Tag Archives: Riz Ahmed

Family Matters

Encounter

by Hope Madden

Just two features in, filmmaker Michael Pearce is proving himself a master craftsman. His sly ability to shift tone is matched by storytelling instincts that leave you holding your breath against seemingly inevitable heartbreak.

Pearce’s 2017 film Beast (see it if you haven’t!) benefitted from Jessie Buckley’s raw, morally complicated performance. For his latest, Encounter, he can thank Riz Ahmed.

Fresh off his Oscar-nominated turn in Sound of Metal (see it if you haven’t!), Ahmed delivers another searing, searching turn, this time as Malik. A marine with 10 tours under his belt, Malik returns to the home his wife makes with another man. He arrives not to cause familial conflict, but to save his sons (Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada, both as cute as they are talented) from a problem much bigger than mere marital discord.

Ahmed’s chemistry with the young actors brings a touching vulnerability to every scene, and as the boys’ road trip turns ever darker and wearier, Chauhan proves a formidable acting partner.

Rare missteps stand out specifically because of their rarity. When a line delivery rings false, over-the-top or melodramatic it screams its presence because this cast and this script deftly convey so much so honestly.

Octavia Spencer offers support in a role that feels out of step with the jarring authenticity the main cast brings to an otherwise wild, almost sci-fi storyline. Likewise, the police force Spencer’s parole officer Hattie rides along with — soft-spoken Shep (Rory Cochrane) and self-satisfied Lance (Shane McRae) — toe the line between character and cliché.

Otherwise, though, Pearce, Ahmed and gang uncover tensions and complications, picking at your worries for these sweet boys and their beautifully damaged father. Tone shifts gradually but decidedly, every moment building a queasying energy until the inevitable finale (a beautifully choreographed sequence that calls to mind the insect infestation imagery of Act 1 while articulating the nerve-frazzling tension).

The filmmaker and his game lead challenge expectations both in theme and in genre, and while their gamble doesn’t entirely pay off, it’s often riveting stuff.

Bring the Noise

Sound of Metal

by Hope Madden

Riz Ahmed is a guy who can do anything.

He can be funny (Four Lions), pathetic (Nightcrawler), tragic (Sisters Brothers), villainous (Venom). He’s soon to be Hamlet. But in Sound of Metal, playing a recovering addict heavy metal drummer who’s hearing suddenly deteriorates, he’s more than all of these put together.

Ahmed is Ruben, in a performance that brings this man to life with so many layers and such nuance and power it requires your attention.

Ruben’s traveling the country in an airstream with his girlfriend Lou (the always welcome Olivia Cooke). She sings/wails/screams and plays guitar, he bangs on the drums, and they keep each other safe, sane and sober. This is how they do it, one day at a time.

But Ruben’s sudden deafness is more than he can take and as he spirals out of control, Lou and his sponsor find him a place. It’s secluded, nestled on a big piece of land near a school for the deaf—a spot for recovering addicts who are deaf. No one else.

No Lou.

Even before you begin to appreciate Ahmed’s remarkable performance, you’ll likely notice writer/director Darius Marder’s choices when it comes to sound design.

Also, Sound of Metal is captioned, but not all the time. If Ruben can’t understand what’s being said, neither can you.

The sound design evokes the same sensation: of being in Ruben’s head. What he can’t really hear it, you can’t, either. Marder mimics the humming, echoing, and blurring together of sounds to create an immersive sensation that never feels like a gimmick.

It might, were it not for Ahmed, though. The rest of the cast, most of them non-actors, offer solid support. Cooke is characteristically strong, simultaneously resilient and dependent in a way that feels authentic to the character. The charming and endlessly tender third act arrival of Matthieu Amalric only adds to the emotional heft the film carries.

Sound of Metal is Marder’s first feature. It often benefits from a loose structure, but just as often, this becomes its downfall. There are scenes that amount to little, giving the film a bloated quality. But that’s not enough to defeat it, not nearly. Sound of Metal is a powerful experiment and a star turn for a talented actor.

Twisted Sisters

The Sisters Brothers

by Hope Madden

How many Jacques Audiard films have you seen? You should probably see all of them, including his latest, The Sisters Brothers.

Like his previous films (Rust and Bone, A Prophet, Dheepan), The Sisters Brothers starts out as one film, inserts another fascinating story, and as those two come together the movie unveils its true intent. Unlike Audiard’s other films, The Sisters Brothers is a Western.

We open with Charlie and Eli Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly, respectively), two gunslingers for hire on the job. Their next big gig assigned by The Commodore (Rutger Hauer) will put them on the trail of a prospector in the 1850s West.

Phoenix, who is having a banner year even for him (if you haven’t already seen You Were Never Really Here and Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, please do), plays the loose cannon brother. Making trouble is in his blood—a fact his brother is trying to forget.

