Review: ‘Kindred,’ starring Tamara Lawrance, Jack Lowden and Fiona Shaw

November 27, 2020

by Carla Hay

Fiona Shaw and Tamara Lawrance in “Kindred” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Kindred”

Directed by Joe Marcantonio

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed rural part of England, the dramatic thriller “Kindred” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with one black person and one Indian person) representing the working-class, the middle-class and the wealthy.

Culture Clash: After the father of her unborn child dies, a pregnant woman is held captive by the domineering paternal grandmother who wants to raise the child as her own.

Culture Audience: “Kindred” will appeal primarily to people who are looking for an artsier, British version of a Lifetime movie, but without a predictable ending.

Chloe Pirrie, Fiona Shaw, Tamara Lawrance and Jack Lowden in “Kindred” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

Just like the pregnant protagonist in “Kindred” is essentially imprisoned by her unborn child’s domineering grandmother, viewers will often be frustrated by how this dramatic film can hold people hostage with the hope that things will get better for the protagonist. “Kindred” succeeds in conveying the stifling atmosphere of someone being held captive, under the guise of “it’s for your own good.” But this oppressive tone is almost to a fault, because parts of the movie drag with too much repetition and the sense that the captured heroine could’ve made better choices to get out of her predicament. The movie’s ending will disappoint a great deal of the audience who might be expecting something more formulaic.

However, what will keep most viewers interested in the movie are the compelling performances of the two actresses who portray the women at the center of this power struggle over an unborn child. “Kindred” (which takes place in England) shows hints of being a horror film, but it’s mostly a dramatic thriller about a family feud. It’s one of those movies where the villain doesn’t think she’s evil but sincerely believes that what’s she’s doing is morally right and in the best interest of her family.

“Kindred” is the feature-film debut of director Joe Marcantonio, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jason McClogan. There are parts of the movie where you have to wonder if the screenwriters actually consulted with enough women (especially any women who’ve been pregnant) for some level of authenticity, because some of the actions of the expectant mother in this story just don’t ring true for a pregnant woman who’s trying to save herself and her unborn child. Or maybe this is just a case of a movie that knows it’s got to fill up its feature-length time by having the protagonist make dumb decisions.

At any rate, the movie’s target audience seems to be primarily women, and yet the filmmakers aren’t too concerned with filling in some blanks about the main characters that women usually like to know about for movies like “Kindred.” The movie largely redeems itself in a scene with a heart-to-heart conversation between the heroine and the chief villain to fill in some of those blanks. (It’s the best scene in the movie.) But the romance that sets off the series of events in this movie is barely explained.

In the beginning of “Kindred,” Ben Clayton (played by Edward Holcroft) and his live-in girlfriend Charlotte (played by Tamara Lawrance), who appear to be in their late 20s or early 30s, are getting ready to go over to his widowed mother’s house for a visit that the couple is dreading. Ben tells Charlotte, “She’s going to hate me,” as an indication that they’re going to tell his mother some news that will make her angry and/or sad. Charlotte replies, “Stop worrying. It’s going to be okay.”

Unfortunately, the movie never mentions why Ben and Charlotte are together and for how long. It would certainly go a long way in explaining why viewers are supposed to believe that this couple is compatible and have made a life-changing choice that they are now going to tell Ben’s mother: Ben and Charlotte are planning to move to Australia. Viewers are supposed to assume that Ben and Charlotte are a happy couple just because they’re together, without getting any sense of what Ben and Charlotte might have in common or what their life goals are when they get to Australia.

Ben and Charlotte arrive at his mother’s house, which is a very large manor in an unnamed rural part of England. Ben is very nervous, while Charlotte is much calmer. Ben’s bossy mother Margaret (played by Fiona Shaw) isn’t the only one in the house who’s got him on edge. There’s a man named Thomas (played by Jack Lowden) who lives there and who’s about the same age as Ben.

Thomas has a very odd relationship with Margaret, who treats Thomas like a son but also treats him like a servant who’s at her beck and call, 24 hours a day. Thomas acts as the house’s butler, chef and handyman. He’s very amiable and eager-to-please, but it’s clear that he will do anything that Margaret tells him to do. Charlotte later finds out the hard way.

