Amy Adams and Christian Bale con their way through David O. Russell’s engaging new drama.
American Hustle - David O. Russell is a writer/director who confidently and proudly marches to the beat of his own drum – and while it hasn’t always worked (I Heart Huckabees, for example), his unique and exhilarating technique has resulted in some tantalizing, surprising works. His latest is about a 1970′s sting operation involving con artists and corrupt politicians, but he eschews the seduction of period conventions to dramatize the complicated and conflicting characters at the center. First is Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a career con-artist with a killer success rate and comb-over, who ventures into crooked deals with his partner-in-crime/mistress, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). After one troubling incident, Irving and Sydney are caught by overzealous and aggressive FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who forces them to cooperate in uncovering a major scandal involving the mafia and local New Jersey politician Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). Irving carefully sorts out the complexities of the deal while trying to refrain his firecracker of a wife (Jennifer Lawrence) from jeopardizing their roles and, perhaps, lives; meanwhile, Sydney and Richie grow dangerously close as the case progresses. There are many surprising plot developments, but Russell maintains a consistent and keen focus on the way these five characters interact and affect one another. Irving and Sydney demonstrate a romantic trust that fluctuates throughout the film, while both construct fascinating relationships with the bombastic Richie – Irving’s stubborn caution beautifully contrasts with Richie’s impulsive “heroism”, while physical seduction drags the agent and Sydney into a grey area full of passion and danger. Then, toss in a seemingly moral perspective in the form of Polito and Irving’s social torpedo of a wife, and Russell’s film is a fascinating blend of character dynamics, attractions, and betrayals. Russell employs his usual techniques of alternate hand-held and steadicam cinematography and partially improvised dialogue (overlapping in the Altman tradition, fitting for the period and genre) to draw out a unique and electric energy that pulses through this symphony of crime, passion, and survival. Each actor commits to their role with ferocity and originality, making each performance surprising and enjoyable. Bale and Cooper are fantastic and funny as the lead rivals – the former dials down his outlandish appearance with a slow-burning desperation while the latter demonstrates a horrifying determination and insanity. Supporting performances from Louis C.K., Renner, Elisabeth Röhm, and especially a wisecracking Lawrence are superb and solid, but it’s Adams who gives the film’s most nuanced turn. It’s easily the actress’ best performance since 2005′s Junebug, conveying a menacing drive, vivacious carnality, and melancholy loneliness with the utmost energy and care. She’s wonderfully unpredictable and wild while calibrating a careful amount of vulnerability – it’s a sensational turn full of real sadness. As a whole, though, American Hustle runs out of gas in its final act. Scenes become too strung out while trying to add unnecessary character quirks and developments while the screenplay tries to tie up the story with too many steps to the final twist. It’s an ultimately messy film, but it wouldn’t be as jolting and unusual of a ride without the occasional diversions. American Hustle demonstrates Russell’s orchestration of raw character and is a highly entertaining and amusing period drama with a splashy energy and terrific performances. B+
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Christian Bale stars in Scott Cooper’s uneven but thrilling drama.
Out of the Furnace - Actor-turned-director Scott Cooper made a fantastic and moving debut with 2009′s Crazy Heart, the country music drama with a stellar soundtrack and an Oscar-winning turn from Jeff Bridges. Cooper doesn’t reach the same heights with Out of the Furnace, but shows promise as he hones his cinematic voice. The film stars Christian Bale as ex-con Russell Baze, a steel worker in a small Pennsylvanian town who shares a close relationship with his brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck). After serving several tours in Iraq, Rodney begins to fracture and finds himself entangled with a dangerous and violent crime ring led by local gangsters (Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe). Following his sudden disappearance and a lack of effective police work, Russell takes justice into his own hands and risks his life to get back the brother he loves. Out of the Furnace has so many riveting elements in line, that its problem is not a matter of lacking quality but a matter of excess and coordination. A particular scene in the middle of the film exemplifies this flaw best – as Russell and his uncle (Sam Shepard) hunt and shoot a deer, Cooper intercuts with Rodney preparing for a brutal fight in the backwoods. The parallels drawn are jarring and poignant, but the overbearing and lingering techniques lack subtlety and grace. Cooper’s film does feature some powerful and quiet moments, but they are too few and far between. These include some wonderful, silent glimpses full of character and tension in which Bale’s Russell and Affleck’s Rodney develop a wonderful, realistic chemistry and dynamic. The brotherly relationship is the heart of the film and rings true, but the script’s meandering and plot-focused diversions and Cooper’s occasional directional missteps hampers the effects. Out of the Furnace can’t quite blend the low-key and gritty authenticity Cooper aspires to capture with the more conventional cinematic emotional burstings. The poignancy exists within the film, but does not maintain a haunting resonance due to the the hit-and-miss nature of the story and form. That said, the cast delivers uniformly excellent performances that make the film much more compelling and entertaining. Bale gives a nuanced turn full of pain, redemption, and heart, while Affleck is mesmerizing and tragic. Harrelson, Dafoe, Shepard, and Zoe Saldana give colorful and rich supporting work, while Forest Whitaker is the one weak link – his performance is alternately too truncated and bombastic. Despite the shortcomings of the film, Cooper still demonstrates an observant skill behind the camera with a wonderful use of actors, cinematography, editing, and soundtrack. Though he has issues mixing the qualities of the story and tone together to make a low-key yet intense drama, he is still a gifted and unusual filmmaker worth watching. B-
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It’s not quite a white christmas for Suzanne (Anna Margaret Hollyman) in Zach Clark’s dark yuletide comedy.
