For the first 20 or so minutes of its runtime, it certainly appears that Netflix might indeed have something on its hands with “Hold the Dark."
The atmosphere is foreboding and the cinematography austere, giving the picture a sense of approaching something monumental.
Riley Keough is in the midst of her best performance since she made a mad dash for freedom on the Fury Road. Jeffrey Wright appears to be drawing out a lived-in character whose stoic nature hints at some deeper traumas the film promises to reveal.
And then, the film begins to lose its way. Scenes give way to new scenes like a turtle moving through molasses, and the central shootout much ballyhooed at film festivals is woefully inert.
The deep-seated traumas at the heart of Jeffrey Wright’s Russell Core are never addressed, and the central character is reduced to nothing more than a vaguely sketched thing with no shading. A reconciliation scene of sorts amateurishly tacked on at the end does nothing to solve this problem.
Perhaps most unforgivably of all, Keough disappears for most of the remaining runtime, and the film never finds another character even half as interesting as hers, choosing instead to focus on an interminable series of mumbling men who offer no real illumination on whatever the film’s central themes are supposed to be.
The film goes from not solidifying its central conceits to completely throwing them to the howling wind in the third act, as characters make confounding, downright baffling choices that go completely against all established schemas laid out in the first 100 minutes.
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As a fervent acolyte of both director Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room” and screenwriter/costar Macon Blair’s “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore," this was profoundly disappointing.
While the talented duo certainly has plenty of great work ahead of them, this isn’t it. Keough, Blair, Tantoo Cardinal and James Badge Dale are all great, however, and Magnus Nordenhof Jønck delivers more than serviceable cinematography.
It is becoming apparent that the problem with the Netflix model is that there is no real hands-on producing coming from corporate. Filmmakers experienced in operating as their own producers, such as Bong Joon-Ho and the Coen Brothers, flourish while those who might need the occasional prod or a different perspective in the production room tend to flounder.
While watching and reviewing this, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock” came to mind; the film felt like it had something important to say, and then lost it on the way from thought to mouth, bringing forth something that was not what it meant, that was not it at all.
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