Review by Jonathan Berk
Bradley Cooper continues to demonstrate his talent both in front of and behind the camera. His directorial debut, A Star Is Born, had eight Oscar nominations, and it’s clear Cooper hopes Maestro can get similar recognition. The early part of the story is full of flashy match cuts and sweeping camera moves in a rich black and white that reminds of old Hollywood. It doesn’t take long for audiences to get swept away with the magic Cooper is setting up, but the later half of the film elevates the picture to one that surely will be full of award-season buzz.
Maestro paints a picture of Leonard Berstein’s (Cooper) life and career with a passion for music that leans on obsession. At the center of his story is a lifelong relationship with Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). Their relationship and her impact on his life and career are felt throughout the film through powerful visuals and outstanding performances.
The opening section of the film has so much style and flair. There is a manic energy Leonard projects in these moments, which is tied into the camera movement and editing, making it impossible not to get sucked in. Thematically, this ties into how quickly Felicia and Leonard fall into each other. The moment Felicia enters the movie, walking from a bus to a party where she will meet Leonard for the first time, is visually stunning. Cooper and director of photography Matthew Libatique utilize a deep focus throughout the film that reminds us of Citizen Kane and allows us to be both in the moment and bystanders catching a peek at their inner lives.
While ultimately a tribute to the musical icon, Maestro doesn’t shy away from the complexities of the couple’s lives. Once the dreaminess of their initial meeting ends, the film’s style shifts to reflect this by colorizing the frame and slowing the pace. The manic excitement is no longer present, and the reality of the world sets in. It’s an impactful demonstration of a competent filmmaker using the medium to not only be visually compelling but also thematically resonate.
Mulligan’s performance is beyond awards-worthy. The emotional impact she brings time and time again throughout the film is breathtaking. So much of the film’s emotional weight rests on her shoulders, and she delivers consistently. If she isn’t nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Oscars, it will be one of the biggest snubs ever.
Cooper also delivers an incredible performance, but he gets to be a bit bigger. A few scenes where he conducts an orchestra allow him to be emphatic. They are quite a lot of fun to watch, and he definitely gets more of these moments than Mulligan. However, there are moments where Cooper can demonstrate his dramatic chops, especially later in the film, that make his performance extra noteworthy.
Maestro is an incredible movie that will warrant a few re-watches to truly get all that it is saying. The love story in this film is hard not to fall into. It’s not a fairytale, and the hardships the couple goes through are not easily addressed. This film has many “Oscar bait” elements, but they feel organic rather than manufactured solely for recognition.
Maestro will be in theaters on November 22 and on Netflix December 20.
Review by Jonathan Berk
Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World didn’t do well upon release, but has since become a beloved cult film. The 2010 adaptation of the Bryan Lee O'Malley graphic novels (and the books themselves) have found quite the fanbase, as well as their detractors. Netflix’s new animated series Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, directed by Abel Gongora and co-written by O’Malley and BenDavid Grabinski, brings back the now-superstar-studded cast from the film to voice the characters as the story is revisited and reimagined.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) meets the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at a party. After their first date, he is made aware that he must defeat her seven evil exes if they are to continue dating. But this time, things get even more complicated.
The show looks fantastic. The original graphic novel was black and white, which makes the fact that Ramona changes her hair color on the regular an interesting choice (though the graphic novel was later re-released in color). The show chooses not to pay homage to the novel's original absence of color, and is instead vibrant. The pacing is far less frenetic than in Wright’s film, which at first made the show feel a little less propulsive. However, as the episodes move forward, the show establishes itself as its own thing — not just an animated version of Wright’s film or O’Malley’s books.
Both the film and the books are extremely referential, and that is continued here. Of course, it’s been 13 years since the film came out, so the cultural touchstones and attitudes of the world reflected within the film must be updated. These updates make the familiar story feel fresh. The change in format to an episodic series also allows for more exploration into the story and its characters. Fans will likely find some areas of this to resonate more than they did previously, while other areas they loved may feel slighted — or simply missing.
