Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy, in 1957, the dramatic film “Ferrari” (based on the non-fiction book “Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races”) features an all-white cast of characters portraying the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: Enzo Ferrari deals with various challenges in his career and personal life, including financial problems for his family-owned Ferrari car company and juggling his volatile marriage to his wife with his other family that he has with his mistress.
Culture Audience: “Ferrari” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and biographical dramas about powerful people.
“Ferrari” goes down many familiar roads that biopics take when they’re about egotistical business moguls with messy personal lives. Adam Driver gives a capable performance as Enzo Ferrari. The movie fares better on a technical level than an emotional level. Some of the movie’s scenes look authentic, while other scenes look overly contrived for drama’s sake.
Directed by Michael Mann and written by Troy Kennedy Martin, “Ferrari” is based on Brock Yates’ 1991 non-fiction book “Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races.” In the “Ferrari” movie, the story is condensed to the year 1957, when Enzo Ferrari was going through various crises and challenges. “Ferrari” had its world premiere at the 2023 Venice International Film Festival and its North American premiere at the 2023 New York Film Festival.
“Ferrari” begins by showing black and white footage of Enzo as a young man in a racing car. The movie then abruptly jumps to 1957. Enzo is now 59 years old and leading a double life that will put his marriage in jeopardy. Enzo wakes up in bed next to his mistress Lina Lardi (played by Shailene Woodley), who has a semi-secret son with him named Piero.
It’s morning, and Enzo rushes out of the house to drive quickly back to the home that he shares with his fiery-tempered wife Laura Ferrari (played by Penélope Cruz), who is very angry because she knows that Enzo has spent the night with another woman. Laura won’t find out how serious this extramarital affair is until much later. And this revelation will affect her decision on what to do about her marriage to Enzo.
After Enzo arrives at his marital home, Laura then proceeds to shoot a pistol at Enzo, with the bullet hitting a wall near his head. In her rage, Laura reminds Enzo that they had an agreement: He could spend the night wherever he wants, as long as he gets home in time before the couple’s maid brings the morning coffee. The maid has already arrived.
If the maid didn’t suspect that Enzo is having an extramarital affair, she now knows because she is in the room to witness Laura’s ranting. For the rest of the movie, it’s a tug of war between Enzo and Laura over not only their marriage but also control of the Ferrari car empire. Laura has an ownership stake in the company. And she gave a lot of company’s first investment money when it was a fledgling business.
Laura and Enzo have other problems in their marriage besides his infidelity. Their relationship has never been the same, ever since the death of their son Alfredo Ferrari, who died of kidney failure in 1956, at the age of 24. Enzo and Laura are grieving in different ways.
Enzo has poured a lot of his energy into his work to the point where he’s a workaholic who has neglected his marriage. His emotional state is often cold and distant, as if it’s too painful to feel his grief, so he shuts himself off from his emotions. Laura is the opposite: Her grief has consumed her to the point where her emotions are out of control. She lashes out mostly at Enzo, but other people are also the targets of her bad temper.
Enzo’s mother (played by Agnese Brighittini), who doesn’t have a name in the movie, is an opionionated and influential force in Enzo’s life. (In real life, the first name of Enzo’s mother was Adalgisa.) However, Laura fights to maintain her status as the most important woman in Enzo’s life, even if their marriage is breaking down.
“Ferrari” also shows that in 1957, the Ferrari company is spending more money than it is making. Enzo is advised to increase production from 98 different models of Ferraris to more than 400 different models. Ferrari wants to invest more heavily in a different strategy: Win as many high-profile automobile races as possible with racers who will drive Ferraris. The publicity generated from these victories would be expected to boost sales of Ferraris.
Although there are several talented racers who are part of the Ferrari team, one in particular is Enzo’s biggest hope to take the Ferrari brand to a new level on the racing circuit: Alfonso De Portago (played by Gabriel Leone), a Spanish aristocrat/playboy, is seen by Enzo as a rising star who could take the Ferrari brand to new heights. Alfonso is one of the competitors in the treacherous 1957 Mille Miglia race. Piero Taruffi (played by Patrick Dempsey) is an Italian racer who is also competing in the 1957 Mille Miglia race. Peter Collins (played by Jack O’Connell) is a British racer who joined the Ferrari team in 1956. These two characters have supporting roles that aren’t as developed as the character of Alfonso.
In this male-dominated movie, the women with significant speaking roles are usually relegated to the role of wife, girlfriend, mother or employee. Laura is the only female character in the movie who is presented as being involved in business deals. Two of the female characters who appear briefly in “Ferrari” are Cecilia Manzini (played by Valentina Bellè) and actress Linda Christian (played by Sarah Gadon), who are in the movie with “girlfriend” roles. Cecilia is the fiancée of race car driver Eugenio Castellotti (played by Marino Franchitti), and she is a character based on real-life ballerina/actress Delia Scala, who was engaged to the real Castellotti at the time. In real life, as depicted in the “Ferrari” movie, Christian was dating De Portago at the time.
“Ferrari” alternates between Enzo’s worries in his business life and his problems in his love life. Eventually both sets of problems collide when Laura raises the stakes on what she might or might not do about her share of the Ferrari business ownership. Enzo is also facing allegations of Ferrari having faulty cars when one of the Ferrari cars is involved in a fatal accident during a car race.
People who want to see adrenaline-pumping car racing scenes won’t be disappointed in “Ferrari,” because these scenes are among the best in the movie. The direction and cinematography for these scenes give viewers the feeling of being fully immersed in the action. When tragedy strikes during a racing scene, the graphic way in which it is depicted can affect viewers of “Ferrari” on a visceral level.
“Ferarri” stumbles in depicting the love triangle between Enzo, Laura and Lina. Cruz (who is Spanish in real life) does a very convincing portrayal as an Italian and is the movie’s scene stealer. Unfortunately, American actress Woodley is not very believable as an Italian. The Lina character is also underdeveloped. Driver, who is American, is somewhere in between: He’s neither great nor terrible in the role of Enzo. “Ferrari” is ultimately a movie that can appeal to different types of people, even if there’s a lot in the movie that feels like the same old story.
Neon will release “Ferrari” in U.S. cinemas on December 25, 2023. UPDATE: The movie will be released on digital and VOD on January 23, 2024. “Ferrari” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 12, 2024.
Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the United States, from 2020 to 2021, the comedy/drama film “Dumb Money” (based on true events) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Keith Gill, an insurance analyst and amateur stock-market adviser, becomes an Internet sensation with a cult-like following under his online alias Roaring Kitty, when he becomes a passionate advocate of buying stocks in the video game retail company GameStop, leading to a massive upheaval in the billionaire-owned hedge funds that want GameStop to fail.
Culture Audience: “Dumb Money” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and stories about financial underdogs who take on corporate giants.
The slick comedy/drama “Dumb Money” takes a little too long to get to the best parts of this story of financial underdogs versus billionaire corporate bullies, but it’s still a mostly entertaining ride with a talented cast. Some of the characters are very underdeveloped, while other characters are unnecessary distractions. People who are interested in finance and computer technology will enjoy and understand “Dumb Money” the most. “Dumb Money” might get compared to 2015’s “The Big Short” and 2010’s “The Social Network,” but “Dumb Money” isn’t as outstanding as those two Oscar-winning films.
Directed by Craig Gillespie, “Dumb Money” had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. This “Dumb Money” feature film is not to be confused with filmmaker Ryan Garry’s 2021 short narrative film “Dumb Money,” which is based on the same subject matter of the GameStop stock phenomenon that disrupted Wall Street’s stock market. From 2021 to 2023, there have been at least seven documentaries about the same subject. The “Dumb Money” short film has an entirely different cast and crew from the “Dumb Money” feature film. Gillespie (the director of 2017’s “I, Tonya” and an executive producer/director of 2022’s “Pam & Tommy” miniseries) has a style that blends intense drama and satirical comedy, even when based on true stories.
