something of a departure for him, as he is best known for ‘Weekend’ and ‘Looking’, which both follow the gay community. Both of these films feature horses prominently and this made me fearful to watch them. I don’t deal with animal peril well in films and get very emotionally invested in horses on film. However, I am mostly glad that I overcame this hurdle and gave these two films a chance. The scenery and locations are stunning and really need to be seen on a big screen, if you have the opportunity to do so.

Chloé Zhao has a unique way of working; she found the location and the community that she wanted to work with first and the story and characters arose from this. ‘The Rider’ treads a fine line between documentary and fiction; it is perhaps closest to ‘constructed reality television’, in that the ‘characters’ and scenarios are real, but they have been given dialogue. The 19-year-old protagonist Brady really did have a bad accident in the rodeo and was really recovering as Zhao filmed him. His real father and sister play his father and sister in the film and the ‘acting’ is unusual because of this.

‘Lean on Pete’ is a more traditional narrative film, it follows a 16-year-old boy (Charlie Plummer) who has moved around the country with his single father a lot and has wound up in Oregon. He gets a summer job working with racehorse owner/trainer Del (Steve Buscemi) and forms an attachment to Lean on Pete – an old, tired horse who is on his way out. The always-wonderful Chloë Sevigny plays a jockey who has to remind Charlie that the horses are there to do a job and earn money, they are not pets. Charlie makes the decision to steal Pete and attempts to take him to Wyoming to be reunited with his Aunt.

‘The Rider’ very much focuses on the devastating after-effects of rodeo riding. Not just with the main character, Brady (who has a serious skull injury) but also his best friend Lane, who has suffered brain damage. The allure of the horses and the rodeo is palpable because they are beautifully shot and the appeal to the young people who live on the isolated South Dakota reservation is clear. The risks are great but the rewards can also be big, not just financially, but as a means of escape. Brady has a gift for working with animals, particularly training wild horses, yet to be broken in. ‘The Rider’ is a soulful examination of masculinity and how these young men are defined by their physical prowess. When that is under threat, the devastation is clear.

‘Lean on Pete’ very much has a three-act structure and for me, the first act (with Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny) is by far the most successful. The middle section, which follows Charlie and Pete wondering the landscape is beautiful but a little cringe-worthy in places as Charlie treats Pete as a confidante. Then something takes place that I found hard to recover from and Charlie meets Silver (Steve Zahn), a fellow homeless man. I like Zahn in general, but his acting style feels out-of-step with the rest of the film. The film gets more ridiculous, plot-wise towards the end and I didn’t like it as much as the start. Charlie Plummer, however, gives an incredible performance and I’m excited to see what he does next.

What Chloé Zhao has achieved with ‘The Rider’ is a stunning feat and I cannot wait to see where she will go with her career next. Her gonzo style of film-making is so interesting and unique, I would like to see her turn her lens onto different communities and see what she draws out of them.  ‘Lean on Pete’ was, for me, a much more sensitive portrayal of the American West by an outsider than ‘Three Billboards’ (which was offensively disastrous, for me). Again, I’m very interested to see where Haigh goes in his career next. If you are able to catch either of these films on the big screen still, you should absolutely take the chance to see the stunning American landscape portrayed by two extremely talented filmmakers.

FIONA’S RATING FOR ‘THE RIDER’: 9.0/10
FIONA’S RATING FOR ‘LEAN ON PETE’: 7.0/10

Watch The First Trailer For A24’s ‘Lean On Pete’

Fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) arrives in Portland, Oregon with his single father Ray (Travis Fimmel), both of them eager for a fresh start after a series of hard knocks. While Ray descends into personal turmoil, Charley finds acceptance and camaraderie at a local racetrack where he lands a job caring for an aging Quarter Horse named Lean On Pete. The horse’s gruff owner Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi) and his seasoned jockey Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny) help Charley fill the void of his father’s absence—until he discovers that Pete is bound for slaughter, prompting him to take extreme measures to spare his new friend’s life. Charley and Pete head out into the great unknown, embarking on an odyssey across the new American frontier in search of a loving aunt Charley hasn’t seen in years. They experience adventure and heartbreak in equal measure, but never lose their irrepressible hope and resiliency as they pursue their dream of finding a place they can call home.

Directed By: Andrew Haigh

Cast: Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny, and Charlie Plummer

Release Date: 16th February 2018

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The Snowman

Year: 2017
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Chloë Sevigny, J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, Toby Jones

Written by Corey Hughes

After a 6-year directorial break since ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 2011, Tomas Alfredson returns to the director seat for the woeful adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s best-selling Scandi-noir murder mystery ‘The Snowman’, the fifth entry to the Oslo Sequence series of books starring Harry Hole.

Following a series of missing persons and murders in Oslo, acclaimed detective and loose-cannon Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) and newcomer Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), with their own personal intentions, hunt the aptly named Snowman down; a serial killer who leaves a snowman in his wake.

Fassbender, whilst trying his outmost to provide a plausible performance, fails to play the inner-tormented, broken man with the same gravitas that he brought to the table in similar roles in ‘Shame’ and ‘Hunger’; an unfortunate addition to a string of bad decisions from the immensely talented actor. The performances from the rest of the cast are moderate at best – Kilmer; an odd casting choice whose dialogue appears to have been dubbed in post production, Ferguson; who is unconvincing in filling the boots of the strong-willed Bratt, and J.K. Simmons; who provides a caricature-esque performance as the grotesque and completely unsympathetic Arve Støp.

Keeping within touching distance with Nesbø’s novel, Alfredson brings to the table experience from working on ‘Let The Right One In‘ by showing the goriness of the Snowman’s murders in their most truthful, explicit and uncensored form. The murders are set against the backdrop of Dione Beebe’s swooning cinematography, a successful depiction of bringing the cold, snow-engulfed Oslo to life, but in the grand scheme of things he is merely disguising what is ultimately a bleak, unforgettable experience.

There have been reports surfacing that during the editing process, Alfredson and editor Thelma Schoonmaker came to the realisation that chunks of the plot were missing, resulting in last-minute reshoots. Such disorganisation not only shows Alfredson’s lackadaisical approach in adapting the novel to the big screen, but also accounts for ‘The Snowman’s’ directionless nature; focusing on things that are insignificant whilst quickly glossing over things that are instrumental to the plot, an oddity that Schoonmaker is far from accustomed to from her partnership with Martin Scorsese (who was supposed to direct this mess before Alfredson stepped in).

Disregarding the inclusion of intricate, overlapping subplots evident in Nesbø’s novel, screenwriters Hossein Amini and Peter Staughan provide an unfaithful translation of the source material. Condensing a layered, 400-page novel to a mere 2-hour film is difficult but undoubtedly achievable, yet Amini and Staughan seem to struggle with adapting Nesbø’s multiple plots into a conceivable screenplay. The film cuts out a catalogue of important moments from the novel, which ultimately results in each character having the most minimal amount of depth and motivation possible. You aren’t given any reason to care about the characters, or the situations they find themselves in, an extreme flaw for any murder-mystery story.

‘The Snowman’, with so many acclaimed names attached to its production, with even Martin Scorsese as an executive producer, is a gargantuan disappointment. Use your price for admission towards Nesbø’s novel instead. You’ll thank me later.

Corey’s Rating: 4.0 out of 10

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