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|The Bad Batch
dir-scr Ana Lily Amirpour
prd Megan Ellison, Danny Gabai, Sina Sayyah
with Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Jayda Fink, Jim Carrey, Giovanni Ribisi, Diego Luna, Yolonda Ross, Cory Roberts, Alina Aliluykina, Dakota Black, ER Ruiz
release US Sep.16 ff
Who do you trust? Momoa and Waterhouse
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
For her second feature, Ana Lily Amirpour has a big, bold idea that's like Mad Max descending on Burning Man. But it isn't post-apocalyptic: it's a reflection of right-wing attitudes that are sweeping the globe, marginalising anyone who doesn't fit the status quo. So it's frustrating that the film is so difficult to engage with. Characters are cool and dispassionate, dialog is stiff and the pacing is uneven.
In the near future, or maybe right now, a zone in the Texas desert has been fenced off and declared free of US law. The Bad Batch are sent here: criminals, immigrants, addicts, the poor, disabled. When Alden (Waterhouse) arrives, she's immediately attacked by people from Bridge, who remove her right arm and leg for dinner. She escapes and finds her way to Comfort, a more humane enclave with a benevolent drug-dispensing leader (Reeves). Then outside the camp, Alden finds Miel (Fink), a little girl whose guardian Joe (Momoa) is tenaciously searching for her.
Shot almost entirely outdoors, the film looks amazing, capturing the foreboding environment while these factions of bad-batchers offer intriguing insight into the survival instinct. As events unfold, there's a distinct lack of internal logic in how characters continually run into each other in the desert. But then the entire plot is rather haphazard, never building either momentum or purpose as it meanders along.
It certainly doesn't help that the arch dialog sounds like lines in comic strip bubbles. This stylised approach might work with an experienced cast, but Waterhouse and Momoa are unable to mine for depth. Hints of a romance never grab hold, and only Momoa gets to show any proper emotion in his tenacious love for Miel. Ribisi's chattering nutcase is annoying, while Reeves' rock-god is at least amusingly pompous. And by underplaying his role, Carrey steals the film as a mute roaming the landscape.
Where the film needs a hero, Alden is vacuous. She doesn't seem to care about anything and has no interest or direction, so everything that happens to her is hit-or-miss. Perhaps this is Amirpour's point: life is a roll of the dice, some get rich, others suffer, no one deserves his or her fate. Taken as a parable, there's real power in this material. But as a movie, simply nothing grabs hold. We're merely observers, and it doesn't really matter what happens to these people. Which seems to be the opposite of the intended message.
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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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