The film’s relentless violence and graphic fights are almost balletic in the brilliance of their choreography.
One of the most enjoyable aspects about film festivals such as SXSW is the chance to see intimate character portraits like Francine. The film follows a woman (Melissa Leo) who has just been released from prison. We don’t know the crime she committed or how long she has been away, but there are a few clues from which we can draw conclusions. As she attempts to reinsert herself into normal society, Francine struggles to find employment and to make connections with the friendly people who surround her.
Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky, who share writing and directing credits, create a sparsely worded depiction of one woman whose personal issues keep her from succeeding outside of prison. Nothing about Francine’s history or emotional state is explicitly stated, which opens the story up to multiple interpretations about why she was in prison and why she behaves the way she does. Confident in their story, Cassidy and Shatzky are patient in how they pace the film’s progression and the speed with which they reveal information about their protagonist. Reminiscent of Winter’s Bone in terms of dialogue and tone, Francine is exactly the type of movie we hope to see at SXSW every year.
The film’s real power comes from the wonderful performance of Melissa Leo. Despite winning an Academy Award for her role in The Fighter, which likely gave her first choice on a variety of projects, Leo has continued to blow audiences away in indie films such as Francine, becoming one of the most reliably impressive actors working today. While Meryl Streep will undoubtedly continue to get the more notable roles in Hollywood, Leo is likely to continue doing powerful work in indie films such as Francine.
The Do-Deca Pentathlon
No filmmakers consistently gets as warm of a reception at SXSW as Jay and Mark Duplass. The Austin natives have become a staple of the festival with their films The Puffy Chair, Baghead, and Cyrus. This year, the brothers appeared in person to give the world premiere of their film The Do-Deca Pentathlon. Though it is being released in 2012, it was actually filmed in 2009 and put on the back burner as the brothers were given financing to complete their first studio films Cyrus and Jeff Who Lives at Home. Once those movies were completed, they returned to Do-Deca, a film more typical for their style.
The movie focuses on two brothers, Mark (Steve Zissis) and Jeremy (Mark Kelly), who compete in their own 25-event homemade Olympics. This isn’t the first time they have done so, either. Years ago, as teens, they invented the Do-Deca Pentathlon but it ended in controversy, and the brothers’ relationship has never been the same. Now, they decide to engage in the battle again in an effort to settle the argument once and for all.
Credit for the film can’t be given entirely to the Duplass Brothers. The film is actually based on two brothers Mark and Jay knew growing up, who really did create their own Olympic events which they named the Do-Deca Pentathlon. The film is brilliant, because the on-screen siblings engage not just in competitions like basketball, track, and swimming, but also leg wrestling, push ups, and air hockey. The film’s genius is that they fight in each sport with equal determination and seriousness.
Zissis and Kelly are both terrific in their roles, making the characters recognizable to anyone who grew up with a sibling. The Duplass Brothers discussed in a Q&A session how initially the film was going to be a big-budget picture, but prior to shooting they decided it would be inauthentic to the core of the movie and instead filmed it on a much smaller scale. The audience is lucky they made that call, since The Do-Deca Pentathlon is one of the funniest and most honest films at this year’s festival.
The Raid: Redemption
Nothing can prepare you for the adrenaline rush that is The Raid: Redemption. Having its U.S. premiere at SXSW, The Raid is the most amazing collection of martial arts action sequences ever captured on film. The movie makes The Matrix and The Bourne Trilogy look like amateurish imitations of what fight choreography is supposed to be.
Filmed in Indonesia, the movie focuses on a group of special forces police officers who are sent into a dilapidated apartment building that is controlled by a ruthless drug lord. No cops have ever gone inside the building, making it a very dangerous situation for those about to enter. Though the men are told the reason for the mission is to clean up the city by taking down the crime boss, there is much more going on than simply enforcing the law.
Writer/director Gareth Evans has created what will likely become one of the greatest action films of all time. The film’s relentless violence and graphic fights are almost balletic in the brilliance of their choreography. Fight coordinators Yavan Ruhian and Iko Uwais make Jason Bourne look a slow, creaky old man compared to the lightning-fast skills of their actors and fighters. What is even more amazing are performances from Uwais as the film’s protagonist Rama, and Ruhian as Mad Dog, the drug lord’s right-hand man and a certified psychopath.
Whereas fight scenes in movies typically last less than a minute (one exception being the masterful Oldboy), the battles in The Raid can last well over five minutes, making the brutality the men experience that much more gut-wrenching. Evans has proven himself a powerhouse filmmaker with this film, and we can only be grateful that he has announced plans to make The Raid the first installment of a forthcoming trilogy. | Matthew Newlin