Day Five of the Los Angeles Film Festival did not go as planned. And – much like Hannibal – I love it when a plan comes together. (That’s Hannibal from The A-Team. Not Hannibal Lecter, though he probably appreciates that sensation as well). Alternatively, I hate it when a plan does not come together. So when my schedule went off the rails today, I was understandably thrown.
The day started normally. I began with an out-of-fest screening of The Rover, the new film from director David Michôd (Animal Kingdom). The Rover stars Guy Pearce a drifter (apparently named Eric) stoicly surviving in Australia several years after an event known as “The Collapse.” Basically, it’s a desert. When his car is stolen by a few bad gentlemen (Scoot McNairy, Tawanda Manyimo, and David Field), Eric is ready and willing to do whatever it takes to whomever necessary to get it back. It’s the best car recovery film since Dude, Where’s My Car?
Eric is saddled with Rey (Robert Pattinson), the brother of McNairy’a Henry, who claims to know where his brother his headed with the car. Rey fluctuates between moments of brilliance and moments of idiocy, and even though it is against Eric’s personal code to take on such baggage, something about Rey convinces him to do otherwise.
That “code” is a huge part of The Rover, though it is largely unspoken. Eric gave up on other people relatively quickly after The Collapse. Humanity seemingly has no redeeming qualities left now that the world has gone to shit, and therefore human lives tend to mean very little to him. Eric is a bad man who is willing to do bad things – partly because he is already dead. Not physically of course, you dummy, but most certainly emotionally. Throughout the film flies buzz around his face, as if waiting for his body to catch up with his heart. Or for him to find a reason to wake up again.
Pearce conveys all of this through a performance built mostly on scowls and a few repeated phrases. He gets a lot out of “I’m looking for my car.” In fact the moments where he does talk more, particularly when we learn about his past, are the ones where his character sort of breaks. Pattinson, shockingly, give a strong performance as well. I’ve never seen the young man outside of the one Potter and the first Twilight, but his physical commitment to the character of Rey is definitely praise-worthy (that’s why I’m doing it right now).
With The Rover in the books, it was time to head down to the festival for my first film of the day, The Overnighters, a documentary about a man with a wildly different code of ethics from the one Eric displays. From director Jesse Moss, The Overnighters is a chronicle of the titular program instituted by Jay Reinke, a Lutheran pastor in North Dakota.
As fracking has become a more widespread industry in North Dakota, more and more people have traveled to towns like Reinke’s looking for work, but rents have sky-rocketed accordingly. The Overnighters program allowed hundreds of these men and women to stay on the premises of Reinke’s church, both on cots and in cars, much to the dismay of the members of Reinke’s congregation.
Reinke is a truly fascinating character to follow. He has been driven into a very unpopular position in the community as a result of being true to the way he lives his life. There are hints that Reinke’s actions are a result of more than just goodwill – perhaps a need to be liked or an inability to say no – but ultimately he is doing what he feels is the right thing, even as it all begins to fall apart around him.
The majority of the film is an excellent character study, but new information introduced in the final moments kind of throws the whole thing into upheaval. I’m conflicted by Moss’s choice to include this in the film. On the one hand, what we learn is definitely integral to a full understanding of the situation, but on the other hand, this reveal is so big that it’s tossed-in nature leaves the project feeling a little unfinished. Regardless, The Overnighters is definitely worth your time as a look at an American experience that most of us are probably not familiar with.
And now, with The Overnighters also accounted for, here’s where I begin to lose control. My next film was set to be Man from Reno, a noir-ish blending of two worlds that was pretty much my most anticipated film of the festival. I am politely waiting in line, as my own code dictates, when it is announced that the screening is already full, and I (and the thirty people in line behind me) will not be getting in. This is despite having purchased an actual ticket to the screening, and arriving within the designated timeframe. I didn’t argue with the film fest staff, as I have been on the receiving end of such complaints before, but the people around me sure didn’t mind. I felt sorry for the young ticket official as she sheepishly and apologetically handed out ticket vouchers to an angry mob. My new plan is to see Man from Reno on Wednesday night, but I guess I need to make sure to get in line earlier.
I was pretty upset, and the rest of my plan had been thrown into upheaval. After Man from Reno, I had obtained a ticket to a retro screening of Repo Man, but now that wouldn’t be for hours. As I bemoaned my rotten luck with some fellow victims of poor festival management, I decided to do something I rarely do: socialize. Along with our ticket vouchers we were given a pass to the festival lounge, an oasis above a parking garage where the seats are cushioned and the bar is open. My own code usually prohibits such actions – I’m much more comfortable sitting in my car and listening to a podcast. But sometimes, like Eric from The Rover, your code demands to be broken. I spoke with a couple creative types over drinks, eventually chatting with one of the fellows for a couple of hours. What is this feeling? Could it be- networking? Not sure. Doesn’t really matter. The point is, I managed to turn an uncomfortable situation into an enjoyable one. Yay me.
So Day Five of the festival was a bit of a let down. But I saw another good documentary (the doc game is strong this year) and had a good time with my righteous indignation over being mistreated. I’ll have to shift my schedule around a little to catch Man from Reno on Wednesday, but if today taught me anything it is that maybe a plan shouldn’t always come together. Keeps things interesting that way.
Catch up on Steven’s coverage of the Los Angeles Film Festival, including his thoughts from Day Four regarding context in Violette, My Name is Salt, 22 Jump Street, and Giuseppe Makes a Movie, his coverage of Day Two and Day Three, and a little bullshit about Day One.