Tag Archives: Matthias Schoenaerts

Review – The Danish Girl (15) [2016]

The Danish Girl - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

2015 was the year that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) movement took on global significance. Thanks to Bruce Jenner’s successful transition into Caitlyn, the world took note of the LGBT movement and the problems that many transgender people sadly face. The release of Director Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, therefore, could not have come at a more opportune moment. But does the film grab the moment with both hands?

Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), before his transformation, painting a view of his small hometown area.

Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), before his transformation, painting a view of his small hometown area.

The Danish Girl is a biopic based on a true story about Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne). Einar is a talented artist living with his artist wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), in Copenhagen in 1926. One day, Gerda asks Einar to put on women’s shoes and a dress so she can paint him as a woman called Lili Elbe. This awakens another side of Einar. Within five years, Einar decides to be the first known man to undergo transgender surgery.

The Danish Girl begins in engaging fashion. Eddie Redmayne’s and Alicia Vikander’s characters have excellent on-screen chemistry. They enjoy witty, provocative conversations that show how much they are in love with one another. Indeed, the dialogue throughout the first thirty minutes of the film is filled with sexually tantalising lines that will enable audiences to warm to the characters.

However, the rest of the film’s two-hour runtime is not half as engaging. Tom Hooper does not have much story to work with and (unbelievably) it is when Redmayne/Einar starts to cross-dress that the problems with the movie begin. Problem one is that the provocative dialogue comes to an abrupt halt. This means that everything one came to love about the characters ends at once. That the dialogue turns soppy makes one want to cry with despair. (Some of what is said in the film is allegedly true, but it is still awfully slushy. Also, Hooper adjusts the story to suit his ends, so couldn’t he have at least kept the provocative dialogue?)

Einar holding a dress as his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), draws him as a woman. Holding the dress, however, awakens Lili.

Einar holding a dress as his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), draws him as a woman. Holding the dress, however, awakens Lili.

Problem two with the movie is that Eddie Redmayne starts over-acting. This makes it look like lunacy is taking hold of him; yet, this same over-acting also makes him look noticeably wooden, especially when he transforms into Lili.

And problem three is that Redmayne’s Lili is not a particularly likeable or sympathetic person. She becomes totally self-absorbed, selfish and utterly uncaring for the hurt she causes Gerda, despite having been married to her for many years. Lili’s behaviour has the effect of pushing viewers away from her and the issues she embodies. (Seriously, if a normal man behaved as Lili does, he would be deemed a selfish prick and rightly so; and if a normal woman behaved like that, she would be called a horrible bitch and rightly so. Just because Lili is a transgender person does not exempt her from behaving in a considerate manner.) At a time when the LGBT movement is trying to gain steam to diminish the discrimination and violence that transgender people unfortunately suffer, Lili’s behaviour could be detrimental to the movement’s cause.

Lili’s behaviour also raises another matter unwittingly: the effect that changing gender can have on those whom the transgender person loves. Whether it be a parent or sibling (as was the case for Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner), or a partner (as it was for Gerda), the effects can be emotionally tough, if not crushing. For Gerda, as portrayed in the movie, it is heart-breaking as she loses the man she loves. Alicia Vikander portrays the hurt that Gerda must have felt with raw force. Surprisingly, it is her and Gerda who come out with the most credit from this movie. Thanks to Vikander, Gerda’s pain is real and understandable; whereas Redmayne cannot convincingly convey Lili’s pain, since her emotional pain seems contrived and unnecessary by comparison, like the stroppiness of an adolescent youth.

On the left, Eddie Redmayne's Lili as seen in the film; and on the right, the real Lili Elbe.

On the left, Eddie Redmayne’s Lili as seen in the film; and on the right, the real Lili Elbe.

How much one can blame Redmayne for this is debatable. He is, after-all, being directed by Tom Hooper and this is not Hooper’s finest film. Yes, it is shot decently, but the stance the film takes toward Lili is confusing. Is The Danish Girl supposed to be a sympathetic, objective, positive or critical portrayal of Lili (and of transgender people on the whole by extension)? If it is trying to achieve all four, Hooper can claim mediocre success at best and a mediocre mawkish muddle at worst.

Over-all, The Danish Girl is a disappointing film. Alicia Vikander is brilliant and the movie starts off in promising fashion with exceptional dialogue. But before long, the film loses its way and turns into a pitiful sop story; one that is enough to test the patience of even the most tolerant of viewers.

