Wednesday, April 24, 2019

More cinema diary: 4/24/19 -- Little Woods and Stockholm

Some weeks, the number of movies challenges even those of us who tend to review as much as possible. This is one of those weeks. As a result, I'm trying something a bit different; i.e., I'm going to write about as much as possible in the most efficient way. If it works, you may see this approach again. I'm calling it a "diary" even though it reflects nothing about my life -- other than the fact that much of it has been measured in movies. Make what you will of that.

Little Woods

With Tessa Thompson in a starring role, Little Woods takes a grim but clear-eyed look at the difficulties of surviving in a small North Dakota town where the oil workers use opioids to stave off pain and just about everyone struggles to make ends meet. Thompson's Ollie is just finishing a stint on probation after being jailed for transporting drugs across the Canadian border. She's committed to building a new life and hopes to move to surroundings that are less conducive to the kind of dead-end living that trapped her in the first place. But Ollie's efforts are thwarted by her half-sister (Lily James), a young mother with a talent for trouble. Threated with losing the house where her late mother lived and worried about her sister's second pregnancy, Ollie does the one thing she pledged to avoid: Sell drugs. Little Woods hardly qualifies as a festival of joy: James's Deb barely scrapes by. She lives in a trailer in a parking lot; we know it's only a matter of time until that situation goes bad. The best reason to see Little Woods stems from Thompson's performance, which finds her branching out from previous work in movies such as Thor: Ragnarok and Sorry to Bother You. Little Woods adds tension to the proceedings by giving Ollie a week to raise enough money to save her mother's house from foreclosure. Some stretches of director Nia DaCosta's feature debut tend to drag. Still, Little Woods stands as a serious attempt to explore lives that seldom find their way to the screen, and Thompson's performance keeps the wheels turning.


Regular readers of my reviews know that I think Ethan Hawke was robbed of an Oscar. The injustice began when Hawke wasn't even nominated for a 2019 Academy Award for his performance as a guilt-ridden pastor in First Reformed. Awards or no, Hawke makes interesting choices about the movies in which he appears. In Stockholm, the story of a real-life bank heist that took place in Sweden in 1973, Hawke plays Lars Nystrom, a jacked-up criminal who invades a bank where he holds a couple of employees hostage. Lars wants $1 million and insists on obtaining the release of his bank-robbing pal Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong). The movie is meant to illustrate something about Stockholm syndrome, the way hostages can come to sympathize with their captors. To that end, Stockholm builds a relationship between Lars and Bianca (Noomi Repace), one of his hostages, a vulnerable but savvy bank employee. Director Robert Budreau, who worked with Hawke on Born to Be Blue, treats the robbery as an example of bumbling lunacy on the part of the thieves, Stockholm's stolid chief of police (Christopher Heyerdahl) and the Swedish prime minister (Shanti Roney) who refuses to let Lars leave with the hostages. The supporting cast acquits itself well, but Stockholm belongs to Hawke, who creates a portrait of a self-dramatizing felon with a limited capacity for planning and a tendency to panic. Lars even wears a costume to his criminal outing, entering the bank in a leather suit, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat. If you've been reading this and thinking about 1975's Dog Day Afternoon, I don't blame you. It's difficult to watch Stockholm without remembering director Sidney Lumet's look at a bank hostage situation in New York. In that movie, Al Pacino played a thief with an agenda. Here, Hawke follows suit, capturing the chaotic pathos in Lars' misguided fever dream of a heist.

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