White Reindeer - It’s become a bit of a sub-genre in the past twenty years or so – the dark christmas comedy. Movies like The Ref, Bad Santa, The Ice Harvest, and the recent All is Bright explore thorny relations between trouble-making characters with ice-cold wit. You can now add Zach Clark’s striking White Reindeer to that mix, another dark christmas tale that features a stellar lead performance. Suzanne (Anna Margaret Hollyman) happily leads a normal life – she lives in suburban Virginia, works in real estate, loves her husband, and anticipates the holiday glee of Christmas every year. But thinks take a sudden turn when her husband is killed in a freak break-in, and Suzanne has to confront a harsh and dismal reality in the wake of the most wonderful time of the year. Grief-stricken and confused, she finds herself entangled in the lives of her hospitable swinger neighbors (Lydia Hyslop, writer/director Joe Swanberg) and a rough-around-the-edges but kind stripper (Laura Lamar-Goldsborough). What starts as innocent new friendships turn into cocaine-fueld sexcapades that bring out a wilder side of Suzanne as she tries to make sense of the direction her life is taking amidst a hazy, sad, and strange holiday season. What’s most impressive about White Reindeer is the impressive lack of force – sure, the film utilizes fantastic low-key cinematography and surprising editing to evoke Suzanne’s conflicted psyche, but it’s not trying to startle or demean its audience. The film is rooted in the character’s struggle and newfound situation rather than trying to shock-and-awe the viewer for cheap laughs and gasps. The filmmaking and script stick with Suzanne and her interesting impulses throughout, allowing White Reindeer to create a colorful portrait of a women torn by tragedy, instinct, grief, curiosity, and yuletide cheer (yes, it’s unusual – but not gimmicky). And what’s especially refreshing about this darkly comedic drama is its willingness to explore warmer ideas and paths – it’s not too constrained by subversion, and has a few surprisingly tender moments that appropriately synchronize with Suzanne. Zach Clark’s screenplay is tight and concise, but potent with suburban restraint and observances that breathe authentic life into the concept and a character arc that is grounded yet unpredictable. Anna Margaret Hollyman gives a compelling and enjoyable performance as Suzanne, seamlessly merging the character’s initial wholesomeness with an attraction towards the unknown and unfamiliar. It’s a soulful and relatable turn that’s funny, touching, and unique. She is definitely a talent to keep an eye on. The low-key and realistic depiction of East Coast wintry suburbia wonderfully melds with a transforming and fractured psyche in this new film that displays the continuous power of American independent cinema. It’s a cold, sad, but bitingly funny ride – would you want your Christmas any other way? B+
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Toni Servillo stars in Paolo Sorrentino’s fantastical and irreverent drama.
