Posts Tagged ‘Shailene Woodley’

Surrounded by Wolves

The Mauritanian

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Cast: Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Shailene Woodley, Denis Menochet, Benedict Cumberbatch, Clayton Boyd, Langley Kirkwood

The Last King of Scotland director Kevin Macdonald tackles a divisive subject in his latest film, The Mauritanian, which focuses on the mistreatment of inmates at the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba run by the Americans post 9/11 for the rendition, capture and torture of suspected terrorists linked to the Twin Towers attack in New York in September 2001. 

The Mauritanian was shot in the Western Cape, South Africa in 2019 and features an international cast including French actor Tahar Rahim as the unfortunate prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Rahim’s performance is superb, displaying a levity which conceals the horrific torture that Slahi endured included waterboarding and psychological torture.

To add some significance to the cast, is another brilliant performance by two time Oscar winner Jodie Foster (The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs) as the hard-edged defence attorney Nancy Hollander who is joined by her young assistant Teri Duncan played by Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Fault in my Stars) to build a case for Slahi’s release.

Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) plays American military prosecutor Stuart Couch who is meant to convict Mohemedou Ould Slahi of colluding with the 9/11 terrorists in Germany back when he was living there. Couch’s prosecution rests on the assumption that Slahi is definitely guilty until all the redacted files on his capture and initial confession are released as privileged information for both sides of the law.

Told in a series of flashbacks to Slahi’s childhood in Mauritania which is a North West African country located at the edge of the Sahara Desert, The Mauritanian is a fascinating true story of one man’s wrongful detention and the years it took through justifiable legal processes to release him from Guantanamo Bay.

As a film based on a real life event, director Kevin Macdonald tends to over-emphasize the torture scenes, which are numerous and disturbing and under-emphasizes the American political climate in which the legal case was being conducted in.

Audiences must remember that The Mauritanian is a British film, which justifies the inexplicable casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as a quintessential American complete with a Southern accent. What holds this film together are the two diametrically opposed performances of Jodie Foster as defence lawyer Nancy Hollander and the outstanding Tahar Rahim as the client, Mohemedou Ould Slahi, a foreigner trapped in a strange prison which is above the law, basically a victim surrounded by wolves.

The script for The Mauritanian was not brilliant and the film could have been edited extensively, which explains the reason this BBC film missed the cut at the 2021 Oscar nominations.

The Mauritanian gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is worth watching but comes with a warning of some disturbing torture scenes.

Uber Cool Eighties Mystery

White Bird in a Blizzard

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Director: Gregg Araki

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Shiloh Fernandez, Thomas Jane, Angela Bassett, Christopher Meloni, Gabourey Sidibe, Dale Dickey

The Descendants star Shailene Woodley gives an impressive performance as a sexually charged teenage girl, Kat Connors who discovers her blossoming confidence just as her gorgeous yet unstable mother, Eve, wonderfully played by French actress Eva Green, (The Dreamers, Casino Royale) mysteriously disappears.

Mysterious Skin director Gregg Araki’s startling yet uber cool Eighties drama White Bird in a Blizzard is a bit like Whatever happened to Baby Jane? with a massive twist at the end. So audiences should expect the unexpected.

Assembling a rock star cast including Christopher Meloni as the clueless father, the sumptuous Shiloh Fernandez (Red Riding Hood) as the sexy boy next door, Phil, Gabourey Sidibe star of Precious as Kat Conner’s best friend Beth along with Angela Bassett and Thomas Jane as the grizzled yet carefree police detective. Watch out for a cameo by Sheryl Lee star of the hit TV series Twin Peaks.

White Bird in a Blizzard as seen at the 36th Durban International Film Festival DIFF subverts everything seemingly domestic about the average American life and turns a seemingly mysterious occurrence in suburban California into something far more sinister and ripe with Freudian references.

On every level, this is a bizarre yet highly amusing film, superbly cast with excellent performances by Woodley and Green as they embark on a tortuous mother-daughter relationship which ignores what is primarily occurring under their noses, undermining their own vanities and exploring hidden agendas from all involved. Eva Green is fabulous as the hip mother who receives little attention from her absent-minded husband while envying the sexual exploits of her beautiful teenage daughter, brilliantly played by Shailene Woodley, who proves she is an actress to watch.

white_bird_in_a_blizzard

Woodley’s distinct ability to hold her own throughout such a bizarre film is testament to her ever expanding talent which is sure to flourish in years to come. Araki’s frames each shot in the film with an ironic pathos assisted by a nostalgic and cool Eighties soundtrack which includes Depeche Mode.

Everything about White Bird in a Blizzard is wrong in a seriously dysfunctional way. This is a highly entertaining family drama about one young girls’ slow realization that those people surrounding her are certainly not what they claim to be.

Araki’s film is perverse, fabulous and definitely recommended viewing for those audiences which like their narratives as twisted as the intricacies of the most complex of human relationships.

White Bird in a Blizzard is like a Patricia Highsmith novel on acid with a retro Eighties soundtrack. 

 

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