Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, a remake of a 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood, was a bit of a darling at Cannes this year. Coppola took home Best Director at the festival, which was only the second time a woman won the award. The film itself is a peculiar kind of Civil War era drama charged with the flavor of an erotic thriller or mystery. There’s a deep sexuality to the unraveling of the plot, as a single wounded male character navigates a school of isolated and curious women. The result is a tight tale of empowerment and intrigue, presented in a quiet and classical aesthetic.
Elle Fanning isn’t exactly a new kid on the block. In fact, her first film was a full 15 years ago, when she was the two-year-old version of Lucy Diamond Dawson in I am Sam. Since then, Fanning has often portrayed younger versions of her older sister Dakota, but her filmography extends well beyond playing second-fiddle. Her breakout role was likely her turn as Alice Dainard in J.J. Abram’s Super 8, which I enjoyed just fine. But, it is her most recent work that augurs greatness. Maleficent was a strong performance, and she also managed to be the second best actor in Trumbo, behind the Oscar-nominated Bryan Cranston. Then there was The Neon Demon. After gushing about this film, I decided to look more closely at the career of Fanning, and I was surprised to find her starring in seven films between now and the end of 2017!
Trumbo, from veteran comedy director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents and Austin Powers series), is based on the true story of the blacklisted screenwriter during an era of anti-Communism. In an academy-award nominated performance, Bryan Cranston portrays the eponymous writer throughout the late 1940s and 1950s during a time when the “Red Scare” permeated Hollywood. Though the film feels overlong due to some meandering subplots, and a few of the characters distract from the overall story, this is a solid historical drama. Cranston is undoubtedly the major attraction, but the overall themes of the story remain poignant to this day.
Nicholas Winding Refn’s latest film, The Neon Demon, is a parable about the allure and danger of beauty. The film examines the dog-eat-dog nature of the modeling industry and displays the depravity that the pursuit of beauty encourages. Using the standard “fresh face in the Big City” story as a jumping off point, Refn also invokes some interesting naiveté and maturation-based themes by focusing on the character 16-year old Jesse (Elle Fanning). Sexuality exists in this film, but is mostly depraved, violent, and feminine. The infamous and ethereal “It Factor” is touched upon as well, as well as the artifice of beauty, and how it is instantly noticeable. Though very much an “art house” film, Refn weaves a disturbing and edgy story in between his bizarre non-narrative light shows. I would not fault viewers who balk at this method of storytelling, but the film is sufficiently interesting from a cinematic standpoint to at least generate some great discussion.