Film Review: American Honey

American Honey

American Honey is a new American road movie. Andrea Arnold proves once more why she is such an exciting director.

Hoping to escape her less than ideal life, teenager Star joins a travelling magazine sales crew. As they travel across the Midwest, Star gets caught up in the partying and the nomadic lifestyle…

Writer-director Andrea Arnold’s American Honey combines aspects of a traditional road movie with a contemporary outlook. The film marries a throwback style with an unappealing reality. Star is a protagonist that viewers will get behind, even if some of her choices are questionable.

Opening on an average day for Star, the film immediately paints a less than ideal picture. This is not the story of a girl wanting an escape from her mundane existence. American Honey is darker than this; a theme that pervades the entire film. Viewers will sympathise with Star, and later will likely feel tense at the situations she gets herself into.

As the film progresses, the lifestyle of the characters becomes repetitive. Arnold is making a point here; it is not a envious lifestyle of these young adults, but it is better than where they have come from. The interactions seem natural, particularly the camaraderie on the road. Arnold depicts a range of characters, without delving to far beyond the main players. Nevertheless, she offers enough for viewers to feel familiar with the group. Krystal is also a strong character – a Fagin of sorts who both looks after and exploits her charges. Jake is a wildcard, likeable in his demeanour yet unreliable in his motives.

A very telling aspect of American Honey is the scenes in which the main characters talk about dreams. Their fantasies are so simple, yet not so attainable. This exemplifies the new American dream; not a life of riches and comfort but simply a space to live a normal life. Arnold captures this shift perfectly.

American Honey has one of the best soundtracks of the year. The camera work is both intimate and energetic. The handheld camera, in the van in particular, gives a strong sense of the lifestyle. Sasha Lane is very believable as Star. Riley Keough is also good as Krystal. Shia LeBoeuf brings a manic energy to Jake that viewers will have seen before. This suits the role, however.

American Honey is in its own way thought-provoking, sweet, and disturbing. A worthwhile watch.

American Honey is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.

Film Review: Fury

Fury

David Ayer’s Fury is a well executed war film. The action sequences are fantastic, although the film adds little to the genre overall.

As the Allies make their final push in Germany, army sergeant Don Collier leads his small crew on a pivotal but deadly mission. With a rookie soldier, the crew fight against the odds in their mission to defeat the Nazis…

Writer-director David Ayer has constructed a decent film with Fury. In terms of pacing and action, the film is highly effective. The conflict scenes are visceral, tense, and unflinching. There is not much room for sentimentality in Fury, and the film is better for this.

The relentlessness of conflict is a theme that pervades Fury. Through the character of Norman, the inexperienced young soldier, Ayer aims to depict how the frontline will change a person. In this way, Fury can be seen as depicting a microcosm of the wider impact of war.

The table scene is a perfect illustration of the tensions within the crew. The film seems to suggest that this is the result of the confined environment in which they reside, and the pressures of war for long-serving soldiers. The ending of Fury is a little too neat, and goes against the thematic direction of the film.

Collier appears to speak almost solely in soundbites. Elsewhere, dialogue is more realistic, if a bit difficult to understand at times. In the action sequences, the editing and sound design are superb, as are the special effects.

Fury offers good performances from Shia LaBoeuf, Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, and the rest of the cast. The film sustains the attention and effectively conveys the brutality of conflict. Although it does not offer too much in terms of originality, Fury is a solid war film.

Fury closed the BFI London Film Festival on 19th October 2014.

Film Review: Nymphomaniac

Nymphomaniac

Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac is absorbing, amusing and though-provoking cinema. Behind the rodomontade of controversy, Nymphomaniac is an excellent film.

Seligman finds Joe injured on the streets as he returns to his apartment. Inviting her in to recuperate, self-confessed nymphomaniac Joe begins to tell Seligman her story…

Nymphomaniac Volume I and Volume II are engrossing films best viewed in quick succession. The narrative framing device allows for effective storytelling. Both the storyteller Joe and her listener Seligman are interesting characters. Both bring something compelling to proceedings.

Lars von Trier’s writing in Nymphomaniac is superb. The film works as a straightforward recollection of events. In this way, it is both entertaining and reflective. Notwithstanding, with the addition of other elements, von Trier’s film delivers more. Bringing religion, mythology and mathematics in to embellish the tale adds an extra layer of depth. The interruptions of Seligman (surely a reference to the psychologist rather than a coincidence) are both humorous and insightful.

Much has been made of the prurience of this film, stoked to a certain extent by Nymphomaniac‘s memorable marketing. Whilst the film is very explicit, it is not erotic. The draw here is how the story will unfold. Volume I departs with enough of a hook to reel viewers in for the second part.

Lars von Trier makes the most of nature, as he has done in previous films. Familiar preoccupations of the writer-director are also visible here, with no less potency. Direction is thoughtful, whilst references show a level of sophistication. The use of Rammstein in the film’s opening provides a blistering introduction.

Ultimately, Nymphomaniac is an unequivocally feminist piece. That it uses explicit imagery to tell its story does not negate from the importance or strength of overall message. To a certain extent, the film acts as a riposte to criticism of Antichrist.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is most believable as Joe, as is Stacy Martin as her younger counterpart. Stellan Skarsgård is excellent, whilst Christian Slater and Jamie Bell great. Uma Thurman delivers a star turn in a small role. Shia LaBeouf is less convincing with an erratic accent and hesitant performance.

The protagonists in the film are drawn so well that the shift in these characters is subtle and credible. When the cataclysmic finale arises it is paradoxically shocking and cogent.

Nymphomaniac certainly isn’t for everyone. Nevertheless, the film proves to be provocative and entertaining viewing.

Nymphomaniac Volume I and Volume II are being screened back to back in UK cinemas for one evening only, on Saturday 22nd February 2014.