One prominent element from the film that is also present here is the music. There are new songs throughout the show, and they may not click for the audience's musical tastes compared to those in the film -—or, perhaps, the opposite could be true. The show features original songs and score by Anamanaguchi (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game) and Joseph Trapanese (Straight Outta Compton). There are some earworms present in the series, and the score sets the right tone.
The fact that everyone involved with the original film is back makes this all the more impressive. Most of the cast was relatively early in their respective careers then, and most of them have now gone on to be big stars in one way or another. Their collective love for the project is evident in their performances, with each of them doing something quite special for the show.
At this point, we have seen so many stories told, then told again, and told yet another time. Often, they are so similar or feel so inferior to their predecessors that audiences are left scratching their heads as to why they just gave more of their time and money when they could have just rewatched the one they loved.
There was also that run in the ‘80s and ‘90s, where it seemed any blockbuster could be adapted into an animated series. Beetlejuice, Robocop, Ghostbusters, Police Academy, and even The Toxic Avenger were among many to get adapted to a kid-friendly cartoon series. Of course, Jurassic Park and Fast and the Furious have both recently been given the same treatment.
In both versions of this reuse of IP — whether a “new” version or a different medium — it often feels like nothing more than a studio cash grab. There is no doubt that Netflix expects this show to be a huge success after the fandom that has developed for Scott Pilgrim over the last 13 years. However, the show doesn’t feel like that at all. It's funny and familiar, while somehow doing its own thing that feels completely honest and befitting of the characters. Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is a great example of allowing the IP to evolve and grow, rather than just rehashing what came before it.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off will be on Netflix on November 17. All eight episodes reviewed.
Review by Jonathan Berk
Imagine hosting a Thanksgiving Day dinner with your favorite slasher movies. Picture little name cards that read Scream, Halloween, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Friday the 13th. Which would carve the turkey? Well, no matter who you may set a place for at your dinner, Director Eli Roth’s new film Thanksgiving does exactly that. It serves up plenty of slasher movie references for what will surely be a horror movie fan’s new holiday tradition.
The film begins with every introvert's nightmare: an angry mob outside a department store waiting for Black Friday sales. A tragedy ensues, and a year later a Thanksgiving-inspired killer terrorizes Plymouth, Massachusetts. A few residents are murdered, and it doesn’t take long for it to become clear there is a larger holiday-themed connection.
Roth completely nails the tone of this film. It never sets out to “scare” the audience. That this is necessary is a misconception of the horror genre — as we tend to forget that what scares us is very subjective. Instead, he looks to shock us with inventive kills and some gruesome effects that may make even the most veteran horror viewer squirm a little. Of course, if violence and gore scare you, by all means prepare to be freaked out. However, it seems like the reaction Roth is going for is shock followed by laughs, and he succeeds in eliciting that reaction time and time again.
Like many slashers, the film centers around a group of high school students. Nell Verlaque plays Jessica, whose father owns the department store at the start of the film. It was her friends sneaking in the back to get a head start on the deals that really set the crowd off. That initial burst of horror at the top of the film establishes early what to expect, and despite some choppy editing, manages to introduce the bulk of our characters.
The killer's design in the film works with a simple plastic mask and pilgrim-style outfit. At the heart of the story is a whodunnit all centered around familiar slasher movie cliches and references. The opening of the film is a POV reminiscent of Halloween’s opening sequence. The group of friends and their attempt to figure out who the killer is feels like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. There are tons of other blatant homages to the films Roth has confessed love for in some medium or another, that fans will likely gobble up like a plateful of candied yams.
Thanksgiving fills a void of what to watch between Halloween and Christmas movies that have long needed filling. This holiday homage to slashers delivers a veritable cornucopia of kills and characters horror enthusiasts would surely rather host than those obnoxious relatives. Roth’s love of the genre comes across, and this may be the best full movie to come from the joke trailers between Death Proof and Planet Terror.
Thanksgiving will be heading to theaters on November 17.