Central to the testing nature of the film is the titular Danish girl, herself: Lili Elbe. She might have been the first man to undergo transgender surgery and she might be a pioneer for the LGBT movement today. But she was neither a nice nor considerate person in real life. It can only be hoped that most transgender people are not like her. Otherwise, the momentum that Caitlyn Jenner and the LGBT movement have gathered over the last year will be undone and smothered for a generation.

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Review – The Drop (15) [2014]

The Drop - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Michael R. Roskam – Bullhead

Cast:

Music Composer:

The engine to every story/film is its characters. Without characters, viewers have no means of entering the story and so cannot enjoy the story. But do characters have to be likeable for viewers to enjoy the story? Rust And Bone and The Wolf Of Wall Street demonstrated that characters could be repugnant, yet the story/film could still be enjoyed. Michael R. Roskam’s The Drop adds further evidence to this theory.

Bob (Tom Hardy) with his boss and cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini, in his final role before his death) outside the back of Cousin Marv's, listening to their Chechen gangster boss.

Bob (Tom Hardy) with his boss and cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini, in his final role before his death) outside the back of Cousin Marv’s, listening to their Chechen gangster boss.

The Drop is based on the short story Animal Rescue by Dennis Lehane. The film is about two intertwining stories that take place in a poor part of Brooklyn, New York. Bob (Tom Hardy) is a bartender who works for his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) at the latter’s former bar. Cousin Marv, as the bar is called (even though Marv no longer owns it), is a drop box for local gangsters to put brown envelopes of cash into. However, one night, the bar is robbed by gunmen and Marv’s boss, a Chechen gangster called Chovka (Michael Aranov), wants to know where his money has gone. Or else.

At the same time, Bob walks home from the bar one night, only to overhear a dog whimpering in the dustbin of a neighbour, Nadia (Noomi Rapace). Bob opens the bin to find a maltreated pit-bull puppy in it. Between him and Nadia, they take care of the puppy. Nevertheless, one day when Bob is playing with the dog in the park, the notorious Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) finds him and tells him that the dog belongs to him. Bob insists that he is not giving up the dog, and that is when Eric tells him that if he does not pay him $10,000 by the next day for the dog, he promises to kill him, maltreat the puppy again, and do worse to Nadia.

Bob with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), buying stuff for the pitbull puppy, Rocco.

Bob with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), buying stuff for the pitbull puppy, Rocco.

The Drop is a slow-burning, increasingly tense thriller. The film feels less like a Hollywood production and more like a British one due to the gloomy mood throughout the movie’s 106-minute running time. Indeed, if it weren’t for the accents and the design of the houses, one might have mistaken it for a British production due to the constant grim, grey sky and the run down state of the homes in the area. Such features are typical of British productions like Harry Brown, Tyrannosaur and the Channel 4 TV series Top Boy, and enable viewers to feel the brooding atmosphere of a place in which something nasty is going to happen.

One senses that something nasty is going to happen because the area in which The Drop is located in is full of nasty people, ready to do (and cover up) their dirty work. The nasty people are all brought to life vividly by a cast with less than a handful of redemptive features between them. Tom Hardy commands a strong performance in the central role. He personifies the brooding atmosphere of the film with his perpetual frown, and few actors have Hardy’s rare ability to convey so much with just a bland stare.

Of the rest of the cast, Noomi Rapace does a good job with Nadia, even if she does not have a lot to work with other than being low on confidence and insecure. Similarly, Matthias Schoenaerts plays well (and with worrying realism) in his familiar role as a scum bug. At least in Rust And Bone, Schoenaerts’ character had one redemptive feature. In The Drop, his character has none! Yet, none of the characters are as ostensibly interesting as the one performed by James Gandolfini in his final role. Gandolfini’s character, Marv, may not be a nice person. But he is the most layered and complex character in the film and this makes viewers want to see more of him/Gandolfini as, arguably, it is Marv that makes the movie tick.

Nadia, looking good but ditressed with Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) at Cousin Marv's.

Nadia, looking good but ditressed with Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) at Cousin Marv’s.

The setting and the acting are top-notch in The Drop. However, other than those (very important) elements, the film does not have much else to ride on. The plot raises several questions that go unanswered, which is annoying because the questions do not seem especially difficult to answer. Additionally, some of the key moments in the movie take place off-screen, which is again annoying. There is a rule in art: show, don’t tell. That The Drop ignores this rule is its major hindrance as otherwise it is a very solid film.

Over-all, The Drop consists of most things that one could want from a slow-burning thriller. For certain, it has some plot holes that could have been handled better. Nevertheless, the dismal and threatening atmosphere of the film; the gradual rise in tension; and the fine acting of the cast all make the movie thoroughly worthwhile and enjoyable. Thus, The Drop illustrates once more that a film with dislikeable characters can still be enjoyed.

