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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr James Gray
prd Marc Butan, James Gray, Anthony Katagas, Rodrigo Teixeira, Alan Terpins
with Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Banks Repeta, Anthony Hopkins, Jaylin Webb, Ryan Sell, Andrew Polk, Tovah Feldshuh, Marcia Haufrecht, Teddy Coluca, John Diehl, Jessica Chastain
release US 28.Oct.22,
CANNES FILM FEST
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Filmmaker James Gray gets personal, tapping into his childhood for a coming-of-age drama set in 1980 Queens. Bristling with enormous political and social issues, the film is intriguingly delicate, although its subtlety may be challenging for viewers who like to have a clear plot trajectory. That said, it holds attention with its sharp themes, complex characters and nuanced performances from a strong cast ably anchored by young Banks Repeta.
On his first day in sixth grade, 12-year-old Paul (Repeta) is distracted as usual by everything around him. He bonds with the only Black kid in his class, Johnny (Webb), who has already discovered bigotry from all sides. So they start getting into trouble. Paul's parents (Hathaway and Strong) take their own messy approaches to discipline, while Paul relies on his adored grandfather (Hopkins) as an ally. Then when it looks like he will have to transfer to the private school his older brother Ted (Sell) attends, Paul plots with Johnny to make an escape.
Set in the run-up to Election Day, the title refers to both Paul's feeling that his world is ending and Ronald Reagan's Cold War campaign rhetoric. The period is captured with impeccable detail, avoiding the usual 1980s cliches while having fun with pop culture references. There are some major plot points, but Gray's writing and direction remain internalised, watching through Paul's observant eyes as his reality seems to shift, harsh truths about racism and economics come into focus, and he realises that life is rarely fair.
Repeta's open-faced expressions contain humour and emotion, revealing Paul's eye-opening odyssey. The narrative may only cover two months, but it's packed with momentous incidents that offer stark truths, even as he continues making childish decisions. Hathaway brings terrific warmth with an edge of exasperation as his mother, while Strong has a more jarringly faceted role as an understanding man who expresses his inner struggle in violent outbursts. And Hopkins twinkles brightly as usual as a lively, truth-talking Grandpa.
The film's core ideas come through the realistically depicted friendship between Paul and Johnny, which touches on racial disparity in powerful ways while never being obvious about it. Perhaps a more dramatic approach would have driven the themes home with a bit more force. Instead, Gray's approach allows the viewer to internalise the story and find more unique resonance. This may leave the film feeling somewhat out of reach, but it's also the kind of movie that leaves us thinking, and wanting to talk about it too.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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