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Race relations have become an increasingly incendiary flashpoint issue of late. Even those who contend that they support the victims of discrimination have come under attack, criticisms that some say are unjust and that others claim expose hidden hypocrisy. Regardless of where one stands, however, this issue is clearly one of the 800-pound gorillas in the room, one that gets thrust into the spotlight from all angles in the challenging, sometimes-unnerving thriller and social satire, “Get Out” (web site, trailer).
When African-American photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is invited to the rural family estate of his White girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), for a weekend getaway, he’s a bit apprehensive about how he’ll be received. He’s especially concerned that Rose has not informed her parents that he’s Black. But Rose tells Chris not to worry, assuring him that her folks, Missy (Catherine Keener), a hypnotherapist, and Dean (Bradley Whitford), a neurosurgeon, are stark-raving liberals.
Upon arriving at the Armitage homestead, however, Chris begins developing some uneasy feelings. Missy and Dean welcome their visitor with seemingly open arms, but there’s a peculiar undercurrent that characterizes their actions, conversations and attitudes. Chris is also weirded out by the family’s African-American servants, housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson), whose demeanors don’t ring authentic.
Matters go from strange to stranger when Chris attends a reception that Missy and Dean host the following day. He finds himself surrounded by a sea of Caucasians, many of whom embody virtually every White stereotype imaginable, especially when it comes to archaic outlooks about African-Americans. Even the party’s only other Black guest, Logan (Lakeith Stanfield), comes across like a dyed-in-the-wool Republican.
As events grow progressively uncomfortable, Chris informs Rose that he wants to leave. But making a gracious exit proves to be more challenging than hoped. And, before long, Chris finds himself caught up in circumstances far more troubling than he ever could have envisioned.
To say more would spoil the plot, but suffice it to say that the picture plays out, as filmmaker Jordan Peele has described, like a cross between “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967) and “The Stepford Wives” (1975), an apt analogy for a movie that brilliantly fuses two very different story lines and genres. In doing so, however, the director pointedly draws attention to the aforementioned race relation issues, shining a bright light on persistent discriminatory matters and poignantly exposing the carefully concealed insincerity sometimes harbored by even the (allegedly) most ardent supporters of the exploited. The film may thus cause some viewers to squirm a bit in their seats, but, if that results, then the director has done his job.
Peele’s debut feature is a flat-out winner in many regards. Despite a slight tendency to drag a bit during the first hour, the film effectively builds suspense and does so in ways that are often unexpected, defying the tired formulas often employed in many thrillers. It also serves up ample belly laughs, especially those delivered by Chris’s best friend, Rodney (Lil Rel Howery), who works from afar to uncover the mystery of what’s happening to his buddy. If this picture is any indication of what this director is capable of, moviegoers can look forward to a wealth of great material forthcoming in the future.
It’s highly unusual for a film like “Get Out” to raise the kinds of issues it does (and to do so as effectively as it has), but it certainly gives us all much to think about. And it accomplishes this feat while entertaining us in myriad ways. Let’s hope, however, that the picture’s messages aren’t lost on us in the process.
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The Best of Movies with Meaning – “Christine”
Staying on top of things when we’re under constant pressure to perform can be challenging, even under the best of circumstances. But, when we add to that issues of unresolved ambition, the pursuit of integrity, personal problems and health concerns, we might easily be pushed over the brink. Such is the case for a troubled television reporter seeking to do worthwhile work and make a name for herself in the disturbing biographical drama, “Christine,” (web site, trailer), available on DVD and video on-demand.
Based on actual events, the film follows the life of 29-year-old Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall), a struggling TV reporter in Sarasota, Florida, at a time (1974) when broadcast news was undergoing a number of changes, both technologically and in terms of content, even at the local level. Sensationalization of the news was fast gaining a foothold, giving rise to the “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy still in use today. For stations like the one Christine worked at, such exploitation was seen as a way to increase ratings, a particularly important concern for those that needed to bolster revenues.
Needless to say, this radical new outlook was quite an adjustment for many veteran reporters, especially those accustomed to doing more conventional work. For someone like Christine, who believed that news should go beyond just presenting facts, this meant helping to educate viewers on issues of public interest, including those that might not otherwise receive much attention. Unfortunately, the kinds of stories Christine wanted to cover, like those associated with zoning issues, were about as interesting as watching paint dry. Her reports did little to help ratings, and, consequently, she began to be marginalized by the news director (Tracy Letts), who was under pressure from station owner Bob Andersen (John Cullum) to boost income.
Even though Christine railed at the new exploitative approach, she also wanted to make a name for herself, especially when she learned that Andersen was looking to recruit staff from Sarasota for his recently acquired station in Baltimore. She vacillated between doing the kinds of “thoughtful” pieces she had been reporting and embracing the “juicy” stories the news director was urging her to do. This often left her confused when trying to determine what would make worthwhile copy, a major frustration for her and for her colleagues who were trying to understand her.
Off-air, Christine had her share of challenges, too. She began experiencing health issues, which she initially chalked up to stress but later discovered were more serious. She struggled with her love life, which often left much to be desired, especially in her romantically ambivalent involvement with a colleague, anchor man George Ryan (Michael C. Hall). And then there was her strange relationship with her mother, Peg (J. Smith-Cameron), with whom she shared an apartment, as well as many an argument over seemingly trivial or even imagined issues.
This combination of factors left Christine a woman constantly on edge. Who was she? What did she want to become? What did she really think about her work and the responsibilities associated with being a journalist? It proved to be a lot for her to handle.
It’s difficult to talk about this film without playing spoiler, something I’m highly reluctant to do. Even with the relative notoriety of this story, which is widely known and in the public record, to preserve the picture’s impact (particularly for those unfamiliar with Christine’s history), I won’t divulge what happens, other than to say it’s indeed tragic. The film aptly depicts what it means to wrestle with multiple, seemingly overwhelming challenges simultaneously, circumstances that many of us can probably relate to these days. Christine’s experience provides a poignant cautionary tale for anyone who seems destined for their own descent into madness.
“Christine” provides a riveting, albeit troubling portrait of an ambitious but disturbed woman’s attempts at reconciling the challenges of her life while putting it all on display on live TV for all to see. Rebecca Hall gives a phenomenal breakthrough performance, one that earned her the best actress award at last year’s Chicago International Film Festival. This is definitely not an easy film to watch, but it’s one that’s difficult to take your eyes off of – not unlike the work produced by the protagonist herself.
Despite the quality of this independent production, “Christine” inexplicably captured little attention during the recently concluded awards season. Besides Hall’s Chicago Film Festival award, the only other recognition the picture earned was an Independent Spirit Award nomination for best first screenplay. This is a film that deserves wider attention, and it’s unfortunate that it failed to capture such recognition.
A full review is available by clicking here.
Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.