Review by Jonathan Berk
A Still Small Voice looks at the people who work at hospitals to help our emotional and spiritual health. Director Luke Lorentzen's documentary focuses primarily on Mati, a chaplain who completed a yearlong residency at New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital in 2020, as she continues to learn to provide spiritual care to people going through various challenges ranging from illness to grief. Mati exhibits signs of burnout while working through some tough situations with patients, and is also struggling with her spirituality.
Lorentzen utilizes his cinematography to place the audience in a variety of perspectives. For many moments, the camera is placed outside of the room where Mati works with a patient. The audience is a voyeur or eavesdropper standing in the hall, looking through doorways, attempting to get a glimpse of what’s happening while hearing every word. It feels like we shouldn’t be privy to these private conversations, which makes their impact all the heavier.
Other times, the camera is very much involved in the conversation. There is a discussion Mati has with a lung-cancer patient shot in close-ups, cutting back and forth between the two as the patient discusses her concerns about her quality of life. “My intention is to live, but I also want a certain quality of life… I really do have to wait and see,” she confides to Mati. Here, we feel more a part of the conversation and interaction between these two subjects. The effect is powerful, as we can take on just an inkling of what Mati and the other chaplains do.
There is an element of this film that focuses on David, the supervisor of the chaplains in the residency program, and his struggles with his role. Twice we see him on a Zoom call, discussing his feelings of burnout and uncertainty. Other times, we see him working with the whole group, and attempting to lead them through various practices to help with the job. Then, perhaps the most dramatic elements in the film are the scenes of just him and Mati. The tension in these moments is unnerving, and the filmmaker still manages to be a silent observer.
The filmmaking choices here allow the audience time to think, reflect, and consider all that is displayed. There are times when it cuts to a shot of the sky, to a trash compactor, or to some other seemingly innocuous B-roll that serves to punctuate the previous scene with its silence. Through Mati and the other chaplains, we consider many things — from our place in the world, to the role relationships play in our lives.
A Still Small Voice puts humanity on display. There are many connections an audience member can make with the people in this documentary, and the filmmaking allows us to contemplate them as we watch. The film proves to be moving and inspiring, while managing to effectively engage you via the challenges Mati faces. There are moments where you can look into her eyes, and see on full display the internal struggle she faces throughout the film of her calling to help — and the need for a break.
A Still Small Voice will be in theaters on November 10.
Review by Jonathan Berk
Teachers in cinema have been portrayed time and time again. Often, teachers take the role of a bitter antagonist to the misunderstood students — sometimes to the point where they seem like supervillains, like Miss Trunchbull in Matilda or Mr. Strickland in Back to the Future. Then, there are the stories of inspirational teachers who go above and beyond to improve their students’ lives, like John Keating in Dead Poets Society or E. R. Braithwaite in To Sir with Love. For people who want to believe that one person can make a difference, this latter archetype tends to land. It’s only helped if the film is based on a true story, like director Christopher Zalla’s new film, Radical.
Radical follows teacher Sergio Juárez Correa (Eugenio Derbez) as he attempts to employ a new teaching style to break through the apathy of his students — and hopefully unlock their full potential. However, when making a change to the system, there will be some who try to keep the status quo.
Derbez is incredible in this film. From the moment we meet his character, it is clear that there’s an electricity to his performance. He tells his students to find a lifeboat (which are tables turned upside down throughout the classroom), and when they hesitate, he eventually fakes his own drowning in the sea of the classroom floor. The audience and his students aren’t quite sure how to take this guy. Is he crazy? Enthusiastic? The answer is it’s some combination of the two.
The film picks up as the school’s director, Chucho (Daniel Haddad), takes in interest in this odd approach to teaching. He visits Sergio at home — and from that moment forward, their chemistry is an on-screen presence that simply works. The bond that forms feels very organic and makes for an incredibly emotional journey between the characters.
While the adults in the film are excellent, a movie about school kids only works if the child actors are also good. Fortunately, this film found an incredible group of children. Jennifer Trejo as Paloma, Mia Fernanda Solis as Lupe, and Danilo Guardiola Escobar as Nico are the clear stand-outs. That’s not to say the other kids in the class don’t get a moment to shine, but these three are featured heavily in the story and are up for the challenge.
