Tag Archives: Tim Sutton

Come On, Get Happy

Funny Face

by Hope Madden

Though writer/director Tim Sutton’s latest is more a collection of images and moments than a strictly plotted narrative, the story that unfolds is kind of a bittersweet wonder.

An isolated youngish man (Cosmo Jarvis) rails against the impending destruction of his neighborhood, a community he haunts wearing a happy Halloween mask. An act of kindness at a nearby convenience store, though, brings about a surprising and really lovely friendship.  

Jarvis, who was so good in last year’s Calm with Horses, convinces again as an outsider with a lot of pent-up anger but an otherwise sweet heart. There’s a mixture of brutality and vulnerability in the portrayal that calls to mind Tom Hardy or even Brando – although, given a particular preoccupation in the film, he may be aiming for James Dean.

Newcomer Dela Meskienyar matches him step for step as another outsider, also angry at circumstances that feel beyond control, also hiding her face. It’s a remarkable and never forced kind of parallelism Sutton develops–a lost quality that he sees in every character. He uses this thread to braid disparate lives together and to create a sense of empathy, even toward the most loathsome among us.

Sutton is no stranger to tales of white male alienation, bruised masculinity, and an almost childlike struggle with our primal nature. Both his first feature Dark Night (which deals with the 2012 Aurora shooting), and his follow up, Donnybook (about bare knuckle brawls in addiction-riddled Ohio) illustrate his interest.

Funny Face, though, marks a step toward something more stylish. The film has a retro vibe, like a long-lost Seventies indie set in Brooklyn. Given the of-the-moment storyline, this offers his film the timeless quality of a fairy tale—a theme he develops with imagery of equal parts urban realism and magical whimsy.

A sense of mourning fuels Funny Face. While Sutton’s film is intimately linked to its Brooklyn setting, that exact same mourning informs Lesotho’s beautiful This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection, also releasing this week. Unchecked capitalism is a global cancer, it would seem.

All of Sutton’s films contextualize human struggle within the context of community. This has never been truer than it is with Funny Face, a comment on the way greed destroys history and the sense of place, leaving nothing in that emptiness, even for those who profit.

Not even a smile.  

The Great Outdoor Fight


by Matt Weiner

Go into Donnybrook expecting an action movie about bare knuckle fighting and you’re going to be sorely disappointed: there’s more road movie than Rocky. But director Tim Sutton’s dissection of American desperation is out to expose the underbelly of more than just backyard brawling.

Sutton adapts Frank Bill’s novel with unrelenting sparseness. The movie centers on the intertwined lives of Jarhead Earl (Jamie Bell) and Chainsaw and Delia Angus (Frank Grillo and Margaret Qualley) as they pursue the limited versions of the American dream available to them in rural, addiction-ravaged Ohio.

Earl wants to win the Donnybrook, a legendary underground fight whose winnings will allow him to give his family a better life. Delia just wants to sell a bunch of meth so she can escape dead-end life with her abusive brother. And Chainsaw Angus just wants all that meth back that his sister stole. (You know a situation is dire anytime someone steals drugs from a person named Chainsaw.)

Donnybrook is violent but not gratuitous. As the characters’ lives converge on the road to the fight, the flashes of violence that build toward the climax serve mostly as a reminder of the pervasive despair everyone is running away from.

Grillo plays Chainsaw Angus as a relentless force that blows right through anyone and everyone he comes in contact with—men, women and children alike. There’s more than a touch of Coens-meet-McCarthy to Sutton’s adaptation, and not just in Angus’s almost elemental pursuit.

Earl’s milieu echoes the Appalachian noir of Winter’s Bone, but with a contemporary urgency all its own. Unfortunately, the film’s singular devotion to its economically downtrodden message leads to some shortcuts for the characters.

Delia doesn’t get the space to expand beyond her tragic archetype, but the movie is at least an equal opportunity offender when it comes to dispensing with supporting stereotypes: James Badge Dale’s alcoholic cop could be removed entirely and the story wouldn’t miss a beat.

The degree to which Sutton’s languid, dream-like depictions of this world succeed in amounting to a whole greater than their parts will probably come down to how much you think we need another Fight Club-style examination of a narrow (and uniformly white) male anger.

Giving that perspective such lyric treatment is certainly a choice. Even when the blows don’t connect, there’s something to be said for action with ambition.



Lonely is the Night

Dark Night

by Hope Madden

An eerie soundtrack echoing with alienation and longing pairs with a roaming camera in search of human connection. With these and little more filmmaker Tim Sutton creates the loose and lonesome architecture for Dark Night.

His film glimpses disparate lives that will eventually meet and, in some cases, end in a bland suburban movie theater.

Sutton bases this prelude to a massacre around a fictional copycat shooting. With no help from exposition, he builds an unsettling dread as we and the camera so dispassionately watch each character.

This anxiety grows as we realize one of these people will eventually act on the same urge that pushed James Eagan Holmes to open fire, killing 10 and wounding 20 more in an Aurora, Colorado screening of The Dark Night Rises in 2012.

The focus remains splintered, meandering from one character to the next – an Iraq veteran struggling with PTSD, a video game obsessed teen, a selfie-compulsive would-be model, a skate kid tellingly dying his hair orange. The only discernible commonality – aside from the lifeless landscape of their suburban digs – is personal alienation.

As their stories begin to coalesce, you’re asked to guess who will become the shooter. You understand that there will be an incident and instinctively begin to distinguish potential culprits from likely victims. It’s a sort of whodunit in reverse.

Sutton’s interest is in our preconceived notions as well as possible inspirations for this particular brand of American mayhem.

The filmmaker creates a drowsy cadence – clearly reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s own meditation on mass shootings, Elephant – pulling each thread tighter and tighter as the climax draws near.

Much of the power in Sutton’s film comes not from imagery but absence. Dark Night is adamantly bloodless. You know what is coming, feel the weight of its inevitability. What’s the use in seeing it?

Dark Night becomes a lyrical American nightmare, although at times its pursuit of authenticity feels more like cinematic sleight of hand. Characters begin to feel like red herrings, undercutting the basic, flawed humanity Sutton offered each one early in the film.

Still, between Hélène Louvart’s fluid camerawork, Maica Armata’s doleful score, naturalistic performances from an ensemble of newcomers and Sutton’s hypnotic structure is a potent vision of the damage of disconnection.