Review of “mother!”

Him and Mother (Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence) live in a secluded home in a clearing surrounded by woods. The wife has been renovating the home after a fire severely damaged it. Him is a writer and has some popular books published but is suffering writer’s block. He hopes the seclusion will help the ideas flow. One day a stranger knocks on their door. This stranger is Man (Ed Harris) who says he was sent to the home by locals that thought it was a bed and breakfast. Him insists that since it is so late Man stay the night but Mother thinks inviting a stranger to stay in their home is a bad idea. Showing Man around their home Him brags how Mother has redone everything by herself. In his office, Him shows Man his prized possession: A fragile crystal orb that came from the remains of his burnt home. Man wants to hold it but Him says no and puts it back on its display stand. Not long after Man arrives Mother begins to feel ill. She puts some medicinal powder in a glass of water, drinks it and feels better quickly. Man has some sort of illness that causes coughing fits that keep him and Him up all night; but the next morning both act as if they had a good night’s rest. Later that day the Man’s wife Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives and Him invites her to stay as well. Soon Woman gets drunk and begins asking rude and personal questions of Mother. Despite being told to stay out of the office Him writes in, Man and Woman enter and break the crystal orb driving Him into a rage and orders Man and Woman to leave his home. Not long after, Man and Woman’s Oldest Son (Domhnall Gleeson) and Younger Son (Brian Gleeson) arrive to argue over the Man’s will and what will happen to his money. The two sons fight and Oldest Son kills Younger Son. Then things get weird.

Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” is a challenging movie to watch and it’s challenging to figure out what it means. It’s a film that is so open to interpretation it could be accused of meaning nothing. As I write this I am just about 24 hours away from leaving the theatre and I am still questioning what I saw. Is that the mark of a good film? I don’t know. It certainly is the mark of an Aronofsky film as I have seen three of his other works over the years: “The Fountain,” “Black Swan” and “Noah.” If nothing else, Aronofsky is a film maker that doesn’t spoon-feed his audience. The images are up on the screen and what you do with them is entirely up to you. While it is an interesting experience I can’t say it was particularly entertaining.

In doing some reading online by other critics and movie websites, it appears that “mother!” is a biblical allegory for God’s creation of the Garden of Eden and Man’s fall from Grace. Once it is pointed out to me the correlation is painfully obvious. It may also be a metaphor on how man is given the beautiful gift of the Earth but uses its resources and fouls the air, land and water and must be punished for his arrogance. That fits as well.

“mother!” is a whirlwind of meaning with layers of symbolism stacked one on top of the other. It is almost sensory overload as you watch the film as it often keeps a very tight close up of Lawrence’s Mother as she moves from one room to the next doing chores or looking for Bardem’s Him. Lawrence’s face is frequently a blank slate in the early parts of the film. Only later does her face contort into confusion and pain. Lawrence is probably the best thing about “mother!” Her performance is the anchor and the access point for the audience. It may not be the doorway to understanding but Lawrence’s Mother is the most human and relatable of all the characters. She is a dutiful wife, a caring and hard-working homemaker and a skilled craftsperson bringing a burned-out shell of a home back to life. She has poured so much of herself into the renovation she can even feel that life pulsing through the walls. What do these scenes mean as she touches the walls, closes her eyes and sees and feels the heartbeat of the house? I haven’t a clue but Lawrence’s performance made me want to find out.

There are parts of “mother!” that are beautiful to look at and some of that dare you to keep watching. Late in the film one of the characters is being beaten. The impacts of the fists and feet seem to jump off the screen and pummel you in the audience. There are more scenes of violence and chaos as the world of “mother!” descends into utter madness. Is this more symbolism for a world consumed with greed, lust and envy? The biblical allegory could be stretched further into Genesis with the Great Flood washing away the evil of humanity. You’ll have to see the film yourself if you want to see exactly what I’m talking about.

The real question: Is “mother!” entertaining? For me it wasn’t. I was always interested in what would happen next and enjoyed some of the weirder and more twisted things in the film but by the end I was left with the question of if what I’d just witnessed improved my life and/or mood. Did it elevate my humanity or relieve any stress? I can’t say that it did. The ending is far from satisfying and left me wondering what exactly the point is? Is “mother!” art merely for art’s sake? If so, that’s fine with me but having experienced it I can’t say I have been enlightened or improved in any way.