Eli longs for something better for himself, something settled and adult. But he is bound to his brother and their friction bristles with the bonds and bondage of family. Reilly’s conflicted tenderness and responsibility mingle with a genuine longing that offers an emotional center for the film.

A few days’ ride ahead of the brothers is the tracker The Commodore hired to assist in the deed. Jake Gyllenhaal’s John Morris is an observer and a loner, a man who believes in his own intellect but is willfully blind to the consequences of his career choice—until he befriends the object of The Commodore’s interest, a chemist with ideals and a compound that seriously simplifies the act of finding gold.

Good-natured chemist Hermann Kermit Warm is played by Riz Ahmed (also having quite a year, back to back this week with his strong turn in the overly criticized Venom). He and Gyllenhaal remind you of the amazing chemistry they shared in 2014’s Nightcrawler. Though their characters couldn’t be more different this time around, the two actors again share a natural rapport that makes you a believer.

Peppered with fascinating images, intriguing side characters and the lonesome beauty that infects the best Westerns, Audiard’s film embraces a genre without bending to expectations. Does it all come down to daddy issues? Yes, but the longing for camaraderie and the quest for redemption has rarely been this charming.

The film meanders intentionally, serving the rugged outdoorsiness required of its genre, but relies on its four leads to craft fascinating characters whose relationships and destinies infect you with a hope often lacking in Westerns.





Hardy Boys

Venom

by Hope Madden

We don’t need another superhero. That’s what the Venom trailers told us, and it’s pretty true.

So, what Venom had to offer—an antihero, a Jekyll/Hyde thing starring a brilliant actor who excels with complex, dark roles—felt like a great change of pace.

Tom Hardy was the ideal choice for the dual role of Eddie Brock, semi-doofus reporter, and Venom, flesh-eating alien symbiote. This should have worked, partly because Hardy knows how to mine villains for their humanity, and watching him wrestle with the good v evil duality never ceases to be impressive.

What Venom suffers from more than anything is the expectations set by a Marvel release. Don’t be mistaken, were this the DC universe it would be the second best comic book film released since Christopher Nolan cast Hardy as a super villain.

But it is, indeed, Marvel. (If you forget, Stan Lee shows up to remind you.) And for that reason, regardless of the fact that Venom boasts superior acting, FX, story arc, action choreography and writing than anything DC has done this century besides Wonder Woman, its regrettably traditional execution makes it feel a bit stale. Because it is Marvel.

A characteristically committed Hardy elevates scenes, indulging a far more humorous tone than what we’ve seen lately from the versatile actor. Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler, Four Lions) is a solid choice to play Eddie/Venom’s nemesis. Never campy or over-the-top, Ahmed evokes a type of lifelong genius who cannot be persuaded that his ideas are at odds with the ideals he alleges to support.

Michelle Williams is uncharacteristically flat, and the balance of the cast is mainly forgettable, but the real problem with the film rests on uninspired direction.

Ruben Fleischer showed a flair for action, colorful theatrics and humor with his 2009 breakout Zombieland, but the joy of carnage and camaraderie that infected that flick is sadly missing here.

Zombieland was aided immeasurably by writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, whose irrepressible irreverence made the Deadpool films such a riot. It’s a tone sorely lacking in this screenplay, penned by a team of four whose output includes a Fifty Shades film, Kangaroo Jack and Fleischer’s abysmal 2013 mob flick, Gangster Squad.

Venom is not a bad movie. It’s fun, competently made entertainment.

And a disappointment.





That’s No Moon…

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

It is a Star Wars story, no doubt about that.

Familiar crafts and creatures are scattered about, buoyed with a stream of cameos that begin as clever and escalate to downright ovation-wothy. And, at the film’s core is a story of wayward fathers, longing children, and the paradox of “confusing peace with terror.”

Why this sudden pearl-clutching over the politics of the Star Wars universe? There’s been a “final solution” tilt since the outset (they are called stormtroopers, after all), and Rogue One takes us back to when the Empire’s prized Death Star had yet to be completed.

As an act of conscience, Empire scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) designed the Death Star with that fatal flaw that is exposed when viewing the original blueprints. It’s up to Galen’s daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones) and her band of rebel fighters to capture that file and ensure daddy’s flaw is exploited.

Sure, we know how it all turns out, but connecting those dots becomes a thrilling, thoughtful bit of fun.

Jones makes a fine hero: brave, righteous and naive – or, perfect for this series.

She and Mikkelson join a full slate of very talented character actors – from the genius Ben Mendelsohn to the under-appreciated Diego Luna to the up-and-coming Riz Ahmed. They’re part of an adventure that butts up against the New Hope, bridging tales swirling around that far away galaxy.