The “Dumb Money” feature film’s screenplay—which was co-written by former Wall Street Journal reporters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo—is based on Ben Mezrich’s 2021 non-fiction book “The Anti-Social Network: The GameStop Short Squeeze and the Ragtag Group of Amateur Traders That Brought Wall Street to Its Knees.” Mezrich also wrote the 2009 non-fiction book “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal,” which was adapted into Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar-winning screenplay for “The Social Network.” Identical twin brothers Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss, who famously sued Facebook to get more of Facebook’s profits (as depicted in director David Fincher’s “The Social Network”), are two of the executive producers of the “Dumb Money” feature film.
If “The Social Network” and filmmaker Adam McKay’s “The Big Short” are mentioned in comparison to “Dumb Money,” that’s because “Dumb Money” has many similarities in how it approaches a complex story of financial wheeling and dealing with many players on different levels. The overarching theme of all three of these movies is that greedy corporate types are villains who don’t hesitate to crush the hopes, dreams and finances of “underdogs” who dare to challenge them. The title of “Dumb Money” comes from the term that arrogant rich people in the financial sector use for non-wealthy people who invest in the stock market. A more polite term used for non-wealthy investors are “retail investors.”
The “Dumb Money” feature film is based on the true story of a phenomenon that happened from 2020 to 2021, when the video game retailer GameStop suddenly went from being on the verge of going out of business to became a red-hot stock investment, because of a surge of working-class and middle-class people who decided to invest in GameStop stock. This massive interest in GameStop stock was based largely on the advice of an Internet media personality using the alias Roaring Kitty. It also caused a panic among wealthy Wall Street investors who did not know how to handle this unexpected grassroots movement.
In real life, Roaring Kitty was a middle-class, self-described computer geek in his 30s named Paul Gill (played by Paul Dano), whose day job at the time was working as an analyst/financial educator for insurance corporation MassMutual. He did his stock-market videos and Internet chatting on his own time at his home. Because of the unexpected success of GameStop stock, many billionaire-owned hedge funds that were betting on GameStop stock to fail (a practice known as “shorting” or “short-selling” a stock) experienced financial meltdowns. “Dumb Money” is an occasionally convoluted play-by-play of what happened during this stock-market war that led to a U.S. Congressional hearing and federal investigations.
The movie’s principal characters have the same names as the real people, while some of the supporting characters are fabricated and are partially based on real people. (For the purposes of this review, the real people will be referred to by their last names, while the characters in the movie will be referred to by their first names.) Many of Gill’s real-life quirks are also portrayed in the movie. He liked to wear headbands (especially a red hedband) and T-shirts with kittens on the front of the shirts.
In the “Dumb Money” feature film, Keith is living in Brockton, Massachusetts, with his supportive wife Caroline Gill (played by Shailene Woodley) and their infant daughter (played by Leyla Eden and Mason Eden), who doesn’t have a name in the movie. (“Dumb Money” was actually filmed in New Jersey.) Keith has invested the couple’s entire life savings ($33,000) in GameStop. Most people who know about this investment think that Keith has made a reckless and foolish decision. Caroline is skeptical and nervous about the decision. But ultimately, she stands by Keith’s firm belief that GameStop investing could make them enough money, possibly millions of dollars, for them to retire early.
The movie shows that Keith’s online persona as Roaring Kitty (which he used on online platforms such as YouTube and on a Reddit subforum called WallStreetBets) didn’t start out being popular. In the beginning he had a very small audience, many of whom ridiculed him. However, his enthusiasm for GameStop was infectious. Over time, his following grew to thousands of enthusiastic fans who eagerly listened to Keith’s stock-market advice. In order to legally protect himself, Keith had disclaimers about how he was not a licensed stock broker, and his information about GameStop was for entertainment purposes only.
Keith’s other immediate family members, who all live nearby, are mother Elaine Gill (played by Kate Burton), a retired registered nurse; father Steve Gill (played by Clancy Brown), a retired truck driver; and Keith’s younger brother Kevin (played by Pete Davdison), a stoner who has trouble holding on to a steady job. In the movie, Kevin is working in a low-paying job as a food delivery person and is living with his parents. Kevin’s only purpose in the movie is to be comic relief, since he’s not involved in any of Keith’s stock-market shenanigans. Keith’s parents don’t find out about what Keith is doing in the stock market until he tells them some big news.
The Gill family is grieving over the death of Elaine’s and Steve’s other child: Sarah Elizabeth Gill, who died of COVID-19 in 2020, at the age of 43. Keith doesn’t like to talk about Sarah’s death, but there are a few scenes in the movie that show how her death has had a profound effect on him. It’s implied that Keith’s grief over his sister’s death is the fuel behind Keith’s willingness to risk his entire fortune and reputation on GameStop stock. Many people who experience the loss of a loved one often react with extreme “you only live once” decisions.
And because the movie’s story takes place during the height of the COVD-19 pandemic, there are several verbal and non-verbal references to the pandemic in “Dumb Money.” Observant viewers will notice that in the movie, the characters who tend to wear COVID-19 masks are either required to wear the masks as part of their jobs or are in precarious financial situations where they can’t afford to miss out on work if they get infected with COVID-19. There’s also an underlying implication that people being in COVID-19 quarantines or lockdowns resulted in more people spending time at home online, which might be one of the plausible reasons why the GameStop stock phenomenon happened so quickly.
“Dumb Money” opens with a scene taking place in 2020, showing one of the “villains” of the story panicking because he sees that GameStop stock is on the rise. Gabe Plotkin (played by Seth Rogen), the CEO of hedge fund Melvin Capital, is at his mansion in California, when he calls his fellow billionaire crony Ken Griffin (played by Nick Offerman), who’s relaxing at a Four Seasons Resort in Florida. During the conversation, Gabe tries not to show how frightened he is by this upward trend in GameStop stock, while he puts on a front in assuring Ken that Gabe has everything under control. Gabe wants to get Ken’s reaction to the rise in GameStop stock value. Ken doesn’t seem too worried at all. Viewers will later find out why.
The movie then does a flashback to three months earlier, when GameStop’s stock was valued at only $3.85 per share. Keith is shown doing his Roaring Kitty activities on the Internet, while other characters are introduced as eventual followers of Keith/Roaring Kitty. Every time a stock market player is shown on camera, the movie has a caption next to that person’s head that shows the person’s net worth at the time they are shown on screen. All of Keith’s followers who are depicted in “Dumb Money” are fictional versions of real people and are portrayed as having financial struggles before investing in GameStop.
In the city of Pittbsurgh, Jenny (played by America Ferrera) is a divorced mother of two sons, who look like they’re about 8 to 10 years old. It’s briefly mentioned in the movie that Jenny’s ex-husband abandoned the family. Jenny is financially broke (when she’s first seen in the movie, her net worth is a deficit of more than $5,000) and works as a nurse at Pittsburgh Presbyterian Hospital. She becomes obsessed with Roaring Kitty’s videos, and eventually invests in GameStop. Jenny gets repeated warnings and admonishments from her sassy, openly gay best friend/co-worker Chris (played by Larry Owens), who thinks she’s making a big mistake with this investment. Chris frequently advises Jenny to sell all of her GameStop stock.
In the city of Detroit, Marcos Garcia (played by Anthony Ramos) is a low-paid and under-appreciated cashier at a GameStop store. Marcos is also financially broke. His net worth is only $136 when he’s first seen in the story, and he’s denied a request to get an advance on his next paycheck. Marcos’ boss Brad (played by Dane DeHaan) treats Marcos in a condescending and dismissive manner, especially after he finds out that Marcos has invested in GameStop.
