Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Movie Review: The Mountain

The Mountain ** / *****
Directed by: Rick Alverson.
Written by: Rick Alverson and Dustin Guy Defa and Colm O'Leary.
Starring: Tye Sheridan (Andy), Jeff Goldblum (Dr. Wallace Fiennes), Hannah Gross (Susan), Denis Lavant (Jack), Udo Kier (Frederick), Annemarie Lawless (Vivian), Eleonore Hendricks (Grace), Margot Klein (Peggy), Larry Fessenden (Meals), Buddy Duress (Philip Farmer), Alyssa Bresnahan (Claire), Vin Scialla (Marimba).
I so hated Rick Alverson’s film – The Comedy – that I ended up skipping his follow-up film, Entertainment – even though it got pretty good reviews. The Comedy starred Tim Heidecker has an aging hipster with a trust fund – the type of guy who deliberately wanted to provoke people by starting sentences with phrases “I don’t mean to defend Hitler, but…”. The Comedy was about this kind of insufferable hipster, and presented him in all his “glory”, but also wanted you to know that it didn’t like him, while at the same time trying to make us feel sympathetic to him in the end. The film was an anti-comedy, that wanted to be the type of film to get laughs out of that Hitler line for example, while making sure you know that the makers of the movie would never say that as well.
As evidenced by The Mountain, Alverson has basically just continued down the same path in the years since. He seems to have no desire for a wider audience, no desire to explain his characters, or plots and wants to make his films deliberately off-putting. He has total control over the images in the film – each meticulously framed – and the tone of the film of the film as well. Watching it, you almost wonder if the whole film was an experiment to see if Alverson could cast normally unpredictable actors, who do their own thing regardless of the movie they are in – like Jeff Goldblum, Udo Kier and Denis Lavant – and still maintain that control. Mission accomplished, I guess.
The film is set in the 1950s, and is about Dr. Wallace Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum) – who is the one who came up with a less invasive way of performing lobotomies – going through the eye socket with an ice pick – and travelled around America to different mental hospital to perform the procedure. The focus of the movie though is really on Fiennes’ assistant – Andy (Tye Sheridan) – a sullen teenager with a very strange father (Kier) and a desire to know what happened to his mother – who years ago was carted off to one of those mental intuitions herself. He doesn’t much like Fiennes – but travelling with him is a means to an end – to get the information he wants.
Sheridan is a gifted young actor – if you’ve only seen him as Cyclops in the X-Men movies, you’re missing out on some fine work in The Tree of Life, Mud and Joe among others – the films that liked brought him to the attention of Steven Spielberg, who cast him in the lead of Ready Player One. Alverson basically uses none of Sheridan’s skill here though – as basically even if Andy is the lead here, his job is to stand in the corner with a blank expression on his face at all times. He doesn’t talk much – and when he does, he doesn’t have much of interest to say. Sheridan must really believe in Alverson – he was also in Entertainment, and served as a producer on this film. Perhaps what they were going for in this performance was subtly – but what really comes across is just blankness. There is nothing much there to his performance – and he gets bowled over by those crazed actors when they show up.
For his part, Goldblum is a little more reserved than normal – although he’s still Goldblum here. He can mute himself more when he wants – but he works best when a director finds the right role for him to be who he is (like Wes Anderson has done). Fiennes is a horrible person – for many reasons – and Goldblum doesn’t shy away from any of them. The last act of the movie is basically dominated by Lavant – a mental patient himself, and father of another one (the very Hannah Gross, who I assume the basic direction she received here was “See what Sheridan is doing? Do that”) – as Lavant essentially gives a very long, very incoherent summation to the movie in the last act. It’s basically a sledgehammer to the face, and about as pleasant as that sounds.
I will say that there is a part of me that admires Alverson. His control here is complete – the framing precise, the art direction more so, the score deliberately alienating. He is going for a mood here – and achieves it – and more than anything seemingly wants to be aggressively anti-commercial, anti-mainstream, anti-perhaps everything. To describe his worldview as nihilistic would be understating things. Alverson achieves what he wants with The Mountain – I’ll give him that. But is it something worth spending your time watching and thinking about? Not for me.

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