Tag Archives: Gabriel Byrne

All in the Family


by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Grief and guilt color every somber, shadowy frame of writer/director Ari Aster’s unbelievably assured feature film debut, Hereditary.

The Graham family is maybe less grief-stricken over the loss of Grandma than you might expect. Daughter Annie (Toni Collette) delivers a eulogy that admits her mother was difficult, secretive. Her oldest son Peter (Alex Wolff) seems nonplussed by it all. He’s probably stoned, though.

Supportive but exhausted husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) is almost relieved, but the loss does bother the Graham’s socially isolated younger daughter, Charlie (Millie Shapiro, in one of the more chilling performances this year).

With just a handful of mannerisms, one melodic clucking noise, and a few seemingly throwaway lines, Aster and his magnificent cast quickly establish what will become nuanced, layered human characters, all of them scarred and battered by family.

The eulogy caps a striking film opening, where serpentine camera movement intertwines the Graham family with the intricate miniatures Annie creates inside their grand, secluded house. What we see suggests a scaled-down world of its own, lifelike but lifeless.

Art and life imitate each other to macabre degrees while family members strain to behave in the manner that feels human, seems connected, or might be normal. What is said and what stays hidden, what’s festering in the attic and in the unspoken tensions within the family, it’s all part of a horrific atmosphere meticulously crafted to unnerve you.

If horror fare such as The VVitch or It Comes at Night is not your bag, then you probably don’t care for the slow, detailed burn that A24 studio regularly serves. For those that do, hooray! Here’s another “adult” horror film, one that invests more in character development than in jump scares (though there are a few, including one so jarring it awakens the potential of the device).

Aster takes advantage of a remarkably committed cast to explore family dysfunction of the most insidious type. Whether his supernatural twisting and turning amount to metaphor or fact hardly matters with performances this unnerving and visual storytelling this hypnotic.

Applause to cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski for turning this intricately designed home into a foreboding character all its own. Like Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, The Haunting, The Others and any number of brilliant genre hauntings, Hereditary uses its surroundings to create a space where the most mundane moments take on a diabolical chill.

The family dynamic at work here is gut-punch authentic. Collette anchors the film with a performance full of grief, insecurity, bitterness and terror. It’s another in a string of award-worthy turns, and the support she gets from the ensemble, including a game Ann Dowd, elevates the tension in every intricately detailed frame.

You will have been quietly unnerved, startled from your seat, and then unsettled by the time the supernatural elements overtake the story. The peppering of hardline genre tropes in act 3 may feel like a cop out, but Aster’s interplay with the differing family members is too careful for such an easy summation.

The web of mental states, understandable suspicions and direct bloodlines layer the brutally effective fable, and Aster wields these weapons with stealthy precision. His work here is so smartly embedded that Hereditary continually tempts potential non-believers to dismiss where it leads as something you’ve seen before.

Don’t. You haven’t.

Hard Knock Life

No Pay, Nudity

by Hope Madden

Director (Ohio’s own) Lee Wilkof and screenwriter Ethan Sandler tap into years of collective wisdom from the inside to create a bittersweet, in-the-know glimpse at the near-thankless life of the workaday actor.

Gabriel Byrne, low key but excellent, is Lester Rosenthal – or Lawrence Rose, as the old playbill would have read. He’s having a hell of a time, as his longtime friend Hershel (Nathan Lane) explains to us via narration.

He’s a New York actor. An aging one whose dog just died, who hasn’t worked too steadily since that soap opera killed him off a few years back, who whiles away his days with similarly stagnant thesps in the Actors’ Equity Lounge, who may be willing to accept the role as King Lear’s Fool – in Dayton.

A mash note to the beleaguered actor in it for the long haul, No Pay, Nudity hits more often than it misses. The filmmakers possess a clear, lived-in knowledge of this world, this life. The yarn they spin is as empathetic as it is frustrated, and Byrne effortlessly embodies this embittered, wearied soul.

The premise is a bit slight and the resolution a tad rushed, but Wilkof and company make up for most of that with insight and affection to spare.


Dig Deeper

The 33

by Hope Madden

Few true events lend themselves more perfectly to film than the 2010 Chilean mine collapse. There is more drama, peril, resilience, and joy in the facts of this incident than anything that could believably be created in a piece of fiction.

Director Patricia Riggen tackles the story of the miners trapped about half a mile below ground. With food enough for three days, all 33 men survived an impossible 69 days. The story that mesmerized the world is not just of the unbelievable perseverance of the miners themselves, but also of the tenacity of an international team of engineers who worked against both overwhelming odds and an urgent timeclock to save them.

There is no end to the cinematic possibilities available in this deeply moving, thrilling story, which is why it’s so unfortunate that Riggen layers on so much artificial melodrama.

Antonio Banderas and Lou Diamond Phillips anchor a cast saddled with one-dimensional characters, each allowed a particular flaw to overcome or an inspiring trait to benefit the group. Riggen undermines the miners’ struggles by inexplicably skirting a claustrophobic feel, allowing no one the chance to truly panic or lose hope without Saint Mario (Banderas as inspirational leader Mario Sepulveda) swooping in with a word of wisdom to put everyone back on the right track.

Events above ground are treated with even less integrity, as engineers undergo lengthy, obvious epiphanies, and families offer little more than tearfully unwavering support. Riggen’s script, adapted by a team of writers from Hector Tobar’s book “Deep Down Dark,” leeches the human drama and complexity from all the events surrounding the collapse, replacing it with by-the-numbers disaster flick clichés and easy answers.

Most of the actors struggle with accents (I’m looking at you, Gabriel Byrne), and the back and forth use of Spanish and English only further exacerbates the film’s lack of authenticity.

And yet, when that first miner is lifted from his would-be tomb, it is impossible not to be moved. Because this really happened. Thirty three humans spent more than two months 2300 feet below ground, all the while understanding that their chance for survival was infinitesimal. Their ordeal is incomprehensible, and the fight against hopelessness and financial complacency to free them is genuinely inspiring.

The miners received no compensation from the company that stranded them, and this is the best Hollywood can do?