Sunday, May 22, 2016

Movie Review - The Keeping Room

The Keeping Room (2015)
Starring Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, Muna Otaru, Kyle Soller, and Sam Worthington
Directed by Daniel Barber
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

As the Civil War is nearing its end, three women -- two sisters Augusta and Louise (Brit Maling and Hailee Steinfeld) and their slave Mad (Muna Otaru) -- find themselves surviving, but struggling to keep their small family estate alive and well after they receive word that their father has been killed in the war.  Things take a turn for the worse when two Union soldiers (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller) break away from their regiment and head out on a vigilante rampage, running rampant across the countryside killing, raping, and looting.  When the soldiers attempt to ransack Augusta and Louise's property, the three women won't back down, doing all they can to stop the two men from succeeding in their vicious aspirations.

The Keeping Room opens with a heartbreakingly, grippingly violent opening scene that sets the tone for what is to come and while director Daniel Barber and debut screenwriter Julia Hart's film can't quite live up to the power that occurs during those initial moments, there's an interesting premise here even if it isn't always executed to its fullest potential.  Ultimately, The Keeping Room is a little too filled with silences and three ladies staring off into the countryside to really maintain its momentum, but at its crux this tells a story from a unique perspective that isn't often seen.

It's a bit unfortunate, as well, that its trio of ladies is a little uneven in terms of fully embodying the grit and determination needed for their characters.  Most successful is Muna Otaru in her first starring film role, but part of her ability to shine lies in some nice monologues concerning slavery that aren't particularly afforded the other women.  Least successful is Hailee Steinfeld whom I often like, but here she never quite grasps the Southern drawl (a little surprising seeing as how she was great in True Grit) and her Louise is the least fleshed out of all the characters.  Similarly, Brit Marling seems to waver in her accent as well, but Marling always has me wavering myself as to whether I like her or find her disappointing as an actress.  There's something natural about her that I appreciate, but sometimes when she's asked to really emote, I'm left feeling empty -- that doesn't just apply for this movie, but for many I've seen her in.  Somehow, though, Marling is captivating as the lead so she continues to befuddle me a bit.

With a little more experience behind the camera (this is only director Barber's second film) and on the screenplay, The Keeping Room had the potential of being something truly special.  While it unfortunately doesn't quite excel, it still works as a film, giving us a believable story from a perspective that feels original.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

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