Quick Reviews: 'Dark Waters', 'Honey Boy' | Mark Ruffalo, Todd Haynes, Piercing Drama
Generally I want to start the review with a bit more poetic nuances but in this case I’d like to open with the fact that I love learning about something new when watching a film or television. Therefore Dark Waters had really satisfying storytelling to me, taking us through a lawyer’s case about corporate greed, environmentalism and responsibility. Directed by Todd Haynes and based on The New York Times article written by Nathaniel Rich, it hits the usual beats of a legal film but does it with more efficiency than many counterparts.
The basic story of the film is definitely its strong suit which means that the ”entertainment” part lies heavily on how dumb or smart you tell it to your audience. It’s very thorough at points when there is a need for it and skips to the engaging conversations between characters when there is a longing for that. Very rarely does it let you off its grip so those rare instances don’t really drag the overall journey down all that much. There are great supporting performances to be found here, Victor Garber (as Phil Donnelly) and Bill Camp (Wilbur Tennant) are both menacingly good in their two very different roles. More solid work is provided by the casting director, Mark Ruffalo (Robert Bilott) as the main star and Edward Lachman as the cinematographer.
There are quite a few relationship and family scenes sprinkled in here, where Bilott’s wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway), three kids and his grandmother are introduced. Hathaway misses the mark a couple of times since we never get to know the relationships and personalities so she is seemingly written into a corner. Even after the credits start rolling, we barely know Robert Bilott himself which makes the family scenes seem like they were slapped on as an afterthought. The events of Dark Waters happen in more than 15 years but it’s a bit hard to tell from watching as everything looks pretty much the same which makes you think if the makeup and costume department had enough guidance here.
Smileys: Story, Bill Camp, Mark Ruffalo, cinematography
Good thing that there are enough boats for most of us to enjoy ourselves above the water.
What a year 2019 was for Shia LaBeouf, first with ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’ in which he was an acting force to be reckoned with and now with Honey Boy where he serves as a writer and actor. A self-reflection of sorts written during his time in rehab, it is given to Alma Har’el to direct which turned out to be absolutely the right choice. The film has a personal story and thought that does reduce some of the cinematic effect, it never comes off self-indulgent or arrogant but instead it is a compelling look at someone’s growth from childhood to adulthood.
Har’el does magnificent work and seems to lead this movie both with her own vision and with sincere care about her friend’s words. The shots are perfect whenever there is a private conversation happening between two people, letting the viewer to almost be a visible part of it in the room. LaBeouf plays James Lort who is based on LaBeouf’s real father and he acts his heart out here in a part which probably was the hardest of his career so far. It’s a performance that you can’t look away from. Otis Lort (based on LaBeouf himself) is played by both Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges in different ages and it is another strong showing from youngster Jupe. The script is written very well, not too showy for an intimate story but not too simple to express feelings about abuse and lack of stability as a child.
Whereas Jupe is solid, Hedges seems completely miscast as the older Otis. His parts just come off as being a sad boy with a sad addiction, on top of that it’s combined with much less interesting dialogue and visuals compared to the childhood scenes. I just never buy him as Otis (or as Shia for that matter). Honey Boy is at its strongest in those vital boy-growing-up scenes and I do wish there was more of that, even if it wasn’t completely factual. Instead there are some scenes that offer nothing but pretty cool shots and unnecessary work for the production designer.
Smileys: Directing, Shia LaBeouf, Noah Jupe
Frowneys: Lucas Hedges, structure