The early fall portion of the film year always tends to be a bit weird. Most of the talk about cinema ends up being directed towards the major film festivals and the films that play there. The problem with this is that most of the talk about film during these months is directed towards films that won’t be in theaters until the winter. That leaves the films currently in theaters with little room to make an impression, and you end up with a batch of films that tends to be underrated. For instance, the early fall season last year gave us Everest, a film that didn’t fall in the blockbuster category or the prestige category but ended up being one of the best films of the year. The 2016 early fall season was no different. I was only able to catch four films during this time period (one of them kinda counts as a late summer release and another I will be saving for a later blog post), but most of them were quite notable films that might end up in the discussion for my year-end Top 10 list.
The first film (and the best of the lot) was Sully. Now Sully did play at the Telluride Film Festival, but discussion surrounding the film feels like it doesn’t exist at this point in time. That’s a shame because the film features some great artists stretching their talent as much as possible to create an entertaining film out of a concept that really has no business being a feature length film. I think at this point we take Tom Hanks for granted too much and because of that another fantastic performance in this film is doomed to be overlooked. He is once again asked to carry a film on just his persona and he more than steps up to the challenge. The film’s other integral element is Clint Eastwood, whose work here is his most visually experimental since Letters From Iwo Jima. Eastwood has a reputation of not putting much effort into his films as of late, but it doesn’t seem to be the case here as his visual storytelling allows the narrative of this film to be expanded from what should have been a fifteen minute short into a ninety minute film that does not feel bloated. It was also nice to see that he was able to use his acting roots to get a very talented cast that includes Aaron Eckhart in one of his finest performances to date as the co-pilot and Anna Gunn, Laura Linney and Mike O’Malley making the most out of roles that barely exist.
The next film could also be considered a summer film as it was put into limited release in August. That film is the modern western, Hell or High Water. This film premiered at Cannes and somehow remained under the radar until its release. Yet the film contains some strong work from a trio of acclaimed actors and enough directorial and screenwriting gusto to overcome a generic plot. The film follows two brothers, one a typical middle-aged Texan with no signs of living for greatness or infamy (Chris Pine) and the other an erratic con-man (Ben Foster), as they rob a series of banks. The bank robberies attract the attention of a soon to be retired ranger (Jeff Bridges), who is struggling to let go of the job that was his entire life. Now this seems like your typical western film based off of that plot and it kind of is. However, director David Mackenzie finds new ways to visually portray clichéd scenes. Additionally, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan uses a series of screenwriting gimmicks that actually deliver deeper meaning to elements of the film. For instance, the names of the two brothers are never mentioned until the final act of the film. It’s a startling realization once you realize it but it also reveals the deep relationship that these two brothers have with just one simple gimmick. So this film deserves a lot of credit for finding some freshness in a genre that has been on its way out for a while now.
The final film I was able to see during the season was the least successful. Just like Hell or High Water, The Dressmaker has some western tropes. The problem is that in addition to these tropes it has the tropes of multiple other genres and this mismatch does not work at all. The film is a revenge tale of a clothes designer (Kate Winslet) who returns to her hometown to exact revenge on the townspeople who made her leave in the first place. The film never really takes itself seriously and has many comedic moments. One problem with this is that most of the comedy becomes extremely campy to the point that I can’t see how anyone would find it funny. The other problem with this is that this film has quite a few dark moments (including a series of flashbacks about the death of a boy) and the film seems like it doesn’t what to take these moments seriously either. All this being said, Kate Winslet is typically great and the film is one of a few that you will ever see that is able to incorporate its over-the-top costume design into the plot in unexpected and engrossing ways.
These films and the controversial but memorable The Birth of a Nation made for an interesting season that almost made up for 2016’s disappointing summer season.
Hell or High Water=8/10