VMDIFF 2021 4/4

The fourth in TFR’s coverage of VMDIFF, with reviews by Cathal Eustace and Katie McKenna.

Cowboys

Review by Katie McKenna

Cowboys | VM DIFF

Art is full of “bad Dads”, and as someone who actually likes their Dad it’s becoming more and more difficult to find a song to listen to or a film to watch. So, when I heard about Anna Kerrigan’s Cowboys, a film that explores a father-child relationship with a Dad who is neither “bad” nor “good”, I was excited. I’m sad to say that the excitement was short lived once I began to watch the film.

Cowboys is a modern Western about a father and son on the run from the police trying to make it to Canada. The story is told through two timelines, the present day in which Troy (Steve Zahn) and Joe (Sasha Knight) evade the law and the past in which we see the events that caused them to run away. 

The film feels like it’s trying to say something but isn’t exactly sure how to say it. Trying to give a simple story undeserved nuance; the story feels padded with inauthenticity. Often characters make sudden decisions to move the story forward that come out of nowhere. Characters seem like two completely different people in the past and present. Throughout the film I found my attention drifting, it’s hard to care about a film where you never know what sudden change of heart someone will have.

Through all the film’s flaws, Steve Zahn’s performance stands out, he gives an almost comically dramatic character, a down to earth realness. Even with a cast of established actors such as Ann Dowd and John Reynolds, Zahn shines. At times however, his phenomenal performance only exemplifies the holes in Sasha Knight’s. While it’s hard to get a good performance from a child actor, it still detracts from the film. In the midst of an emotional scene, you don’t use critical analysis to acknowledge that this child is inexperienced and it’s too much to expect them to be as good an actor as a trained adult, you just look for something that feels real, and in Cowboys that was lacking.

I remember watching a couple Westerns with my Dad and what always stood out to me was their simplicity, they told an uncomplicated story well. And I think that big problem with Cowboys, it tries to tell us too much and ends up telling us nothing.

Jumbo

Review by Cathal Eustace

Jumbo // VMDIFF 2021 | TN2 Magazine

The two factors that drew me to Jumbo were its offbeat plot and it’s casting of Noémie Merlant, best known for Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, 2019). Unfortunately the film failed to deliver in most regards save for a few visually impressive scenes, powerful color coding, and Merlant’s performance as Jeanne; a young woman living in rural France who falls in love with a fun fair ride which she affectionately names Jumbo.

The visuals in question are often of the Jumbo machine which is beautifully lit in an assortment of neon bulbs. Director Zoé Wittock searched far and wide for the perfect machine to play Jumbo. It was quite a lengthy casting process resulting in Wittock almost ordering a machine from the United States before the crew discovered the perfect claw shaped funfair ride.

Maybe this film’s shortcomings were accentuated by my high hopes crumbling as the narrative slowly unfurled itself before me: slow, incomplete characterisation with regards to all characters due to the poor dialogue (or maybe the poor translation) lacking performances from all cast members excluding Merlant and a plot where not much happens (but not in a calming, introspective fashion). All I have to offer you is a warning: Don’t anticipate a delicate story about psychosis or the strength of love and quirks of individuality, instead think ‘Transformers fanfiction.’

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