La Grande Bellezza - Italian director Paolo Sorrentino (Il Divo, This Must Be the Place) is a filmmaker who experiments with style and scale, refusing to settle for restraint. Yet as illustrious and enveloping as it is, La Grande Bellezza is a carefully conducted poem about life, love, regret, and death. It tells the story of Jep Gambardella, a famous and aging journalist whose lavish and celebratory lifestyle makes him a legend in Rome. Right after an incredibly insane 65th birthday party, Jep begins to reflect upon his fluctuating and dynamic life and ponders his accomplishments – both professional and personal. Questions of love, fulfillment, family, and religion simmer to the surface as Jeb takes a psychological and emotional voyage through both his colorful past and Rome’s complex history. Sorrentino’s film is, on the surface, a blend of 8 1/2 and Citizen Kane, but the director isn’t so concerned with emulating past cinematic classics. Instead, he makes something original, bold, and uncompromising to the beat of his own drum. Told in a fractured and non-linear fashion, Sorrentino’s film unfolds thematically and poetically rather than functioning within a standard plot-based framework. La Grande Bellezza is an abstract collage of ideas – the allure of nightlife, the melancholia of plastic surgery, the celebrity of religion, and the heartache of regret are just some of the subjective glimpses that parade through this cinematic essay with wit, sexuality, humanity, and energy. Sorrentino employs alluring camera-work and editing to swiftly move the story along and artfully probe the enigmas of Jeb’s life. Toni Servillo gives an exceptional and layered performance as Jeb, conveying that mystifying middle between regret and fulfillment. It’s a seductive turn full of subtle emotions, passive curiosity, and pure whimsy, recalling the protagonists of Fellini’s ’60s dramas. Although Sorrentino’s film is consistently rich and audacious, there are a few moments and scenes that feel the need to cement themes that have already resonated. There’s no need for superfluous segments that cause the film to occasionally lag and be redundant. Of course, digressions augment the film’s dream-like nature but it weakens its overall effect. La Grande Bellezza does not need any more montages because it’s an already potent, provocative, and profound meditation on searching for one’s meaning and learning to accept that it lies within the softer, more silent moments. As outrageous and whimsical as it is, Sorrentino’s film is brave enough to embrace the quiet – where drinking and dancing dissipates in favor of loud, sweeping, and startling emotions. It’s excess and existentialism at its most enigmatic. A-
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Bruce Dern and Will Forte star in Alexander Payne’s latest dramedy.
Nebraska - Director Alexander Payne returns to his titular home state with a humorous and sneakily heartwarming father-son story that boasts a terrific, career-crowning performance. Nebraska, shot in beautiful black-and-white, stars Bruce Dern as the cantankerous, aging, alcoholic Woody Grant. He receives a common sweepstakes newsletter one day proclaiming that he has won a million dollars, and determinedly tries to head down to Lincoln, NE to claim his prize. His wife (June Squibb) can barely deal with Woody’s dysfunctional aimlessness, while his younger son David (Will Forte) decides to accompany his father on the road-trip down to Nebraska to see if there is even a prize worth claiming. Along the way, they stop in their extended family’s hometown where it’s revealed Woody has some serious scores to settle. Everything from the look of the film to its simple structure (it opens with an older Paramount Pictures logo) is decidedly and cinematically old-fashioned, feeling like a meditative 70′s road picture along the lines of Five Easy Pieces or Peter Bogdanovich’s works. But Payne’s Nebraska isn’t just an homage – the director’s signature wry and observant voice is fully heard and felt through the narrative and fascinating characters. It’s a blend of laugh-out-loud comedy and melancholy introspection, a funny and thoughtful family study. It’s interesting (and somewhat refreshing) to watch outlandish former SNL cast member Will Forte (MacGruber, no less) play it relatively straight to the more colorful members of the cast. He handles dramatic scenes earnestly but subtly in a strong, quiet performance. Yet it’s veteran actor Bruce Dern who delivers a remarkable performance as Woody, infusing this potential caricature with a raw humanity and authenticity. His turn is full of small, weathered, sad moments that are contrasted so well with Dern’s impeccable timing and endlessly expressive face. There’s a moment later in the film, perhaps Dern’s only true close-up, where an entire emotional spectrum fills his fixated stare. His capacity to convey heartache, hope, and loss in just the smallest actions yet biggest choices is astonishing. It’s a dialed-in performance, but one that is carefully calibrated and emotionally sound. On the other hand, Squibb plays Woody’s wife Kate with an enormous vocal concern and control that brings about most of the film’s laughs. It’s a much different character than Dern’s, but Squibb handles it with sincerity and wit. Yet, for all the wonderfully funny and observant moments, there’s something slight about Nebraska. In its attempt to be a low-key comedy, its ambitions are rather low and there’s a recurring lagging effect. It’s almost as if Payne is trying so hard to downplay Nebraska and maintain its style and tone by focusing more on the humorous aspects of the film, but that becomes counter-intuitive as some of the archetypes and jokes grow tired and become a bit forced as the film progresses. Squibb’s character is hysterical, but there doesn’t seem to be a natural limit to her constant nagging and the rest of the characters like easy enough targets. It’s in no way a formulaic film given its look and feel, but Nebraska does seem a bit too comfortable at times being a simple (albeit pleasant) father-son dramedy rather than striving for more. But, if a film this low-key can be this charming and entertaining, it certainly is not the worst thing in the world. Nebraska is an offbeat, funny, and melancholic road movie that’s as nice of a throwback to 70′s cinema as it is a piece in Payne’s canon. B+
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Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in Steve McQueen’s brutal period piece.