Like JJ Abrams’s The Force Awakens, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story peppers the action with welcome humor and continually reminds viewers of the film’s place – chronological and geographical – in the saga.

One or two of the tricks up director Gareth Edwards’s (Monsters, Godzilla) sleeve come up short, but the majority land with style. With his team of writers and a game cast, he takes us back to the height of the Empire’s smug attitude – their belief in their right to silence those who oppose them and dictate to a voiceless population with impunity.

It’s a clever, thoughtful slice of entertainment entirely apiece of the Star Wars history. It’s also a reminder that there is always hope.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 





The Camera Never Lies

 

Nightcrawler

by George Wolf

I don’t know why it took so long to combine Network, Broadcast News and American Psycho, but Nightcrawler is here now, so buckle down for a helluva ride.

It is a mesmerizing film, propelled by a career-defining performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. Years from now, his “Travis Bickle”  may very well be Lou Bloom, a strangely polite, utterly driven man in search of a purpose.

He finds it via an old camcorder, which becomes his passage into the life of a freelance videographer in L.A. Night after night, Lou waits by a police scanner for a chance to be the first at a crime scene and come away with footage that will fetch a high price from the local TV news stations.

Lou seems like a natural, and soon he’s got an assistant (a terrific Riz Ahmed), brand new equipment and a cozy relationship with a news director (Rene Russo, supporting award-worthy) who describes her broadcast as a “screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”

But first, the weather!

Writer/director Dan Gilroy has several screenplays under his belt (The Bourne Legacy, Two for the Money) but may be best known as Russo’s husband. That should change, as his debut as a director is awash in style and biting creativity.

Call it poetic justice that Nightcrawler is opening just as TV news enters the November sweeps ratings period. Yes, the film hits the “if it bleeds, it leads” mantra and hits it hard, but doesn’t shrink from wondering just who that indicts:  the show or its audience?

As Lou’s sociopathic tendencies lead him to become more and more involved in the stories he’s covering, the film sharpens its satirical claws. Fear-mongering, class warfare, “bootstrap mentality” and more take a beating, with Gilroy showing great instincts for when to pull back before his hand becomes too heavy.

His gets a great assist from Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood), who bathes the film in dark, sleek shine, making Bloom’s seedy world inescapable.

But the anchor here is Gyllenhaal’s can’t-look-away performance. He makes Lou Bloom an American psycho for today, unfazed by business cards but unable to tolerate anyone altering his plan for upward mobility. He’s all smiles and positivity, all the while analyzing your weaknesses he will unapologetically exploit when necessary.

Everything about Nightcrawler should be in the 2014 awards mix. Chase this ambulance down, and fast.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 





Fundamentally Flawed

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

By Hope Madden

“Have you ever been brought a split second of pleasure at arrogance brought low?”

This line and the moments in The Reluctant Fundamentalist preceding it require the skill of a nimble actor; one who has not yet betrayed his character’s allegiances or true nature and who can balance what’s been revealed with what has yet to be unearthed.

Riz Ahmed is not that actor.

He’s proven his mettle in previous efforts – most ably in the dark comedy Four Lions – but he can’t rise above the condescending tone director Mira Nair creates as his character – Pakistani born, Princeton educated Changez – spins an enlightening tale to an American journalist (Liev Schreiber).

The son of a poet, Changez grew up hungry for the financial opportunities offered by the American dream, but chasing that dream during the upheaval of 9/11 caused him to rethink his priorities, his heritage, and his relationship with the US. Back in Pakistan, he finds himself a person of CIA interest when his white colleague at the university is abducted.

An international thriller seems an odd choice for Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake), but the tender, internal complications of a culture clash are certainly in her wheelhouse. Unfortunately, she does not deliver the tempo of a thriller, and her cast underwhelms with the emotional turmoil.

Nair’s team of screenwriters reworked Mohsin Hamid’s novel, clarifying ambiguities, patronizing characters and audience alike, and generally strangling the prose into submission. The film is after the element of audacity in the author’s work, but neglects the underlying earnestness that earns it.

The cast doesn’t help much. Ahmed may be in over his head, but Kate Hudson fails entirely. Her grieving lover unready for a relationship feels more like an intellectually stunted, artistically talentless flirt who’s only just awakened from a nap.

The usually reliable Schreiber has little opportunity, but his final image dooms his performance as well. Meanwhile, Keifer Sutherland is miscast and Nelsan Ellis once again settles for stereotype rather than character.

Characteristically, Nair mines the work for unexpected humor, which helps the film keep an unsure footing. Given the story being told and lessons being learned, this is an important victory. Her visual flair adds vibrancy to the sometimes dry story as well, and there are elements of Hamid’s work that still shine brightly enough to command your attention throughout the film’s running time.

Plus, let’s be honest, as culture clash and terrorism on film go, at least it’s not Java Heat.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfC45oq_drU