Meewella | Critic

According to P

Tag: David Strathairn

QuickView: Nomadland (2020)

“Just like my dad used to say, ‘What’s remembered, lives.’ I maybe spent too much of my life just remembering.”


Straddling an inchoate space between documentary and fiction, Nomadland explores those who have adopted a nomadic lifestyle travelling around the USA, living in vehicles and picking up work as they go. Powerful, understated performances from Frances McDormand and David Straithairn provide a narrative arc, but most of the characters with whom Fern interacts are real-life nomads playing fictionalised versions of themselves. This provides not just verisimilitude but palpable poignancy to the discussions about the reasons they found themselves in this lifestyle — they are typically older people, unattractive to the job market, but also dealing with grief that perhaps prevents them from laying down new roots. Zhao’s approach to her subjects is gentle and without judgment, a lingering camera that searches for poetry in simplicity and trusts the viewer’s curiosity to understand this way of living. There are beautiful American landscapes but this is not a travelogue and the people are always the focus over the places. Nomadland is a work that feels necessary for its time in the same way as Up In The Air did during the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis (with parallels in their rootless protagonists). This is slower and more ephemeral, with limited plot, but its ideas will linger with those who engage.


QuickView: Nightmare Alley (2021)

“People are desperate to tell you who they are. Desperate to be seen.”


Where Guillermo del Toro’s previous film, The Shape of Water, featured a mute protagonist, the manipulative Stanton Carlisle is quite the talker. However his larconic introduction, sporting an Indiana Jones silhouette and barely speaking for the opening 20 minutes, allows us to breathe in the 1930s carnival world that lends itself to del Toro’s visual mastery, at once fascinating and unpleasant. When the plot demands that Carlisle’s mentalism act graduates from carnival to cabaret, Nightmare Alley remains sumptuous but can feel hollow. The cast is excellent, with a smattering of star power and a smorgasbord of supporting character actors. Bradley Cooper is on strong form as the noir anti-hero, charming yet greedy, perfectly offset by Cate Blanchett’s underestimated femme fatale — their scenes together are the best part of a deliberately slow burn story that meanders for slightly too long, punctuated with an abrupt jump that makes a well-signposted conclusion less satisfying. Whilst its storytelling can be faulted, Nightmare Alley is never less than vividly captivating.


"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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