London Film Festival 2011 Diary: Day 12

DRAGONSLAYER (Tristan Patterson)

Ah, yes, now I remember, that’s why I don’t hang out with stoners. They’re unspeakably boring.

Dragonslayer follows skateboarder Skreech as he drifts from tournament to tournament, back yard to back yard, with his way too good and smart for him girlfriend Leslie in tow. Permanently drunk or stoned, despite having unspecified and unseen sponsors for his skating, Skreech is basically what we’d call a bum.

Like most intoxicated people, Skreech spouts a near endless stream of bollocks, much to his own – if nobody else’s – amusement. I found him grating; he’s not clever, he’s not funny, he’s not insightful. The only glimpse we really get of a more interesting and more responsible Skreech is when he takes his six month old son to the zoo for the first time, a sweet moment, but one that barely mitigates against the tedium of watching him either lie around stoned or do (fairly unimpressive) skating stunts for the rest of the film’s 74 long minutes.

if you’re into skating (or smoke a lot of weed) then you may find Skreech and his friends interesting. I didn’t, and even some artful shooting from director Patterson couldn’t make me care.

1.5 / 5

EARLY ONE MORNING (Jean-Marc Moutout)

Early One Morning is immediately undermined by its own structure. It opens with the last moments of the story; a workplace shooting committed by Paul Wertret (Jean-Pierre Darroussin). From there the film goes back, tracking the last few weeks before Paul’s actions, his work at a big bank during the fianancial crisis, his troubles at work, and his slow meltdown. The problem is, because we already know how this story finishes up, there is no tension and the film takes the most direct route to explaining Paul’s actions, there’s barely a scene that surprises, barely a moment that didn’t feel both familiar and inevitable.

Jean-Marc Moutout’s direction is effectively slow paced and austere (which would possibly have made for tension had the film not opened with that flash forward) and the performances are strong all round, with Darroussin giving an effective and subtle portrait of a man slowly collapsing from within, and a strong, perhaps underused, contribution from Valérie Dréville as Paul’s wife.

Without the foreknowledge of the conclusion I think this might have been a suspenseful film with a shocking ending, as it is, I found it a long, predictable, and frankly dull trudge to a known ending, and found myself wishing that it had told the story of the aftermath, rather than the run up to, Paul’s actions.

2 / 5

RETURN (Liza Johnson)

The War on Terror continues to be plundered for cinema as it is going on, and while there have been some very ropey mainstream films made about the conflict itself, the after effects, the ripples, have been an effective subject in independent cinema. Last year’s LFF had In Our Name, and on the surface Return, about Kelly (Linda Cardellini, best known either for ER or as Velma in the Scooby Doo films, depending on whether or not you’re five); a female soldier coming back home after a tour of duty, only to have trouble readjusting to life with her husband (Michael Shannon) and daughters, seems very similar. For me though, Return works better; it never suffers the third act meltdown that In Our Name had, and is overall much more subtly played.

Cardellini has a great role here, and having drifted away from ER soon after she came aboard I was rather amazed to see how good she is. Stripped of make up, dressed down and with little attention played to her hair, Cardellini convinces physically as just another small town girl, back from the war zone, but she goes deeper than that. It’s never overplayed, and never expressly spoken, but Cardellini lets us see the effects of what she seen, and how the stoicism she attempts (“a lot of people had it a lot worse than me”) soon slips. I’m used to saying good things about Michael Shannon, and I’m not about to stop here. Return is something of a departure from his recent roles; more low key. There are no explosions here, just a blue collar Husband and Father reading the situation and trying to deal with it as best he can, Shannon demonstrates some real versatility here, and shows that he’s just as good when he reins himself in.

The film is perhaps a bit overlong, and could easily lose a scene with Kelly’s girlfriends, or the more cartoony section in which Kelly ends up spending the night with a man she met at AA, but these are reasonably minor issues with what is a fine film, and one worth seeing for the performances alone.

4 / 5

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