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The Rover – Review

28 Dec

Back in 2014, a movie called The Rover was released and I was determined to see it. The trailers for this movie were all incredible and promised a really tense and artistic ride through a post-apocalyptic world. As with a lot of movies I am determined to see, I never actually went to the theaters to see it and disappointed myself greatly. It wasn’t until just recently that I finally saw it, and after two years of build up I can tell you that I had really high expectations for this movie. What I got was pretty much everything I thought it would be and everything the trailers promised, but there were a few surprises along the way. The Rover is a very subtle and nonconventional film about a future that hopefully will never exist, but doesn’t seem all that far away.

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It’s been a decade since the collapse of Western civilization and people are doing whatever it takes to stay alive. One of these people is a mysterious loner named Eric, whose only possession he has left is his car. One day three thieves, led by Henry (Scoot McNairy), crash their truck and steal Eric’s car when he is in a bar. Eric watches them drive away and his initial search turns out to be completely hopeless. He soon runs into Rey (Robert Pattinson), Henry’s brother who was left for dead by the other thieves. Rey lets on that he knows where Henry and his cohorts are heading, which forces Eric to keep Rey around in order to find them and his car. As the search continues, Eric and Rey encounter many different people that inhabit the wasteland with their own secrets and dangers.

There are two things that become very clear to me after watching the first five minutes of The Rover. From the very first shot, I had a grasp on what the rhythm and the pacing of this movie was going to be, and it filled me with that all too familiar film geek glee. Writer/director David Michôd is someone who understands pacing, suspense, and maybe more importantly stillness. The film opens right away with Guy Pierce’s character sitting in his car for close to half a minute without moving. After that, there’s very little dialogue for the first 20 minutes of the movie. At least, there’s way less than what is expected in a movie. The rest of the movie moves at that pace and it’s exactly how a movie with a story and setting like this should go. Another thing that becomes clear is how pristine and beautiful the cinematography is. Michôd and director of photography Natasha Brair work so well together to create a look that is equal amounts gorgeous and dreadful. There are so many unique scenes in this film, especially one involving a car crash in the beginning of the film, that becomes seared into your brain.

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So while The Rover is noticeably a beautifully shot movie there’s still something about it that remains very un-cinematic, and I mean that in a very positive way. I wouldn’t call this an action movie and there isn’t all that much violence in it, but when there is it’s startling and sometimes unexpected. People die in ways that aren’t cinematic or grand in any way. This film shows exactly what life would look like in a post apocalyptic Australian wasteland. There’s tragedy and humor, but by the end of the movie you see that all of that can be inconsequential depending on who the subject is. The cynicism of this movie is so strong I could almost feel it radiating from the screen. What else could be expected from this kind of future, though? The Rover isn’t a movie to make you feel good or have an uplifting time at the movies. It exists to show the lengths a person will go to protect themselves and their humanity in a time where these ideas are becoming extinct.

The characters of Eric and Rey are the only two characters that get any sort of attention or development, which means the whole movie and dramatic tension is riding on their shoulders and how well they play these parts. Guy Pierce has proven himself to be a very unique actor that is easily recognizable. It was no surprise that he took the weight of this post-apocalyptic world and turned it into a character that’s been so beaten down he will do anything to protect himself from any more suffering. This means he’ll kill or hurt anyone who is in his way, and Pierce helps make this character into an anti-hero of the everyman trying to live in the world of this movie. The real surprise was Robert Pattinson, who I’ve always tried to defend as an actor but never got any real proof of what I was defending. Cosmopolis was a giant disappointment, but The Rover shows that he can really do great work.

The Rover is a one of a kind movie that has stuck with me since the days that I watched it. The pacing and cinematography worked wonders at putting me in the world the movie took place in and the performances kept me focused on what would happen next. This is a great example of a post apocalyptic nightmare that also succeeds at being a unique and artistic vision. It is unconventional compared to a lot of other films in this genre, but that’s what makes The Rover such a memorable movie.