The overall look of the film is also notable. Everything feels lived in and in bad shape. Sergio picked this school because of an article detailing their new computer lab. When Chucho shows him the lab, his plan takes a major hit. To say the school’s resources are sparse would be an understatement, but no element of the production is as visually impactful as Paloma’s home. The bad shape of Matamoros, Tamaulipas is embodied by the massive junk yard surrounding her home, and the irony of her situation is highlighted as she watches SpaceX from her telescope atop one heap.
This particular story isn’t an easy one. There are some incredible moments, and some that feel likely dramatized. However, the emotional journey of this class and this teacher’s drive to inspire students to reach their potential is one worth watching. While we have seen this story in movies like Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, Freedom Writers, and even the TV movie The Ron Clark Story, it seems that Radical can replicate the formula quite well.
Radical will be in theaters on November 3.
Review by Jonathan Berk
At one point in the film Subject, Caroline Libresco says, “We are intrinsically connected to story.” It’s a sentiment that manages to feel both obvious and profound simultaneously. In an age where media is almost always available to us all, we consume stories at record numbers. There is a clear interest in “true” or “real” stories and documentaries — which once brought on the ire of bored history students everywhere — and they have become far more mainstream as a result. An increase in interest means an increase in production, which makes the focus of Subject feel all the more poignant.
This film is a documentary about documentary filmmaking that steps back to ask important questions about the process. Directors Jennifer Tiexiera and Camilla Hall explore key ethical questions about the genre that has found itself in a “golden era” of sorts, largely due to streaming services. Through interviews with former subjects of big-time documentaries and people involved in the filmmaking process, Subject explores important ethical questions about the medium.
Ultimately, the premise of this movie is undeniable. A meta-commentary on the very thing being made is far too compelling to not watch. Even while the film is questioning why audiences are drawn to things like this, it is providing the very type of content it is investigating. However, the film wants the audience to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
For the most part, the film does a great job of raising many of the questionable topics the medium presents: compensation for the subjects, who gets to tell these stories and representation in general, the connection of the filmmaker and the “subject”, the objectivity of the filmmaker, life after the premiere, and the concept of consent and exactly what the “subjects” are consenting to. It doesn’t propose any answers, nor does it feel like it comes to a final stance on whether we should continue to make documentaries or not. Instead, audiences are left with the burden of choosing for themselves where they stand on all of these issues.
The main documentaries referenced and those films key participants included in this movie are The Staircase, Hoop Dreams, The Wolfpack, Capturing the Friedmans, and The Square. There are many other documentaries referenced, but these five feature interviews with subjects and — in the case of Hoop Dreams and Friedmans — the filmmakers. The weaving of these films and their investigation of the impact the documentary had on their lives both during and after the release is inherently interesting. As stated, we are drawn to stories, and for these people, we are drawn to their stories yet again.
Fans of the genre will have likely internally grappled with these questions many times already; however, Subject making it the focus feels necessary. It’s impossible to watch something like The Wolfpack and not question if the filmmaker should be injecting more assistance into the lives of these siblings and their mother, who are trapped by a cruel father/husband. Whether news reporting or long-form documentary filmmaking, there is an undeniable responsibility to handle these “true” stories with care. These are people, after all, not inanimate objects at the end of our microscopes.
Subject will be in theaters on November 3.
Review by Jonathan Berk
Fans of Letterkenny probably knew all about the elusive Shoresy before season 1 of the Canadian comedy's spin-off. Creator and star Jared Keeso crafted a foul-mouthed hockey player who tormented Reily and Jonesy, but whose face audiences never saw. That humor unsurprisingly carried over into the spinoff series — but what probably surprised everyone was the sheer heart the show and character brought. Season 2 continues in this fashion, giving Shoresy (Keeso) and his teammates the opportunity to explore various elements of their characters. Add in a compelling hockey storyline, and the notably funny moments we’ve come to expect from Keeso created content continue to make this spin-off a standout.
