It's been four years since Mel Gibson played a lead role in a movie, and with all of the tabloid headlines in the meantime it's been easy to forget how magnetic he is on screen. He's looking rather grizzled in this action thriller from French filmmaker Jean-Francois Richet (Mesrine), but his piercing presence turns what's essentially a cheesy exploitation film into something remarkably gripping.
He plays an ex-con tattoo artist named Link, who lives out in California's Mojave Desert, next door to his 12-step sponsor Kirby (William H. Macy). His home may be a trashy trailer, but he has cleaned up his life. Although his quiet reverie is disturbed by thoughts of his 17-year-old daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty), who has been missing for four years. So he's stunned when she calls him out of the blue for help. Kicking into action, he rescues her and immediately discounts her stories that the ruthless henchmen of her late gangster boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna) are after her. It doesn't take long for Link to realise that Lydia isn't exaggerating, and as they go on the run, he turns to old prison friends (including Michael Parks, Dale Dickey and Miguel Sandoval) for help. Even though he doesn't really trust anyone.
Director Richet doesn't seem very interested in the father-daughter drama at the centre of this film, even though it's far more involving than the madcap action carnage. Gibson and Moriarty do what they can to create some chemistry amid the mayhem, but they only have a few scenes in which they can push their characters a bit further. And frankly after the set-up, the audience needs that to put the violence in context. This is mainly due to the fact that the brutal pursuit is fairly predictable, and the side characters, as well played as they are, are little more than stereotypes.
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There's an unusual honesty to this film, which is an odyssey into the inner life of a teen girl. Gregg Araki has made a career out of understanding the often tortured inner workings of the adolescent mind, and this is one of his most beautifully crafted films yet, artfully circling around a central mystery while digging deeply into each of the characters. And while it seems a bit straightforward for an Araki movie, it's packed with his usual darker corners, especially in the surprising final act.
It's set in the autumn of 1988, when Kat (Shailene Woodley) feels her life fall apart. She's just 17, on the verge of womanhood when her mother (Eva Green) inexplicably vanishes, leaving her dad (Christopher Meloni) struggling to help her through puberty. Her best pals (Mark Indelicato and Gabourey Sidibe) are some help, but at the same time she begins to feel a growing distance from her boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez). Is all of this connected, or is this because of Phil's own family issues? As she plays through the various clues in her mind, the answers are also eluding the local tough-guy detective (Thomas Jane). A few years later, Kat returns home from her studies at Berkeley to visit her dad. And maybe this time she'll finally find out what happened.
The film is a beautiful depiction of the awkwardness of being a teenager, when everything seems wrong but feelings are so strong. Araki fills the screen with sumptuous imagery including dreamy sequences set in a snowy landscape where Kat mentally searches for her mother. And flashbacks offer more earthy glimpses into this difficult mother-daughter relationship, especially as Kat and her once-glamorous mother begin to shift in their roles. Clearly, Kat suspects that her mother ran away after seducing Phil, but the truth isn't quite this obvious.
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Marion Cotillard delivers another raw, devastating performance in this beautifully made drama about two badly damaged people who adapt to a new life together. After 2009's award-winning A Prophet, director-cowriter Audiard delivers an equally complex but strikingly different film, centring on complex, conflicting emotions and characters who are so messy that they feel jarringly real.
It starts in Belgium, as Alain (Schoenaerts) takes his 5-year-old son Sam (Verdure) and moves to the French Riviera to live with his sister (Masiero) and her husband (Correia). With his burly physique, he easily finds work as a nightclub bouncer, and one night he meets the sexy Stephanie (Cotillard), who trains orcas at a local aquarium. Then she has a terrible accident at work that leaves her disabled, and their unlikely friendship begins to develop in unexpected ways. He seems uniquely able to see past her physical issues, while she begins to understand his deep desire to be a bare-knuckle fighter. But neither has the skills to help heal each others' emotional scars.
In more obvious filmmakers' hands, this would be a heartwarming tale of two lost souls falling in love and giving each other hope. But Audiard resists sentimentality at every turn, never giving into romantic cliches while packing the story with scenes that catch us off guard simply because they are so startlingly unlike normal movie plot points. Alain and Stephanie don't so much help each other as provide a safe space in which to recover. And along the way, Audiard explores them like rust and bone, broken down by years of decay and injury. But of course, bone sometimes heals to be stronger than it was before.
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