Final Grade: B+

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Breaking the Waves – Review

19 May

Every time I watch a movie by Lars von Trier, I begin to hope that maybe it will help me understand him more. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one ever truly will. Enough about that, however. Today I’m going to be looking at a very important movie in von Trier’s career, his 1996 film Breaking the Waves. If it wasn’t for this movie, Lars von Trier would not be the internationally acclaimed film maker that he is today and it also allowed him to explore with techniques that he never worked with before. All that aside, while Dogville is my favorite of his movie, Breaking the Waves might be his masterpiece.

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In a small town in rural Scotland, Bess McNeil (Emily Watson), a mentally ill woman dedicated to her strict church, meets and falls in love with Jan (Stellan Skarsgård), an oilman who works on a rig off the coast. The two quickly get married and spend their first days together in a state of marital bliss. Eventually, Jan has to go back to the oil rig which leaves Bess devastated. She prays that God will send Jan back to her, and her prayers seem to be answered with the news that he’s coming home. What Bess didn’t know was the accident Jan was in the middle of the left him paralyzed from the neck down. Bess feels an overwhelming amount of guilt for this, thinking this is God’s way of punishing her, and will do anything to help Jan feel better. When Jan makes the request that she go out and find a man to sleep with so he can feel that connection again, Bess takes the request to the extreme which has extreme consequences with the people of the village.

It’s interesting to note that a year before this movie was made, Lars von Trier and fellow director Thomas Vinterberg created the “Dogme 95 Manifesto.” What this was was a set of rules created by von Trier and Vinterberg that they believed would create the purest and most authentic film possible. There are strange rules like the film has to be in color, shot on a hand held camera, and the banning of using any type of filters. In my opinion, it’s all a bit much. Breaking the Waves can’t technically be called a Dogme 95 film because it does break rules about sound and the director being credited, but the movie is shot on a hand held camera with what seems to be mostly natural lighting. This was a huge stylistic change for von Trier, especially since his earlier movies like Element of Crime and Europa are so heavily stylized. This is more really the only way a story like Breaking the Waves can be told, so it was a bold shift in style that should be respected.

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When it comes to love stories in film, it’s very easy to mess it up. If you look at most romantic comedies, there’s really nothing to the love that you see in the movies. It’s the most superficial type of romance you can see. What I love about film makers like Lars von Trier, Woody Allen, and the Coen Brothers is that they all seem very confused by love while also still being a part of it. That is what keeps the love story in Breaking the Waves feel so authentic and ultimately tragic. This film is absolutely devastating, but the relationship between Bess and Jan is very powerful and beautiful in a weird kind of way. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is a very unique movie with characters and situations and relationships that feel very fresh and real, sometimes disturbingly so.

It’s impossible to talk about this movie without dedicating a chunk of this review to Emily Watson. Lars von Trier’s movies aren’t known for their stellar performances, sometimes due to his awkward writing, but Emily Watson kills it in this movie. Bess is probably the most fully realized of all his characters and Watson taps into something deep here. I haven’t really seen Emily Watson in too much stuff so I never really had an opinion on her. After seeing her in Breaking the Waves, however, I now see just how powerful an actor she really is. Bess is a wonderful character and Watson plays her absolutely perfect.

Breaking the Waves is a truly magnificent movie that is both hard to watch and impossible to look away from. Lars von Trier has become one of my favorite film makers for a reason, and the reason is that he isn’t afraid to tackle new or taboo subjects using a variety of techniques. This is one of his more down to earth movies, but it still has that other worldly von Trierian quality that we’ve all come to expect with his movies. Simply put, Breaking the Waves is his masterpiece.

Caché – Review

27 Oct

Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (I’m partial to the 2007 version) is one of my favorite films of all time, and I’ve been severely slacking at watching some of his other works. I’ve finally gotten around to it with his 2005 critical success Caché. This film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival and many critics call it one of the best films of the 2000s. All of those critics kind of have to slow down a little bit there. Caché is a very interesting and complex film when all is said and done, but it’s also extremely pretentious and often feels like a chore to sit through. The real joy of this movie comes through when you begin thinking about it after the credits roll.