Ben is noticeably jealous of Thomas, especially when Margaret describes Thomas as Ben’s “brother.” Ben is quick to reply every time: “He’s not my brother.” It doesn’t come out until later in this movie (and this isn’t really a spoiler) why Thomas is living with Margaret.

Ben’s father William died of cancer when he was a child. Years later, when Ben was a teenager, Margaret got romantically involved with an abusive man, who came to live in the manor with his son. That son was Thomas.

It’s never made clear in the movie if Margaret actually married this abusive man, but she describes the relationship later in the movie as “the biggest mistake of my life.” It also explains why she treats Thomas like a son, because Thomas has lived with Margaret, ever since he and his father moved into the house. Thomas’ father died years ago when Thomas was a teenager. His cause of death is revealed in the movie.

This reason for why Thomas is considered “family” to Margaret isn’t revealed until the last third of the film, but it actually would’ve been better to have revealed this information sooner in the film. Up until then, viewers have to keep guessing how Thomas came into Margaret’s life, why she treats Thomas like a son, and why she’s closer to Thomas than she is to her own biological son.

When Ben and Charlotte tell Margaret their big news about moving to Australia, Margaret predictably takes it very hard. She can’t believe that Ben wouldn’t want to stay in England and live at the manor, which he is sure to inherit from her. Ben tells his mother that he doesn’t care about the manor. Margaret gets so upset that she abruptly leaves the room. Thomas invites them to stay for the lunch that was prepared, but Ben and Charlotte decide that the visit has already gone badly, so they both decide to leave.

It’s never really stated what Ben does for a living, but Charlotte works as an outdoor employee at a farm. All the movie shows her doing at work is shoveling hay at a horse stable, when she suddenly vomits. Her co-worker Jane (played by Chloe Pirrie) is nearby and comes to her aid. Charlotte is feeling dizzy, so they decide to go to the nearest hospital to get Charlotte some medical assistance.

Charlotte then gets some news that’s a surprise to her but not a surprise to anyone who knows that when a woman of childbearing age suddenly vomits and feels dizzy in a movie, chances are that means she’s pregnant. Charlotte doesn’t have her own doctor because the doctor who ends up treating her during this pregnancy is named Dr. Richards (played by Anton Lesser), who seems to be the chief doctor in this small-town medical facility. Charlotte meets Dr. Richards for the first time during this hospital visit. And what do you know? He happens to be Margaret’s doctor too.

Why doesn’t Charlotte have her own doctor in a nation with universal health care? It’s never explained why, but viewers can speculate that Charlotte probably mistrusts doctors because Charlotte’s mother (who is either dead or totally estranged from her) had a history of mental illness. Her mother, who used to be a piano teacher, was diagnosed with perinatal psychosis and postpartum depression. In other words, the mental illness was exacerbated by the pregnancy and birth of Charlotte.

Needless to say, Charlotte had a very unhappy childhood. It’s never explained who really raised Charlotte and at what point in her life Charlotte cut off communication with her mother. But it’s clear, based on Charlotte’s negative reaction to finding out that she’s pregnant, Charlotte doesn’t think that she’s ready to become a mother and she has some deep-seated fears that she could pass on mental-illness genes to her unborn child. One of the first things that she asks Dr. Richards when he tells her that she’s pregnant is how she can get an abortion. He advises her to discuss the pregnancy with Ben first.

But Charlotte doesn’t really get a chance to do that, because by the time she returns home to the modest cottage that she shares with Ben, he has already decorated it with pregnancy congratulations. How did Ben find out? Dr. Richards told Margaret about Charlotte’s pregnancy, and Margaret told Ben.

It’s a blatant violation of patient/doctor confidentiality and something that could get a doctor in trouble. Charlotte knows that, and she half-jokingly says that she could report Dr. Richards for this violation. Ben’s enthusiasm over the pregnancy slowly makes her change her mind about having an abortion. However, she ignores this red flag that the doctor would go behind her back and violate her patient privacy.

Although Charlotte changes her mind about the abortion and decides to keep the baby, one thing that she hasn’t changed her mind about is moving to Australia with Ben. Margaret assumes that Ben and Charlotte will get married before the baby is born and that the couple will want to stay in England and live in the manor, but Margaret is wrong about all of those assumptions. Ben and Charlotte are firm in telling her that they have no plans to get married and they are still moving to Australia.

