From the London Film Festival: 1%, Lean on Pete and Foxtrot
1% is about large men in leather jackets with big beards, but also big emotions?! The film involves a biker gang whose president has been in prison for three years. During his absence his deputy has been in charge. Now that he has been released tensions rise. This is aggravated when the deputy’s brother is caught stealing from a rival biker gang. In exchange for his life, the deputy must convince the president to enter into a one sided deal with the rival gang.
It’s all fairly conventional. If you’ve seen any Shakespeare, or watched any mafia movies then you’ll be very familiar with the power struggle at the top motifs. There are some interesting elements to differentiate it from your typical crime movie, however. Abbey Lee plays the deputies girlfriend and is a terrifying Lady Macbeth figure. Her assertiveness and quiet menace are very special. Similarly, the president’s wife Hayley is excellent as the tough matriarch of the group.
But ultimately it doesn’t really feel like we get under the skin of these big lads. They have some intriguing qualities. The president has discovered his homosexuality in prison which causes him understandable tension with his wife. Meanwhile, the deputy has a brother with learning difficulties who constantly causes problems for him. All very interesting, you might say. Unfortunately these aspects of the characters’ lives are regarded as weaknesses that render their ambitions ineffective.
There’s also little depth to the world of the film. Everybody wears leather jackets and fights a lot but what exactly does this biker gang do? There’s talk of legitimising the business but they don’t even get involved with drugs. There’s the club, but that seems to only be frequented by members of the gang. Again, what do they do? There’s no sense that this is an actual gang.
1% is a tired story with some interesting window dressing. It’s brutal, violent, but lacks anything to make it original or memorable.
‘Lean on Pete’
Lean on Pete is a powerfully emotional, coming of age epic. Charlie Plummer plays Charley Thompson, a 16 year old boy who lives with his Dad, Ray. Struggling to make ends meet, Charley goes out and finds a job working for horse racer Del (Steve Buscemi). He soon bonds with the horse “Lean on Pete”. As Charley’s life is upended, his bond with Pete deepens leading to them undertaking an impossible journey together.
During the film I recalled Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, and specifically The Crossing which has a similar plot. As the story changed it felt reminiscent of a Dardenne’s Brothers film. Ultimately, I realised that this film just put in mind all of the great stories that really seemed to capture the emotions of being truly poor in a modern first world country. Moments of triumph and despair for Charlie during his journey are deeply affecting.
Charlie Plummer is extraordinary in the lead role. His vulnerability and earnestness are very endearing, making the tragedies that befall him (tragedies such as meeting Steve Zahn) all the more heart-breaking. Supporting roles are also incredibly natural, including a wonderful turn from Steve Buscemi as the jaded horse owner, and Chloe Sevigny as his long suffering Jockey.
The constantly changing story really kept me engaged. The nature of Charlie’s journey changes throughout, and is never predictable. The script by director Andrew Haigh (director of the quiet British film, 45 Years) feels very natural. Haigh’s flexibility as a director also deserves credit as he has just as evocatively captured rural America as he did little England. The direction and photography are beautifully understated. There are some breathtaking shots of the American wild but all the more often we’re confined in tiny rundown settings.
Andrew Haigh has written and directed another intimate and personal drama full of heart wrenching poignant moments.
5 / 5
Foxtrot is one of the most interesting and unusual war movies I’ve seen since…well Dunkirk. Well, it has been a good year for war movies!
Foxtrot begins with a father being told that his son has been killed. The first act of the film follows his attempts to deal with this grief. The second shows a few days in the life of his unit as they guard a worthless checkpoint in the middle of nowhere. The third act, which begins with a gorgeous animated segment, returns to the family.
In splitting it’s time between the Israeli war zone and the family in Tel Aviv, Foxtrot manages to really capture the dissonance between the two fronts. Ironically most of the drama happens on the home front, which is where most of the emotional melodrama unfolds. The excellent scenes in the war zone are slow and emphasise the monotony of the men’s existence. These sequences have a bizarre aesthetic, looking like something out of a dystopian sci-fi movie. The scenes outside of the war zone have a quality of overbearing claustrophobia.
It’s hard for me to say which sequences I enjoyed most. Aspects that are common to both sides of the narrative are beautiful direction, realistic performances and a real playfulness to the cinematography. Filming from directly above the character is a great way of showing how trapped they are. Similarly scenes set in a sinking shipping container have a real Wes Anderson quality to them.
A surprising quality of the film is how funny it is. In many ways this is a dark comedy with the absurdity of war an ever present idea. Even in the early scenes of the father being told that his son has died we have these bizarre army officers, each with specific functions, appearing in succession to awkwardly guide the family through the process. The growing significance of an errant camel is only one such aspect of surreal but bleak humour. Sometimes the film recalls Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.
This is a very subversive but assured war movie that really highlights the absurdity and tragedy of prolonged conflict. A truly great war movie and a truly great drama film.
5 / 5