Friday, 24 January 2014

MOURNING HAS BROKEN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Death, Denial and the Decimation of Dreams: Astonishing Robert Nolan Perf in superb Ingrid Veninger-produced 1K-Wave entry

Mourning Has Broken (2014) ****
Dir. Brett M. Butler, Jason G. Butler
Starring: Robert Nolan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There aren't many actors in Canada these days who are as intense, versatile and blessed with a wonderful sexy-ugly 70s-style screen presence as the criminally underused Robert Nolan. He is, however, quickly becoming the go-to guy for Canadian filmmakers of the TRULY independent persuasion.

In another time and place, Nolan would have been a bonafide star - not in the pretty boy mould, but rather in the chiseled and alternately tough and sensitive manner of a Gene Hackman, a Ron Leibman or even a Harvey Keitel. He's got leading man sensibilities, but the kind that would lead to what I like to think of as starring character roles. And yes, he's got the stuff, obviously, to be a great character actor in supporting roles, but he's proven thus far to be so goddamn good, I want to see as much of the guy onscreen as possible.

That's no problem in Mourning Has Broken, the Butler (Brett and Jason) Brothers' chilling, funny and heartbreaking contemporary equivalent to the grand tradition of American existential male angst and the Canadian beautiful loser genres of the 70s. Nolan, as a grieving husband is onscreen from beginning to end and pretty much provides the film's sole point of view. In this sense, it's impossible to take your eyes off him, but most importantly, you don't want to.

The Butlers have created a compelling and mature dramatic rendering of one man's denial of his wife's death and his refusal to accept how his simple dreams have been decimated by a callous world of ignorance, stupidity, selfishness, mean-spiritedness and - perhaps worst of all - mediocrity. He's as mad as Howard Beale in Lumet and Chayefsky's Network - psychologically unhinged, to be sure, but mostly, he's mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore.

The film follows the Husband on a day of mourning. Well, it should be a day of mourning, but he has a list of errands, activities and basic desires to plough through and it's his refusal to pause and consider the loss of his beloved wife that is, ultimately, how he mourns and how we, as the audience, share his grief. At first, though, it's a grief worth sharing. Along with the husband, we suffer through every horrendous scrap of white-bread existence - obnoxious neighbours, rude clerks, asshole drivers, moronic small talk, bombastic bullies and creepy booze hounds. God help the wicked. Our hero is in no mood to take shit.

An obvious comparison point might be the mediocre, overrated Falling Down, but for me, Mourning Has Broken comes a bit closer to the savage satire of Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America. It never explodes into the extremities of Goldthwait's film, but it does explode with considerable force since it's a film that always feels like it's roiling just below the surface. Nolan's understated performance keeps us completely glued to the proceedings and though we know he'll become truly unhinged, it's in the tiny, almost invisible details where we feel tense. When the Husband explodes, it comes when we least expect it.

The film's sense of time, place and character seems so beautifully captured and so delicately subtle, I wish the sibling directors had placed more faith in their milieu and miss-en-scene (and Nolan) and refrained from including the mediocre score. The film's soundscape is so delicate and beautifully wrought, the cheesy guitar riffs, blarts and dum-dum-wanh-wanh moments telegraph or assert or reiterate emotions and actions in such obvious ways, and finally, it annoys in all the wrong ways. The only necessary music in the entire picture is during a haunting record store sequence and a terrific montage of the film's pop-music namesake during the end titles. If there was a film that could have lived without score and instead built on the expert use of sound, this was it.

Given how dreadful most English Canadian films are, I think it's worth pointing out that Mourning Has Broken carried the hefty price tag of $1000 via Ingrid Veninger and Stacey Donens' 1-K Wave. Most filmmakers in English Canada need only look at the invention and humanity on display here and rightfully feel the shame they most richly deserve.

"Mourning Has Broken" is in theatrical release via Indie-Can and unveiling first-run at Toronto's Royal Theatre.