The season starts with a quick update of what’s happened since the previous season, and it appears that Shoresy has lived up to his promise of never losing again. The Bulldogs have found success, and we join them during a potentially record-breaking winning season. We’re reminded that when Shoresy first joined the team, it was likely to fold, and he fought to keep it alive. Now, the team is thriving, and the tension is built around how the guys keep focused with their newfound popularity.
Shoresy is hands-down the greatest shit-talker out there. The show gives us great montages of Shoresy just cracking jokes at the expense of other characters. A great one in episode 2 features Shoresy “encouraging” his teammates while they’re in the gym. He is either dissing their form or offering other, more challenging exercises they could be doing. They seem unphased by the relentless onslaught of words spewing out of their captain's mouth while he just sits and watches them break a sweat. These are a highlight of the character, and there is no shortage of this humor.
When you step back and look at the structure of this series, it becomes all the more impressive. There are only six episodes per season — running around 20 minutes an episode. Nonetheless, almost every character gets something to do, a storyline to develop, and some degree of an arc. They aren’t all complex, but we get a real sense of who these guys are — at least in an archetypal way — and the show plays into that.
The characters we started to get to know and love in season 1 — Nat (Tasya Teles), Sanguinet (Harlan Blayne Kytwayhat), Hitchcock (Terry Ryan), Michaels (Ryan McDonell), Ziigwan (Blair Lamora), Miigwan (Keilani Elizabeth Rose), Dolo (Jonathan-Ismaël Diaby), Michaels (Ryan McDonell), Fish (Jacob Smith), Goody (Andrew Antsanen), Frankie (Max Bouffard), and the Jims — are all, somehow, developed. That’s next to our main character and his interactions with them all, mind you. It’s kind of a miracle that such a compact show can deliver so much while also playing around with its style.
The presentation for most of the series is understandably straightforward camera work. However, there will also be some innovative stylistic flourishes. While fights break out during one hockey game, the camera cuts to a point-of-view perspective from the Bulldogs' bench, putting the audience in the skates of the team. There are music-led “hero” sequences that break the flow of the show to give us an almost Spike Lee style, staring-down-the-barrel-of-the-camera interlude, just to remind the audience how cool these guys are… or at least how cool they think they are. These elements are sprinkled in to break tradition in a way that fits the vibe of the show. Substance takes priority, but the team behind the production know how to make the show “feel” cool.
Shoresy is undoubtedly one of the better spin-off series out there. Keeso took a character who was nothing more than a faceless punchline dispenser and turned him into a lovable screw-up. He has passion pouring out of his foul-mouthed hockey player, which is equal parts inspirational and endearing. At the time of this writing, I’ve seen five of the six episodes for season 2, and frankly, I can’t wait for the finale. Fans of the series will be pleased with the continued standard of quality, and the direction the story seems to be taking us.
The entire season 2 of Shoresy will be streaming on Hulu on October 27. Five out of six episodes reviewed.
Review by Jonathan Berk
There are seven Nicolas Cage films releasing in 2023 in some capacity or another. The thing is, most of them have been pretty good this year — especially compared to some of his recent output. Butcher’s Crossing is a slow-burn of a Western that initially is hard to read what role Cage will take in this film. Will he be the protagonist, or will he be the crazy evil antagonist looking to pull one over on the actual hero? Instead, Cage delivers a much more nuanced performance in director Gabe Polsky’s film.
In 1874, Will Andrews (Fred Hechinger) is the son of a Harvard man who is set to have an easy life, but chooses to drop out of school to explore America’s Western frontier. He meets Miller (Nicolas Cage), a mysterious but ambitious hunter who claims to know of a gigantic Buffalo herd hidden in the Colorado wilderness. Andrews is warned that Miller has been claiming this for a long time, but trusts Miller’s story and pays for the expedition. The film is based on the novel by John Edward Williams and adapted by Polsky and Liam Satre-Meloy.