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Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juiliette Binoche) Laurent are a upper middle class family living a relatively quiet life in Paris. Georges is a talk show host on a public television station, Anne works as a publisher, and they both have a 12 year old son named Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). That quiet life soon gets uprooted when they begin finding videotapes from an anonymous stalker showing up at their doorstep. Why they are being recorded and who is responsible forces Georges to look back into his past and come to learn that actions he did when he was just a young boy could be the cause of the family’s stalker finally taking his revenge.

Caché is a very smart and well executed thriller that definitely does not fit the Hollywood definition of what a thriller is supposed to be. I highly respect Michael Haneke for stepping outside what is considered to be the genre conventions. Haneke said in an interview that he didn’t want the viewer to figure out what the one possible answer is to the mystery of this movie, he wanted people to accept all of the possible answers. This makes for some ingenious movie making, but to me it didn’t hit the mark well in the entertainment department. In my opinion, there are two kinds of art house movies. There’s a movie like Drive or even Requiem for a Dream. Those movies are “artsy.” Caché falls into the other category that I like to call “artsy fartsy.”

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Technically speaking, though, the movie is really cool. The very first shot lasts a few minutes, and just shows the front of the Laurent’s house. It’s a great opening shot and got me in the mood to see how Haneke’s artistic vision would help tell the story, but this trick is used a few times too many. The film is also shot on video, which is actually an appropriate choice since the whole plot revolves around videotapes being delivered to this family. All of the artistic qualities that are in Caché do enhance it and halp it stand apart from more run of the mill thrillers. I’m just saying that for me some of it was a bit too much for me.

I will praise wholeheartedly the performances in this movie. Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche work perfectly together and both of their performances are very natural and feel very real. The same can be said about everyone in the movie, even the younger actor, Lester Makedonsky. Someone who really steals the show every time he’s onscreen is Maurice Bénichou, and while he’s not present very much, every scene he’s in is memorable.

This was a strange review to write because I liked Caché more as I thought about it, but as I was watching it, it felt pretty tiresome. This may be because the real payoff is looking back on the entire thing and putting all of the pieces together instead of just being confused the entire time. There’s that and the fact that Haneke goes a little overboard with long takes of nothing, which he is actually also guilty of in Funny Games, which I love. Caché is a memorable movie that is in the same vein as Hitchcock, but watching it is nowhere near as entertaining as it probably should be.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

8 Oct

I’m gonna just come out and say it. I’ve never Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 samurai classic, Harakiri. That being said, I can’t really compare these two movies. Today, I’m going to be talking about Takashi Miike’s 2011 retelling, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai. I knew that Miike was capable of successfully crafting a samurai movie after his expertly made remake of 13 Assassins. The difference between these films is how he goes about telling the story. 13 Assassins is a quick paced action film that delivers on the goods when it comes to swordplay. Hara-Kiri, on the other hand, is most certainly not an action film. This is a slow paced family drama that tells of how the caste system in this time period spelled doom for the unworthy.

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On a day like any other the House of Li gets a visitor by the name of Tsugumo Hanshiro (Ichikawa Ebizō Xl), a poverty stricken ronin who asks if he may use the house’s courtyard to perform a ritual suicide. Before a decision is made, Hanshiro is told a story about another ronin, Motome (Eita), who came to the house a few months earlier for the same reason. It turns out that he was bluffing in order for pity to be shown on him, and maybe some money given to him. He is brutally killed for this. Hanshiro then tells a story of his own; a story where he reveals his relation to Motome and the reason behind his bluff. Tensions rise as he tells his story of family, death, and his goal of revenge.

This is a strange movie for a director like Takashi Miike to take on considering his filmography, which is out of this world I might add, consisting of over 90 movies. Look at films like AuditionGuzo, and his controversial Masters of Horror film Imprint. These are brutally violent horror films, and while he does work in other genres, he’s known as being one of the leading horror icons in Japanese cinema. Therefore, to even think that he could tackle a dramatic samurai film such as this is surprising. He handles Hara-Kiri like he’s been making movies like this his whole life. This is a legitimately excellent samurai drama that may leave some in the cold who were expecting an action packed movie with memorable sequences of swordplay.

