These low-budget small-scale films are always so fun to watch. They truly showcases how much a film can do with a good screenplay, good acting and a great director. And this film also has a few of those elements. The acting– especially that of Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield– is great, the direction is pretty neat, and the screenplay has its moments. The film however has its climax within the opening 20 minutes and everything after that doesn’t keep up.
The screenplay, by Ramin Bahrani and Amir Naderi, works really well for the first 20 minutes as it documents the fall of Garfield’s character. The dialogue is nuanced, perfect, and helplessly emotional and captures the situation amazingly. But then everything after that just doesn’t manage to keep up. The plot is paper-thin and the the dialogue just doesn’t manage to keep up with the exciting and emotional first 20 minutes of the film. The worst thing however is that if it weren’t for the amazing opening, the rest would not have been so disappointing, because the rest really isn’t that bad.
Andrew Garfield leads the film with a pretty good performance that shows off that he’s got more to offer than his Spider-Man performances. His performance is sweet, innocent and tender and he doesn’t shy away from emotion. But like most of the film, his performance dies down after the first 20 minutes and we get a very mediocre performance for the rest of the film. But those 20 minutes in the beginning… Whew! They were really good. Michael Shannon also stars in the film, and he’s one of the few forces in the film that drives the movie home and makes the last part watchable. His frighteningly calm and collected persona in some incredibly testing scenes works very well in the film. And most importantly Shannon and Garfield are fun to watch together.
The film also stars a handful of other actors. The most prominent being that of Laura Dern, who plays Garfield’s mother. Dern gives a pretty good performance, that has a handful of moments. But eventually the performance becomes– for lack of a better word– annoying. She takes the decent dialogue and does nothing with it, but simply yells it. She’s especially weak during the more emotional scenes in which she overplays or underplays with no sense of understanding for the character. Playing Garfield’s son is a pretty good child actor, Noah Lomax, who stays enough in the background and is used more than featured, making the character compelling and likeable.
The direction, by Ramin Bahrani, and cinematography, by Bobby Bukowski, are both pretty well-executed. The opening sequence, as I’ve said, is really strong. This is also owed in part to the fierce and frantic direction as well as the scattered and unnerving cinematography. A handful of scenes also end up taking place in a motel room, which is also only possible due to the minimalistic direction and well-done cinematography. But the direction does lose its grasp the further into the film it gets, leading to a final twenty minutes that’s supposed to reflect the first 20, but that simply doesn’t capture the viewer emotionally at all.
This film opens with a bang and closes with– at best– a pop (or maybe a breeze). The acting is fine, Shannon especially is great, and Garfield is pretty good too. The direction is for the most part great (better than great at times). But the film just ends up never fully living up to its opening scenes and ends up flat.
Best Aspect- The first 20 minutes
Worst Aspect- The remaining runtime