At the University of Texas in Austin, two students meet during a drinking game at a party and eventually become lovers. Their names are Harmony Williams (played by Talia Ryder) and Riri (played by Myha’la Herrold), whose sexual chemistry with each other can be seen as soon as Riri is told to put her hand down Harmony’s pants because of a dare during the drinking game. During this first conversation, Harmony tells Riri that she’s thinking about investing in GameStop stock because Harmony has become a fan of Roaring Kitty. Eventually, Harmony and Riri (who each has thousands of dollars in student-loan debt) invest their money in GameStop stock. Harmony has a scowling, unnamed roommate (played by Andrea Simons), whose annoyance with this romance is used as an occasional joke in the movie.
All of these financial underdogs express various levels of anger and motivation to fight back against what they believe to be a rigged stock market that was designed to make the rich get richer, and non-wealthy people to be at a disadvantage. After Harmony and Riri become intimate partners, Harmony tells Riri that her father used to be the general manager of a Costco-like retailer called Shopco, but he lost his job, his pension and much of his life savings. Harmony says it’s because he was a victim of a corporate raiding firm that bought Shopco to purposely bankrupt the company, in order to benefit the people who were short-selling Shopco stock.
Real-life billionaire investor Steve Cohen (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) is another player in the GameStop stock-market war depicted in “Dumb Money,” although this character is shown intermittently and doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as billionaires Gabe and Ken. Gabe is portayed as a tone-deaf partier who likes to spend lavishly and doesn’t really think about all the lives he’s ruining by short-selling stock. Ken is depicted as a cold manipulator who is very much aware of the lives he’s ruining, but he just doesn’t care.
And in this billionaire clique, it’s very much portrayed as a “boys’ club.” The only woman connected to this clique who has a significant speaking role (and it’s still a small role) is Gabe’s wife Yaara Plotkin (played by Olivia Thirlby), a “trophy wife” type. The only purpose she’s given in this movie is to worry about whether or not Gabe is making enough money so that she can maintain the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed. There are no female stockbrokers or female hedge fund leaders who are depicted as characters in this movie.
Two other characters who have pivotal roles in the GameStop stock-market war are the co-founders of the Robinhood app: Vlad Tenev (played by Sebastian Stan) and Baiju Bhatt (played by Rushi Kota), who marketed Robinhood as an app where ordinary people could buy and sell stocks for free. In the movie, Robinhood users include Jenny, Marcos, Harmony and Riri. Vlad and Baiji, who are both in their 30s, are “tech bro” stereotypes of being arrogant big talkers of start-up companies. Vlad is portrayed as the more corrupt person in this greedy and ambitious duo.
The first half of “Dumb Money” clips along at a fairly uneven pace where characters are quickly introduced, and then the movie slows down to show aspects of each character’s personal lives. “Dumb Money’ spends way too much time on Kevin, who didn’t need as much screen time as he gets, considering he had no part in the GameStop stock war. Keith was a star track runner in high school, so “Dumb Money” has multiple scenes of Keith jogging on a residential street or running on a local school’s track (sometimes with Kevin) as a way to relieve stress.
The second half of the movie is an improvement, as it gets into the conflicts created during the GameStop stock war. Still, there might be some “Dumb Money” viewers who will feel disconnected because of the movie’s first half, which can be perceived as a blur of people talking stock market jargon and Internet slang. If you’re the type of person who could care less about the intersections of technology and commerce, and if you will probably never read a Wall Street Journal article or Reddit forum in your life, then “Dumb Money” is not the movie for you.
Dano is an actor who can be counted on to deliver top-notch performances in his projects. He has made a career out of doing characters who are eccentric outsiders, so he’s not doing anything that’s very new or groundbreaking in “Dumb Money.” Still, Dano’s portrayal of Keith holds this movie together, when some scenes tend to be a little pointless (for example, there’s a scene where Jenny somewhat flirts with a guy she meets at a gas station) or completely unnecessary (any scene that shows what Kevin does when he’s not with Keith). The character of Caroline isn’t given much to do but be a stereotypical “worried wife” character.
For all of its flaws, “Dumb Money” still has enough that’s enjoyable to watch, regardless of how much viewers know about what happened in real life. A lot of the credit should go to the “Dumb Money” cast members, who admirably do as much as they can with the dialogue that they have, even if some of their characters are very underwritten. Toward the end of the movie, before the inevitable epilogue with updates of what happened in real life, there’s some archival footage of the real-life people who were involved in this stock-market war. Some of what they said was recreated in “Dumb Money,” which might be a based on a true story, but it’s not immersive enough to make you forget that you’re watching actors saying scripted lines on screen.
Columbia Pictures will release “Dumb Money” in select U.S. cinemas on September 15, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on September 22, 2023, and September 29, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in 2032, in New Mexico and in Mexico, the sci-fi comedy film “Robots” (based on the short-story collection “The Robot Who Looked Like Me”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A Lothario and a female gold digger, who each have illegal look-alike robots that do dirty deeds for them, go on a misadventure together to look for the robots after the robots “go rogue” by falling in love and running away together.
Culture Audience: “Robots” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and fans of the book on which the movie is based, but it’s a silly, boring and predictable movie that is a failure of imagination.
Robots with artificial intelligence could have come up with a better movie than the filmmakers responsible for the drab and unfunny comedy “Robots,” an embarrassing dud that fails to blend sci-fi and romance into an interesting story. It’s hard to believe that anyone who read the dreadful “Robots” screenplay actually thought that this junk was worth getting made. All of the movie’s cast members have the depth and personality of decommissioned robots in their hollow performances.
Written and directed by Casper Christensen and Art Hines, “Robots” is based on Robert Sheckley’s 1978 collection of short stories titled “The Robot Who Looked Like Me.” Viewers of “Robots” might find it hard to believe that Hines is one of the Oscar-nominated writers behind Sacha Baron Cohen’s hit movies, including 2006’s “Borat” and 2020’s “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” for which Hines received adapted screenplay Oscar nominations. Granted, the prankster movies of Baron Cohen are largely improvised, whereas a movie like “Robots” has a very formulaic script. The difference in the entertainment quality of a movie like “Borat” and a movie like “Robots” is like comparing a satisfying meal to stale garbage.
The opening scene of “Robots,” which takes place mostly in New Mexico in 2032, shows the governor of New Mexico (played by Hank Rogerson) giving a speech in front of a chain-link fence that’s supposed to separate the border of the United States and Mexico. (“Robots” was filmed on location in New Mexico.) The governor has a very small but enthusiastic audience of about 25 people, mostly middled-aged and elderly, who are sitting on folding chairs. It’s a group of right-wingers who hate undocumented immigrants from Latin American countries.
In his speech, the governor (who is obviously supposed to be a Donald Trump-like politician) proudly announces that under his leadership, the wall to keep the “illegals” out has been successfully built, and all the “illegals” have been deported. He also declares that industries that heavily depend on undocumented immigrants no longer need to employ these immigrants, because 10 years ago, the U.S. government created robots to “do the work that illegals once did.” After this speech event, the chairs are folded up and packed away by some of these robots.
Meanwhile, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the two main characters in “Robots”—a man and a woman in their 30s—are rude and selfish humans who own illegally purchased, highly advanced robots that are clones of themselves. In this sci-fi society, legal robots have a human body structure, but their heads look like robots, they sound like robots, and they wear human-looking masks. The advanced illegal robots (which are very high-priced) look, move, and talk exactly like humans in every way, except that the illegal robots do not have real human eyes.
Charles Cameron (played by Jack Whitehall) is a narcissistic ladies’ man who only wants to date women to have sex with them. After Charles gets what he wants, he abruptly dumps the women and cuts off all contact with them. Charles (who is spoiled, lazy and over-privileged) works with his real-estate mogul father Ted Cameron (played by David Grant Wright) at Ted’s company, which is called the Cameron Group.
Charles uses his robot clone, which is called C2, to impersonate Charles at the office, do domestic work for Charles, and go on romantic dates. As shown in “Robots” trailer, Charles also makes C2 shave Charles’ pubic hair in his genital area. The only time that Charles wants to be on a date as himself (and not sending the C2 robot in his place) is when he knows he’ll be having sex on that date.
