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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr John Trengove
prd Gina Gammell, Ben Giladi, Riley Keough, Ryan Zacarias
with Jesse Eisenberg, Adrien Brody, Odessa Young, Sallieu Sesay, Philip Ettinger, Evan Jonigkeit, Caleb Eberhardt, Ethan Suplee, Gheorghe Muresan, Brian Anthony Wilson, Sean Edward Lewis, Lamar Johnson
release US/UK 10.Nov.23
23/US Lionsgate 1h35
BERLIN FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Offbeat and elusive, this dark drama takes on toxic masculinity in ways that bristle with implications. With another tale about male rituals (see The Wound), writer-director John Trengove follows a guy who is spiralling out of control. While it's far too intense, the film's pungent energy holds the interest. But some fresh air might have allowed the story to breathe more meaningfully, because it has a lot to say.
With too many bills that need paying, Uber driver Ralph (Eisenberg) is struggling under the pressure that is building because his girlfriend Sal (Young) is pregnant. His only escape is building muscles in his gym. Then his steroid-dealing friend Jason (Ettinger) introduces him to Dan (Brody), who runs Manodrome, a self-help group of "dads" and "sons" who have embraced celibacy as a solution to their problems. After his induction, Ralph becomes increasingly focussed on his own muddled feelings, although he suppresses the real issue. And hanging out with the guys isn't calming his mental state.
Ralph is conflicted about his own masculinity on so many levels that it's clearly overwhelming. This includes his expectations of impending fatherhood, his under-employment and homosexuality so deep-seated that it expresses itself as homophobia. Indeed, with their raucous gatherings and cult-like fervour, Dan's group seems eerily tightly coiled. And as his turmoil accelerates, it seems that Ralph could explode at any moment. So the film echoes the tone of edgy dramatic thrillers like Fight Club and Taxi Driver.
While he seems a bit miscast, which is perhaps the point, Eisenberg has strong presence as the increasingly meatheaded Ralph, who comes unraveled due to the combination of body-building drugs and Dan's macho philosophising. These combine in a way that cataclysmically fails to help him deal with his own sexuality. By contrast, Brody brings a zen quality to Dan that's magnetic. And Young shines in an increasingly thankless role as a sharp woman who is pushed aside by this nasty new Ralph.
Where this goes is darkly haunting, as the story takes on enormous issues. But Trengove is raising these things without offering a healthy pathway through them, so it begins to feel like little more than a portrait of hideous male attitudes. Still, these are important issues to confront. As Dan urges Ralph to take back his power, the way he goes about doing this is chillingly familiar, even if the final sequence wobbles right off the rails.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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