Cage looks cool in this film. Opting to go full bald, Cage’s character immediately feels hard to read. He seems kind to Hechinger’s character, despite him being clearly out of his depths. There are comments made by several characters that this isn’t the world Hechinger's character is cut out for. Thus, it would be wise to anticipate this being a film about a double cross. We may read that Cage sees Hechinger as an easy mark, with money just waiting to be taken from him. Instead, that’s not at all what the story is concerned with. While the film reflects on the role of masculinity, it is most concerned with man’s relationship with nature and human nature.
The hunting party adds Charlie (Xander Berkeley) and Fred (Jeremy Bobb), and they venture off with lots of questions. Cage looks down on the current skin trade, as hunting has gotten scarce because the buffalo are being picked off at alarming rates. He is determined to land a big score of quality skins. The men are tested at every step of the journey. Even before they leave, we start to see the potential explosive personalities in the party and how things could easily go wrong. The tension builds and releases multiple times during the film, keeping the audience hooked.
Of course, a Western requires great cinematography with gorgeous landscapes. The film was primarily shot on land owned by the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. There are some breathtaking shots throughout the film that fit right into the genre. Then, some moments are designed to reflect the characters' emotional state, as things take some twists in turns and their survival is questioned. The overall look of the film works and builds to a strong ending.
Butcher’s Crossing is a well-made film with a story worth thinking about once the credits roll. There is a lot to reflect on in the film. Not every theme is fully explored, and some aspects that seem vital to the overall commentary don’t land as hard as they should. However, the images shown just before the credits and title cards about the buffalo ensure audiences get the point.
Butcher’s Crossing will be in select theaters on October 20.
Review by Jonathan Berk
Director Sean King O’Grady’s new film, The Mill, couldn’t be dropping at a better time. Employees have been voicing frustrations with working conditions for the last few years, and 2023 has seen some major unions go on strike. While some metaphors are a little on the nose, O’Grady’s film explores the relationship between an employee and their employer through an engaging sci-fi story.
Lil Rel Howery is a businessman who wakes up in an open-air prison cell with no recollection of how he got there. A lone voice of the person in the adjacent cell tells him he has to do the work. In the middle of the cell is an ancient grist mill, and Howery is forced to work as a beast of burden to avoid termination. He must find a way to escape the daily grind before the birth of his child.
Howery is solo for most of the story. He’s isolated, and besides some flashbacks, the film mostly falls on his shoulder to carry it all. Howery often has a rambling, nervous energy when delivering dialogue, and that style is utilized a lot. Unlike Hulu’s other recent Sci-Fi release, No One Will Save You, which opts to have no dialogue, Howery doesn’t care that he’s alone, voicing all his thoughts and emotions throughout the film. His style works well with this delivery mechanism, as it somehow feels natural for this character to be uttering all the things to no one in particular.
While the set is minimalist, the visuals in the film are not. O’Grady’s style helps make what could have been a bleak and boring film look a little more interesting. There are moments where we see through Howery’s eyes in flashback, while other times we are made aware of his mental state through the lighting of the scene. O’Grady has a strong grasp of the medium and the genre, and uses it to tell the story and keep it interesting.
There are many films that have tackled some topics and themes found in The Mill. The Platform, Snowpiercer, Moon, Sorry to Bother You, and The Family Man all come to mind while watching Howery struggle to push that big stone wheel. He’s reminded of his pregnant wife and wants to be a good husband and father. He has made so many sacrifices to provide his family with the best life possible. He's true company man who now finds himself being asked to give just a little more. In some ways, it’s hard to imagine a more 2023 movie.
While not every aspect of the film works, the combination of Howery’s performance, O’Grady’s direction, and Seamus Tierney’s cinematography make The Mill a compelling watch. The allegorical nature of the film is often a tad too easy to make real-world connections, which sometimes makes moments feel a little silly. Still, something is being said that many of us lower-middle-class individuals will likely connect with.
The Mill is streaming on Hulu on October 9.
