Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Assassination Nation

There is a camera shot in Assassination Nation that cannot be ignored. It’s a shot so well executed that it instinctually caused me to sit back in my chair in awe, before leaning forward to get as close to the movie theater screen as possible, in an attempt understand how in the hell the shot was being pulled off. The shot more or less kicks off the final act of the film, an act of pure, violent madness; of destruction and holy fuck chaos.

The shot begins (and remains) on the outside of a house, looking in. The camera gracefully glides along the windows of the second floor of the house, as we watch four young women inside the house grow increasingly nervous as to what is happening outside. The women quickly move from room to room, ensuring that the windows are secure, the doors are locked, and the alarm is set. While outside, many masked and armed men quietly try to gain entry to the home. The camera moves across the second floor of the house, and then suddenly glides down to the first floor, maintaining focus on one of the four women at all times. The camera moves freely yet carefully across the first floor of the home, then back up to the second floor, then back to the first, all while the women grow more terrified.
This shot is achieved in one unbroken take, and it is a masterpiece of timing, movement, choreography, and lighting. Truly, this single shot is in astounding achievement of cinematography; it will surely be one, if not the, best movie shots of the year. (I’m definitely keeping an eye out for anything cinematographer Marcell Rév shoots in the future.) It’s the kind of shot that can validate an entire film, even if there was nothing else in the film worth validating. Which is certainly not the case for Assassination Nation.

The film posits a terrifying yet fascinating idea: what happens when the majority of the citizens of a small town have their phone information hacked and shared publicly? Pictures, browser history, emails – everything, right out in the open. How would people react individually, and how would they react collectively? Those questions depend entirely on the individual, of course, and Assassination Nation focuses on four of them: Lily (Odessa Young), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), Bex (Hari Nef), and Em (Abra). The film is captured mostly from the perspective of Lily, as she and her three fellow high school friends navigate the initially amusing, and progressively dangerous, prospect of having their private information made viral.
Assassination Nation is a frenzied, neon-soaked nightmare of contemporary American society. At times, the film clearly aims for satirical hyperbole, but in other scenes, the movie has a razor-sharp focus on the fatal limits every mind (particularly young ones) can be pushed to under duress. The film’s director, Sam Levinson, utilizes tons of narrative tricks to hold our attention. In fact, for the most part, the film is assembled under the assumption that everyone watching it has ADHD. Split screens, shocking violence, rapid cutting, inverted camera shots, on-screen texts, and much more, are used to keep us from getting distracted.

All this narrative anarchy is what makes the third act of the film so arresting. That act begins with the shot I’ve described above, and plays itself out in a much more patient and interesting manner (while still being completely batshit crazy.)

Levinson (son of director Barry Levinson) has made one feature film previously, the family drama, Another Happy Day. I saw Another Happy Day in late 2011, and it quickly became one of my top 10 films of that year. That film is one of the most emotionally brutal family dramas I’ve seen, yet, sadly, audiences and critics ignored it. I hope that isn’t the case for Assassination Nation. This isn’t a perfect film, but it poses ideas that are certainly worth discussion. And, if nothing else, it’s technical achievements are impossible to forget. B+

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6 comments:

  1. OK, now you've convinced me to see it. I've been hearing mixed things about it but the fact that it has polarized audiences I think is a good thing.

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    1. I fully agree. Again, this is far from a perfect film, but it's third act is insane. I know you'll appreciate the cinematography, if nothing else.

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  2. Interesting. I've seen posters for this, but never a trailer so I didn't know exactly what it was about. I'm still weighing in options for what I see on Monday, maybe it will be this.

    Great review!

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    1. Thanks! It's definitely a different sort of film, but I appreciated what it had to say, and the fearlessness in which it said it. Let me know what you think if you see it!

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  3. Yeah, this was the kick in the groin film needed right now. Though I think the narration is a tad too spot on at times, grafting the worst tendencies of the internet and social media and placing them in real-world suburbia is a sheer stroke of genius. It's a true cathartic experience seeing young women, from different backgrounds, taking head on the real-life and online trolls.

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    1. Couldn't agree more with this. The narration was a bit too obvious, but I really respect what this movie did, and how it told its story. I wish more people saw it!

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