“mother!” is rated R for some sexuality, nudity, language, strong disturbing content and strong violent content. We see a person alive and burning. Several people are shown shot in the head. There are some stabbings and at least one beating. General riot-like mayhem occupies most of the last 20 minutes of the movie. There are a couple of explosions. There is a brief scene of Javier Bardem getting out of bed nude. There is also a brief scene of Jennifer Lawrence’s breasts exposed but it is in a violent context. The remains of a baby that has been ripped apart are briefly shown. Foul language is scattered.

For the previous 1100 words I have pontificated on the meaning and qualities of “mother!” but the question remains: Is the movie any good? My honest answer is I don’t know. While it kept me interested for the full two hours I can’t say I enjoyed the movie; but I didn’t hate it either. This is one of those rare films that I simply cannot get my head around. It is an enigma wrapped in a riddle and I am not smart enough to work my way in between the words, the images and the meaning. In short, “mother!” has me stumped.

Simply because I don’t know what else to do, “mother!” gets three stars.

This week three new films open and I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Friend Request—

Kingsmen: The Golden Circle—

The LEGO Ninjago Movie—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast at WIMZ.com under the “podcast” tab, subscribe, rate and review on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, PodcastOne or anywhere you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan, follow The Fractured Frame @fractured_pod and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

 

Review of “Run All Night”

No matter how good your relationship is with your parents, at some point most people have had a rough patch dealing with the authority figures in your life. Whether it was the length of your hair, your choice of friends, a perceived lack of initiative or ignoring your studies, all of us have had arguments with a mom or dad. My father thought I was lazy and he was right. I preferred watching Saturday morning cartoons and eating a giant bowl of cereal over going out to play or help with the household repairs he always seemed to be doing. While we never had an actual argument our relationship was a bit standoffish until I got my first job while in high school. I believe it was then my father saw I wasn’t lazy, just interested in different things. The fathers and sons featured in this week’s movie “Run All Night” are at different points in their relationships; but ultimately it comes down to the love and protective spirit one man has for his son that leads to a great deal of death.

Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) used to be a feared hit man for mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Now the man who used to be called Gravedigger is seen as a washed up old drunk who is only kept around because of his long-time ties to Maguire. Maguire’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) is looking to expand his role in the family business by working out a deal with the Albanian mob to move heroin into the country. Shawn Maguire turns down the deal but Danny has already accepted money from the Albanians and they want it back. Mike Conlon (Joel Kinnaman) is Jimmy’s estranged son. He knows what his dad did for a living and wants nothing to do with him. Mike has a wife and two little girls with a baby boy on the way. To make ends meet, Mike drives for a limo service and tonight his passengers are the Albanian mobsters who are headed to Danny’s house to get their money. Mike is waiting outside in the limo when he hears shots and sees Danny shoot one of the Albanians in the head. The second one is dead inside Danny’s house. Danny, who knows Mike, yanks him out of the car at gunpoint and plans on killing him but after a brief struggle Mike gets away, leaving his wallet behind in the process. Danny calls his father and explains what happened who then calls Jimmy. Jimmy heads to Mike’s house and tries to talk to him about what to do next by Mike doesn’t want to hear it and tells Jimmy to leave. Meanwhile, Danny sneaks into Mike’s house just as Jimmy leaves. Danny has the gun pointed at Mike but Jimmy, who saw Danny’s car parked outside, shoots and kills him. Jimmy calls Shawn and tells him what happened. Shawn tells Jimmy they are both going to die for killing his son. Jimmy knows Shawn is paying off several cops so they can’t call the police for help. Jimmy convinces Mike to trust him for once in his life to keep him alive and try to fix the situation. Shawn is only out for revenge and brings in high-tech hit man Andrew Price (Common) at double his rate to take out Jimmy and Mike.

Once again, Liam Neeson is playing a man with a certain set of skills in “Run All Night” only this one is more used up than his “Taken” character. Unable to sleep due to the memories of all the people he’s killed, Conlon is a man haunted by all of his past, including leaving Mike and his mother many years earlier. While he did it to protect them, Conlon wishes he could have it all to do over again so maybe he could get it closer to right. Since no one gets a second chance, Jimmy must make the best of the situation. Neeson is spot on in “Run All Night.” His pain and remorse added to what is probably a fair amount of self-pity leads Jimmy to look for relief in a bottle. Neeson knows about pain and loss with the tragic death of his wife Natasha Richardson in 2009. Some of that grief must color his acting in more serious roles. Neeson’s world weary face is more than capable of conveying a sense of hopelessness and defeat. It is also able to turn on a dime to show determination and a fair amount of menace. Neeson has cornered the market in the genre of films featuring a middle-aged man still being able to kick ass and take names. While a few others have done it before (Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis to name two) none has done it better than or as believably as Neeson.

