Aaron Schneider's Get Low promises something irresistible: Robert Duvall old-cooting it up in a Southern Gothic tale. What it doesn't hint at is the depths of the film, the emotional power that its closing scenes will pack. I like movies that catch you off-guard like this one does. Duvall continues to amaze me; he's reached that magical age for an older actor, where they've been doing it so long, it becomes second nature. Bill Murray is splendindly funny, but in a legitimate and unselfish way--he's never funny outside of the character, nor does he merely transform Frank Quinn into a "Bill Murray type." Sissy Spacek and Lucas Black are flawless in supporting roles. The picture’s many fine elements--those down-to-the-bone performances, the rustic photography, the jangly yet mournful score--come together masterfully in its closing scenes, which hold the audience in spellbound silence. It’s a wonderful film.
Thomas Kimi’s Legacy is a puzzle; it should work, and has all of the elements in place to work, and then it doesn’t. It has a crackerjack opening, and an intriguing political allegory at its center, and Idris Elba acting up a storm in basically every scene. But it never connects from moment to moment, and those discombobulated moments end up being slung together into a particularly unsatisfying trick ending. Elba is credited as an executive producer on the film, and you can tell why he wanted to get it made—at times, it plays less like a narrative than like his actor’s demo reel. It is, no question, a tour-de-force performance, but self-consciously so—he’s so busy studiously performing that he seldom seems to actually disappear into the character. But the main disappointment, as the close of Legacy’s 95 minutes, is that we slowly begin to realize that (contrary to the set-up), the film is not about character or story. It’s about narrative trickery. When the film’s bag of tricks is empty, we can go home.
In one of the most purely enjoyable films of the fest, Egyptian stand-up comedian and actor Ahmed Ahmed explores American and Middle Eastern relations (and the place of comedy within those relationships) in Just Like Us, a slender but enlightening travelogue of his trip through the Middle East with an international group of comedians. It’s briskly paced and snappily cut, even if it does feel at times like a home movie (which, well, it kind of is). Ahmed gets his points across suitably in the abbreviated 72 minute running time, though I wish he would have padded it out with a bit more of the stand-up material—these are funny folks, and we barely hear from some of them. Still, running too short is a criticism that can be lobbed at very few films these days; smart and wickedly entertaining, Just Like Us is a funny, thoughtful treat.
And then we come to Kim Chapiron’s Dog Pound, a film of cutting brutality and searing intensity that examines the conditions of a youth correctional facility, and the boys who inhabit it, with stark, documentary-like precision and attentiveness to detail. There’s not too much happening plotwise (at least on the surface), and that’s for the best—it’s functions, for most of its running time, as more a series of sketches, impressions of life on the inside. What it adds up to, when the violence and brutality comes to a punishing head at the end, is an accumulation of incidents. Nothing in Dog Pound feels placed for plot, but it’s all there for a reason—it’s all pushing the picture towards the body blows of the tough, unforgiving climax.