Netflix Movies: Our Souls at Night, Gerald’s Game, First They Killed My Father

By | October 9, 2017

Three very different Netflix Original offerings finds Redford and Fonda back at their peak, Gugino and Greenwood at a low point, and Angelina Jolie directing another film where the main characters are brutalized for two hours-plus…

First They Killed My Father…I’ve mentioned several times that Jolie is a pain-freak in her directorial efforts, piling on the abuse (psychosexual in “The Land of Blood and Honey,” and very, very literal in “Unbroken,” which asked a main character to suffer the most since “The Passion of the Christ” before slapping on a wholly unconvincing feel-good ending) in a way that makes it feel like she gets off on it, but expertly hiding that tendency—unlike, say, Mel Gibson—beneath a veneer of Oscar-courting respectability. “First They Killed My Father” continues that oddly impersonal tradition, viewing its subjects almost exclusively through the pain they endure, but here Jolie tacks on some sub-Terrence Malick-like visuals meant to mimick interiors. If the Khymer Rouge is a fascinating story of conformity run amok—and most of this movie’s best scenes have something to do with that cult-like mentality, outlawing bright clothes or material possessions—we still haven’t seen it yet, although I did like this movie more than Jolie’s first two. Grade: C+

Gerald’s Game…The movie where Carla Gugino spends 90-odd minutes handcuffed to a bed because her husband (the underrated Bruce Greenwood, especially good here as Gugino’s taunting subconscious) dies of a heart attack during some rough play gone wrong, and you wonder how she’ll get free before a wild dog (that is eating her husband’s corpse) gets her or she dies of dehydration. Parts of this movie are almost stomach-churningly intense—how Gugino gets free is extraordinarily hard to watch—but the film’s most viscerally disturbing scene (and best) may be a flashback where Gugino’s young-teen self is molested by her father (a terrifyingly calculating Henry Thomas) during an eclipse, and then he manipulates her to cover it up. It would feel hypocritical if I dissed Jolie so strongly for showcasing main-character torture, and then gave a pass to a movie where Gugino is physically, emotionally, and mentally tortured for the duration, but horror fans may find it a worthy way to kill time, it’s just too bad that unnecessarily long epilogue feels so goofy. Grade: C-

Our Souls at Night…After that hard-to-watch double-header you should head over to the smooth, low-key style of “Souls” where the long-widowed pair of Redford and Fonda decide to start sleeping together (just sleeping in the same bed) in their small Western town, becoming the gossip of some of their friends. Any movie where a couple in their 80’s can generate controversy is showing you something unexpected, and one of the film’s many pleasures is how it keeps subverting your expectations, like the arrival of Fonda’s grandson and resentful grown-son, who is a bigger obstacle to the couple than any small-town rumors. [Even if I didn’t necessarily love the ending, I could respect the film avoiding the two most obvious paths—tragedy and ecstacy—for something closer-to-the-bone.] This is a richly-drawn, character-driven work (Redford’s speech about his thwarted artistic ambitions or the woman he almost left his wife for are heartbreakingly realized) that people always say they want more of, but too often ignore when it comes along. Let me clear: watch this film and appreciate a deeper, earthier kind-of movie romance (not to mention performances). Grade: A

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