Meanwhile, Elaine (played by Shailene Woodley) is a high-maintenance gold digger who only dates men who can give her money or buy her high-priced gifts. Elaine makes enough money this way so that she doesn’t need to have a real job. Whereas Charles uses his clone robot to get women to have sex with the real Charles, what Elaine uses her robot for is for the opposite reason: She doesn’t want to be the one to have sex with the men she dates for money, so she has her robot clone (called E2) impersonate her on these dates. Woodley and Whitehall also portray the robot counterparts of Elaine and Charles.
Because these robots are illegal, and owners could get heavy fines and prison time, there are certain precautions that Charles and Elaine have taken for their respective clone robots. The biggest precaution is that Charles and Elaine have told C2 and E2 that they are not allowed to be out in public at the same time as their human counterparts. C2 and E2, who are always accommodating and friendly, know that they are robots who have to be kept secret.
For reasons that are never explained in the movie, Charles has a British accent, while his father Ted and Charles’ half-brother Ted Cameron Jr. (played by Nick Rutherford) have American accents. (Whitehall is British in real life.) It can be presumed that Ted Jr. and Charles have different mothers (these mothers are not seen or mentioned in the movie), and Charles grew up with his mother in England. The movie has a very useless subplot about Ted Jr. and Charles in a sibling rivalry, which is made more competitive because they both work for the family company.
The character of Elaine is a lot less developed than the character of Charles. The movie doesn’t reveal anything about Elaine’s family or what she wants to do with her life, other than spending money that’s given to her by men she dates. “Robots” spends the first 10 to 15 minutes showing how Charles gets women to date him: He goes to a local ice-skating rink and deliberately falls down near an attractive woman whom he thinks will help him get up.
This tactic works for a woman named Emily Denholm (played by Chelsea Edmondson), who begins dating what she thinks is Charles but is actually C2. The only time Emily interacted with the real Charles was when they first met and when Emily and Charles had sex. The movie’s way of making a joke is that the real Charles has very robotic sex that ends too quickly. Predictably, after Charles gets what he wants, he breaks up with Emily.
It’s mentioned in the movie that Charles is secretly heartbroken over a breakup he had with an ex-girlfriend named Francesca (played by Emanuela Postacchini), whom he still keeps track of on her social media. This is a very weak reason for Charles’ awful personality and misogyny, but it’s all just to lay the flimsy groundwork for the rom-com formula of an obnoxious playboy who meets his match and falls for her.
You know where this is going, of course: One day, Charles and Elaine both happen to be skating separately at the ice-skating rink that predatory Charles uses as his hunting ground. Charles deliberately falls down, and Elaine crashes into him. After this “meet cute” moment, Charles and Elaine begin dating, but C2 is the one who is sent on the romantic dates with her. C2 (as Charles) buys Elaine anything she wants.
On the day that Charles is sure that he and Elaine will have sex for the first time, he makes a 6:30 p.m. date with Elaine at her home. It will be the first time that Charles will be going to Elaine’s home. However, not long after this date is set, there’s a scheduling conflict that’s supposed to happen on the same date and time as Charles’ date with Elaine.
Charles’ father Ted tells Charles that Charles is required to attend a company board meeting at the home of an important board member named David Schulman (played by Richard Lippert), who will be meeting Charles for the first time at this meeting. Instead of rescheduling the date with Elaine for another evening, Charles breaks his biggest rule about C2. He decides to send C2 to the board meeting instead, while Charles keeps his date with Elaine.
However, dimwitted Charles accidentally gives C2 the address of Elaine. Unbeknownst to Charles, she has ordered E2 to be on this date that Elaine knows will include sex. Charles finds out he’s at the wrong place when he shows up at the Schulman home with flowers and his genitals out as soon as he goes into a room that he thinks is Elaine’s bedroom. The room is actually a dining room, and the people inside are the people attending the board meeting, including the host and Charles’ father and brother.
Meanwhile, C2 and E2 have sex and instantly fall in love with each other. And even though this conversation is never shown in the movie, C2 and E2 find out how horribly they’ve been treated by their owners, so C2 and E2 decided to run away together to Mexico. Charles and Elaine find out because C2 and E2 left video messages for their owners. Yes, this movie really is that stupid. The rest of “Robots” is about Charles and Elaine on a frantic search to track down C2 and E2, in order to prevent the secret getting out that these two robots exist.
During this wretched and very tedious misadventure, Charles and Elaine turn to the person who sold them C2 and E2 in the first place: a nerdy inventor named Zach (played by Paul Rust), who hastily says to Charles and Elaine that C2 and E2 are starting to take on more human qualities, such as falling in love and having complete freedom of choice. There’s no logical explanation given for why these robots have suddenly taken on more human qualities. Zach says that C2 and E2 have to be destroyed because C2 and E2 could expose Zach, Charles and Elaine for being involved in these illegal robot transactions.
However, Charles and Elaine don’t like the idea of destroying C2 and E2 because Charles and Elaine have grown accustomed to using C2 and E2 to do the work that these robots were doing. Elaine wails that if E2 is destroyed, then Elaine would have to (gasp!) get a real job. Charles tells Elaine, “As much as it pains me to say it, we have to work together to track these fuckers down.”
Charles is annoyed with Elaine because she had sent E2 to have sex with Charles. Elaine is annoyed with Charles because she thinks this mishap wouldn’t have occurred if Charles had given C2 the correct address. It all just leads to a heinously idiotic slog of bickering and bad decisions. Woodley and Whitehall have no authentic-looking chemistry together. They just go through the motions and utter their lines, much like the robots that they also portray in this terrible movie.
The movie’s supporting characters are even emptier. Charles has a moronic and schlubby best friend named Ashley (played by Paul Jurewicz), a former U.S. Army chef who is currently unemployed. Ashley is a politically conservative bigot who blames immigrants and robots for his inability to get a job. Ashley serves no purpose in the movie except to show up and act like an idiot. The friendship between Charles and Ashley looks completely phony.
Worst of all, “Robots” has nothing clever or amusing to say about how robot clones would have an impact on society if these robots really had the ability to become more “human.” This sloppily made and poorly conceived film just becomes another rom-com chase movie where the would-be couple spends most of the story denying what most viewers already know is going to happen between them. Charles and Elaine want to pull the plug on their robot clones, but it’s too bad no one pulled the plug on this mindless and time-wasting movie.
Decal/Neon will release “Robots” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on May 19, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in Baltimore, the dramatic film “To Catch a Killer” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians, Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A cynical FBI agent teams up with a Baltimore police officer with a troubled past in an investigation to find an elusive mass murderer.
Culture Audience: “To Catch a Killer” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of procedural crime dramas and the movie’s headliners, but the move lacks the realism that would make it a credible crime story.
“To Catch a Killer” starts with the far-fetched concept that an experienced FBI agent would rely heavily on an inexperienced city police officer to help capture a mass murderer. The plot all goes downhill from there. Although the cast members try to make this drama believable, and there are some suspenseful moments, the movie is undone by a weak screenplay that has too many plot holes and unrealistic depictions of an investigation of this magnitude.
Directed by Damián Szifron (who co-wrote the “To Catch a Killer” screenplay with Jonathan Wakeham), “To Catch a Killer” takes place mostly in Baltimore. The movie (which was formerly titled “Misanthrope” and was actually filmed in Montreal) opens with a scene that takes place in Baltimore on New Year’s Eve. Party revelers who are on the roof and on balconies at a high-rise hotel are suddenly gunned down by an unseen sniper at a nearby hotel. In total, there are 29 murder victims.
It’s a scene reminiscent of the real-life horrific tragedy in 2017, when a sniper at a hotel murdered 60 people and wounded more than 400 people at the outdoor Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. This real-life tragedy is mentioned in “To Catch a Killer” when law enforcement officials arrive at the bloodbath crime scene to investigate. It’s probably the closest thing to realism that the movie gets.
