Tag Archives: Theo Rossi

Gig Economy

Emily the Criminal

by Hope Madden

The American Dream is a myth at best, a nightmare at worst in first-time filmmaker John Patton Ford’s lean indictment of capitalism, Emily the Criminal.

There’s a fearlessness born of anger in both Ford’s script and his lead’s performance. Aubrey Plaza flexes dramatic muscle as Emily, a savvy, hardworking young woman beset on all sides by forces crafted to keep the poor, poor—women in particular.

We meet Emily mid-interview, caught in a lie about her criminal record. Plaza’s roiling emotional reaction to the interview — a brilliant piece of acting — tells you all you need to know about the character’s character, backstory, and future.

Seventy grand in debt from art school, working catering gigs that barely put a dent in the loan interest, still holding out hope for a good, honorable, mainstream gig with an advertising agency, Emily’s on the ropes. Does she want to make a quick $200? The job’s illegal, but no one will get hurt.

Of course she does, and she’ll also take tomorrow’s $2000.

Ford’s tight script reveals only what’s necessary and rethinks nobility. Even as Emily begins to embrace and hone her criminality, she never loses sight of the true goal: comfy, secure, posh employment. But that’s as big a set up as college was.

It’s great to see Plaza not only playing a dramatic role but shouldering lead responsibilities. She’s in every scene —nearly every shot of every scene—and carrying that weight with grit. In her hands, Emily is defensive, cagey, and unafraid to be unlikeable. Plaza’s electric.

Theo Rossi provides a surprising, tender presence in a role where you wouldn’t expect it. He and Plaza sparkle together. You root for them, regardless of their occupation.

Emily the Criminal delivers the realistic inverse to a Tarantino or Scorsese. There’s no glamour to the criminal life. It’s a gig. And sometimes you gotta take the gig.

Brother’s Keeper

The Devil You Know

by George Wolf

A morality play rooted in family bonds, The Devil You Know looks to carve a modern-day Cain and Abel allegory from the ripples of a brutal murder.

Marcus (Omar Epps) is an ex-con who finally has a handle on sobriety and is hopeful for the future. He has a solid new job as an L.A. bus driver, a promising relationship with new girl Eva (Erica Tazel), and an extended family always ready to offer support.

But at the big family party in his honor, Marcus stumbles across something that appears to link his wayward brother Drew (William Catlett) to the home invasion killings that are dominating the news.

Should Marcus tell detective McDonald (Michael Ealy) what he knows? Or should Marcus keep quiet, covering for his brother and hoping that the local hoods Drew runs with (B.J. Britt and Theo Rossi) don’t eye him any more suspiciously than they already do?

Writer/director Charles Murray (TV’s Luke Cage and Sons of Anarchy) layers a compelling crisis of conscience through family strife that feels authentic thanks to a fine ensemble including veterans Glynn Turman and Vanessa Bell Calloway. It takes more than just stoically reciting the word “family” into the camera multiple times to reveal strength in conflict, and Murray has a good feel for this nuance.

Less successful are the TV and news reports of the murders (like old-age makeup, these continue to be a conundrum for filmmakers) and the tendency of Murray’s script to retrace some of the moral terrain it’s traveling. As a result, you start to feel the nearly two-hour run time as the pace develops some unmistakable drag.

But Murray seems like a TV vet with potential for compelling features. There is a thoughtful and effective thriller at the heart of The Devil You Know, and it’s often glimpsed through the moments of bloat that hold it back.

Battle Scars

Ghosts of War

by Hope Madden

Here’s the thing about horror movies in 2020: they have to one up 2020. This year itself is such a horror show, it’s hard for cinema to keep up.

Writer/director Eric Bress (The Butterfly Effect) does what he can with the supernatural war tale, Ghosts of War.

Five WWII soldiers are ordered to hold tight in a French mansion circa 1944. It’s an isolated estate, once a Nazi stronghold. Terrible things happened there, and even though the surroundings suggest luxury, the mission may be the most dangerous the platoon has ever faced.

It reminds me of that time earlier this year when COVID trapped a Bolivian orchestra inside a haunted German castle surrounded by wolves.

So the film has that to compete with. Of course, the other thing Ghosts of War has going against it is the surprisingly engaging and unfortunately underseen Overlord, a WWII horror show that drops us alongside a handful of soldiers into war torn France just in time to find zombies.

Very little is more fun than Nazi zombies.

But Bress isn’t interested in zombies. Instead, he explores the madness that weighs on men who’ve done the unthinkable by trapping them in a situation where they must face their demons.

Kyle Gallner delivers an appropriately haunted performance as one of the soldiers—each of whom Bress characterizes with quick, shorthand ideas: the nut job (Gallner), the smartypants (Pitch Perfect’s Skylar Astin), the hero (Theo Rossi), the big talker (Alan Ritchson), the leader who’s in over his head (Brenton Thwaites).

Gallner and Astin are the only cast members given the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the pack as the platoon stumbles upon evidence of the haunting. Bress and his ensemble stumble here, rarely developing any real dread, infrequently even delivering the jumps their quick cut scares attempt.

Ghosts of War makes an effort to say something meaningful. That message is waylaid by confused second act plotting and a third act reveal that feels far more lurid and opportunistic than it does resonant or haunting.

Bress tries to take advantage of the audience’s preconceived notions in order to subvert expectations, but he doesn’t have as much to say as he thinks.