Monday, September 21, 2015

Daniel Barber's The Keeping Room

Cody is roped in by a Western thriller that will get a limited theatrical release on September 25th.

Daniel Barber made his feature directorial debut with the well-received Michael Caine elderly vigilante film Harry Brown in 2009, and has now followed it up with this dark, dour Western thriller.

The setting is the American south in 1865, the last days of the Civil War. Circumstances of this troubled time have left teenager Louise (Hailee Steinfeld, starring in her third Western following 2014's The Homesman and her breakthrough role in the 2010 remake of True Grit) and her older sister Augusta (Brit Marling) stranded at their home in the countryside, forced to fend for themselves. Family slave Mad (Muna Otaru) is stuck in this situation with them, no longer fully a servant to the girls. Although Louise tries to hold on to a concept of superiority, they've come to realize they're all on the same level. All in this together.

Their struggle to survive gets much more intense when Augusta catches the attention of two rogue Union soldiers (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller) who have been raping and murdering their way across the south.

First-time screenwriter Julia Hart had an interesting idea here. The Keeping Room is really just a home invasion thriller about three young women having to contend with a pair of homicidal creeps, a variation on something we've seen numerous times. By setting the story in 1865 Hart has made it more unique, adding a new level of intrigue to the proceedings and giving herself some historical issues to deal with.

The events of the day linger over the film, but most of the time the biggest difference the period setting provides is in the production design and modes of transportation. Looking beyond that, The Keeping Room is a very typical story of rape and brutality. Set this in modern day and it would be brushed aside as an average genre flick, but this way it has a chance at earning a bit more prestige.

While the villains are barely characters, the women do have depth and the actresses all turn in solid performances. Given her work in True Grit, I always expect Steinfeld to do well, but this was my first time seeing Marling and Otaru and they both impressed.

The Keeping Room is a decent film, but I wouldn't rank it any higher than that. It's a middle-of-the-road type of picture, and the first half feels like it's moving at a crawl. If you want to kill 94 minutes with a Western featuring some good acting, it fits the bill. You could do a lot better, but you could also do a lot worse.

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