Sunday, 2 February 2014

Labor Day: Movie Review

Labor Day: Movie Review

Cast: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg, James Van Der Beek, Tobey Maguire
Director: Jason Reitman

The director of Up In The Air returns for a masterful take on a Joyce Maynard novel.

It's 1987, small town America, and young teen Henry (Gattlin Griffith) is planning to spend Labor Day weekend, dreaming of life and getting ready to go back to school. But Henry's already grown up, having to care for his depressed mother Adele (a washed out Kate Winslet), who's never been the same since her husband Gerald (Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D's Clark Gregg) left.

Unable to really live or even leave the house, Adele's prone to only occasional visits out, accompanied by Henry. However, one day, heading out to the shop for their monthly pilgrimage, Henry's approached by a man called Frank who is in dire need of help. Corralling Adele into helping as well, Frank, along with Henry, heads back to their's here that they realise Frank is a criminal on the run.

Suddenly, the tension's palpable and Labor Day weekend is going to be a long weekend in more ways than one.

Labor Day is a gorgeously shot and utterly resonant piece of film-making from Up In The Air director Jason Reitman, who has, in one fell swoop, substantially upped his game (which was admittedly already pretty high).

Through beauteous tracking shots and occasionally portentous music, this surprising drama unfolds in a manner that's both engrossing and utterly compelling, forcing you to wallow in the story. There's a pensive, almost summer dream-like quality to the images as they fall from the screen; through gradual reveals and flashbacks, Reitman weaves together a cinematic tapestry that's subtle, nuanced and utterly hard to ignore.

Winslet's mightily impressive as the single mom, who's battling depression and anxiety after years of being solo and homebound after a break up devastated her. Even that is only the tip of the iceberg for her story, but her performance is never less than captivating as she struggles with trying to come back to life and delusions of a happy ending.

Josh Brolin also deserves praise too for his understated and initially menacing turn as the escaped convict Frank. He brings a palpable sense of dread to start off with as he intimidates Henry and Adele into helping him; but unsurprisingly in this tale, there's more to his story than you first realise. The coming of age / unconventional - yet somehow conventional - bonding he shares with Henry is surprisingly poignant and tugs at your heart strings for all its rugged sensitivity. Add into that a scene which stirs the steaming bubbling pot of sexual tension in the creation of a pie and you've got something hot and sizzling that's all about the interpretation rather than the reality.

It's not revealing much to say that events and neighbours conspire against this Stockholm Syndrome story, but the main trio put in such quietly understated and impressive performances that you can't help but get captivated in this moody tale. All three are hoping for a dream outcome to what can -and must be- a doomed reality. Henry wants a father figure, Adele a release from years of not living and loving and Frank wants to atone for the past, regain what he lost and of course, be free.

All of these are doomed to failure as the bittersweet journey continues, but Reitman handles each with such deftness and directorial dexterity that we're captivated, swept up in the hopes and fears and ensconced in the story telling.

There are a couple of flaws in it though - a scene with Tobey Maguire seems surplus to requirements and some of the flashbacks seem a little unnecessarily dragged out and interspersed too randomly, but these are minor quibbles in a piece of film-making that luxuriates in the finer details of long lazy weekends.

All in all, Labor Day is a superior serving of drama that deserves your time.


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