Come Dancing

Foxtrot

by George Wolf

From its opening shot – a slow, dizzying swirl above a patterned kitchen floor – Foxtrot commits to a cornerstone of disorientation. Through both narrative and camerawork, writer/director Samuel Maoz keeps you off balance as he constructs a deep, moving dive into one family’s struggle with loss and regret.

Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray), a soldier in the Israeli Army, is going about his mundane duties in a remote outpost when a tragic twist of fate occurs. Jonathan’s father Michael (Lior Ashkenazi delivering his usual excellence) and mother Daphna (Sarah Adler – also terrific) take the news of the accident, along with the news of a second, very unexpected development, very differently.

Maoz’s visuals, sometimes anachronistic, bold and darkly funny, are never less than fascinating. His writing is incisive and brilliantly layered, confidently moving toward a shattering finale without stopping to worry about whether you’re connecting every loose end.

Just when you may think you know where Maoz is going, you don’t. But the rug isn’t pulled by cheap gimmickry or emotional manipulation, but rather perfectly arranged pieces assembled by deeply affecting performances.

Like its namesake, a dance that will always lead you to “end up in the same place,” Foxtrot can be viewed from different angles with equal impact. You might see a sociopolitical statement on the filmmaker’s home country, a universal parable on the costs of war, or a starkly intimate take on family bonds.

Let it in, and this film will reveal layers of meaning and a lasting grip. Through Foxtrot, Maoz and his stellar performers are speaking with a stylish and bittersweet elegance.

Listen.

 

 

Hell Week

7 Days in Entebbe

by George Wolf

A film that sells the importance of negotiation while it details a harrowing plan of action, 7 Days in Entebbe gets caught in the awkward space between show and tell.

In July of 1976, Israeli Defense Forces invaded Uganda’s Entebbe airport for a daring rescue of hostages from a hijacked jetliner out of Tel Aviv. Bolstered by the support of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, the terrorists were seeking the release of 40 Palestinian militants – as well as 13 other prisoners around the world.

As Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) weighed his options, Defense Minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan) led the chorus calling for military intervention.

Director Jose Padilha (Elite Squad/the Robocop reboot) assembles the drama with precision, beginning with the motivations of German hijackers Wilfried Bose (Daniel Bruhl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike). Padilha’s approach is detailed and informative, but often prone to favoring exposition over illustration.

Leading an outstanding ensemble cast, Bruhl and Pike both give terrific performances, letting us glimpse the early commitment of their characters and a growing disillusionment when the ordeal drags on. As the weight of the hijackers’ German heritage grows heavy amid their Jewish captives, the pair deal with their guilt in different ways, both finding an effective authenticity thanks to Pike and Bruhl.

Gregory Burke’s script has moments of bite (“You’re here because you hate your country. I’m here because I love mine.”) but retraces its steps too often, and the film feels like it’s running in place. Even more problematic is a curious approach to the actual rescue, when tension is undercut by the need to draw parallels with a well-rehearsed dance performance.

The payoff the film needs to resonate as more than a well-produced history lesson never materializes, and it leaves shrugging its shoulders at the elusive nature of peace.

Betting on the Right Horse

Norman (The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer)

by George Wolf

“What do you need? I’ll help you get it.”

When does Norman Oppenheimer ever sleep? He’s always there in that same coat and hat, stalking New York City for more people to connect, more circles to infiltrate, and more favors to curry.

But beyond mere social status, Norman (Richard Gere) wants to be a part of something that matters, and he thinks he’s finally found it after “betting on the right horse.” In Norman’s world, that means doing a favor for Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi-terrific), a struggling young politician, at precisely the right time.

It takes three years, but Norman’s long shot pays off when Eshel becomes Prime Minister of Israel. Suddenly, after a lifetime of exaggerating his influence and connectivity, Norman really does have a friend in a very high place.

People begin paying more attention to Norman, which isn’t always good news for his powerful friend.

Writer/director Joseph Cedar skillfully creates an utterly fascinating character who maneuvers through an equally intriguing web of politics, friendship and desperation. And Gere, as good as he’s ever been, makes it feel authentic.

Much as Bruce Dern dug deep into the lead role in Nebraska, Gere relishes his chance to flesh out a character as ripe as Norman Oppenheimer. He’s pushy, pathetic and often socially awkward, yet endearing in his tireless quest to seem worthwhile, both to others and himself.

It’s a performance that should not be forgotten come award season, and it anchors a smart, detailed film as compelling as any political thriller, yet as familiar as your last little white lie.

Verdict-4-0-Stars