Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

FILM REVIEW || Director/Writer Sean Durkin | Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes | Starring Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy | Length 98 minutes | Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Thursday 28 November 2013 || My Rating 4 stars excellent

© Fox Searchlight Pictures

I’ve left it a little too long since I saw this film to write an effective review, but if there’s anything I want to get across it’s how I really liked the way the atmosphere is handled by first-time director Sean Durkin. In fact, both the director and his lead actor, Elizabeth Olsen, are new to me and they certainly make their presence welcome. The film deals with rather fragile themes: a woman struggles away from a wilderness encampment to call her sister, and it slowly unfolds that she’d been inducted into a cult and must deal with years of conditioning that have removed certain inhibitions just as they’ve implanted paranoid suspicion. The title reinforces this in so far as Olsen is playing a young woman named Martha, who has been given the name Marcy May by the cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes), and who further subsumes her identity — as do all the female members of the cult — into that of ‘Marlene’ so far as the outside world is concerned.

Continue reading “Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)”


Winter’s Bone (2010)

FILM REVIEW || Director Debra Granik | Writers Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini (based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell) | Cinematographer Michael McDonough | Starring Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes | Length 98 minutes | Seen at home (Blu-ray), Tuesday 16 July 2013 || My Rating 3.5 stars very good

© Roadside Attractions

One of things I like about movies is that they take me places I’d never otherwise visit, and set their stories amongst people I’d never otherwise meet. I can’t say how accurate this depiction is of the Ozarks (a mountainous area roughly in the centre of the United States), but it certainly feels close to the bone, and has an excellent control over its atmosphere.

This is a hard-edged world where people are wary of one another and resort to desperate means to make ends meet. The film is best when it’s setting out the elaborate rituals that people in this part of the world follow; in many ways, it is these that motivate the entire drama. Just in visiting her friend’s home, Jennifer Lawrence’s character Dolly must ask her friend’s husband for permission to enter, and this overly-polite pas de deux is repeated on several occasions. Even the police officers approach others with caution, though that may partly be that Dolly’s uncle ‘Teardrop’ (John Hawkes) is somewhat unhinged. These are, relatively-speaking, the ‘good guys’ though; when Dolly comes up against the really dangerous characters, she comes out rather the worse for it. And again, there appear to be delicate issues of etiquette even around violence: it’s the female family members of local kingpin ‘Thump’ Milton who dole out the punishment for Dolly’s transgressions.

Continue reading “Winter’s Bone (2010)”