The crime scene investigators find out too late that the sniper left behind a bomb in the 17th floor hotel suite, where the unknown sniper was, but fled the scene before law enforcement officials could get there. The bomb explodes, destroying a lot of possible evidence. It’s later mentioned that even if there had been no mob, the killer didn’t leave any fingerprints or DNA at the crime scene. However, witnesses who saw who was in the hotel suite say that the gunman was a white male who was alone.
One of the Baltimore police officers on the scene is Eleanor Falco (played by Shailene Woodley), who is one of the cops who goes into the hotel suite after the bomb explosion. By the time Eleanor gets there, the hotel suite is filled with debris and smoke. Eleanor hallucinates that she falls out of window in this hotel suite. She thinks she’s fallen on the sidewalk. Instead, she wakes up on a floor of the hotel suite, where a co-worker tells Eleanor that she has fainted.
Later, Eleanor gets reprimanded by a supervisor for not wearing a gas mask when she knew that she was walking to a place that had just been bombed. Eleanor is generally not respected by her mostly male co-workers. This animosity toward Eleanor is because she’s a woman, and partly because she’s a loner type in a job that requires that she work with a partner and as part of a team. Eleanor is almost never with a cop partner when she responds to a dangerous crime scene. It’s one of the many reasons why “To Catch a Killer” looks so phony.
The FBI agent who’s been put in charge of the investigation is Geoffrey Lammark (played by Ben Mendelsohn), a gruff know-it-all who thinks he’s the only person who has the leadership skills to find the killer. During a meeting with Baltimore police officials and FBI agents, Geoffrey gets a briefing from a criminal profiler, who starts rattling off the probable personality traits and demographics of this mysterious mass murderer. “He’s not a type. He’s a person,” says Geoffrey abruptly in response.
Eleanor speaks up in the meeting and refutes the profiler’s theory that the murderer is out for revenge. Eleanor says she thinks the murderer’s motive is relief. Geoffrey is intrigued by this observation. And so, the next day, Eleanor is called into meeting with Geoffrey, who decides after this one conversation that he’s going to consult with Eleanor on how to catch this killer.
It’s explained rather ludicrously in the movie that Geoffrey made this decision because he did a background check on Eleanor and found out that she has a lot of dysfunctional personality traits that are similar to a serial killer. Eleanor has a lot of violent anger issues, dating back to when she was a child. She says that something happened to her when she was 12 that motivated her to go into law enforcement for “protection” against herself.
Eleanor is also a recovering drug addict who has attempted suicide more than once. Of course, these experiences will not automatically turn someone into a killer of other people, but Geoffrey thinks that Eleanor would know better than any other investigator on team how the mind of a serial killer works. It doesn’t take long for Geoffrey to get some backlash for choosing Eleanor to be the Baltimore Police Department’s liaison for the FBI in this investigation. The Baltimore Police Department’s chief Karl Jackson (played by Mark Camacho) and other high-ranking employees in the department naturally feel insulted that they were passed over for this liaison job.
It’s the first time that Eleanor has worked on a mass-murderer investigation. Eleanor applied to the FBI Academy eight years about she was rejected because of her mental health issues. The FBI Academy personality test results found Eleanor to be “aggressive, vindictive and antisocial.” It’s eventually revealed what happened in Eleanor’s childhood that most likely affected her mental health at an early age.
Geofrrey knows that Eleanor will eagerly work with him because she hopes it might help if she ever decides to try out for the FBI Academy again. And he’s right about Eleanor wanting to help him. What Geoffrey doesn’t count on is that Eleanor will outsmart him in many aspects of this investigation.
“To Catch a Killer” moments of suspense often come a crashing halt when the movie awkwardly tries to balance the action scenes with the behind-the-scene politics of this investigation. Geoffrey’s boss Irene Michkin (played by Dawn Lambing) is skeptical from the beginning that Eleanor will make a good liaison. Irene thinks that Eleanor is not mentally stable enough for the job. Geoffrey and Irene predictably clash with each other in a battle of egos.
FBI agent Jack McKenzie (played by Jovan Adepo) is sometimes caught in the middle between the feuding of Geoffrey and Irene, but Jack generally goes along with what Geoffrey wants, because Jack has to interact more with Geoffrey than with Irene. Another person who gets into conflicts with Geoffrey is a colleague from the FBI named Frank Graber (played by Richard Zeman), who is in a power struggle with Geoffrey. Someone else who isnt a fan of Geoffrey is Baltimore’s mayor Jesse Capleton (played by Nick Walker), who resists Geoffrey’s recommendations to lock down the city after another mass murder, because Jesse thinks it will cause more panic than necessary and disrupt the city’s economy.
The mass murderer strikes again and again and again. In one horribly staged scene, the killer shoots people at a shopping mall and then nonchalantly bombs many of the law enforcement officials who show up in response. There are numerous suspects and persons of interest who are investigated, including a right-wing, anti-government extremist named David Lee Hicks (played by Patrick Labbé), a contractor named Dean Possey (played by Ralph Ineson) and a contractor business owner named Rodney Lang (played by Darcy Laurie).
A TV talk show host named Jimmy Kittridge affects the investigation when he makes incendiary comments about the killer and dares the killer to call him on Jimmy’s live talk show. “To Catch a Killer” could have made an interesting observation about how the media can help or hinder an investigation. Instead, the media angle to the story is used in a lazily conceived plot development that further lowers the movie’s already low credibility.
The performances in “To Catch a Killer” aren’t terrible, but they aren’t very convincing either. Woodley is just not believable as an emotionally hardened police officer who is supposed to have extraordinary perception about a serial killer’s mind. It just looks like she’s playing dress-up as a cop. Half of the time, Woodley’s acting is very wooden and stiff, which seems to be her attempt at trying to look “tough.”
Mendelsohn fares slightly better as a jaded and arrogant FBI agent, but for a guy who thinks he’s so smart, Geoffrey sure makes a lot of dumb mistakes. And some of those mistakes are deadly. Eleanor and Geoffrey have some personal bonding outside of their jobs when Geoffrey invites her to his home to have dinner with Geoffrey and his husband Gavin (played by Michael Cram), who has his own theories about who the killer is.
“To Catch a Killer” falls completely off the rails in the last 20 minutes, when the movie tries to cram in a not-very-believable conclusion of the investigation. “To Catch a Killer” might get some comparisons to the Oscar-winning 1991 serial-killer mystery thriller “The Silence of the Lambs,” but it’s like comparing junk food to a gourmet meal. Both movies also have very different female protagonists and how they do their investigating. “To Catch a Killer” (unlike “The Silence of the Lambs”) is mostly forgettable, often boring, and definitely won’t be nominated for any major awards.
Vertical released “To Catch a Killer” in select U.S. cinemas on April 21, 2023. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on May 16, 2023. “To Catch a Killer” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 11, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in California’s Los Angeles County, the dramatic film “The Fallout” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Latino, white and African American) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: After experiencing a devastating school shooting, a teenage girl, her schoolmates and her family have different ways of coping with this tragedy.
Culture Audience: “The Fallout” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted and realistically written dramas about how a mass murder has psychological effects on survivors, particularly young people.
There have been several documentaries about how survivors of school shootings in the U.S. are coping with these tragedies. “The Fallout” is a fictional drama, but the movie achieves a rare balancing act of handling this sensitive subject matter with realistic emotions and above-average acting. What makes the movie also stand out is that it’s not a non-stop barrage of depression. It’s able to convey, with occasional touches of levity, how life can go on for survivors, even if their lives will no longer be the same.
Written and directed by Megan Park, “The Fallout” had its world premiere at the 2021 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, where it won the top jury prize as the best movie in the narrative feature competition. Writer/director Park, who made her feature-film directorial debut with “The Fallout,” also won the 2021 SXSW Film Festival’s Brightcove Illumination Award, given to a filmmaker on the rise. Park previously directed music videos, such as Billie Eilish’s “Watch.” Eilish’s brother/musical collaborator Finneas O’Connell wrote “The Fallout” musical score.