Review by Jonathan Berk
The legendary director William Friedkin’s last movie, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, is a great reminder of what a talented director can do within limitations. Most of the film is set in a simple room with three tables, several chairs, and people in naval officer uniforms, and almost the entire runtime is simply people talking or reacting to other people talking, yet there is not a moment wasted or that feels slow. The camera choices, the casting, and intentional editing are all at their top performance so much that one actor whom I've historically criticized often and again even won me over here. It’s hard to imagine not being engaged in the story and performances on display in Friedkin’s final film.
Lieutenant Stephen Maryk (played by the inherently punchable Jake Lacy) stands trial for mutiny after taking command from Lieutenant Commander Phillip Queeg (played incredibly by Kiefer Sutherland). Maryk claimed Queeg was acting unhinged and was putting the ship and its crew in danger. His defense attorney, Lieutenant Barney Greenwald (single-handedly Jason Clarke’s best performance), was reluctant to defend him. His hesitation is slowly revealed throughout the proceedings. Captain Blakey (a character that the late Lance Reddick fully embraced and was perfectly cast) leads the trial, trying to keep everything above board.
This story lives or dies on the performances and how they are presented on screen. The first time Sutherland is on screen, Friedkin shows his deft hands in so many ways. Initially, Sutherland is in a mid-shot, and the camera is just trained on him. He is allowed to act, and there are very few cuts in his responses to the prosecution's questions. It’s not too long into the scene that he begins to twiddle his thumbs. Eventually, Friedkin cuts in close with Sutherland’s face centered on screen as the content of his monologue gets more intense. That initially arbitrary seeming action of twiddling his thumbs is a huge set-up for the character of Queeg. The intensity and demeanor of Queeg setting up his return later in the film, as we learn the defense plans to call him as their own witness. Friedkin makes what could be an unimportant scene convey so much information about the character, specifically because the testimony provides so much exposition. We learn how to read the film, who Queeg is, and what the conflict is for the defense.
In Redding’s character, we find ourselves quickly aligned. He, too, is watching with much interest, and you can see him wrestling with the same things we are. He wants to assume Queeg is the man his record indicates. Maryk acting unreasonably as mutiny is a serious charge that is basically unprecedented, as noted by Redding’s character. Yet, as the trial moves on, and the prosecution, led by a magnetic performance from Monica Raymund, makes great points, parried by other great points from the defense, the audience along with Redding clearly waves back and forth with our opinion of who is at fault. The tension builds into an epic climax, which leads to an even better final shot. Of course, those who take the hot seat are part of what helps the tension.
Every time Lewis Pullman is in a film, he becomes a highlight. In this, it appears he finally hit puberty, looking far more like his father Bill than ever, and projecting authority in a way I’ve not seen him do prior. While he’s not in the film for long, he makes the most of his time and leaves quite the impression.
Gabe Kessler, Tom Riley, Elizabeth Anweis, Francois Battiste, and Jay Duplass all get their time in the chair and deliver equally engaging performances. Each testimony offers a little more insight into the characters of Queeg and Maryk. In lesser hands, the visuals would probably start to feel redundant, but Friedkin finds ways to mix things up. At one point, the camera is high and behind the center sets of table, with Redding in the center looking out over the room. When Duplass is on the stand, the camera starts far lower and at a great distance from him until it slowly moves into a mid-shot. The space is small, but it is used so well.
Then there is the Clarke of it all. He has an innate standoffishness about him that works perfectly for this character. He doesn’t seem to have a friend in the room, and his intentions are unclear. He upsets many people who sit in the chair as he grills them, looking to show Queeg as incapable of leadership, thus justifying Maryk’s mutiny. Clarke wins the audience over as he demonstrates a strong understanding of his role in the trial. The final scene is the best, and Clarke delivers an incredible monologue before getting to deliver an action in the final frame that will likely stick with audiences.
For fans of movies like Paths of Glory or A Few Good Men, there is a real chance you may truly enjoy The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. The film is a showcase of great monologues and courtroom tension delivered by an incredible filmmaker whose recent passing will surely be felt more and more.
The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial will be streaming on Paramount+ with Showtime on October 6.