Feb 18, 2011

Short Takes: Oliver Sherman, Biutiful

Oliver Sherman
Director: Ryan Redford
Cast: Garret Dillaunt, Donal Logue, Molly Parker

Oliver Sherman, the Canadian film starring Garret Dillahunt and Molly Parker and directed by Ryan Redford is the first film I saw this year and it is indeed a promising start. The film tells the story of a down-on-his-luck war veteran called Sherman Oliver (yes, it’s the other way around) played by Garret Dillahunt who comes back to Canada after spending a period of time in the hospital because of a head wound. Upon arrival at his friend Franklin’s – a man we later learn has saved his life – he looks lost, hurt and in desperate need of help, but as time goes by, Sherman becomes increasingly angry, jealous and threatening.

Oliver Sherman is a powerful film thanks to the three strong central performances, especially Dillahunt and Parker’s. Sherman’s uneasy, troubled and yet, irritating persona is key to the film’s progress. Redford wants to subtly but continuously ask us to re-evaluate Sherman, and Dillahunt pulls this off perfectly, both at his most sympathetic and most menacing. Parker’s performance as a distraught mother and wife, especially in the climactic scene of the film is pure gold.

Although the deliberate pace of the film gives clues to ending midway through the film, Redford’s direction – one of the stronger debuts I’ve seen – keeps the tension high. The editing work cannot go unmentioned, as its power is what allows for Dillahunt to play his “Will he? Will he not?” act right to the very last seconds of this suspenseful film.

Grade: B
Final Word: This is one of those films that won’t lose any of their value on the small screen, but if you get the chance to watch it in the theatre, don’t pass up. It’s a strong film, and fans of psychological dramas will particularly enjoy it.

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Javier Bardem, Maricel Alvarez

Biutiful, Alejandro Inarritu’s first feature film since his departure from long-time screenwriting partner Guillermo Arriaga, tells the story of Uxbal, a man from Barcelona who manages Chinese construction workers, handles the African black market workers, communicates with the dead, and takes care of his two children whilst dealing with his sex addict wife. Because all this is not enough, in the beginning of the film, he also finds out that he’s at a very late stage of a cancer that will take his life in a matter of months.

Biutiful shows flashes of greatness intermittently throughout the film, but the piece as a whole never quite comes together perfectly. The problem with the film stems from Inarritu’s indecisive and messy script. He doesn’t seem satisfied enough with his story at any point so he keeps adding new threads to the story, without working them into the structure of the film. For every great scene in the film (like the near perfect family ice-cream moment at the table), there’s a redundant scene that doesn’t do anything but confuse the audience. The introduction of the Chinese warehouse bosses as gay lovers for instance, plays no role in the narrative. Why Innaritu chooses to branch his story out further and further is beyond me. The super-natural talk-with-the-dead plotline is more relevant to shaping the story and Bardem’s character arc, but even that doesn’t merge with the rest of the film right.

The over-written and inconsistent plot of Biutiful is really what hurts it. What does remain consistent though is Javier Bardem’s solid performance as Uxbal. He practically saves the film from going to waste by keeping himself together even when the plot seems to be going nowhere. In fact, the only reason I cared for the film was to follow Uxbal to the end. (Although I have to mention, the technical accomplishments in this film, particularly the gorgeous cinematography of Rodrigo Prieto and Gustavo Santaolalla’s score are also way superior to the final product.)

Grade: C+
Final Word: Biutiful is Inarritu’s weakest film to date, but I’m a huge fan of his work. I seemed to be the only person in the world who truly believed Babel’s best picture nomination was well-deserved. If you enjoyed his previous films, you’re probably going to be slightly disappointed with this. If you didn’t like his old stuff, then you should probably skip this one. Nevertheless, Bardem’s performance is one for the ages.

1 comment:

  1. Amir Jan,

    Only to say that, I really enjoyed it and was unexpectedly pleasant. Keep the good work. Follow your passion.