Charlotte and Ben try to comfort Margaret by telling her that they can still keep in touch through visits and videoconferencing, but Margaret flies into a rage and tells them how ungrateful they are and that they’re making a big mistake. Margaret screams, “You are not stealing my flesh and blood to go to the other side of the planet!” Margaret also cruelly says that it would be easier for Charlotte to decide to move to Australia because Charlotte has no family, but Margaret can’t understand why Ben would want to move.

Ben and Charlotte reach a stalemate with Margaret, but the couple remains in solidarity to continue with what was planned. Their lives take a tragic turn when Ben is doing some work in a stable, he accidentally gets kicked in the head by a horse, and he dies in the hospital. Charlotte and Margaret are devastated, of course. Thomas is also saddened, but Ben’s death doesn’t affect him as deeply as it does Margaret and Charlotte.

When they get the news at the hospital that Ben has died, Margaret blurts out to Charlotte that it’s Charlotte’s fault that Ben died. Charlotte becomes enraged and lunges at Margaret and starts to strangle her. Thomas is able to break up the altercation by pulling Charlotte off of Margaret. The implication is clear: Charlotte can be a tough and violent fighter, but she doesn’t really act that way for most of the movie.

Charlotte doesn’t have any family or friends to turn to during her overwhelming grief. And she gets more bad news a few days later when Margaret tells her that Ben had stopped paying the mortgage on the cottage (which was in his name) and it’s being sold in foreclosure. Really? That quickly? This is the part of the movie where a lot of viewers might yell at the screen that Margaret is probably lying.

After all, it’s clear that Ben feared and mistrusted his mother so much that he wanted to move far, far away from her and sever any financial ties he had to her. It doesn’t make sense that Charlotte would blindly trust Margaret, even though Margaret makes a half-hearted apology for the mean-spirited remarks that she previously made. And then if you factor in that Dr. Richards can’t be trusted either, you have a recipe for disaster.

Meanwhile, Thomas has already gone to the cottage, packed up Charlotte’s possessions, and brought them to the manor. Charlotte agrees to temporarily stay at the manor until the child is born. The movie makes it looks like Charlotte is so consumed with grief that she can’t be bothered to find another place to live.

However, “Kindred” has a major plot hole because Charlotte never bothers to look into Ben’s financial affairs now that she’s going to be a single mother raising his child. Did Ben have a will? Did he have life insurance? Did Charlotte and Ben have any joint bank accounts? What are the laws in England when it comes to what a child can inherit if the parents were not married but living together in a common-law domestic partner situation?

These are the things an expectant mother in Charlotte’s situation would think about if the father of her child suddenly dies. But these issues are never mentioned in “Kindred.” It’s why the biggest flaw of this movie is how it treats Charlotte as if she’s an idiot.

Charlotte’s willful ignorance kind of contradicts this image that the filmmakers want Charlotte to have of someone who’s been on her own for a while and supposedly knows how to take care of herself. You’d never know it though, by the way they portray Charlotte as this helpless, pitiful and broken person who lets Margaret take over her life.

Faster than you can say “weak-willed doormat,” Margaret convinces Charlotte that her only option is to stay in the manor until the baby is born. Margaret tells Charlotte that she can still move to Australia after the baby is born, but viewers watching this movie can easily see that Margaret has no intention of letting that happen.

Charlotte and Ben being in an interracial relationship is never mentioned as a problem for old-fashioned and stuck-up Margaret. Margaret seems to have more of a problem with Charlotte being from a lower social class than Ben, and she doesn’t want her grandchild in a working-class environment. Margaret expresses some sexism when she openly declares to Charlotte that she hopes that the child will be a boy.

Margaret tells Charlotte that Dr. Richards has ordered Charlotte to be on strict bed rest until the baby is born. But there’s more than just bed rest that Margaret and Thomas use as a means to keep Charlotte confined to the manor. And sure enough, Charlotte soon finds out that the front gates to the manor are padlocked with heavy chains.

Charlotte gets scolded by Margaret for requests to go outside for a simple walk on the manor’s property or to visit Ben’s grave (he’s buried on the property next to his father) or to do anything outside of the manor. In the rare instances where Charlotte is allowed to leave the house, Thomas must always accompany her. Charlotte becomes more isolated to the point where she’s not even allowed to visit Dr. Richards for prenatal care. Against Charlotte’s objections, Margaret has decided that Charlotte will give birth at the manor, not in a hospital.

