Grasping reality: Quality streaming choices

Published April 15, 2021, 10:23 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman

The three films today all offer firm grasps of social reality; but arrive at it in different ways. One does so by having us enter the mind of an aging individual afflicted with Alzheimer’s, while the second offers a look at institutional racism via a strong sense of time & place. The third is recent history, a shameful chapter of post 9/11 American military behavior.

‘The Father’

The Father (Video on Demand) – To be honest, when I first heard about this film and watched the trailer, I dismissed the film as a formulaic chronicling of a man’s descent into Alzheimer’s with strong performances from Anthony Hopkins as the sufferable father, and from Olivia Colman as the frustrated, understanding daughter. So was really surprised with how the Christopher Hampton-Florian Zeller screenplay played out, and the masterful direction of Zeller. The unique POV taken is that of Hopkins‘ character himself; so we, the audience, are as disoriented, confused, and questioning as the main character, and it’s some cinematic feat.

Thrust into the mind of this Senior citizen, we share with him his eroding grasp of reality, how simple statements and episodes become time bombs of uncertainty and being misunderstood. Even the simple recognition of people become tests of cognition. It’s a dizzying, tension-filled exercise that makes this film become so much more than the sum of its parts. Hopkins won the BAFTA Lead Actor for his work here, and it’s easy to see why. I don’t see him taking the Oscar away from the sentimental vote that would be Chadwick Boseman in the USA’s Academy Awards, but in any other year, this would be as deserving a choice.

‘Red, White and Blue’

Red, White & Blue: Small Axe anthology (Amazon Original) – This is the third film I’ve caught from Director Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, and once again, he delves into his childhood and past, as an African-Caribbean living in England in the late 60’s to the 80’s. Unlike the exceptional Mangrove and Lover’s Rock, this one is more a character study – that of real life person Leeroy Logan, who in the 1980’s was among the first West Indians to join the Metropolitan Police Force in London. More so then than now, it was the kind of decision that would evoke outrage and derision from own community, who felt that blatant racism and discrimination were too entrenched in the police force.

Logan (John Boyega) sought to fight these prevailing attitudes from within, spurred by an aunt who worked as a liaison between the community and the police. Making things only more difficult for Logan was the fact that back then, his own father was a victim of race-inspired police brutality, and was defendant of an ongoing case. Boyega skillfully depicts the high wire act Logan was forced to undertake; his father practically disowning him, and the racist members of the force picking on him, and even refusing to back him up when he’d radio for help. There is something open-ended and unresolved with the film, and that’s possibly why I didn’t feel it made as strong an impact on me as the other two I’ve watched. But Red White & Blue is still a potent, inspirational film with a message.

‘The Mauritanian’

The Mauritanian (Video on Demand) – While based on harrowing events that transpired post 9/11 as the US military moved Heaven and Hell to exact retribution and find terrorists who were involved in the daring attack, there’s something problematic about this film in terms of narrative and catharsis. I guess part of it would stem from the fact that as the audience, we’re conflicted as to where our sympathies go out to. We fully appreciate the need for revenge and justice that drove the US military to search all over the world for those implicated in leading the attacks; but the brutal and blatant disregard for basic human rights that characterized what Guantanamo was all about are also inescapable facts.

At the center of this film is the true plight of Mohammed of Slahi (portrayed by the impressive Tahar Rahim, who played The Serpent on Netflix). Defending him pro bono are lawyers Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley), and on the opposite end, the military’s prosecuting lawyer is Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch with an American accent). We follow the facts and appreciate the bonding friendships that were created as a result of Hollander taking on the case, but the fact that this was a shameful chapter in America’s pursuit of justice is the lasting impression. The performances are solid, it’s just the desired payoff of watching the film that leaves ambivalence more than anything concrete or satisfactory.