12 Years a Slave - After only two features (Hunger and Shame), Steve McQueen has proven himself a fascinating experimenter with sound and image. He’s a director not to be taken for granted, and his sharp techniques are on full display in his harrowing and tough 12 Years a Slave. Based on a true story, the film follows Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man who is suddenly kidnapped, beaten, and sold into slavery in the south. Facing a dozen years of harsh conditions and cruelty from a violent and prejudiced slaveowner (Michael Fassbender), Solomon endures the physical and emotional torture of being “property” that is separated from his family. It’s a crushing premise, and McQueen does a solid job of conveying the brutality and soul-diminishing terrors of Solomon’s tragedy. His dynamic tendencies, ranging from abstract and quick-flashing montages to blisteringly intimate long takes, are at play and it becomes evident that the entire filmmaking team has mustered up an incredible amount of ambition to evoke the full of impact of this true story. And while there are many trembling moments, the film does not break the glass ceiling, so to speak. In an effort to capture the raw atmosphere and truth of slavery, McQueen lets segments run a bit too long past their impacts. Thus, there’s the impression that 12 Years a Slave could have been a tighter and more potent film rather than powerful moments strung together by lulls. McQueen strives to capture the raw and ugly atmosphere and undeniably achieves it, but at the expense of conveying real suffering and despair. Sure, he includes horrible beatings and terrifying torture, but McQueen focuses so much on the actions that he overlooks the core of Solomon’s plight. There are glimpses of the character’s loss, but he’s constantly overshadowed by the film’s attempts to nail the raw authenticity. It’s a bit of a shame, considering that there are a few very powerfully orchestrated scenes that display elements that could have been consistently employed rather than just intermittently. That said, McQueen’s film is still a strong and assured piece of filmmaking that boasts fantastic editing, camerawork, and, especially, acting. Ejiofor is fierce and engaging in the lead role, while Fassbender is downright terrifying. They avoid cliché representations and display the central humanity (or, lack thereof) of their characters. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent, with Lupita Nyong’o and Sarah Paulson standing out as a fellow slave and Fassbender’s icy wife. Nyong’o's performance is equal parts radiant and sensitive, creating a heartbreaking portrayal of hopelessness. Poignant elements like these are spread throughout the film, but don’t necessary coalesce into a successful whole. Nonetheless, despite its shortcomings and flaws, 12 Years a Slave is still a boldly crafted look back on a destructive bit of history and its impacts on its participants. B
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Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto star in this fascinating and heartfelt true story.
