JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Decision to Leave | Emily the Criminal | You Won’t Be Alone (Directors: Park Chan-wook, John Patton Ford, Goran Stolevski) - January 12, 2023 id="543337086">

Decision to Leave | Emily the Criminal | You Won’t Be Alone

4.5 4.5

Reviewed for the 2023 edition of the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Lots of criminality and some witchcraft to go around!

Decision to Leave
South Korea, 139 minutes
Park Chan-wook
Four stars

“Make the phrase easy”

Murder, perhaps suicide, upscale sushi, failing/failed relationships, “angel of mercy”, love at first arrest, chronic insomnia and crow’s feathers are all important elements in Chan-wook’s (along with cowriter Chung Seo-kyung) story of a weekend marriage (Busan-Ipo) detective’s quest to put the nasty amongst us away for good.

In the pivotal role as Detective Jang Hae-joon, Park Hae-il masterfully carries the film on his not inconsiderable shoulders as the opening death (an unfortunate mountaineer or someone got his comeuppance as his body was mercilessly bashed to death by a fall from the peak). That’s an inciting incident which captures immediate attention as cast and viewers alike begin their quest for the truth.

The deceased’s wife seems decidedly nonchalant about her loss, turning up for work as a caregiver and fresh out of tears… Tang Wei delivers a finely nuanced performance as the cool-as-a-cucumber widow, Song Seo-rae.

The early fly in the narrative ointment is Hae-joon’s sudden infatuation with his newly widowed prime suspect. It’s not a new twist in crime flicks, but the artistic trust manages to insert a few more surprises that keep the pace moving steadily forward (the non-linear storytelling works very well, with just a tad too much text messaging impeding the flow).

Jo Yeong-wook’s original, string-and-woodwind-rich score deftly accompanies the action even as the Seoul Philharmonic’s impassioned excerpts from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 add still another layer of narrative-reinforcing interest.

The only quibble is with the well-over two-hour length: the final scenes offering more sag than sizzle.

But for those who enjoy a good mystery, it’s well worth a look. JWR

Emily the Criminal
U.S., 97 minutes
John Patton Ford
Four stars

Well, what would you do?

Stuck in a dead-end catering delivery job, a history of felonies (DUI, aggravated assault), $70,000 in student loans and a talent for art that shows no signs of producing a comfortable living, what’s a girl to do?

Become a “Dummy Shopper” of course (who knew: it’s a lucrative trade where stolen credit numbers are manufactured into new cards—just be sure to vacate the unsuspecting merchants ASAP: < 8 minutes), NEVER visit the same store twice in the same week, and—DOUBLE NEVER—let anyone know your home address.

In the title role, Aubrey Plaza is readily believable as the con artist who can make more in an hour than a week. Her ever-engaging swindle “pimp” comes in the charming form of Theo Rossi as the wily Youcef, while his unscrupulous cousin Khalil is done up to a treacherous T by Jonathan Avigdori.

Director-writer Ford has cobbled up a script that simultaneously makes many telling points about greed, theft, immigration, the judicial system and revenge.

The side plot of Emily moving on up in the corporate world (as an upscale graphic designer), is the weakest element in the narrative, seeming too forced by half.

Still, it rolls unstoppably towards its somewhat predictable conclusion with the understanding (after a beautifully shot swim in the Mexican surf), that this is a victimless crime (the cardholders are never charged)—the banks can well afford to write everything off (as I have seen from actual rip-offs)!

Just charge it up to experience. JWR

You Won't Be Alone
Goran Stolevski
Serbia, 118 minutes
Four and one half stars

Everything means something else

Generally described as horror/drama, director-writer Stolevski’s film is much more a human-experience film seen through the, on several occasions, horrific eyes and deeds of feral witches as they become “dressed in corpses” lost souls.

At the, er, heart of it all is Wolf-Eateress, Maria (Anamaria Marinca is appropriately caustic, brutal and unrepenting), whose previous burning at the stake—ironically completing the transformation to the other side—has left her skin burned to the core (the army of makeup wizards, prosthetics builders and special effects specialists have expertly employed their various skills to give the production’s gruesome transformations a look and feel of believability).

Literally kidnapped at birth and rendered mute by Maria (even after entering into a deal with the devil…), Nevena is forced to spend her first 16 years in a cave, before venturing out into an unknown world. Sara Klimoska gives an entirely believable performance as—back in Maria’s evil clutches—she is ushered into the super dark world of witchcraft based on extreme identity theft. 

But from that point, the narrative has much more to say about the world around us, how to discover it and make life-or-death choices can—eventually, as a brought-back-from-the-grave young girl—come to the most welcome truth (after being adults mostly ends in misery) that there can finally be some joy in life. Given real-time horrific events happening around the world today, that thought is a most welcome message.

The cinematography—largely in the Serbian mountains—from Matthew Chuang is superb; few suns in the mist have been better captured. Likewise, Luca Cappelli’s seamless editing keeps the pace and pulse moving steadily forward.

Mathew Bradshaw’s sensitive, original score is at one with action. Contributions from composers Avro Pärt and Hector Berlioz (Requiem) are the delectable icing on this provocative cake.

If you can stand the frequent “blood and guts” sequences, this production is well worth a look for what it has to say about male-female relationships: good, bad and ugly. JWR

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