Ed Harris has the kind of intense gaze that would curdle milk. He puts it to good use in “Run All Night.” His Shawn Maguire tells the Albanians that he is a legitimate businessman who has left his gangster days behind. Considering all the armed men around him and his son in a back room counting up thousands of dollars of cash, his statement would appear to be a bit of an exaggeration. Harris is a great actor and is able to easily pull off his somewhat dual role as both a ruthless criminal and a caring friend to Jimmy and father to Danny. Jimmy and Shawn grew up together running the streets of their neighborhood and are as close as brothers. Even though Jimmy isn’t of much use to Shawn, he keeps him around and throws some money his way out of a sense of loyalty and family. Nothing can break that bond except the death of Shawn’s son. It is this event that turns both men into enemies and brings out their dangerous killer instincts. Harris is like a pressure cooker: While he appears calm on the outside, inside there is turmoil, heat and death waiting to burst forth. Harris plays the part to perfection and is able to deliver menace, hate and fear in his performance.

Joel Kinnaman is somewhat disappointing as Mike. His performance is rather one-note. Mike is constantly angry at his father even as he’s risking his life to save him. Kinnaman, who is so good in the former AMC show “The Killing” as a police detective, appears to have his hands tied as far as his performance. Kinnaman plays Mike like a spoiled brat who didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas. While I certainly understand the initial anger at his father, Mike should have come around to at least a begrudging respect for his old man. Unfortunately, every discussion they have about the past is filled with Mike’s anger over Jimmy not being there and his disgust at the things Jimmy has done. Again, some of this is understandable to a point; however, Kinnaman keeps the anger turned up to 11 for far too long. Of course, this is more of a complaint about the script than the actor; but I still thought Kinnaman was probably the weakest character.

A character I’d like to have seen more of is Det. John Harding played by Vincent D’Onofrio. D’Onofrio, who is always interesting to watch, is underutilized in the film. While the movie isn’t about him, Det. Harding does play a pivotal role and is something of an ally to Jimmy despite being on the opposite side of the law. D’Onofrio is an actor that makes you pay attention to his character. His intensity and focus draws in the audience and we hang on his every word. D’Onofrio will play King Pin on the Netflix and Marvel “Daredevil” series. Aside from the stunts, he will probably be the most interesting aspect of that show.

There are a few stylistic things about the movie that both struck my eye and struck a nerve. First, as the film moves from one scene to the next, we are given a graphic depiction of the change of location with Google Earth-like zoom outs and zoom ins of buildings. If you have vertigo or are easily made motion sick, this might trigger an episode. While the first few times were interesting, it quickly began to felt like a visual gimmick that had overstayed its welcome. Also, the movie has a strange fascination with elevated trains. Several scenes start and end on the mass transit system. We also get scene transitions that show the trains moving through the city. Again, this is alright a time or two but after that it seems like the New York transit authority must have paid the movie makers to show off the trains as much as possible. It struck me as a bit odd.

Also troubling is the level of coincidence required to start the plot in motion. The Albanians have to rent a limo that is driven by Jimmy’s son. These same Albanians are doing business with Shawn’s son. Given the number of car services in New York City, the possibility of Mike getting the job seems like a statistical stretch. I’m willing to accept lots of things in movies but this seemed like a step too far.

Of course, a movie like “Run All Night” lives and dies by the action scenes. The movie does a great job of building up tension during a scene like a car chase in downtown New York. There is also the cat and mouse aspect of the police and Common’s hit man searching an apartment building for Jimmy and Mike. “Run All Night” is full of scenes like this and that makes it a very good action movie.

“Run All Night” is rated R for Strong Violence, Language Including Sexual References, and Some Drug Use. There are numerous beatings, shootings, strangulations and stabbings in the film. Nearly all are shown clearly. There are at least two scenes showing a powder being cut with a razorblade and then snorted. The only sexual material is a couple of scenes where a character describes what he would do to another’s wife. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

Liam Neeson could be accused of making the same movie over and over again; however, there are enough differences between the “Taken” films and “Run All Night” to make that latter film unique. It takes a good look at the sacrifices fathers are willing to make for their children. It also shows how the past can come back to life in an instant to make the present difficult to navigate. While it doesn’t invent a new type of movie, “Run All Night” is able to do most of the things it attempts well and creates a world of interesting characters doing interesting things.

“Run All Night” gets four stars out of five.

As always, new films open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of them and you can check out their trailers below:

Divergent Series: Insurgent—

The Gunman—

What We Do In The Shadows—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send questions or comments to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.