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Ichikawa Ebizō Xl in his role as Hanshiro may actually be the best part of this movie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this actor before, but he reminded me a lot of Toshiro Mifune, the go to actor of Japanese film legend Akira Kurosawa. He brings a feeling of gravity to all of his scenes, whether it’s joyful, angry, or downright somber. Another person who deserves a great deal of credit is Miike’s cinematographer Nobuyasu Kita, who again feels like he could’ve been doing this 50 or 60 years ago when samurai movies were at their height. He makes the scenery really pop in this movie, but also makes the climax of this movie look absolutely beautiful. It was all together a big team effort that really pays off big time in the end.

This is also an interesting samurai movie because it deals with a theme that feels fresh to me. In most of the films involving samurai and their code, their way of life makes them strong and excellent warriors capable of bringing the most powerful of armies to their knees. This is not the case in Hara-Kiri. This film explores the negative side of the samurai code and dares us to think of how honorable they could have actually been. Sure they fought bravely in battle and offered their services, but only to those who were able to pay. The very last line of dialogue sums up the entire movie in a very ironic way, and is an excellent coda to such a thematically powerful film.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is an excellent addition to Takashi Miike’s stunning filmography. The fact that he has made so many quality movies is a pretty remarkable feat. This is not a movie that will leave you on the edge of your seat or one that will it give you a surge of adrenaline. This is a thinking man’s samurai film with themes that question what honor the samurais actually had. If you’re a fan of samurai films or even of Takashi Miike’s work, you have to check out this movie. It sums up his talent pretty damn well.

Irréversible – Review

2 Oct

Well, ladies and gentlemen, here we are again back with that crazy guy Gaspar Noé. It hasn’t been too long since I’ve last reviewed something by this director, but I’ll do a little refresher. His first feature I Stand Alone  and the short film that preceded it, Carne, were pieces of visceral art that are definitely not for the feint of heart. The same can be said of his 2009 trip down a nightmarish rabbit hole, Enter the Void. Now, however, it’s time to look at his notorious film that was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and made him more known internationally, Irréversible. Like his other films, this is difficult to watch, but unlike his other films, it’s so difficult that at times I found it almost unwatchable. While it is graphic, disturbing, and all too brutal it certainly isn’t trash. Just insanely difficult.

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Much like Christopher Nolan’s film Memento, the action in Irréversible happen in reverse chronological order. Alex (Monica Belluci) and Marcus (Vincent Cassel) are a couple who are going to a party with Alex’s old friend, Pierre (Albert Dupontel). The three are having a fine time until Alex, annoyed with Marcus’ intoxication leaves the party. On her way home, she is brutally attacked and raped by a man known as Le Tenia (Jo Prestia), and is soon found by Pierre and Marcus. Marcus then drags Pierre through the underworld of Paris to find where Le Tenia is and get revenge for what he did to Alex and potentially ruining her life and the lives of the three friends.

To get an idea of the intensity of this movie for all those who haven’t seen it, Newsweek called Irréversible the most walked out of movie of the year. People were even leaving during the Cannes Film Festival. Imagine that, people walking out of a movie that was nominated for the festival’s most prestigious prize. It is quite clear that Noé did this on purpose with a lot of fancy film making and editing. The first thing that I noticed was how the camera flew all over the place, following all the action seamlessly, and edited all together to create the illusion of really long takes. He used this same style again in Enter the Void. The camera flies in and out of cars, flips, spins, etc. As if that’s not disorienting enough, the first 30 minutes or so of the movie as a continuous 28Hz droning that actually has a physical effect on humans that make us feel uncomfortable or even sick.

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A lot of credit has to go to the people that were involved in helping Noé’s vision, disturbing as it is, to the screen. Rodolphe Chabrier had what seemed like a really tedious job as this film’s visual effects supervisor. It was his job to fix up all of the crazy, illusory long takes and make the camera look like it’s doing all of the acrobatics almost naturally. There’s a lot more visual effects in this movie than it may seem on the surface, but there were many scenes that had to be cleaned and other actions tweaked. Much props also go to Belluci, Cassel, and Dupontel. Cassel has this intense approach to his acting when appropriate and is menacing for part of this movie, while Dupontel works well as the more hesitant of the two. They work very well off each other and give commendable performances even during the quieter scenes. Belluci deserves more praise than most actresses for stepping up to the challenge of this role and also performing it in such a realistic way. The brutal attack scene is made all the more difficult by how outstanding her ability to act really is.

