Saturday, August 20, 2011


"R" is competent, absorbing in the way of prison films, often beautifully shot, and filled with some solid (if sometimes bland) characters. But it sits in the shadow of a film it often mirrors, Jacques Audiard's expansive "A Prophet," which, as time goes by, stands as one of the fullest depictions of a sentence behind bars in all of cinema. The comparison between these two films has been made before; Film Comment called "R" "the antithesis" of its predecessor. That it may be, but it doesn't hold a candle to that film's careful examination of its characters and far reach.

It definitely tries to manage with its own versions of these things. The film follows Rune (Pilou Asbaek, who looks disturbingly similar to both Michael Shannon and Jude Law) as closely as the Dardennes follow any of their leads, establishing his limited territory and picking up on the few character traits that he has: he enjoys cleaning a lot, was imprisoned for stabbing someone, and has a grandmother that cares deeply for him awaiting his release. As the "new guy" at the prison, he's picked on and assigned to beat up a man known as The Albanian. He does this, and gradually starts to work his way into the system, getting protection (as well as some disrespect, from a dude called the Mason; the actor who plays him does pretty well, though I can't find his name at the moment).

Eventually, he gets into the transporting of drugs, initially working with Rashid (Dulfi Al-Jabouri), using easter eggs as means of transport and having Rashid act as the mule. Of course, this supplies definite possibilities for things to go wrong, and if you ever do end up seeing this film, you can observe what happens. I will say that the narrative embraces Rashid in an interesting way (which fits, considering the title), though I don't think co-writer/directors Tobias Lindholm and Michael Noer ultimately have the right kind of sensitivity to deal with what he comes to do.

The film ends with a resonant bang, unlike the mellow, "Mack the Knife"-soundtracked conclusion to "A Prophet." When I first saw the ending to the earlier movie, I was disappointed. But a second viewing confirms that Audiard throughout his movie had a much clearer idea of what he was trying to say. That's much more valuable than treading water for 93 minutes and then trying to make up for it in the final shots. B-

1 comment:

Steph said...

I enjoyed this review, though I'm still on the fence as to whether this is a movie I'd like. :) BTW, I love your line about treading water for 93 minutes and trying to make up for it at the end of the film. You have a witty way with words.