Sundance Film Festival 2014: Day 5 (Boyhood, E-Team, The Better Angels, Calvary)
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Hello all! I’m going to get right to the point today, because it’s late, and we’ve reached the half-point of our Sundance journey together, and I’m getting afraid of boring you. Alright? Alright.
Director & Screenwriter: Richard Linklater Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater
At the end of Richard Linklater’s latest, Boyhood, a minor character muses that it’s not about seizing the moment, it’s that “the moment seizes us.” That’s an apt description of Boyhood itself: A collection of moments that seize and illuminate, terrify and transform…all from one boy’s life. Statistically, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is like a lot of American kids: divorced parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette), one sibling (Lorelei Linklater, Richard’s daughter), middle-class of varying degrees, fakes being sick to get out of school. This surface average-ness makes Boyhood so special: With enough attention and empathy, the commonplace is always compelling. Shot over 12 years (three to four days each year), Boyhood annually drops us into a pivotal time in Mason’s life. The soundtrack serves as time markers (opening with Coldplay’s “Yellow” of 2000/2001), and so do the actors’ appearances. Watching Coltrane grow up on screen creates a more intense character connection than shorter-term productions can achieve with makeup and multiple actors. That added sense of authenticity makes this film magical. Boyhood is at once intimate and epic. And, ultimately, truthful. See it as soon as you can.
Directors: Katy Chevigny, Ross Kauffman
E-Team follows members of the Human Rights Watch Emergency Team, tasked with gathering evidence of crimes against humanity…as soon as possible after they happen. The work Fred Abrahams, Peter Bouckaert, Ole Solvang and Anna Neistat do is as dangerous as it is noble. The drama of their daily lives makes for both fascinating viewing and in-theater soul searching. At least it did for me; maybe you have a world-changing and evil-defying job like this impressive quartet. Even though the four stories were connected and smoothy edited, I think there’s a larger opportunity to craft a documentary thriller (a la The Imposter or Manhunt) out of just one case. The most compelling moments of the film were when we dropped deeper into the details of an assignment, but the film keep coming back up to switch points of view. Can we get an E-Team 2? Documentaries need to get in on the sequel craze!
The Better Angels
Director & Screenwriter: A.J. Edwards Starring: Braydon Denney, Jason Clarke, Diane Kruger, Brit Marling, Wes Bentley
A.J. Edwards has worked with Terrence Malick on several films, most recently as a To the Wonder editor. Malick helped produce The Better Angels, Edwards’ first feature film, and the legendary director’s influence is obvious. The film is a gorgeously filmed black-and-white poem of Abraham Lincoln’s childhood. Just as Malick’s pictures make the everyday mythical, The Better Angels grounds a mythical man in an imagined childhood, full of mud and rivers and sunlight. You’ll recognize Malick hallmarks everywhere in this picture. The philosophizing voice over. The strings-heavy soundtrack with echoes of Samuel Barber (provided by frequent Malick collaborator Hanan Townshend). The extended scenes of children playing. Characters running through grassy fields, the camera chasing and swooping. Don’t get me wrong: Malick is one of my favorite filmmakers, and I love every one of these elements. I just kept getting distracted by how similar Edwards’ work is to his mentor’s. I look forward to seeing what Edwards will do as he develops a more separate style.
Director & Screenwriter: John Michael McDonagh Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Marie-Josée Croze
In Calvary, Brendan Gleeson plays a cantankerous Christ figure rushed into the role by a voice on the other side of the confession booth. Told he will be killed “Sunday next” because he is innocent, Father James simultaneously tries to stop the coming sacrifice and tie up all the lose ends in his parish, in case he can’t. Anchored with both thriller and black comedy elements, Calvary explores the culpability of the Catholic church in its abuse epidemic, the question of how far God’s mercy can extend, and the viability of faith in modern life. It’s one of the most surprising spiritual examinations I’ve ever seen on screen. It’s brutal, beautiful and bound to start many an argument.