FlixChatter Review: Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)

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I have to admit the first time I heard about this novel was a few years ago when Richard Armitage’s character in the Christmas edition of Vicars of Dibley mentioned this Thomas Hardy’s novel as his favorite. Well, I remember reaching about what that novel was about and was immediately hooked. So a headstrong woman in Victorian England attracts three very different suitors, I definitely like the sound of that.

In stories like this, casting is crucial and that’s why I approach this review more from that angle. Let me start with the heroine, Bathsheba Everdene.

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I love the fact that Bathsheba is played by Carey Mulligan who’s appropriately free spirited and convincing as an independent young woman. A woman living in 19th-century England would not straddle her horse like she does when she rides, and she works the farm just as hard as any man.

When she first encountered Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer, he’s immediately smitten and it’s easy to see why. Matthias Schoenaerts, who somehow reminds me of Viggo Mortensen in this role, portrays Gabriel with deep vulnerability. He’s all doe-eyed with a hint of smolder… not the steamy kind of smolder, but one infused with such sincerity that makes it easy to root for him.

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Their two lives somehow turned out drastically different — Bathsheba became wealthy when she suddenly inherited her uncle’s estate, whilst Gabriel came to a misfortune in one tragic night. The interesting dynamic of their circumstances only adds to the intrigue of their relationship, especially given how a female boss was quite a rare occurrence back in the day. I like how the film shows how Bathsheba tried to defy convention the best way she could, to make in a man’s world and be taken seriously as a farm owner.

The next suitor is more of Bathsheba’s equal in terms of economic status though he’s considerably older in age. Michael Sheen gives a dignified presence to William Boldwood, but also the appropriate sensitivity of someone who’s financially successful but one who’s been unlucky in love. The relationships between Bathsheba and these two men are especially engaging, it’s made a bit trickier by the fact that Boldwood likes Gabriel and appreciate his fervent loyalty.

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I’ve mentioned in this post that the casting of the third suitor is disappointing. Sergeant Frank Troy is described as a handsome, irresponsible and impulsive young man… so I imagine an actor with devilish charisma and undeniable sex appeal for the role. Well, no offense Tom Sturridge but you ain’t that person and you certainly did NOT convince me as someone Bathsheba would risk everything for. Thus, her abrupt decision seems so out of character and doesn’t feel true.

Yes, the much-talked-about swordsmanship scene in the woods was beautifully-filmed but that’s more of a testament of Thomas Vinterberg‘s directing and his ability to create such an ethereal ambiance. I wanted to THAT scene to take my breath away, to be rendered speechless and all tingly from the sheer passion of the two characters, but it just wasn’t to be. The love scene that follows also lacks any kind of eroticism, which made the entire relationship lackluster. It also didn’t help that Sturridge just doesn’t look like a soldier or someone with a hint of danger that could tame or intimidate a woman like Bathsheba. I believe that charisma, especially of a sexual nature, is not something an actor can train for.

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The way the story unfolds is rather predictable. Yes it’s based on a novel so people who’ve read it would’ve known how things turns out, but for those who haven’t, Vinterberg didn’t create any suspense that’d make us guess who Bathsheba will end up with. But Vinterberg’s strength behind the camera is creating a lush and atmospheric look that serves the story well, thanks largely to his frequent collaborator Charlotte Bruus Christensen who also did the cinematography for The Hunt.

There’s a certain melancholy in the film to be expected but it doesn’t feel corny or contrived. Mulligan and Schoenaerts who share the most screen time have a lovely chemistry… the way they steal glances every chance they get is the kind of stuff romantic dramas are made of. Apart from that, I was kind of expecting something a bit more unconventional from Vinterberg. I was so impressed by The Hunt and this one seems like a lesser film by comparison, though it’s not exactly an apples and oranges kind of comparison, but in general sense. This feels more Hollywood, safer and less edgy, but thankfully there are still things I like about it.

I have to say that the fact that sound went out for about 3-4 minutes during the final scene between Bathsheba and Gabriel! It was excruciating because it’s supposed to be a key emotional scene. The sound came back 2 minutes before the ending but still, that was awful that it happened. I’m not going to fault this film for that snafu of course, but the miscasting of Sgt. Troy is a big one for me. It did not derail the film but it prevents the film from being a truly compelling and fiery romantic drama that I had expected.