I may have talked about this before, but it’s something that gets me heated. Many people have condemned Irréversible as trash taken to the most extreme. They seem to be implying that there is no room for films that are disturbing or graphic or show something that makes people uncomfortable and angry. Movies are supposed to stir emotions, be they good or bad, and the worst movies are the one that leave the viewer feeling nothing in particular. Yes, this movie made me feel very uncomfortable and close to physically ill, but that’s good. The movie did what it was supposed to do. There are many films that are graphic and disturbing and are most certainly just trashy entertainment. There is nothing trashy in this film, just brutally realistic and gritty.

I’m not going to recommend Irréversible, because I feel like there are many people out there who may read this review and not be able to sit through this movie. Normally, I think people should try movies like this out and do their best to push through it, but even I had trouble with the intensity and unflinching vision of this movie. It is extremely well made and acted, once again showing that Gaspar Noé is one of the most under appreciated director working today, while definitely remaining one of the most controversial. Irréversible is gritty, brutal art that should be considered as such, but should never be referred to as trashy.

Elephant – Review

9 Sep

There are many things in life that completely baffle society which leaves us longing for a concrete answer. Many of these things revolve around apparently senseless violence, nonetheless senseless violence against children and teenagers. This is a very difficult topic to make a film about since you would have to walk a thin line between exploitation and dealing with the topic appropriately. Only in the right hands would violence against youth be handled correctly, and thankfully this is the case with Elephant, handled so well by Gus Van Sant. Not only dealing with the violence and horror of school shootings, Van Sant also examines the more microscopic violence and horror of high school and the effects of having so many clashing personalities in so confined a space.

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The morning starts just like any other at Wyatt High School in a quiet suburb in Portland. John (John Robinson) has to deal with being late for school once again because of his alcoholic father. Elias (Elias McConnell) spends his time taking pictures of students and developing them in the dark room. Nathan (Nathan Tyson) and Carrie (Carrie Finklea) worry about something obvious that remains unspoken, and Michelle (Kristen Hicks) worries about fitting in with the other girls. What remains unseen by all of these students are the activities of Alex (Alex Frost) and Eric (Eric Deulen), who are quietly formulating a plan to get revenge for the years of bullying that they have suffered through. Soon, this normally quiet school erupts into violence and bloodshed.

Elephant is one of the most brutal and disturbing films that I have ever seen, and it will probably remain that way until the last movie I ever watch. Many of the films that I have called disturbing certainly still will be, but the realism behind this and the thematic material involved hurts more than most films. This is one of those movies that could literally be sliced from a day of a real, seemingly normal day. This makes sense since Van Sant clearly took inspiration from the tragedy that occurred at Columbine High School. With all of the disturbing content, the most memorable part of this movie in terms of how it’s made, is the amount of really heavy suspense and the way the camera flows through the scenery; a technique that made me feel like I was a character in the movie.

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What Gus Van Sant succeeds at doing with this movie is making the viewer, whoever they may be, feel like they are these active observers in the sense that they move with the characters and see pretty much everything they are doing, but passive in a way that they can’t do anything about it. We follow the characters through the hallways like they are lab rats in a maze who are then faced with variables, Alex and Eric, that completely destroy everything about what they know. We are also never given much information about the characters. We only know just enough about them to know who they are on a basic level. Don’t mistake this for Van Sant turning this into a cold experience. The horror and shock is still felt on a very human level. This is film making at the most excellent.

Another thing that works really well in Elephant are the questions that we are left with. I always like to think about a movie when it’s over, but this one made me want to have a full blown discussion. The title of the movie refers to the famous saying about there being “an elephant in the room,” a saying that is now about the violence that Alex and Eric have, but also about the subject of these events happening in our schools and who to blame. Columbine isn’t an isolated incident, and after each event like it, people are always looking for something or someone to blame. What Gus Van Sant has shown with Elephant is that there really is no easy solution. There are too many things that happen, from the smallest event to the largest tragedy, that can effect someone, especially in this age group. It would be too easy to blame the media or gun control or whatever since there is simply too much to consider.