And things take a very sinister and creepy turn when Charlotte suspects that she is being drugged. On one occasion, she finds remnants of a crushed pill in the tea that Thomas gives her. And Thomas tells her that she wakes up screaming from nightmares, but she can’t remember ever doing it.

And one morning, she wakes up and is startled to find a fully clothed Thomas sleeping next to her in bed, on top of the bed covers. He’s apologetic but he tells her that she had nightmares the night before and begged him to stay with her. It’s another incident that Charlotte says that she doesn’t remember.

Does Charlotte try to escape? Of course, she does. But she makes some really bad, bungling decisions that get in the way of her escape efforts. Does she try to call for help? During the chaotic ride to the hospital when Ben got injured, Thomas claimed that Charlotte’s phone was broken. He promises to get it fixed, but he never does. And when she does get access to a phone, she doesn’t call the police. She turns to other people for help, and that ends up being a very big mistake.

“Kindred” tries to bring some spooky elements into the story, by constantly featuring crows showing up outside at suspenseful moments. And when Charlotte is sleeping, an image of a horse keeps appearing, but it’s implied that horse is part of her dreams. There’s no real supernatural meaning for any of these animals. Margaret isn’t a secret witch and this isn’t a horror story about the manor being haunted by evil spirits.

Instead, the movie goes back to the same repetition of Charlotte trying to think of ways to escape and her efforts somehow being thwarted. Does Charlotte escape? Does she give birth? And if so, what happens to the baby?

Those questions are answered in the movie, which is mainly worth watching for the battle of wills between the heroine and the villain, since Lawrance and Shaw give performances that add depth to their roles that would have been too shallow if portrayed by less-talented actresses. These performances elevate the quality of “Kindred,” which has a lot of characteristics of being a mediocre “woman in peril” movie that will leave some viewers cold.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “Kindred” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on November 6, 2020.

Review: ‘Capone,’ starring Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Noel Fisher, Jack Lowden, Matt Dillon and Kyle MacLachlan

May 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

Tom Hardy in “Capone” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Capone”

Directed by Josh Trank

Culture Representation: Taking place in Miami Beach in 1947, the drama “Capone” has a predominantly white cast (with some Latino representation) and tells the story of the last year in the life of notorious mobster Al Capone.

Culture Clash: Suffering from neurosyphilis, a demented Capone has flashbacks to his gangster life and has conflicts with family members over his failing health.

Culture Audience: “Capone” will appeal mainly to people who are fascinated with famous American mobsters, but this incoherent movie gives little insight into Capone’s last days.

Tom Hardy in “Capone” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Just like the way that the title character acts in the movie, the dramatic film “Capone” is a lumbering, stumbling mess that has trouble focusing and has difficulty finding a purpose. Tom Hardy, who seems to be attracted to playing a lot of menacing characters who mumble a lot, is notorious Chicago gangster Alphonse “Al” Capone in the film. The once-powerful mob boss is a shadow of his former self in the last year of his life in 1947, when Capone was a 48-year-old recluse with neurosyphilis at his mansion in Miami Beach.

“Capone” (written, directed and edited by Josh Trank) is basically a 103-minute slog through various scenes of Capone (who insists that people call him Fonz, not Al) either hallucinating, having angry outbursts, or losing control of his bodily functions. Hardy—in grotesque makeup that makes him look like something out of a horror movie—gives it his best shot at delivering an earnest performance of Capone on a downward spiral, physically and mentally. But, unfortunately, the film is so poorly written and directed that “Capone” will be considered one of the low points of Hardy’s career.

There is no real plot to the movie, which takes place almost entirely at the mansion where Capone (released early from prison for tax evasion) is holed up with his loyal wife Mae (played by Linda Cardellini) and employees, including his main goon Gino (played by Gino Cafarelli).  Instead of having a coherent story, the movie is supposed to be more like a fever dream that culminates in a machine-gun massacre that didn’t happen in real life.