The beginning of “The Fallout” gives the appearance of being a typical teenage story. The movie’s protagonist Vada Cavell (played by Jenna Ortega, in a standout performance) and her openly gay best friend Nick Feinstein (played by Will Ropp) are driving in Nick’s car to their high school. They live in an unnamed city in California’s Los Angeles County. (The movie was filmed in Los Angeles.)
Vada (pronounced “vay-da”) and Nick appear to be 16 or 17 years old, probably in their third year of high school. If they were in their last year of high school, movies like this would make a point of telling the audiences that these students are high-school seniors because Vada and her classmates would be talking about their plans after they graduate. All of the main characters in the movie come from stable, middle-class homes.
Vada and Nick have the type of comfortable rapport that best friends have with each other, where they discuss things they wouldn’t talk about with just anyone. In their conversation while going to school, Nick and Vada talk about drinking coffee, which leads to Vada mentioning that coffee gives her the urge to defecate. Vada and Nick laugh and say that they should have a code for that bodily function when they talk about it in front of other people.
When Vada and Nick arrive at school, it seems like it’s going to be a normal day. The biggest problem that Vada thinks she’ll have to deal with that day is how to comfort her younger sister Amelia (played by Lumi Pollack), who has texted Vada a “911” emergency alert while Vada is in one of her classrooms. Vada quickly excuses herself from class to go in the hallway and call back Amelia, who attends another school and appears to be about 13 years old. Amelia is hiding by herself in one of her school’s restrooms.
It turns out that Amelia called because she’s surprised and embarrassed that she got her first menstrual period while in school, and she’s confused about how to handle it. Vada mildly scolds Amelia for scaring Vada into thinking it was a real emergency. Vada calms Amelia down and gives her a “big sister pep talk” on what do next. And like any good older sister would do, Vada offers to take Amelia out for a meal after school, so they can talk some more about this milestone in Amelia’s physical growth toward womanhood.
Feeling satisfied that she handled the situation correctly, Vada then goes into the ladies’ restroom. She sees a fellow classmate named Mia Reed (played by Maddie Ziegler) doing her own makeup in the restroom mirror. Based on the way that Vada stares at Mia, Vada is slightly in awe of Mia, who has the look of an Instagram model and a reputation at school for being somewhat of a social media influencer. The other students talk about Mia as if she’s a mysterious and glamorous loner, who gives the impression that she’s more sophisticated than the average student in high school.
Mia comments to Vada: “Photo day,” to explain why she’s doing her makeup instead of being in class. Vada replies before she goes into a stall, “I’ve got to get my shit together.” It’s Vada’s way of saying that she thinks she should pay more attention to her own hair, makeup and wardrobe. When Vada comes out of the stall, she says to Mia as a compliment, “You don’t even need to wear makeup.” And that’s when they both hear gunshots.
During the next six minutes of terror, which are shown from the point of view of the students trapped in this restroom, viewers can hear that people in the school are being killed by a gun. There are screams and cries for help amid the gunshots. This violence is never shown on camera because it doesn’t need to be. It’s a massacre that has occurred all too-often in real life.
Vada and Mia hide in the same bathroom stall together and stand up on the toilet, in case the shooter comes in and looks for feet underneath the stalls. As Mia and Vada clutch each other in horror, someone bursts into the room in the stall next to them. At first, the girls think it’s the shooter, but it’s really a fellow classmate named Quinton Hasland (played by Niles Fitch), who quickly identifies himself.
Mia and Vada tell Quinton that he can hide with them in the same stall. The girls are shocked to see that Quinton’s clothes are covered in blood spatter. He tells them that he hasn’t been shot, but he’s panicking because he witnessed his brother getting shot. Quinton is understandably anguished over the decision to run for his life or stay behind to try to help his brother.
The movie doesn’t show how long Vada, Mia and Quinton were crouched in fear in the bathroom stall. Nor does “The Fallout” show what happened when the police and medical emergency teams arrived. A visual clue later in the movie indicates that eight people died in this massacre.
And “The Fallout” isn’t about what happened to the shooter and why he committed this heinous crime, except to indicate that he was a male student from the school. The shooter is never seen or heard in the movie, although his name is mentioned in one of the movie’s most emotionally powerful scenes. It’s implied that the shooter died at the scene, most likely by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The rest of the film is from Vada’s perspective about how Vada, Mia, Quinton, Nick and Vada’s immediate family (her parents and Amelia) deal with the aftermath of tragedy, including coping with survivor’s guilt. Vada goes into school-appointed counseling with an empathetic therapist named Anna (played by Shailene Woodley), who tries to break down the emotional walls that Vada puts up in their first few sessions together. Vada tries to persuade Anna that she’s doing as well as she can in her recovery.
In her first session with Anna, Vada talks about how she sleeps up to 14 hours a day, but insists (not very convincingly) to Anna that it’s only a few more hours of sleep per day that was part of her normal routine before the shooting. Vada gives this self-evaluation of her personality: “I feel like I’m very good at managing my emotions. I’m very low-key and chill.” Anna patiently advises without sounding judgmental: “It’s really good to show your emotions.”
Despite what Vada told Anna, there are signs that Vada isn’t coping well at all. When Vada is awake in bed, she shivers and twitches in fear. Her excessive sleeping is a sign of depression. And when her parents—Carlos (played by John Ortiz) and Patricia (played by Julie Bowen)—try to talk to Vada about what happened, she shuts them down and tells them that she’s going to be fine. Vada avoids her family by sleeping in her room as much as she can.
During family time together, such as during meals, Amelia talks as if nothing bad really happened, perhaps in a way to try to get things back to normal. But based on Vada’s angry reactions to Amelia’s nonchalant small talk, Vada is offended that Amelia acts oblivious to how this tragedy is affecting Vada. Although Vada doesn’t want to open up to her family about what she’s going through, she doesn’t want them to completely act as if the school shooting didn’t happen either.
Shortly after the massacre, Vada found out that the shooter (whom she didn’t know) had followed Vada on Instagram. It’s a small detail, but how Vada reacts when she finds out is indicative of how she doesn’t like to show many of her emotions on the surface. She expresses some surprise, but then is quick to add that she never knew the guy and never followed him on social media. Her response is to brush it off, but deep down, this information must be disturbing to her.
After the shooting, Mia and Vada begin texting each other and become each other’s confidants. Mia invites Vada over to her house (it’s here that it’s obvious that Mia’s family has more money than Vada’s family), and this invitation leads to Vada going to Mia’s place for regular visits. Both girls are afraid to go back to school, but Mia’s anxiety is more severe, since she tells Vada that she’s afraid to leave her bedroom. Because of Vada’s visits, Mia gets over that fear and the fear of leaving her house.
Mia’s gay fathers, who are successful artists, are away in Japan on business. Mia, who is an only child, keeps in touch with them by phone, but they are never shown in the house with Mia. It’s implied that they leave Mia alone a lot, which is why she’s more independent than most of her teenage peers. But it’s also made her lonely, and it explains why she quickly bonds with Vada. After the school shooting, Mia’s parents grant Mia’s request to not go back to the school and to be homeschooled instead.
Vada is intrigued by Mia because before they became friends, she had a perception of Mia of being somewhat of a “badass,” based on Mia’s dance videos that Vada watches on the Internet. The first time that Mia and Vada hang out together, Vada remarks that in real life, Mia is very different than what Vada expected: “In the videos, you come off as so hard.” Vada is pleasantly surprised at how nice and down-to-earth Mia is when interacting with her. When Vada expresses anxiety about going to the funeral of Quinton’s brother, Mia offers to go to the funeral with Vada.
