Elegiac and exceedingly well-acted, this is my kind of crime epic. The kind with all the explosions and executions you’d expect, but that’s as interested in the lines on its aging mobster’s faces, the simple pleasures they enjoy, their stubborn ways and petty grievances, as it is with the mechanics of their wheeling and dealing in politics and business. It made me think less of Scorcese’s own gangster movies than Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. The Irishman isn’t wistful in the same way that movie is because the Manson murder victims were innocent people, whereas Sheeran, Bufalino, and the rest are obviously not innocent – they’re brutal criminals.
But the melancholy that comes from our knowing of the Manson victim’s tragic fate as we watch them go about their day is not unlike the effect of learning of these mobster’s demise as we meet them. They’re all going to end up killing each other, or in jail, and for what? Again, the pleasures they enjoy are simple ones: juicy steaks, ice cream sundaes, bread with grape juice, if not wine; things they need don’t money and power to have and share with their children, whose affection they struggle to earn. And on that note, the runtime is essential to shaping Frank’s relationship to his kids: the length enmeshes us in the mobster milieu and mindset, defined by its indifference to the life and death of others, which makes watching his daughters look at him with so much trepidation so unsurprising and poignant. And to think they don’t even know just how many guns their dad had to throw in the river.
Scott Cooper’s Antlers was originally slated to release in April of 2020, a couple delays and a Disney buyout of 21st Century Fox later and the film that completed it’s shoot in November of 2018 is finally available to audiences nationwide. Scott Cooper’s previous film Hostiles released in the late December award contender window of 2017. So the lengthy wait for his follow up film has been more or less due to circumstance than a ruminatory artist pursuing his muse. And Antlers is a decidedly different affair than the brooding stoic western with an ensemble of big names(Headed by Christian Bale) and great talent that made up Hostiles(Though Jesse Plemmons does reteam with Cooper here). Instead Antlers leans on Keri Russell of FX’s The Americans fame who returns to her Oregon rural mountain mining hometown following the death of her father. Her brother Paul Meadows, played by Jesse Plemmons, was just elected sheriff of the small town just before the film begins following the step down of Sheriff Stokes, played by Graham Greene.
At the start of the film we’re greeted by a grim scene, a young boy playing outside returns to a pickup truck parked in front of the mineworks. Shortly after he gets on the wide bench seat of the truck his father shuffles up from the mine shafts with a box in his hands. As he tucks the mysterious box under a tarp in the truck bed he commands his son to stay in the cab. The ominousness is largely missing as we’re cudgelled by the knowledge something bad is undoubtedly about to occur. The camera follows him as he ignites a flare and navigates the zigzagging shafts of the mine until he reaches a friend he is cooking methamphetamine with deep in one of the pockets. As he approaches the cook site we hear a growling otherworldly sound. This is our introduction to the Wendigo, the native American mythological creature the film and the short story on which it’s based revolve around.
Keri Russell’s Julia Meadows is a school teacher in the isolated town and one of her students Lucas Weaver is the eldest son of the man we saw previously cooking methamphetamine in the mineshaft. Upon discovering some of his drawings she becomes disturbed and the film’s narrative proper kicks in. Antlers is a disappointing step down from Cooper. Aside from a handful of exterior shots, the gorgeous cinematography of Hostiles which he shot with Masanobu Takayanagi is gone. Florian Hoffmeister picks up the camera for Cooper and though it’s doubtlessly unfair to compare the two entirely due to the setting of Hostiles being rampant with gorgeous vistas and skyscapes, Antlers is uninteresting even in its ugliness. Only reaching higher moments of quality at it’s big loud jump scare plot beats. In addition to its general flatness the story doesn’t creep into or under your skin. Not just in a horror motif way, but in a caring about the narrative way. In the story of Cooper’s body of work Antlers is undoubtedly a down swing. Other than a few fun jump scares, it never fully capitalizes on its premise nor it’s talent.
Antlers is currently available in wide theatrical release.
“Losing all the preconceptions that I had about storytelling, about the world, you know, and learning to see the world from a different perspective. It sounds romantic, but it’s not an easy process at all.”
This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of a duo of Netflix Releases in The Devil All the Time & I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Followed by the Titles: An American Pickle, She Dies Tomorrow, and Waiting for the Barbarians.
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Kaufman has taken very few proverbial swings, so when he fails it seems much more important than when Woody Allen does or has. However they both as artists essentially swirl their emotions/neuroses into a cup and try to pour out something of merit. I’d go so far as to say they try to make something that fulfills them. It’s just that what Kaufman has had to say for a decade is the same. There isn’t improvement, nor growth, it doesn’t even offer a differing sentiment than his previous projects. I get no sense that he’s working thru anything different, and that’s not something I would demand of most screenwriters. But when you are creating something so steeped in intellectual themes, I believe it would be dishonest of the audience to not demand intellectual growth of some sort out of the artist. I already had what edifying qualities could be found of the essential – quintessential metaphysical unmoored identity experience with Synecdoche, New York. To feel like that film not only outshines this one but out communicates it’s very core facets is disappointing. This will be the last time I go in hopeful to a Kaufman film(hopeful in the sense of it being good, not happy).
In summation the deeply rooted feeling that Kaufman like his main male protagonist stand in’s hasn’t grown up is disappointing and indicative that his art may no longer vibe with me.
All that said I certainly think it deserves to be engaged with, after all anything that gets me to rant for an extended stint of sentences has something to it.
–Taylor Baker originally posted this review on Letterboxd 09/07/20