At different parts of the film, Capone has visions of himself as a child. And there are scenes of him having elaborate dinners with relatives that include his son Junior (played by Noel Fisher), who spends most of the film looking mournful over his father’s pathetic decline. And throughout the movie, a character named Tony (played by Mason Guccione), who’s supposed to be Capone’s long-lost son, keeps calling from Cleveland. Sometimes, Tony talks on the phone when he calls, and other times he calls and says nothing. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

There’s a character named Dr. Karlock (played by Kyle MacLachlan), who occasionally comes to visit and fret about Capone’s declining health. When the doctor tells Capone’s relatives that cigar-loving Capone has to give up smoking, the relatives act as if the news is as bad as getting a limb amputated. The doctor suggests that Capone chew on a carrot as a substitute for a cigar, and Karlock demonstrates how it can be done. In response, Gino mocks the doctor for looking like Bugs Bunny. However, for the rest of the movie, viewers will see the bizarre spectacle of Hardy trying to look tough with a carrot in his mouth.

There’s also a laughable scene where Capone is watching “The Wizard of Oz” in a private screening room, when he gets up and sings along to the Cowardly Lion song “If I Were King of the Forest.” In the scene, Cardellini has a hard time keeping a straight face. And most people watching will either laugh or be horrified that Hardy (who’s capable of doing Oscar-caliber work) sunk this low to do this poor-quality film that’s so bad, it’s almost campy.

Capone also has a friend that comes to visit named Johnny (played by Matt Dillon), whose history with Capone isn’t really explained, except that it’s implied that they’ve known each other since before he was in prison. And they know each other well enough for Capone to confide in Johnny while they’re on a fishing trip that Capone has $10 million hidden, but he can’t remember where he hid the money.

But is this real or all in Capone’s head? That question can be asked about many things in the movie. While Johnny drives the car that they take to the fishing trip, Capone is disguised as a woman because he’s paranoid about the government agents who are on his property and watching his every move. If the world needed to see a movie with Capone in drag, you now have writer/director Trank to thank for that.

Trank, by the way, cast himself in “Capone” in a cameo as a FBI agent named Clifford Harris, who accompanies another FBI agent named Stone Crawford (played by Jack Lowden) when they visit the ailing Capone at his home. The FBI agents are on a fruitless quest to get Capone to reveal the secret places where he might have hidden a fortune worth millions. Capone’s attorney Harold Mattingly (played by Neal Brennan) sits in on this pointless interview, and answers most of the questions on behalf of Capone, who can barely grunt answers to the questions.

And then there’s Capone’s nasty temper. He yells at the Latino employees who do yard work on his property, and shouts at one of them that if he touches a certain statue, he’ll blow his head off. While on the fishing trip with Johnny, Capone shoots an alligator for “stealing his fish.” And something as simple as seeing Gino eating at the dinner table is enough to set off Capone, who flings the tablecloth and food, and stomps around and howls like a gorilla that’s been stung by a bee.

Capone is also verbally abusive to his wife Mae. When he spits on her, she hits him so hard that he falls down and hits his head on a hard-surface floor. There’s no purpose to this scene, except to put some of the blame on Mae for the head injury that further causes Capone’s mental deterioration. Like many things in the movie, do not assume that any of it happened in real life.

And that’s not all the violence in the film. Capone has flashbacks or hallucinations about fatal shootings and brutal stabbings. There’s also a scene where he hallucinates that Johnny has pried his own eyes out and served the bloody eyeballs to Capone on a bedsheet. What’s the point of all this gore? Nothing, really, except to remind people that this is supposed to be a movie about a gangster.

Even the most die-hard fans of Hardy will have their patience tested by watching this mindless film, which has moments that are downright embarrassing to everyone involved in the movie. One can only assume that Hardy was attracted to this “Capone” role for a chance to play dress-up as one of the most famous American mobsters of all time. But he’s reduced to being a grunting, marble-mouthed caricature that can barely put a thought together. The movie has no impactful flashbacks that show Capone in his prime, except for a silly scene that has Capone imagining himself at a party where he gets up on stage with the band leader to sing Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill.”

The blame for this sewage dump of a movie lies mostly with writer/director/editor Trank, whose previous film was the 2015 remake of “Fantastic Four,” another stagnant and messy flop. An epilogue in “Capone” says that most of Capone’s relatives changed their names after he died. After making the disastrous “Capone,” Trank might want to think about changing his name too.

Vertical Entertainment released “Capone” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on digital and VOD on May 12, 2020.