“Are we losing interest in things that matter? Words on a page, for instance. Maybe that’s not so important. What about everyday life? Are we losing interest in everyday life?”
The central theme to Kogonada’s understated yet moving debut is interest — what we find interesting and what we ignore, and the way that interests can connect or separate us from those in our lives. Jin is exploring the architecture of Columbus, Indiana in an effort to understand his comatose father, who had always been more interested in architecture than in his son. It leads Jin to connect with Casey, a graduate with a genuine passion for the buildings that most locals take for granted (“You grow up around something, and it feels like nothing”). The cinematography is exquisite, using architecture to accentuate how we view characters within those spaces, such as isolating subjects by shooting them at a distance in the narrow frame of a series of doorways. The meticulous use of symmetry is a recurring motif Kogonada has adopted from Wes Anderson (he directed a video essay on Anderson’s centered framing), and he frequently uses extended takes from a fixed perspective. Haley Lu Richardson had some strong supporting roles in The Edge of Seventeen and Split, before taking the lead in Columbus alongside the excellent John Cho. Both actors exude quiet grief in different ways — Jin is openly bitter about his childhood whilst Casey’s inner turmoil lies in guilt over the desire to leave her mother. Their unexpected and fortuitous connection is occasionally reminiscent of Bob and Charlotte in Lost in Translation, which is the highest praise as I can give for such roles.
“If you succeed, for the first time in our history we will judge our executioner. And we will warn off any who wishes to follow his example. If you fail, he escapes justice, perhaps forever. I beg you. Do not fail.”
A historical thriller based on the capture of notorious Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann (a major organiser of the Holocaust who escaped to Argentina after the war) to stand trial in Israel, Operation Finale is at its strongest in its quiet moments. Ben Kingsley as Eichmann and Oscar Isaac as Peter Malkin, one of his captors, perform compellingly as their conversations in a Mossad safehouse form a tense game in which they probe one another for weaknesses. Kingsley provides a measured portrayal of Eichmann as dispassionately remorseless rather than a frothing monster (what Hannah Arendt described as “the banality of evil”) and the film avoids melodrama in its restrained Holocaust depictions, though some will doubtless find the result too sympathetic to one who facilitated so much death. Eichmann’s personality is contrasted against the the visceral anger and desire for revenge felt by the Mossad agents forced into proximity with their enemy, as well as the guilt that haunts them for past crimes. Little time is spent on the trial itself, and the impact of worldwide broadcast of holocaust eyewitness testimony is somewhat lost in favour of the hollow sense of personal vindication.
“There are two types of people in the world: the people who naturally excel at life, and the people who hope all those people die in a big explosion.”
The best coming of age stories do not simply speak to those going through the transition, but allow adults to reconnect with that period of their youth. Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig’s wonderful debut demonstrates an ear for the naturalistic wit in sardonic teenage dialogue without the artifice of Juno. Socially awkward Nadine is self-involved, disagreeable and at times even casually cruel, but Craig still allows us to sympathise with her experience. This relies heavily on Hailee Steinfeld’s fantastic central performance, humanising Nadine’s positive and negative traits with warm humour, and granting an emotional weight to those teenage experiences that feel life-or-death at the time. I have not been closely following Steinfeld’s career since her arrival as the wilful young girl in True Grit, but I certainly will be now. Woody Harrelson is notable in a supporting role as that rare, patiently understanding teacher on whom any outsider relies. With the exception of Boyhood (which really is a different beast), The Edge of Seventeen is the best example of the genre for some time.
“You like to make fun of us, but we are more powerful than you think.”
The general downward trajectory of Shyamalan’s career has made him an easy target, yet two decades on he can still attract funding and acting talent. Split is, fittingly, a psychological thriller masquerading as horror. Its setup features the abduction of three teenage girls who are subjected to the stereotypical semi-exploitative treatment of horror victims. The tone swiftly shifts as the girls discover their captor exhibits multiple personalities which becomes the movie’s focus and provides for a fresher experience. Although the closing minutes of Split demonstrate it to be a stealth sequel to an early Shyamalan success, setting up a subsequent crossover, the film stands entirely on its own. McAvoy is entertaining as he enjoys chewing through Kevin’s various colourful personalities. Sadly, the remainder of the characters are one-note horror tropes, and too much of the film relies on convention rather than subverting it. Split is Shyamalan’s best work in a long time but cannot be described as a return to his early form.