With all the visceral energy of a punk gig, Green Room is a tense, tightly plotted and extremely violent drama about a band in the wrong place at the wrong time
American indie director Jeremy Saulnier is rapidly proving himself to be the most exciting genre filmmaker around. Breaking through with his self-funded anti-revenge movie Blue Ruin two years ago, he makes good on that film’s promise with Green Room (*****), an intense siege movie that gives familiar tropes a blistering makeover courtesy of a precision-engineered plot, a thorough understanding of the world in which it’s set and a gnarly and uncompromising approach to violence.
Revolving around a hardcore punk band who ill-advisedly accept a paying gig at a club that turns out to be the backwoods headquarters for a white supremacist hate group, the film’s relentless tension kicks into gear when the band (led by Anton Yelchin) witness a crime and find themselves locked in the titular green room as the club’s ruthlessly pragmatic owner – a menacing Patrick Stewart – sets about covering his employees’ tracks. What follows gets really brutal really fast, with both sides responding to the situation with the frantic sloppiness of desperate people trying their best to keep things from spinning further out of their control.
Attention to detail is key here and the film has the disciplined energy of the music at its heart: the action comes in short, sharp, ugly bursts and the DIY violence – involving box-cutters, fire-extinguishers, attack dogs and shotguns – is all the more disturbing for the way Saulnier keeps his shots of its visceral after-effects brief and to the point. Instead of lingering on them with his camera, he lets the images linger in the mind, which makes them more disturbing. There’s no fat on the characters either. As a punk caught on the fringes of the Neo Nazi scene, Imogen Poots has, at most, a line to explain why she’s there: what’s important is that her character finds herself in this situation and responds to it in a way that makes sense to her at this particular moment. This is a film that defines character through ruthless action, which enhances the experiential effect Saulnier is going for. This is straight-for-the-jugular filmmaking, not passive entertainment.
Punks also pop up in Richard Linklater’s new film Everybody Wants Some!! (****) but there the similarity mostly ends. A so-called “spiritual sequel” to Dazed & Confused revolving around a group of college baseball players congregating over the first weekend of the new academic year, the film serves up a hugely enjoyable ode to the value of hanging out at the one time in your life where you’re free from both the constraints of high school and the pressures of proper adulthood.
Set in 1980, it’s essentially a raucous campus comedy, and yet because it’s also a Linklater film, it quietly subverts all the clichés, revealing itself – like Dazed… before it – to be a much more thoughtful film about a group of characters too often reduced to easy stereotypes. Starting with Linklater cipher Jake (Blake Jenner), a good-looking pitcher who arrives at college with a crate of vinyl, Everybody Wants Some!! filters its view of college life through the kings of the school. On paper that might sound retrogressive, but it’s actually fascinating to see a different side to these alpha males as they obsess over sex and baseball, putting as much effort into their outfits as their curveballs. Of the mostly unknown cast, Glen Powell is the standout as the adaptable-to-any-situation Finnegan (he’s as comfortable in a punk mosh pit as he is in a disco), but as an ensemble they’re just incredibly likeable, funny and endearing – much like the film.
Anyone who wants a corrective to all that testosterone will find it in the Turkish-set, Oscar-nominated Mustang (****), a wondrous movie about a family of five orphaned sisters whose naturally rebellious natures cause them increasingly desperate problems as they collide with the strictures of a patriarchal community. Making a mockery of Turkish society’s determination to make women compliant automatons, its protagonists’ predicament is no joke as their prison-like home is transformed into a “bride factory” by their grandmother and uncle before the girls – winningly played by a cast of non-professionals – have had much chance to experience anything of life in the wider world.
The symbolism of the title is perfect here – particularly in relation to Günes Sensoy’s irresistible performance as the youngest member of the clan. As bleak as things get, debut director Deniz Gamze Ergüven revels in the exuberance of her principal protagonists, ensuring this remains a hopeful celebration of life lived under trying circumstances.
On the subject of trying circumstances, Our Kind of Traitor (**) casts Ewan McGregor as a poetry professor recruited by MI6 to bring a Russian mafia accountant (Stellan Skarsgärd) in from the cold. Adapted from John Le Carré’s 2010 money-laundering-themed novel of the same name, the film may have added topicality in light of the recent Panama Papers scandal, but neither the plot nor the characters seem particularly plausible on the big screen. Skarsgärd over-acts wildly as the Russian determined to get his family to safety in return for supplying incriminating information. McGregor, meanwhile, struggles to make screenwriter Hossein Amini’s exposition-heavy dialogue sound natural. Without the budget of Bond or Bourne, director Susana White does her best to create a world that’s sleek, sexy and exciting, but it all looks a bit like a package holiday travelogue. Only Damien Lewis’s turn as an MI6 spymaster forced to go rogue has the right mix of intrigue and intelligence one expects from a good Le Carré adaptation.