Dallas Buyers Club - Shedding incredible light and insight on an effect of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980′s, director Jean-Marc Vallée’s new film is unusual in its melancholic and dark humor. But it’s a tight, focused, and compelling true story of unapproved drug-dealing during the crisis and the strange man behind it all. Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is a rodeo-loving, drug-abusing, womanizing electrician in Dallas, TX who suddenly contracts the HIV virus and is told he has 30 days to live. With the health care at the time still unsure about how to treat HIV/AIDS patients (doctors were conducting a trial with the medication AZT), Woodroof takes matters into his own hands and seeks alternative, unapproved treatments from Mexico and other countries. Soon, with the help of fellow patient Rayon (Jared Leto), Woodroof starts an exclusive “buyers club” to sell these superior (yet not completely legal) meds. He certainly profits off of his unfortunate situation, but comes to embrace the unconventional heroism and empathy he didn’t know he had. What makes Dallas Buyers Club particularly enjoyable is its insistence to eschew tendencies of the standard biopic. Woodroof is not a likable character at the start, per se – the script does not try to make him a shining beacon of change and reason. He’s imperfect and initially homophobic, and his resistance at the start to becoming involved with a community mostly full of homosexuals is jarring, off-putting, and frankly a bit funny. Yet it makes his ultimate (and naturally slow) redemption all the more engaging. The film does not infuse him with saccharine virtues, but portrays him as a real, complicated, messy man who gradually performed an outstanding service. McConaughey has a regular and strong charm and ease, but he translates that charisma into building this impatient, restless, and determined character with a fantastic energy and grace. It’s a powerhouse performance, but McConaughey knows when to reel back and let the subtle aspects of the story and Woodroof speak quieter volumes. He’s nearly in every scene and has a powerful grip on the film, making a flawed man all the more dynamic and understandable. Leto is astonishing as well, giving a fearless, funny, and soulful performance as a transgender woman helping Woodroof on his mission. The two create a beautiful and heartbreaking chemistry that drives the film, synchronizing the humor and sadness into a emotional gut-punch. Jennifer Garner and Griffin Dunne also give solid supporting work, with the former (surprisingly) delivering a measured but impacting performance as Woodroof’s doctor. But Dallas Buyers Club isn’t merely a true-story performance piece. It’s a daring display of mastering tone, never feeling false or contrived. Marc-Vallée calculates the seriousness with a needed dose of levity perfectly in every scene, creating the kind of biopic that informs as much as it captivates. Dallas Buyers Club is inspirational like most true stories brought to the screen, but its unconventional journey’s mix of bawdy realism and raw energy is what makes it worth pursuing. A
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Robert Redford stars in this powerful one-man show.
All is Lost - First with Gravity, now with the more low-key (but just as intense) All is Lost – 2013 is proving to be the year of survival cinema. Writer-director J.C. Chandor helmed 2011′s talky Margin Call, the admirable but messy ensemble drama about the economic crisis. However, here he takes a complete turn with an almost dialogue-free thriller featuring a fantastic solo performance by Robert Redford. All is Lost tells the story of a man (Redford) who finds his yacht and voyage seriously jeopardized by tumultuous conditions in the Indian Ocean. With limited rations and navigation equipment, Redford’s character must use what ever resources and determination it takes to make it through the ocean and maintain survival before it’s too late. It seems like a traditional tale, but Chandor takes an approach that avoids cliches and standard structure. In another words, Cast Away this is not. There’s no backstory, no home, no Wilson. All the audience has is Redford’s character thrown into the situation so that there’s a tight focus on the character’s instincts, will, and hope rather than any ties to parallel narratives. It’s a risky choice that pays off because, like Redford’s character, the audience is thrown into a situation that they are not familiar or sure of. We’ve skipped the formalities, so to speak, and instead become totally synchronized with the skills and anxieties of the lead character. The film aligns us with each and every moment of peril and danger that Redford confronts, and it’s a chilling and frightening ride. Not only are the oceanic conditions harsh and unforgiving, but it’s the unpredictable trajectory of the main character that is most compelling. Furthermore, the effective choice in wordlessness lends the film a poetic and visceral gut-punch. The risks of All is Lost are powerful and engrossing, but would not make nearly as much of an impact without the strong central performance from Redford. Weathered and rugged, Redford gives a performance that may be skimping on dialogue but is in full supply of pulsing strength, vulnerability, and heartbreak. He masters the bare essentials required of the character, conveying natural energy and vitality through complex silent expression. It’s an astonishing performance that goes beyond any expectations; Redford not only handles the role capably, but makes it a true character. Chandor and Redford’s collaboration is one of the most unique cinematic experiences this season, an experiment that pays off with exhilarating waves. A
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Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz can’t save this confused and contrived thriller.
