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Premiere Review #4: I, Tonya

Words can hardly begin to describe I, Tonya. Yet they must. The movie is breathtaking, agonizing, hilarious, visceral, beautiful, devastating, human. Based on real interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly, I, Tonya brings to light the fascinating events surrounding the life and career of an incredibly resilient woman. I, Tonya is about skating, family, love, suffering, responsibility, determination, trust, forgiveness, fame, and justice. It transcends definition and genre. The film adopts Tonya Harding’s boldness in the way it defies the traditional narrative form. It weaves the interviews through the events and blends numerous styles seamlessly. In the few moments where the seams are noticeable, they serve the story wonderfully. The writing (Steven Rogers) is clear, purposeful, and crackling with vitality and power. I think the film has pioneered a new form of storytelling.

The performances are complete and pure. As such, they have immense emotional and intellectual impact. This is the ultimate achievement of the actor: to make himself or herself utterly transparent so that the character can exist fully and truthfully. Margot Robbie came extraordinarily close to achieving utter transparency. Her work is stunning. Her demonstration of Harding’s fierce feminine strength is profound. Her technicality is remarkable. Among a great many things, she trained for over 5 months in preparation for the skating routines, and she studied Harding’s distinctive accent intensely enough to improvise in character playing ages 15 to 46. Her understanding and exploration of the character are intimate, and she presents her discoveries authentically and generously.

Thank you, Margot Robbie, for sharing this story so selflessly. Your work, especially in the mirror scene and the final courtroom scene, is beyond inspiring.

The skating sequences are outstanding. Somehow the cinematography captures the dichotomy between the danger beneath the routines and the pristine exterior of the sport. The film also balances the fine line between drama and comedy. We all have both within us. I, Tonya portrays that humanity masterfully with a sharpness and gracefulness worthy of Harding’s skating and spirit.

I, Tonya is a splendid tribute to an incredible woman. It shows her courage, determination, flaws, and strengths with compassion and honesty. In an interview for the Hollywood Reporter, Tonya Harding thanked Margot Robbie for helping her establish her true story and let go of her past. I, Tonya helps us remember that we are capable of greatness even when the world says we won’t amount to anything.

Final Take: I, Tonya is a must see.

 

Director: Craig Gillespie

Screenplay: Steven Rogers

Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale

Premiere: September 8, 2017 (Toronto International Film Festival)

Theatrical Release: December 8, 2017

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Premiere Review #5: The Post

 

“The only way to protect the right to publish is to publish” – Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee in The Post.

The Post is an important movie. It tells a story important to Americans and important to understand in the current context. The Post tells the story of a timely defense of American liberty against an increasingly domineering government – specifically, the Washington Post’s exercise of free speech concerning the Vietnam War.

And the storytelling is masterful. This film is created by masters of the craft. The ensemble includes Steven Spielberg (director), John Williams (music), Meryl Streep (Kay Graham), Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee), and many other talented actors. The performances were impeccably intricate, subtle, and finessed. True statements of sophisticated ability, especially from Mrs. Streep and Mr. Hanks. All the elements of production and performance work together to create palpable tension and action in a story that could have easily become immobile and passive. The Post is an admirable feat of storytelling.

The Post also makes constructive political commentary without over-implication. This is very important in a film of this nature. It must be understood that U.S. governments and leaders have always lied, they have always told the truth, and they have always served their country. Secrecy has always been part of the government, at times to protect Americans and at times to conceal corruption. It is not an easy task to discern between these and act accordingly, but that is our responsibility as American citizens. Take for example the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 under John F. Kennedy. The campaign failed in part because Fidel Castro was able to read about it in advance in the U.S. news. At times, prudent secrecy is necessary.

But secrecy must not be confused with overt lies. We are imperfect by nature, so we naturally must strive to correct out weaknesses and further out strengths to our best ability. At times, the people will hold the president accountable. And at times, I hope the president will hope the people accountable. That relationship is essential to our democracy. That is fundamentally the story of The Post: a group of Americans who would not tolerate an unjust exercise of power and so took decisive action to hold the president accountable to the truth. It was a triumph of freedom. However, we must use prudence to ensure that such significant actions are always aimed at the realization of objective truth and morality, and not the procurement of self-interested ends. Thankfully, we have Kay Graham and the Washington Post as role models.

The film has been criticized for misrepresenting history by downplaying the New York Times’s leading role in publishing the Pentagon Papers while making the Washington Post the protagonist. I suppose that the artistic license taken by The Post was intended to serve the telling of Kay Graham’s story. I think it is very important for historical films to be aware of the responsibility associated with the content; there is a place for purposeful artistic reshaping, but there is not a place for disrespecting men and women who made sacrifices to change the world. Stories must be told with the utmost respect for the truth.

I do not think The Post is disrespectful of the history it tells, but perhaps there are ways it can show more respect. It is fundamentally an extremely well-crafted film balancing both sides of its arguments with sufficient fairness. I mention the topic of historical accuracy to highlight a question that I am currently struggling with as an artist: If art is intended to reveal truth, how much can the artist manipulate true events or details?

I gladly defer to the experience and wisdom of the great artists who created The Post. The film has a maturity worthy of its content and tells a momentous story with artistic integrity.

Final Take: The Post is a should see.

 

Director: Steven Spielberg

Screenplay: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer

Music: John Williams

Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys

Premiere: December 14, 2017 (Newseum, Washington D.C.)

Theatrical Release: (limited) December 22, 2017 – (full) January 12, 2018

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