Nick’s review published on Letterboxd:
Antonio Campos is one of my favorite directors to have emerged revently. His work with the Sinner and as a producer for Borderline Films, has really helped him start to become a real name. From his short film Buy it Now to his most recent feature Christine, his style has really developed beyond the derative formal aspects he seemed hung up on in his early career.
Both Simon Killer and Christine are top tier stuff, despite not getting the attention they probably deserved. Only with the Sinner and this film with its "star studded cast" is he starting to get mainstream attention. Sadly, it seems like he struggled to balance his very cold and austere sensibilities with that of an audience who only watched this because Batman and Spider-Man were in it.
Overall, I think Campos did a really good job once again. As a director, Campos constructs and covers scenes in such a thorough and meticulous way that gets to the heart of the conflict in each scene. His characters don't often need to express what their feeling verbally, because the tone and performances do all of the work. His style, though not as consistent or well-deployed as his previous films, still comes through and navigates the story well.
The way Campos makes the themes of his films visual and emotionally felt, is as good as it has been. The way the pressence of war and violence haunts and circles back, is elegant and efficient in its communication. I cannot repeat ut enough, how brilliantly Campos has used violence in everyone of his films. Despite this film being a bit more theatrical, I was happy to see Campos still using violence in such a mature and thoughtful way.
The not Great:
Despite Campos handleing all of his collaborations with this well as well as he could, I feel there are two things which are pretty shaky and one thing surrounding this film which really brought it down. Number one, the writing. This is an adaptation and adaptations are hard. You need to find a way to make the art of another your own. And I'm not sure Campos found the best way to make this story his own.
Having not read the novel, it seems like Campos was a little too focused on fidelity to the novel. At first I thought the structure was off, but its a pretty simple three act narrative. Even after a few watches now, I can't pin down what about how this is written, is bugging me. Something about the large chunks of story we are given at a time just feels bloated despite each scene feeling just about right. It reminds me a lot of Zahler's Dragged Across Concrete, in that it is this big, meaty, literary monster of a film that feels uneven when its really just a big meal.
Secondly, I really wish Tom Holland wasn't in this, because maybe this wouldn't have led so many people on and twisted thier expectations. He's also kind of bad in this and in general. In a STAR STUDDED CAST like this, he sticks out like a sore thumb as being an actor who just hasn't developed any actual craft. Hes so one note in how simplictically he inhabits his character. So yeah, I can understand people being drawn to this movie for him and being disappointed.
The writing and Holland aside, the thing that I think hurt this movie the most has nothing to do with the film, but the marketing and expectations surrounding this film. The "star studded cast" (what a shitty turn of phrase) was the only thing being marketed, so of course, that's all anyone is gonna know about.
So now expectations are that this is a gritty movie with Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson when in reality, its more of an ensemble film about cyclical violence. I just don't understand the reaction that Riley Keough and Jason Clark aren't given enough.
Nobody seems mad (except for me) about the b-story in Naked, which I find very similar to the threading of the story. I get if you thought it was boring, thats fair. But being mad that all of the cast isn't given enough just feels wrong.
Each character is built out to fit their role well with the exception of Mia Wasikowska. She has such an incredible screen pressence and it did bug me how little she was given to do, esspecially after seeing her Piercing. Even then, I think she does great and fits her characters purpose. But Riley Keough is certainly given enough to do, and certainly fills her role and purpose in this film incredibly.
It just kind of feels like peoples expectations and attachment to the actors were more important to them than the actual movie. No matter how you shift around the focus on characters, this same crowd of people will still be let down. Campos, by virtue of casting Holland, ensured a certain crowd of people were going be disatisfied.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Campos is one of the best working directors and by the end of career will go down as one of the most interesting filmmakers of his time. In the end, I'm just glad people watched this. I think its a great film despite maybe not being a great Campos film. It sucks this didn't really work for a lot of people but hopefully, rather than making people shy away from Campos and Borderline Films, this will introduce some folks to Campos.