Because of what they went through together during the school shooting, Mia and Vada feel like they can openly talk to each other about it. During one such conversation, it’s revealed that while Vada’s way of dealing with the trauma is excessive sleeping, Mia’s anxiety has resulted in insomnia. Vada asks Mia, “Did you have the craziest nightmares last night?” Mia replies, “You have to be able to sleep to have nightmares.”
Mia is seemingly more confident than Vada, but Mia has her insecurities too. Mia guzzles wine and liquor and she smokes marijuana to block out whatever emotional pain she’s experiencing. Vada gets caught up in drinking alcohol and smoking weed with Mia.
And there’s a memorable scene in the movie where Vada impulsively tries Ecstasy for the first time when she’s at school. While flying high on Ecstasy, she gets blue ink from a pen all over her face, and she has trouble navigating her way down a flight of stairs. It’s one of the few scenes in “The Fallout” that’s intended to be funny. “The Fallout” infuses this slapstick comedy into the story as a way to show that life after a school shooting isn’t all gloom and doom for the survivors.
However, the movie also authentically shows in a non-judgmental way that drug use is often a coping mechanism for trauma survivors. Not much is shown or discussed about what Mia’s drug/alcohol use was like before the school shooting. But there are definite references to Vada being a good student before the shooting. Her “good girl” image begins to tarnish after the shooting took place when her grades start to slip, and she shows signs of minor delinquency.
Despite her occasional acts of teenage rebellion, there are signs that Vada identifies more with nerd culture. Vada mentions in a therapy session with Anna is that she has a celebrity crush on actor Paul Dano, who usually plays soft-spoken, geeky characters. And in a conversation between Vada and Mia, they ask each other if they prefer Drake as a sex-symbol rapper or when he portrayed a basketball-star-turned-misfit-paraplegic teen in the TV series “Degrassi: The Next Generation.” Mia and Vada both agree they prefer the wheelchair “Degrassi” version of Drake.
Vada’s parents try to do the best that they can to help her cope with the shooting tragedy, but Vada tends to avoid them. Vada’s relationship with her mother Patricia has more tension (Vada describes Patricia as “uptight”) than the relationship that Vada has with her father Carlos. There are also hints that some of this tension is because Vada thinks that Patricia prefers Amelia over Vada.
There’s a scene in the movie that exemplifies this tension. Vada sees Patricia and Amelia joking around together in the kitchen. Amelia and Patricia don’t see Vada though. Vada looks sad and a little jealous as she observes them and then walks away.
And in an earlier scene, Patricia tells Vada: “All I want is what’s best for you. I want to see that sparkle back.” Vada looks insulted by that comment, and then tells Patricia, as a way to hurt her mother emotionally: “You know that Amelia got her period?” Patricia looks surprised and says, “When?” Vada than smugly replies, “Like forever ago. I guess she just didn’t want you to know.”
But Vada is keeping secrets too. She doesn’t tell her family about her friendship with Mia. And as Vada spends more time with Mia, they become closer in a way that indicates that their relationship will become more than a friendship. Vada also expresses a sexual attraction to Quinton. (This isn’t spoiler information because it’s in the movie’s trailer.)
Vada doesn’t define her sexuality in this movie, but at one point in the story, she describes herself as a socially awkward virgin, and she expresses some disdain at the thought of herself having a husband in the future. It’s interesting that the two people who are her possible love interests are also the ones who were hiding with her in the restroom during the school shooting. The movie leaves it open to interpretation if Vada showing a romantic attraction to them after the shooting was a direct result of this shared trauma or if she was already attracted to them anyway.
Meanwhile, Kevin and Vada start to become distant from each other. He’s aware that Vada is spending more time with Mia. But he’s become an anti-gun-violence activist (there are scenes of Kevin doing things that will remind people of the real-life David Hogg), while Vada avoids going to the activist rallies that Kevin now enthusiastically attends. Vada admits to Mia that she feels a little guilty over not doing more to speak out against gun violence. But the movie shows that, just like in real life, not every survivor of a gun shooting is going to become an activist.
Before Vada’s life was turned upside down, she was closest to Kevin, her sister Amelia, her father Carlos and her mother Patricia. After the shooting, the movie shows an emotionally resonant moment that Vada has with each of them, as she comes to terms with how she’s changed since the tragedy and how her relationship with each of them has changed. When Vada has a heart-to-heart talk with her father, she says something that rings true to anyone who’s survived a mass shooting: “I had no idea one guy with a gun could fuck up my life so hard in six minutes.”
What will stick with people who watch “The Fallout” is how the main characters in the story seem like they could be based on real people, thanks to writer/director Park’s terrific handling of this story and the superb acting by the cast members. It’s not an easy thing to do a coming-of-age drama about people affected by a school massacre. And the last five minutes of “The Fallout” is a harrowing example about how “getting back to normal” is something that’s hard to define and even harder to experience.
UPDATE: HBO Max will premiere “The Fallout” on January 27, 2022. Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Fallout” in cinemas in countries where HBO Max is not available.
Some language in Arabic, French and German with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in Mauritania, Cuba, the United States, Germany and Afghanistan, the dramatic film “The Mauritanian” features a cast of white, North African, Middle Eastern and a few black characters representing people who are connected in some way to the case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian citizen who was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for being a suspected terrorist.
Culture Clash: Slahi’s legal team argued that he was being wrongly imprisoned by the U.S. government, because he wasn’t given the proper due process in the court system and he wasn’t charged with a crime.
Culture Audience: “The Mauritanian” will appeal primarily to people in interested in social justice issues, especially in how Muslims were treated after the 9/11 attacks.
Movies like “The Mauritanian” usually don’t get made unless there’s a message of hope and inspiration at the very end. But this dramatic interpretation of a real-life story of legal injustice also exists to show the horrors of being caught in a system of imprisonment without being charged with a crime. That’s what happened to Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian citizen who was held captive at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for being a suspected terrorist.
In many ways, “The Mauritanian” (directed by Kevin Macdonald) follows a typical formula of a movies about a wrongfully imprisoned person who’s fighting for legal justice and release from prison. There are crusading defense attorneys, corrupt government officials and brutal scenes of prison life. There’s also some hokey dialogue that lowers the quality of the movie.
However, the “The Mauritanian” is not a typical movie of this ilk because it tells a very specific story about someone who was imprisoned for years by the U.S. government without even being charged with a crime. And that’s highly unusual in any legal case in the United States. The other way that “The Mauritanian” is not a typical movie about a legal case is that the two defense attorneys who do the most work on the case are both women, and the defense team is led by a woman.
These legal dramas often take the perspective of the privileged lawyers involved in the case, but “The Mauritanian” never loses the perspective of the person who is suffering the most in this case: Slahi (played by Tahar Rahim), whose story is told from the moment he was questioned and detained, as well as through flashbacks. However, the movie gives a lot of screen time to the legal finagling that went on outside of Guantanamo Bay, in order to give scenes to the better-known actors in this cast who portray the lawyers and government officials who are in a power struggle over this case.
“The Mauritanian” opens with a scene of 30-year-old Slahi at a wedding reception in Mauritania in November 2001. Outside, he apprehensively meets with two plainclothes Mauritanian police officers who have shown up to question Slahi about where his cousin Khalid al-Shanqiti is. Slahi replies, “I have no idea where [he] is. I doubt even Bin Laden knows.” Viewers who don’t know the story will later find out in the movie that al-Shanqiti is a personal poet and spiritual adviser to Osama Bin Laden, who was widely identified as the leader of the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks.
One of the cops tells Slahi: “After the New York attacks, Americans are going crazy. They want to talk to you.” A nervous Slahi goes inside the building and erases all of the contacts from his phone. Slahi then goes back outside and agrees to go for questioning, but he insists on taking his own car. What happened during that interrogation session, which is shown later in the movie as flashbacks, resulted in Slahi being imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay.