The Counselor - It all looks fantastic on paper: an all-star cast, renowned director Ridley Scott, and acclaimed writer Cormac McCarthy gather together to tell a neo-noir western. But Scott’s glossy direction and McCarthy’s inconsistent script are mismatched, creating an intermittently entertaining but weightless attempt at examining corruption and criminality. Michael Fassbender stars as the Counselor (the only name he’s given in the film), a lawyer who decides to get involved in an exclusive drug deal through his clients (Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz). Soon, things go violently awry – he realizes he has gotten way in over his head and has possibly jeopardized his associate (Brad Pitt) and innocent fiancé (Penelope Cruz). Scott and McCarthy are trying to replicate the dark humor and ominous tension of the Coens’ No Country for Old Men (based on the novel by McCarthy) through the film’s seedy characters and environment, but it all comes off as contrived and forceful. Scott’s direction is too concerned with capturing the seductive allure and lavish lifestyles of the drug business, indulging in slick cinematography and editing. It all looks and sounds fantastic, but the film’s style is no match for McCarthy’s more subtle and meditative writing. The simple drug-deal narrative takes a backseat to several dialogue-heavy scenes, some of which are compelling and interesting (such as the segments involving Pitt’s cynical but experienced character, shedding some terrifying light on the underworld). But most of them repetitively hammer a thematic arc that is barely (if anything, weakly) articulated by the characters. The actors give strong performances, but they can’t do much with these cast of archetypes – each of them is intriguing but ultimately stunted. From Bardem and Diaz’s flamboyant clientele to Fassbender and Cruz’s novices, the characters are provocative sketches that lack any semblance of reality, drama, pathos, or fear. It’s as if McCarthy forsook his characters’s deep motivations in favor of creating and exposing darker overarching themes through his deadpan but oddly philosophical dialogue. McCarthy’s writing maintains his signature rhythm, but here it’s lacking the energy and focus of a decent film narrative. It musters up frightening and compelling ideas, but is not entirely sure what to do with them. So, instead of a dark and twisted noir, The Counselor is a visually slick but dramatically inert sequence of bizarre scenes that try to convey the greed and evil of all involved. It may be entertaining to some (Bardem’s cheesy wardrobe and Diaz humping his car could be hooks), but it’s a wasted and insubstantial effort. C
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Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux star in this epic and involving love story.
Blue is the Warmest Color - It’s a difficult and daunting task to trace the ups and downs of a passionate romance, but director Abdellatif Kechiche embraces the challenge in his adaptation of Julie Maroh’s celebrated graphic novel. Blue is the Warmest Color is a compelling and seductive film that tells the love story of high school student Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and older artist Emma (Léa Seydoux). The two meet as Adèle explores her sexuality and Emma begins her painting career before Kechiche charts their evolving relationship for a few years with powerful and emotional results. The only story, so to speak, is effortlessly ingrained in the development of the characters and their engaging plunders in and out of love. Although the film is about two lesbians, Kechiche exemplifies the realistic elements of Maroh’s book – making the romance not so exclusive to their sexual orientation, but universal, painful, and hopeful for everyone. It’s alternately humorous and melancholy, uplifting and heartbreaking, exhilarating and tragic. Its three-hour running time is quite lengthy, but it offers Kechiche to cinematize a panoramic and complete study of what it means to love, feel love, and let it slip away. Drafting a solid romance that’s jarringly relatable (for better or worse), the film is expansive but concise. But an immense amount of the articulation and integrity of the film is in debt to the empathetic and resonant lead performances – both outstanding, but different. Exarchopoulos conveys her introverted but delicately complex character with her emotive and heartbreaking expressions and trembles. It’s a calm turn that surprises in her sudden yet natural escalation, and she achieves a rare kind of poignancy for the entire film. Seydoux, by contrast, is more explosive but just as striking. She fiercely (and quite effortlessly) communicates anger, passion, and sexuality like few actresses today. While the two are brilliant on their own, it’s their insanely palpable chemistry that drives the film home. To say their relationship comes off believable would be an understatement – the two conceive and nurture a universal romance that is blisteringly honest for everyone. They hit every corner of the emotional and physical palette as Kechiche employs their talent to create a beautiful and bruising love. Of course, a component of every romance is sex, and Blue is the Warmest Color does not omit it. There’s a graphic and intense sex scene that lasts nearly ten minutes, earning the film’s NC-17 rating. But it’s far from gratuitous or pornographic. In fact, the film elevates sex from being a mere factor of Adèle and Emma’s romance to a significant character of the film. It’s their ultimate expression and physical manifestation of their love, something that exists out of their passion for one another while further cementing their connection. It appears and recurs throughout the film, re-situating and contextualizing their romance amidst passing years and growing feelings. Blue is the Warmest Color is an engaging film that covers a lot of ground (with some scenes going on a bit too long with superfluous dialogue), but it’s a powerful and fluid exploration of love, sex, and desire in a daring and powerful form. Kechiche, Exarchopoulos, and Seydoux are vibrant, surprising, and fantastic talents. A-
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