This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Mikey’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Scratched out of some crevice in America's large intestine. This is rough stuff. I caught this after seeing Shang-chi knowing nothing about the plot because the showtimes happened to align. This is one where I would’ve preferred a warning. I was expecting fucked up, but I wasn’t expecting this topic…
Remarkably, IMO, what’s most fucked up is how this is a road trip movie about a grumpy movie star healing alongside a silly kid and finding a love that was right before his eyes. It cooks trauma and horror and rot into banal tropes and banal places. The way Isaac’s relationship with Tiffany Haddish and Tye Sheridan fits into a nicer movie is truly disturbing and incredibly done. This, on some level, is that nicer movie.
Isaac and Sheridan’s relationship is the meat of this movie, showing the small daily domestic implications of America's huge imperial horror-show. This peaks in that uniquely horrifying motel room scene. This scene is incredible. It effectively plays on what we all know about Schraeder and his redemptive violence. You assume it’s going to go too far. Somehow, the fact that it doesn't go too far makes it feel like it went WAY too far. It's all terrible potential, barely being contained. The act of containing it is an act of love. That it has to be contained is evil. That a bit seeps out is depressing and gross. The scene itself is some disgusting blend of love and evil. I was shook. I wish the movie ended there.
But I see why it doesn't. It’s easier to watch Isaac pay the price — living a lonely fucked up life unable to process his sins and trauma — than to watch the kid pay the price. I think the actual ending felt obvious, but maybe that's the point. It brought the terror of American imperialism into the cherished American domestic space in a literal sense. It enabled that magnificent final shot. It's sadder on a deeper level.
I do have one substantial gripe: Willem Dafoe. His presence was too distracting in a role that shouldn't be so distracting! It put too much weight on a singular villain, instead of a nightmarish shit show of institutional evil. I thought this damaged its treatment of Abu Ghraib. That first nightmare sequence was so terribly affective, hitting so suddenly and horrifically (especially going in knowing nothing about the plot) that it physically hurt. It haunts the whole film. Returning later with Dafoe's character felt unnecessary, obvious, and too reliant on familiar images of torture. It made it feel more like a standard narrative device, instead of some bottomless evil that soaks the fabric of the film.
But good stuff. A nasty dense little beast of a film.
(I wasn’t expecting all the St Louis content! Romance and Schlafly beer and the botanical garden light show!! Something wholesome for a disturbed lil' homesick boy to walk away with.)
(Wow this does a good job photographing a 21st century American landscape)
EDIT: Just reading about Schraeder off-handedly referencing getting thrown out of several online poker tournaments, most definitely for being an old gross troll. Are there any official accounts of this??