**1/2 (out of five)
Unfortunately writer / director Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud, Take Shelter) seems so determined to avoid over-dramatising his wonderful source material – the story of Mildred and Richard Loving, whose inter-racial relationship had a profound effect on the United States legal system – that he under-dramatises it to the point of dilution, and, unfortunately, exasperation. His telling is slow and laboured, and, at some points, seemingly deliberately, provocatively obtuse; at one key moment, not only does he not point his camera at the action, he puts it in another State.
Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton are fine in the roles (Negga was nominated for the Oscar) but the camera dwells on their quiet moments excessively, especially on Edgerton, who sullenly occupies an enormous amount of inactive screen time. There’s only so much one can take staring at a man smoking and staring.
Nick Kroll (in a really surprising dramatic role) and John Bass do their best to liven things up as the two young lawyers taking the Lovings’ case all the way, but, once again, Nichols is miserly with their screentime. Perhaps he was afraid of portraying them in any way as “great white hopes” to the Lovings’ cause, but when their big moments are shown fleetingly and from behind, it all becomes too much. This dramatic true story could have used more than a little more drama.
Opens in Australia on Jan 28 2016
****1/2 (out of five)
Brie Larson has just won the Golden Globe for her lead performance in Room, an audacious and inspiring film, a coherent, complex and confident blend of arthouse experimentalism, mainstream thriller and serious drama. It’s one of the best films, easily, of this “Awards Season”.
Larson and Jacob Tremblay play a mother and her son living in extreme circumstances – they are confined to a small area (their “room”) in which they are obviously imprisoned. Occasionally, “Ma” is visited by a man they call “Old Nick.” When Jack, the son, turns five, Ma figures it’s time he found out the truth about the nature of “room”.
By turns arthouse experiment, tense thriller and family drama, and enormously moving, Room has a cumulative power. Inspired by a rash of lurid and horrendous crimes in the US and Europe (particularly a famous case in Austria), Room avoids tabloid sensationalism completely and seeks to explore its tremendously challenging subject with honesty. Although author Emma Donoghue, working off her own novel, has never spoken to any of the women who inspired Larson’s character, she has done her research, and is obviously committed to serious contemplation of trauma and its effect. Irish director Lenny Abrahamson (the film is an Irish / Canadian co-production, and Donoghue is an Irish woman living in Canada) shoots the script with reverence and invention. The first half is haunting, the thrilling bits are tense as hell, and the drama reaches sensitively into difficult spaces. An excellent, excellent film. Be advised: it may be too much for some sensitive viewers or survivors of trauma.