Thursday, May 29, 2008

SIFF 2008, Blog #3

Boy A
dir. John Crowley
Contemporary World Cinema

It recently occurred to me that there have been a few films, usually from the UK, that tell a story about childhood from the point of view of a bully. And what is particularly striking about some of these stories is that they refuse to judge the protagonist for these actions, instead they just observe them with little commentary on the act of bullying. Boy A on some levels does this too,

In Boy A, Jack (Andrew Garflied) has been released from prison. His mentor, Terry (Peter Mullan) help him establish a new identity in a new place, far away from the crime that he commited and served time for. During their meetings, Jack occasionally wants to talk about his past life, before prison, but Terry wants him to move on. To live in the present and to focus on becoming a new man.

And Jack really does seem to be doing quite well in his new life. He is liked at work, makes friends, and even finds a girlfriend. This is a huge success story considering that Jack grew into an adult while behind bars. And despite his personal sucesses, stories from his past, of Boy A, the child murderer, find their way to headlines and while not directly pointing to him, this serves as a constant reminder of a past that Jack is trying to leave behind.

But one question Boy A poses, is whether people can change. What of the child that commits a crime that is appears to be nothing short of pure evil? Can be become rehabilitated? Can he re-enter society without risk? Or maybe the question that should be asked, will society ever forgive him for his crime? Will culture allow him to attempt to become a law abiding and productive member? Through flashbacks, details of the circumstances surrounding the crime are revealed and do not sugar coat the fact that Jack did kill a little girl and does not excuse his act, but it does put it in perspective that makes it seem like it perhaps wasn't an act of pure evil, but maybe of immaturity, allegiance, confusion, and fear.

Yes, this is a film that is packed with ideas about life, guilt, and friendship, but mostly I think it is a movie about not being able to escape the past, even when one should be able to, after repaying the debt to society.

Transsiberian
dir. Brad Anderson
Contemporary World Cinema

I generally enjoy Brad Anderson's movies. I remember being charmed by Next Stop Wonderland. Session 9 is a fantasticly chilling horror movie set in the rotting remains of an asylum and The Machinist was an exciting and ambitious project with a sadly contrived ending. But it was still a very entertaining movie.

Like Session 9 and The Machinist, Transsiberian is a thriller with an underlying theme of repressed guilt , but sadly isn't isn't as good as those other films. It was frustrating to watch, because he obviously wants to tell a dark story about guilt and denial, but for the second time, the story falls flat and this time much more completely then The Machinist, which held strong until the last scenes. Sadly, Transsiberian begins to derail before it even gets out of Vladivostok.

Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) decide to take the long way home after their missionary trip to China, so they are traveling via the Trans Siberian Rail to Moscow. On the train, they befriend another western couple, Abby and Carlos. As they spend time together, Jessie begins to wonder if Abby are Carlos are what they seem. Are they on the run? Are they smuggling something? But things remain uneventful until Roy fails to return after they have stopped at a station.

Jessie, without Roy came across as very vulnerable, so Carlos agrees to stay with her until she is reunited with Roy. It is at this point that the plot begins to derail, as Jessie's past was revealed, it became clear that she is a strong, worldly woman who certainly could take care of herself for a few hours until Roy reappeared. But instead, she finds herself in a threatening situation and behaves in a way that is totally inconsistent. It was necessary to move the plot, but wasn't organic to this story.

And from that point on, Jessie and Roy become an interest to the Russian police who constantly urge Jessie to tell them the truth, in a nice friendly way that is probably totally unrealistic, especially when the police officer happens to be Sir Ben Kingsley. Then there are drug mules, some torture, and Transsiberian starts to attempt to take cues from movies like Hostel. But despite all of this, it never occurs to these American missionaries to turn to God for help. No, Transsiberian doesn't work, beyond piling on a bit of tension and intrigue, but not enough to keep my from wondering how long the movie is going to be.

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