The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh, USA)
Very few directors can say they released two feature films in one year, and even fewer can stand behind two masterworks. Last year we had David Gordon Green with Snow Angels and Pineapple Express. This year belongs to Steven Soderbergh. After the remarkably beautiful The Girlfriend Experience we have The Informant!. Each wildly different in tone, much Gordon Green’s 2008 work, but each displaying a level of knowledge far beyond most directors.
The Informant! marks a triumphant return to the Oceans-esque tone found in Soderbergh’s previous commercial trilogy. Much of the credit goes to Matt Damon, who is so damn-convincing as likable lead, and real-life snitch, Mark Whitacre that viewers will sit shocked at the conclusion. The film is filled with inner-dialogue from Damon, played like a narration of sorts. These quips are so random, thoughtful and surprising that they help otherwise tedious scenes move along with grace.
The array of new characters in almost every scene also keep the excitement factor high. There is Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Thompkins, Tony Hale, Joel McHale and many others, all putting something unique into their smaller performances. Soderbergh gives the film a soft tone, creating this mystical world that surrounds Damon’s character. The direction is fantastic, giving the audience exactly enough at the right moment, then letting it all out with a bang as we weave through the narrative. I’m seeing this film again in a few days, and I’m eager to revisit the magnetic characters and the charmingly tragic story that fiercely warrants a double-take. The film is further proof that Soderbergh is on an astonishing streak that doesn’t look to cease anytime soon.
9 out of 10
Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, UK)
Andrea Arnold’s second feature takes her ultra gritty and realistic tone to a whole new level. Like Red Road, we are transplanted in a jarring, but impeccable fashion into a world much unlike anything we are accustomed to. The film follows a British teenage girl (played by an intense Katie Jarvis) with a horrid family life, trying to find meaning, love and aspiration in a world that doesn’t warrant it. Her mother brings home a guy named Connor, played brilliantly by Michael Fassbender and as she gets a glimpse into their wild and reckless life, her interest piques and she starts making a number of deplorable decisions.
From the opening scene viewers are pushed into this world, Arnold never letting up. The camera nonchalantly follows her around as we get small, ultra realistic glimpses of everyday life in this shattered world. The story unfolds with a staggering force, going to many unexpected places. There are a few spots where the narrative treads about without a strong point, namely a subplot involving a horse, but the rest of the story is fantastic. Viewers will be shocked and frightened, yet Arnold invites us into the lives of these desperate characters and the rewards are heartbreaking and boundless and worth it.
9 out of 10
Nymph (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, Thailand)
The film begins with a long, stunning steadicam shot through a forest as we are introduced to different “spirits”. This single take lasts five minutes and unfortunately the rest of the film does not live up to it. Writer/director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang exclaimed that this version was his cut, as opposed to the Cannes version, where he was forced to submit a version on time. This story revolves around a couple with marital trouble who go to the woods for vacation and healing.
Things don’t turn out quite as expected as mysterious spirits reek havoc. Sounds like another film that played at the same time? Yes, the similarities to Antichrist are there, but this is a whole other machine. Aside from a few soothing moments it is slow, dreadfully slow. The style may appeal to some, but I never felt connected to the characters’ desires to make things right with each other. We seemingly meander through the forest for the first half of the film, never striking a chord or finding anything beneath the surface. The extramarital relationship is a high point of the film, giving a much-needed spike in an otherwise dull story. As the director throws in a twist of sorts at the end I was left numb, feeling nothing for what had occurred. For a film with similar themes and a more poignant message I have to say, turn to Lars Von Trier.
4 out of 10