The movie then shows how lead defense attorney Nancy Hollander (played by Jodie Foster) got involved in the case. Hollander is portrayed as a no-nonsense, politically liberal lawyer who believes in the same ideals as the American Civil Liberties Union. She’s also a partner in the law firm Friedman, Boyd & Hollander, which is based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“The Mauritanian” presents a scenario of Hollander first becoming aware of Slahi’s case in 2005, when she has a lunch meeting with a colleague named Kent (played by David Flynn) from another firm. Kent tells her that a Mauritanian lawyer approached his firm to take Slahi’s case, but Kent’s firm declined the request. It’s mentioned during this lunch meeting that the German news publication Der Spiegel has reported that Slahi is suspected of helping plan the 9/11 attacks.
What lawyer wants to defend a suspected 9/11 terrorist and accuse the U.S. government of wrongful imprisonment of said terrorist? Hollander does. Her partners at the law firm discourage her from what they think will be a losing case, given the political climate at the time. They also don’t like that this would be a pro bono case for Hollander. In other words, she wouldn’t be getting a fee that would bring income to the firm.
Early on in the movie, it ‘s shown that Hollander is someone who likes to fight for underdogs, so she remains undeterred in wanting to taking the case. Because she’s a partner in the firm, Hollander has more clout than a junior lawyer or non-partner would have, so she ends up getting her way in the firm representing Slahi, with Hollander as his lead attorney. Hollander also has the advantage of having national security clearance, so she has access to certain information and people that a regular attorney would not have.
The first person she recruits to be her second-in-command attorney and researcher is Teri Duncan (played by Shailene Woodley), a junior attorney who shares Hollander’s enthusiasm for taking on the case. However, Duncan’s loyalties will be tested later on when things don’t go smoothly. Duncan is friendlier and more easygoing than Hollander, but Duncan is also someone who is more likely to be intimidated or discouraged by setbacks than Hollander is.
This contrast in Hollander’s and Duncan’s personalities affects the case in different ways. The first meeting that Hollander and Duncan have with Slahi at Guantanamo Bay (after they go through high-level clearances and briefings) is so they can convince Slahi to hire them as his attorneys. Hollander is noticeably stiff and uncomfortable in interacting Slahi, while Duncan is better at being more approachable in the conversation. Slahi can speak English, Arabic, French and German, although he sometimes needs a translator when he needs to speak to someone in English.
Duncan makes eye contact with Slahi in a way that makes him feel that he can trust them, so he agrees to let them be his attorneys. He also makes a remark that at this point in his dismal situation, he doesn’t have better options. These qualified attorneys, who wholeheartedly believe that Slahi is not guilty of being a terrorist, are offering their services for free, so it would also be foolish for him to turn down their offer.
While Hollander and Duncan are are on the case, the movie shows hints that Duncan is somewhat attracted to Slahi and might have a personal interest in him outside of their attorney/client relationship. (Duncan and Slahi were both single at the time this story took place.) It’s mentioned early on in the movie that Hollander was separated from her husband Bill and living alone during this time in her life. In other words, don’t expect to see scenes of Hollander with a family, like other characters have in the movie.
Slahi’s life before prison is shown in flashback scenes of him with his family members, including his controversial cousin al-Shanqiti, a known terrorist associate who used the aliases Abu Has al-Mauritani and Mafouz Walad al-Walid. Slahi was especially close to his mother, who expressed concerns abut him living in another country when Slahi was in his 20s and got an electrical engineering scholarship at a university in Germany.
After getting his college education, Slahi moved to Afghanistan in 1990. It was this period of time in his life that put him on the radar of being a suspected terrorist. As portrayed in the movie, Slahi and his cousin al-Shanqiti attended radical Islamic training groups. The U.S. government suspected that Slahi and his cousin al-Shanqiti joined the Al Qaeda terrorist movement that had Bin Laden as its leader at the time.
One of the main reasons for Slahi’s imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay was that the U.S. government accused him of recruiting to Al Qaeda one of the men who years later was identified as one of the 9/11 terrorists: Ramzi bin al-Shibh, also know as the 20th hijacker in the 9/11 attacks. Slahi vehemently denied that accusation, although he didn’t deny that he was taught Al Qaeda training in Afghanistan. In a flashback, it’s shown that Slahi believed the training he was undergoing in the 1990s was for Muslims to fight against Communism, and that Al Qaeda was on the same side as Americans.
However deeply involved in terrorism Slahi might or might not have been, or how credible he might or might not be, that wasn’t the key legal issue for Hollander and the defense team. As Hollander declares: “We have to prove that the U.S. government lacks sufficient evidence to detain him.” The defense team soon finds out that it will be an uphill battle.
On the opposite side of the case is Stuart Couch (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), a U.S. Marines veteran who was assigned as the lead prosecutor in Slahi’s case in September 2003, just one month after he joined the Office of Military Commissions. A graduate of the U.S. Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program, Couch has a personal reason for going after 9/11 terrorists: His close friend Bruce Taylor was on the plane that crashed into the Twin Towers’ South Tower in the 9/11 attacks. At a 9/11 anniversary memorial service, Couch comforts Bruce’s widow Cathy (played by Justine Mitchell) and tells her how proud he is to be prosecuting the case so he can help get justice for Bruce.
However, during Couch’s investigation to prepare for the prosecution, he begins to question how committed he’ll be to the case when he uncovers disturbing incidents of Guantanamo Bay prisoners (including Slahi) being illegally tortured during their interrogations. These torture scenes are shown in graphic detail in the movie, including horrific beatings and waterboarding. Couch’s investigation is further complicated because of his personal connection to one of the government officials whom Couch suspects is covering up incriminating information.
That person is Neil Buckland (played by Zachary Levi), who was a former classmate of Couch’s when they were stationed at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia. Buckland is portrayed as a manipulative villain who uses his past personal connection to Couch to try to cloud Couch’s judgment in the investigation. Couch considers himself to be a highly ethical person, but even he begins to wonder how much of the government’s violations he should expose when Buckland and some other government officials question Couch’s patriotism and competence.
Meanwhile, there’s a subplot of Slahi befriending a fellow Guantanamo Bay inmate known only as Inmate #241, who is originally from Marseilles, France. They never see each other because they are separated by walls. But they end up confiding in each other about their lives and what they hope to do if they’re ever released from prison. The movie portrays Inmate #241, who gives Slahi the nickname The Mauritanian, as the closest that Slahi came to having a true friend inside the prison.
At 129 minutes, “The Mauritanian” could have felt less bloated if about 15 minutes had been trimmed from the total running time. “The Mauritanian” director Macdonald keeps an even keel throughout the movie, which is part legal thriller, part prison drama. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not an outstanding movie that will get the industry’s most prestigious awards.
All of the actors do well in their performances, particularly Rahim, who gives an authentic portrayal of the range of emotions that his character goes through in the movie. It’s a very human depiction that shows Slahi’s strengths, weaknesses and occasional flashes of humor in grim situations. Foster, Woodley, Cumberbatch and Levi are solid, but their roles are written in a fairly predictable way.
The movie falters the most in the screenplay, which was written by M.B. Traven (also known as Michael Bronner), Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani. They adapted the screenplay from Slahi’s best-selling 2015 memoir “Guantanamo Diary.” There are many times in the movie that might remind viewers of how a formulaic legal procedural series is written for television, especially during the courtroom scenes.
And the dialogue can be a bit corny at times. During a government meeting for the prosecution, one of the officials says of one of the suspected terrorists: “This dude is like the Al Qaeda Forrest Gump. Everywhere you look, here’s there.”
These flaws don’t ruin the movie, because they are outweighed by how compelling the story is and by how well this talented cast portrays it. The approach of the movie isn’t so much from a political perspective but from a human rights perspective. It’s clear that the filmmakers want “The Mauritanian” to serve as a statement that no government should act as if it’s above the law when it comes to violating human rights.
STX released “The Mauritanian” in select U.S. cinemas on February 12, 2021. The movie’s VOD release date is March 2, 2021. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release “The Mauritanian” on digital on April 20, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on May 11, 2021.