REVIEW: 2018 Sundance Film Festival


Photo by Clay Leddin

Luke Price

At the Sundance Film Festival, filmmakers, production companies, critics and fans from across the world come together for two weeks in Park City, Utah to celebrate tremendous works of film, ranging in style and content. Here are the films I was fortunate enough to see.

A Boy. A Girl. A Dream. – 6/10
Qasim Basir’s one-night drama follows an L.A. club promoter and Midwestern lawyer on the night of the 2016 presidential election. A bold one-take film, or “oner,” A Boy. A Girl. A Dream. spotlights the power of adversity—both personal and societal—in bringing people together. Omari Hardwick and Meagan Good star in this real-time drama that grounds the audience in the moment and glides through Los Angeles with palpable energy. Basir’s film highlights racial tensions at the risk of heavy-handedness, however. Both visually and rhetorically, its tone and singular focus border on a tunnel vision that leaves the viewer impressed yet disoriented.
Initial release: Jan. 22, 2018

Revenge – 4/10
Coralie Fargeat’s action/thriller opens with sunkissed philandering and closes with a sunburned mix of feminism and sadism. Starring Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Revenge is, in a word, gratuitous. Cranking up nudity to record highs and churning out bloodshed to sickening levels, Fargeat’s flop goes too far in every way and consummately falls short of anything substantive. The only reprieve the film offers is shocked hilarity at the absurdity of an unkillable mistress wreaking havoc on special forces operatives in only her underwear. Abandon all sensibilities, ye who enter here. Revenge is an overload of everything indecent and improbable.
Initial release: Feb. 7, 2018

Monster – 8/10
Anthony Mandler’s courtroom drama tells the story of Steve Harmon, a 17-year-old filmmaker and student accused of armed robbery and complicit murder. With moving performances by Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Jeffrey Wright and Jennifer Ehle, Mandler’s drama soulfully disarms Steve’s identity and the oppressive weight of his accusations. Monster‘s setting is threefold: a vibrant, lively Bronx; a cold, sterile courtroom; and a hostile, unforgiving correctional facility. Step inside the complicated world of America’s criminal justice system with one of Sundance’s hottest dramas.
Initial release: Jan. 22, 2018

Dark Money – 7/10
One of the Festival’s hardest-hitting documentaries, Kimberly Reed’s film seeks answers to the legacy of anonymous, suspect funds flowing through Montana’s state government. Following journalist John Adams through a gauntlet of bureaucratic subterfuge and indiscretion, Dark Money represents six years of filmmaking and investigative journalism. In a testament to transparent lawmaking, Reed’s film presents what Adams calls “the testing ground for the American experiment” and civil reform.
Initial release: Jan. 22, 2018

Beirut – 7/10
Brand Anderson’s action/thriller chronicles America’s involvement in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from 1972 to 1982. Beirut’s protagonist is Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), a State Department retiree who must return to Beirut ten years after the conflict there left him a broken widower. Hamm is sublime in his lead role, drawing us into an otherwise complicated international conflict with smooth-talking, invincible bravado. Still, Anderson’s movie weaves numerous nations, subplots and political interests into his film, achieving a story faithful to the intricacy of the actual events and yet challenging to follow. Look for Beirut in theaters this April.
Initial release: Apr. 11, 2018

Ophelia – 5/10
The girl from Star Wars and Shakespeare—what’s not to love!? A lot, unfortunately. Claire McCarthy’s romance/thriller Hamlet adaptation focuses on the prince’s ill-fated lover Ophelia, played by Daisy Ridley. Also starring George MacKay as Hamlet, Naomi Watts, Clive Owen and Tom Felton, Ophelia flexes tremendous potential by putting a modern twist on a literary classic. It falls well short, however. McCarthy drops the audience into the Danish kingdom right away, inexplicably catching the viewers up on intrigue and story development that seem to have started before the film’s opening. Virtually every subplot feels rushed and lacking impetus. Conflict happens as though it was orchestrated rather than naturally occurring. Ridley and MacKay also lack chemistry. Mark January 22 on your calendars as a great day to stay at home and avoid the latest faux feminism fail.
Initial release: Jan. 22, 2018

The Death of Stalin – 8/10
Communism has never been funnier than in Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin. Spotlighting the dictator’s cabinet in his final days, Iannucci’s film peers inside one of history’s most oppressive regimes with shocking candor. Starring Steve Buscemi and Jeffrey Tambor, this film combines a talented cast with bold writing to achieve this generation’s closest pieces to the inimitable Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Easily my favorite screening at the Sundance Film Festival, The Death of Stalin is a maniacally funny must-see, coming to theaters in March.
Initial release: Oct. 20, 2017