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Review – Rust And Bone (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Jacques Audiard – Read My Lips, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, A Prophet

Cast:

Music Composer:

In August 2012, London held the Paralympics event. More than anything, the paralympians illustrated that people with crippling injuries can be full of life and can excel in the face of much adversity. Yet, the tournament did not display the hardships that such people face on a daily basis. Rust and Bone does so, and in a particularly gritty and unglamorous way.

Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) giving his young son, Sam (Armand Verdure), a piggy-back. Ali, however, is not necessary the most responsible of parents.

Rust and Bone is a French film based on the book by Craig Davidson with the same title. The movie centres round Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts), a man of dubious morality, who is seemingly in sole custody of his young son, Sam (Armand Verdure). As Alain is unemployed, he leaves Belgium to go to live with his sister, Anna (Corinne Masiero), in the Antibes, where he hopes to find work. Using his skills as a former bare-fist boxer, he gets a job as a bouncer at a nightclub.

There, Alain meets a drunken Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a killer-whale stunt trainer. After she falls over and cuts herself badly outside the club, he takes her home. Yet, it is not until Stephanie loses both her legs when a stunt goes horribly wrong that she and him form a close relationship.

Rust and Bone is a 120-minute unhurried, art-house film with a very serious atmosphere. Much of the movie is played out in under-privileged dismal areas, akin to those in Harry Brown. The aesthetics, as well as the silence (with the exception of the loud and brash Katy Perry song, Firework, for the Killer Whale stunts) emphasise the severity of the movie’s tone.

Ali carrying Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) into the sea, following her crippling injury, wherein she had to have her legs amupatated from the knee.

The stark manner of Rust and Bone is reflected in the generally unpleasant characters in the film. Due to a lack of action or intrigue in the plot, the movie relies heavily on the characters, and the relationships that they have with one another, to maintain viewers’ interests. This is not an issue, per se, but as none of the characters are particularly amiable, it is hard for one to truly empathise with their situations.

Alain, for one, is a scummy and untrustworthy individual, with a violent side as well. Indeed, if it were not for his (almost) wonderful treatment toward Stephanie after her injury, Alain would have no redemptive qualities and would be utterly detestable. Despite the nature of Alain’s character, though, credit must go Matthias Schoenaerts. It would have been easy for Schoenaerts to turn Alain into a stereotypical thug. Yet, Schoenaerts doesn’t do this. Rather, he makes Alain unlikeable, but at the same time human, realistic and understandable, which is far from a simple task.

Similarly, Marion Cotillard does a good job as Stephanie, an ordinary girl coming to terms with a crippling injury. Cotillard’s performance in the wheel-chair leaves out nothing, including the struggle of doing something as mundane as making a coffee or going to the bathroom. Cotillard truly makes viewers sympathise with Stephanie’s predicament. Furthermore, and arguably what makes Rust and Bone so unique is that director Jacques Ardiard is not scared to have Stephanie discuss (and perform) sex or swimming in the sea. By doing these, and making Stephanie feel better for it, Audiard demonstrates that Stephanie, and anyone else with a crippling injury for that matter, is a human being. It is a tribute to Cotillard’s skills that she is able to illustrate Stephanie’s feelings so naturally, and without it seeming odd either.

Stephanie looking good and enjoying herself in a nightclub, demonstrating that amputatees know how to have a good time like the rest of us.

Unlike with Schoenaerts and Cotillard, it is hard to overly praise or fault the rest of the cast for their performances. Since the film is dominated by Alain and Stephanie, and how their relationship develops, Armand Verdure, Corinne Masiero and Bouli Lanners (who plays as Martial, Alain’s friend and part-mentor, who is also a gambler of unofficial violent sports among the underclasses) are not given much time on screen. What little we see of them shows us, plausibly, that they are normal people with problems, facing the issues that normal people face, while living in a terrible area.

Over-all, Rust and Bone is a slow-paced and sombre film, but an impressive one in its own right. The movie may not be shot in aesthetically pleasing places, and it may not contain particularly nice characters either. Nevertheless, the film does not do what the authorities of the London 2012 Paralympic games did, and shy away from tackling the harsh realities that arise from crippling injuries. Marion Cotillard’s Stefanie embodies how difficult it can be for people with such injuries to pick themselves up. What’s more, Cotillard’s performance emphasises that a little support from even the most improbable of individuals can help to steer an injured person onto the path of becoming more comfortable with their new and forced lifestyle.

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