On every level, Elephant is a success. I believe that this movie should be required viewing, not just to film students trying to learn to hone their craft, but also to a younger generation as a way to show what their actions could do or even to understand the natures of other people. The violence, as disturbing as it is, isn’t senseless and the beautiful camerawork is really something that I could write a whole essay on itself. Elephant is a prime example of a talented film maker showing the level that film as an artistic medium can be taken to, but also how to properly use it as a tool for social awareness.

La Haine – Review

21 Aug

In 1993, a young Zairian man, Makome M’Bowole, was shot in the head at point blank range while being interrogated by the police. The Parisian police claimed that the incident was an act of “self defense” but also “accidental,” which I, along with many others, find hard to believe since Makome was handcuffed to a radiator. This brought about inspiration for young film maker Mathieu Kassovitz, who at just the age of 27 too the Cannes Film Festival by storm with his internationally praised film about social conflict, La Haine. With themes of hatred and ignorance, this film has very well stood the test of time and could be used as an example of social uproar at any point in history or the future.

 

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After a friend of his is brutally beaten into a coma, Vinz (Vincent Cassel) vows to take revenge if he dies. His friends Hubert (Hubert Koundé) and Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) think Vinz is all talk until he reveals that he is in possession of a police officer’s pistol that he stole the night before during a riot. The three friends spend the day together, starting in balieue where they all live but eventually they get to the heart of Paris, but one thing remains the same no matter where they go. The hatred that they carry and the hatred put towards them by the police spark numerous confrontations that could possibly end in violence, which only sparks Vinz’s fury even more.

When La Haine ended and I was left sitting on my couch trying to fully process what I just saw, I realized that this was something that was going to take time. I just couldn’t get a read on it right away, partly because of the intense and realistic approach to the subject matter. This movie has definite inspirations rooted in Italian Neorealism, but I think more so in French New Wave, and a sprinkling of American drama on top. The Neorealism can be seen in the use of predominantly unknown actors and the very on the fly style of film making. The New Wave influence can be seen in the wandering narrative where the three main characters just go about their day traveling through their environments. Finally, the American influence, especially in terms of Scorsese, can be seen in the scenes involving the streets and the inner violent tendencies that make up the characters. One scene in particular where Vinz talks to himself in the mirror is very reminiscent of Taxi Driver.

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This film contains very controversial subject matter, but it was especially controversial when it was filmed and released in the early to mid ’90s. Between 1981 and 1993, fatal incidents caused by the police forces in France were at an all time high leading to all of the riots and hatred that you see in this movie. Kassovitz was inspired by this, but wanted everyone to know that this was also just a movie, especially when violence began happening that seemed to mirror that of the movie. It’s clear that Kassovitz wasn’t taking sides in La Haine, which is the best way to possibly tell this story which is about hate, through and through, on both sides. Interestingly enough, when Kassovitz won best director at the Cannes Film Festival, all of the police outside the theater turned their backs to the cast and crew when they exited. This is silly especially since they didn’t even see the movie, and also this movie is not anti-police.

The story of how the movie was made is just as interesting as the movie itself, as you can see by the inspiration for the movie. Kassovitz’s hard work really pays off with La Haine. This is a beautiful movie to look at and listen to, and all of the mostly unknown actors give it everything they got. Cassel, Koundé, and Taghmaoui are all excellent and have real chemistry together. The setting of the projects is also used to its full advantage, which makes sense since Kassovitz, the actors, and the crew all spent a few months living there to immerse themselves in the environment. All of this technical control and true talent combined with the passion everyone had for this movie really shines in every single frame.

La Haine is Kassovitz’s masterpiece, and with the work that he has been doing recently, I’m worried that he isn’t going to ever find that same passion for a project, as he certainly didn’t with Gothika and Babylon A.D. That doesn’t really matter though. What matters is that La Haine isn’t just a pretty movie that has a cool story. It’s actually a hard hitting, intense movie that leaves the audience with questions to answer about themselves, the film, and society in general. This movie is still talked about close to 20 years after it was first released, as it rightly should be. I loved it.