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Have you seen this film? Well, what did YOU think?

Indie Review: Danish Thriller THE HUNT

This one and In A World (review upcoming) are the last two films I saw at MSPIFF. I have been intrigued by The Hunt for a while because I’ve been hearing great things about it and Mads Mikkelsen’s performance. Well, he certainly did NOT disappoint.

The Hunt a.k.a. Jagten (2012)

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A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son’s custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.

I came to know Mads Mikkelsen through his role as a bleeding-eyed Bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale but he’s not likely to be known only for that role in his distinguished career and that’s because he’s soooo much better than that.

He’s got an icy, almost ominous look to him but here he’s actually very convincing as a warm-hearted, meek Kindergarten teacher. The little kids adore Lucas in the small community he lives in, and though he’s been through a pretty tough divorce and missing his young son in a bitter custody battle, he doesn’t seem to let that affect his friendly demeanor.

The film opens with a bunch of his best mates jumping into a lake in a cool Autumn day. It’s a Danish film so it’s no surprise to see a big burly guy strip naked as he runs into a lake, which then Lucas has to rescue as he gets cramp as he hits the water. So Lucas is well-loved by his pals too, and it’s easy to see why. On the way to school, Lucas often walks past his best friend Theo’s house whose little girl happens to be one of his students. Everything seems sweet and cute as can be as they walk together to school, but soon it’s obvious that the cute blond girl becomes somewhat smitten with Lucas. It sounds quite normal at first, that is until something she said about him ends up escalating beyond anyone, least of all Lucas, would ever have imagined. There’s no such thing as an ‘innocent little lie’ and boy, this film truly shows us the really WORST case scenario of the townsfolk’s witch-hunt reaction.

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At first I was wondering why the title is called The Hunt (Jagten in Danish), but as I’m watching it, it’s most appropriate. Lucas becomes the victim of being deemed guilty in the court of public opinion, his friends shun him and the whole community practically shuts him out that he can’t even shop for groceries. It’s amazing how fast and seemingly easy people could turn on someone, even one of their own, as even Lucas’ new girlfriend doubts him. He virtually has no way of defending himself and given the grave nature of what he’s accused of, I guess I can’t blame people for being resentful of who they think is the perpetrator. Director Thomas Vinterberg doesn’t pull any punches in creating a tense, unsettling atmosphere with minimalist style. The quiet, almost serene look of his film enhances the feeling of terror, it’s as if I feel like I too was being hunted as I was fully immersed in Lucas and his plight.

The film is not violent nor gory, which goes to show that an adept director could effectively gives us the chills without ‘indulging’ in blood and gore. Mikkelsen is absolutely superb as Lucas in one of the Oscar-worthy performances I saw this year. His character is transformed by this unfortunate event and I kept thinking he’d do something drastic as a result, but thankfully the film is not so predictable. Mikkelsen has this quiet grace about him but with this simmering intensity underneath, you just don’t know what he’s capable of and he could truly explode at any moment. There’s a memorable scene on a Christmas eve that I won’t soon forget. Lucas looked back a few times at one of the men sitting a few pews behind him and the way he stares with his watery eyes sent chills down my spine. At that point he’s a desperate man with nothing else to lose and that sense of sorrow and restrained anger… basically a man at the end of his rope. Mikkelsen was able to capture all of that complex emotion in this one scene.

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The film’s supporting cast is quite good, especially Thomas Bo Larsen as Theo and Lasse Fogelstrøm in his debut film role as Lucas’ teenage son, but the star of the show is undoubtedly Mikkelsen. Props to Charlotte Bruus Christensen for her lush and evocative cinematography that is instrumental in creating the serene but eerie atmosphere. Vinterberg, Christensen and Mikkelsen have all deservedly won an award at Cannes for their respective work. It’s inevitable that Tinseltown would beckon the Danish auteur with his film’s success. I have no problem with that, just so long as he maintain his skillful film-making skills when he makes his Hollywood film.

4.5/5


Thoughts on The Hunt, if you have seen this one, I’d love to hear what you think!