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rochefort [Celluloid 10.01.15] thriller

Pat (Anton Yelchin) and the rest of his touring punk band The Ain’t Rights have just woken up in a cornfield, a low-impact casualty of late night white-line fever. They’re out of gas and money; their next gig was canceled before they even showed up. Pat, drummer Reece (Joe Cole), bassist Sam (Alia Shawkat) and singer Tiger (Callum Turner) are this close to calling off the disastrous road tour altogether, but a sympathetic promoter at their next stop in Oregon gets them a last-minute gig.

Unfortunately they’ll be playing for a predominantly white supremacist skinhead audience in a ramshackle bar tucked deep in the woods. Pat and company aren’t at all down with the Neo Nazi set, but they won’t have enough money to get home otherwise, so they knuckle up and take the job. Unable to hide their disdain for the rowdy band of skins, they open their set with the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”, and surprisingly don’t get stomped for it since the rest of their set gets the crowd to happily moshing. The trouble actually starts when they’re loading up to leave and accidentally witness a brutal murder in the backstage green room, which prompts manager Gabe (Macon Blair) to lock them inside and contact owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart), a ruthless, longtime True Believer. The standoff gets ugly quick, the band and Chelsea cut-sporting Amber (Imogen Poots) cornered by a small horde of armed and pissed-off white power thugs.

The follow up to director Jeremy Saulnier’s excellent “Blue Ruin”, “Green Room” finds Saulnier working with more money and more star power in Yelchin, Poots, and Stewart, and the result is another strong film from a filmmaker clearly on a path to great things. In “Ruin” he took the revenge story and made it fresh, casting Blair as a sad and desperate man who seeks payback for the death of his family but who never really blossoms into a merchant of death, and rather remains scared and clumsy to the end and achieves his goals mostly by happenstance.

“Green Room” has a more traditional second half once the film becomes a siege movie, and it’s definitely a fantastic siege movie, but every moment before we reach that point is utterly fascinating. I was a punk myself (maybe not the most hardcore, but I was part of the scene for many years), and every major detail of this film rings true. From the dismal truth of life on the road for a broke punk band, to the simmering disdain between the Ain’t Rights and their racist, distant cultural cousins, to the look and feel of Darcy’s roadhouse, Saulnier’s script has an authenticity that most insulated filmmakers could never pull off.

I think most people who are familiar with Anton Yelchin won’t be surprised to learn that he turns in his usual good work. I like him best in intense mode, such as Reese in “Terminator Salvation” (he was really the only good thing in that one), but Saulnier, much like he did with Blair in “Ruin”, isn’t interested in another main character who evolves from peaceful everyman to blood-soaked avenger, and Pat’s journey is less a physical transformation than a principled one. The real bone-breaking gets done by Reece and Poots’ Amber, who excels as the sardonic girl in the wrong place at the wrong time who just says screw it and picks up the baseball bat. And Patrick Stewart’s Darcy is probably gonna freak some people out. Stewart’s flirted with darker characters before, but he’s never gone this deep into the abyss. Darcy is a threat to be taken seriously, his army of deluded soldiers more afraid of him than anything else, including the police. Stewart masterfully plays him as a social chameleon, one who is visibly bored by drama and complications, but will nevertheless do whatever it takes to protect his business.

“Green Room” also makes a very interesting case for the dramatic dominance of the modern action thriller. I’m personally tired of being told by Hollywood that a drama can only be “important” if it’s a biographical/historical/true story. There are good films in that vein, of course, but the idea that a violent action thriller like “Ruin” or “Green Room” can’t reach or even surpass the same heights is simply ludicrous. We’ve had very few measured cinematic looks at life as a punk such as “Suburbia” and maybe “Sid and Nancy”, and the depiction of punk culture alone makes “Green Room” an eye-opener. And when the action starts it does so in a way that doesn’t feel polished or unnecessary, but instead gets the adrenaline pumping in the way that only the best movies can.

I honestly think that Saulnier’s latest is one of the best films of the year so far. When its success opens up even more doors for him, I hope he continues to make films that ignore the established trappings of their genres and show us more of the rich world he’s just starting to build.

Recommended Release: Blue Ruin

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