Tag Archives: Shia LaBeouf

The Politics of Sin

Padre Pio

by Brandon Thomas

Shortly after the end of the first World War, a priest named Padre Pio (Shia LaBeouf) finds himself suffering an enormous crisis of faith. Having had health issues that kept him from the front lines of the war, Pio’s guilt is slowly consuming him.

Outside the walls of the monastery, a less internal battle is brewing. Many townspeople, upset with fascist landowners and their own working conditions, are drawn to the rising Socialist Party. They see the town’s first free election as a way to make their voices heard. When the old rulers see the tide turning against them, violence becomes their only way of holding onto power.

Director Abel Ferrara made a name for himself by directing some of the most notable exploitation movies of the late ‘70s, ‘80s, and early ‘90s. Films like Ms. 45 and Bad Lieutenant were cultural firestarters in their day, and might even draw the ire of Film Twitter in the present should it stumble upon those seedy gems. However, in the latter half of his career, Ferrara has been drawn to more contemplative works. Pasolini, Tommaso, and Siberia show the filmmaker at his most introspective. Instead of trying to provoke an audience with violence and graphic sex, Ferrara is now trying to get them to look inward through quiet but haunted protagonists. 

Padre Pio is Ferrara’s attempt to subtly blend religion and politics, though neither topic is given its due. Unlike Paul Schrader’s more recent First Reformed, Ferrara’s film is far too disjointed and muddled to prove his own point. The religious fervor found in LaBeouf’s scenes never coherently connects with the film’s political half. There are hints at Ferrara’s initial intentions, but unfortunately very little of that appears on screen. 

LaBeouf’s casting is a major blunder. The actor has turned in very good work in movies like The Peanut Butter Falcon, Fury, and American Honey, but as an iconic Italian priest, he is horribly miscast. While the entirety of the film is in English, the bulk of the cast is made up of Italian and other European actors. LaBeouf’s distracting American accent drags any discerning viewer out of the film immediately. His inclusion, and the messiness of the overall storytelling, makes Padre Pio feel like a bad movie-within-a-movie from an Apatow comedy.

Ferrara’s ideas here are compelling and might’ve worked in movies of their own. When crammed together as competing – not complementary – narratives, the film never finds its footing and feels like a slog even at a reasonable 1 hour and 44 minutes.

Troubled Water

Pieces of a Woman

by George Wolf

Pieces of a Woman opens with a crew working on bridge construction. It closes with that new bridge standing strong after many months of work. And it between, the film gracefully navigates how one woman learns to rise above some deeply troubled waters.

Vanessa Kirby is devastatingly good as Martha, a pregnant Bostonian who settles in with her partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf, a bit too showy) for the home birthing experience they have planned since day one.

What they didn’t plan on was backup midwife Eva (a terrific Molly Parker) having to take the lead when their original choice is tied up with another, longer-than-expected delivery. And when events turn tragic, Martha and Sean are hit with waves of grief while family, friends, and lawyers search for blame and restitution.

Director Kornél Mundruczó wields a camera that meanders to great effect, utilizing slow, extended takes and Benjamin Loeb’s dazzling cinematography to completely immerse us in Martha’s emotional upheaval. Mundruczó teams again with screenwriter Kata Wéber (White God, Jupiter’s Moon) for a gentle journey toward one woman’s healing, where the clear metaphors (the bridge, Martha’s fixation on apples) and moody score (credit composer Howard Shore) ultimately land with more sincerity than force.

And what a vessel the filmmakers have in Kirby, who stakes her claim as a talent full of staggering depth. From the robotic, soul-deadening way Martha responds to condolences to her final defiance against her tone deaf mother (a blistering Ellen Burstyn), Kirby delivers every note of Martha’s arc with a humanity that is achingly real.

This is a film that delivers just what the title promises: one woman, shattered into pieces, grasping for the chance to heal in her own way, on her own terms. And even in its most uncomfortable moments, Pieces of a Woman doesn’t blink.

That, and Kirby, make it hard to look away.

Substantial Penalties Apply

The Tax Collector

by George Wolf

You may have heard Shia LaBeouf recently got his entire chest tattooed for his role as “Creeper” in The Tax Collector. Uncommon intensity from the gifted LaBeouf is nothing new, but why he would be motivated to do this is one of the many questions plaguing the latest from writer/director David Ayers.

Creeper is the supporting player here, the nattily clad and tightly wound muscle for organized crime boss David (Bobby Soto). Working for the mysterious Wizard (Jimmy Smits), David and Creeper collect “taxes” from each and every gang in L.A.

43 gangs at 30 percent each means David is living well. That is, until old rival Conejo (veteran rapper Jose Conejo Martin) returns with an aim to take over, and kill anyone who thinks that’s a problem. He does voodoo, too, so there’s a wrinkle.

Much of the film’s early going recalls Ayers’s scripts for both Training Day and End of Watch, as we follow David and Creeper on a loosely-connected series of stops, from violent tax collections to family business with David’s wife (Cinthya Carmona) and Uncle (George Lopez).

David’s expressed devotion to his home life sets up the chance of a Michael Corleone-type thread exploring the difficulty of balancing two worlds, but Ayers leaves it dangling for some stylish but empty brutality in a gang war.

Soto (from 2011’s wonderful A Better Life) and LaBeouf form an impressive duo, but they are continually let down by the script’s generic macho posturing (“We killing anybody today, homie?” “Shit’s getting real”) and over-the-top ambitions to “wash away our sins” by killing a boatload of people.

And as you might guess, LaBeouf playing a Latino gangster is troublesome. Though Ayers has pushed back by saying the character is one who has absorbed the world around him (a claim somewhat bolstered by Ayers’s own background), Creeper never gets the development needed to make LaBeouf’s committed performance land as much more than – at best – intense appropriation.

By the film’s final showdown, the biggest question here concerns the point of it all. It had to be more than that tattoo, or just standard revenge fare as deeply felt as a video game commercial.

But despite the slick camerawork from cinematographer Salvatore Totino, here we are. There are possibilities strewn about The Tax Collector that might have gelled into a robbers bookend for the compelling cops in Ayers’s End of Watch.

But like pesky overdue notices, ignore those possibilities too long and there’s a great big mess on your hands. Or on your screen.