Tessa Thompson

Sorry to bother you

13/12/18

Boots Riley is a new name to me but, on the merits of this, his first feature, it’s one I expect to hear a lot more of in the near future. Sorry To Bother You is a quirky slice of satire and, in many ways, a polemic – a powerful critique of the current state of American society. Riley, who in a recent interview proudly announced that he is ‘a communist,’ clearly has a healthy distrust of big corporations and their ethos of rampant greed. He’s also more than happy to state his dissatisfaction with the situation.

The action occurs in a near-future Oakland, where a corporation called WorryFree offers workers food and board in exchange for a lifetime of unpaid servitude – and where the most popular show on TV is one where the participants are ritually humiliated and beaten to a pulp. Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) lives in his Uncle’s garage, where he shares the bills with his performance artist girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson). Constantly strapped for cash, but understandably reluctant to take the WorryFree route, Cassius seeks a post at telemarketing company, RegalView, where he is told to ‘stick to the script’ and where he will be paid a commission on every sale he makes.

At first he struggles to stop his clients from hanging up on him, but then veteran employee, Langston (Danny Glover) gives him a bit of free advice. ‘Use your white voice, bro,’ Langston urges him, ‘and things will improve.’ Cassius prevaricates for a while, but soon finds he has a real flair for impersonating a white man’s voice. It’s not long before he’s closing many profitable deals and is being groomed to take the gold elevator up to the top floor, where the ‘Power Dealers’ rule.

But when co workers, Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) and Squeeze (Steven Yeun) decide to form a pressure group with the intention of securing a fairer deal for RegalView’s workforce, Cassius finds himself with a difficult choice to make…

What starts as an irreverent and amusing farce takes a much darker turn when Cassius opts to ride that elevator to the top floor. Up there, he is the guest at a lavish party thrown by RegalView’s enigmatic CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), who pressures him into performing a rap routine (something he has no talent for), and who then offers him a vast amount of money to head up a brand new initiative…

As I said earlier, this is a debut film and since Riley’s previous experience has been as a musician, STBY occasionally looks a little rough around the edges. There are some poorly lit nighttime sequences and occasional bits of character interplay that don’t really develop into anything – but there’s no doubting the power and passion fuelling this story. A scene where Cassius spills the beans about RegalViews secret plans only to see the companies shares go through the roof is, in the era of Donald Trump, all too believable. Stanfield and Thompson are beguiling in the lead roles and, as you might expect, there’s a powerful soundtrack to push along the action.

Slightly deranged and very, VERY original, this is the opening salvo in what could prove to be a powerful new voice in contemporary cinema. It’s well worth checking out.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

War On Everyone

null

09/10/16

Writer/director John Michael McDonagh dazzled with his first two movies – The Guard and Calvary, both set in Ireland – but his relocation to New Mexico for the nihilistic War On Everyone has resulted in a decidedly botched end-product. It’s a bit like one of those budget boxes of fireworks you buy cheap after November 5th – sure, there are some stunning pyrotechnics in the box, but there’re also a lot of damp squibs and even a few complete duds.

Bob and Terry (in what may or may not be a knowing nod to The Likely Lads) are a pair of corrupt cops, careering gleefully around their home town, taking bribes, sharing class A drugs with their perps and mercilessly beating up anybody who stands in their way. Much of this is presented as knockabout comedy, though most of it is very hard to laugh at. Bob (Michael Pena) appears to be the brains of the operation, a man as likely to start discussing philosophy in the course of his duties, as he is to read the Miranda rights. Terry (Alexander Skarsgard) is a hulking boy child who idolises Bob and doesn’t have much in his life, other than an addiction to the songs of Glenn Campbell and a complete belief in his partner’s genius. When the two men are sent to investigate a stabbing, they start to uncover a high-level crime syndicate, headed up by the suave and cultured Lord James Mangan (Theo James, channelling a young Rupert Everett). Much blood, gunfire and reckless driving ensues…

This is a film that will inevitably divide audiences. It’s true that there are inspired moments here – a scene where the two cops stand over a stabbed man, while his wife sobs helplessly in the background, yet somehow can’t stop themselves from eating burgers is brilliant; likewise the scene where Terry waltzes new girlfriend, Jackie (Tessa Thompson) around his empty flat to the strains of Rhinestone Cowboy is an unexpected joy amidst all the senseless violence and destruction – but for every scene that impresses, there’s also an artless collection of ‘jokes’ about Islam, gays, blacks and women, that are so stunningly inappropriate that it beggars belief – it’s as though McDonagh is trying so hard to be ‘cool’ that he’s lost all sense of quality control and, overall, the film suffers for his woeful lack of insight.

This is a shame because there are enough excellent moments here to convince you that the film could have been superb, if only McDonagh had managed to rein in some of its baser elements. As it stands, this can only be described as a great big missed opportunity.

3 stars

Philip Caveney