TOP­I­CAL TA­BLE TALK

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Beatriz at Din­ner is a very up-to-theminute re­flec­tion on Amer­i­can so­ci­ety and, like Oren Mover­man’s re­cent The Din­ner, frames its po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary within the con­fines of a meal dur­ing which per­son­al­i­ties bit­terly clash. Puerto Ri­can-born di­rec­tor Miguel Arteta sets his film not in a res­tau­rant but in the lav­ish home of ex­tremely pros­per­ous Amer­i­cans lo­cated within a gated com­mu­nity.

The hosts, Kathy (Con­nie Brit­ton) and Grant (David Warshof­sky), are en­ter­tain­ing busi­ness friends with pow­er­ful con­nec­tions. Their guests are Doug Strutt (John Lith­gow) and his wife, Jeana (Amy Lan­decker), and Alex (Jay Du­plass) and his wife, Shan­non (Chloe Se­vi­gny).

Strutt is the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of suc­cess; his firm owns shop­ping malls and lux­ury ho­tels in the US and abroad. He’s a self-sat­is­fied, self­made man whose ruth­less meth­ods have ev­i­dently not al­ways been en­tirely law­ful; he boasts he’s writ­ing his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and that two of the pos­si­ble ti­tles are You’re in My Way, Ass­hole and This Can’t Pos­si­bly End Well.

There’s an un­likely ad­di­tional guest at din­ner. Beatriz (Mex­i­can su­per­star Salma Hayek, se­verely deglam­or­ised) works as a ther­a­pist at a cancer cen­tre and lives alone in a small apart­ment with her dogs and goats. Neigh­bours have, quite un­der­stand­ably, been com­plain­ing about the noise the goats make, and one of the an­i­mals has been killed on her doorstep.

Beatriz is a good woman who cares for her fel­low hu­man be­ings. Kathy is grate­ful to her be­cause when her daugh­ter was sick with cancer, Beatriz treated her and there was a suc­cess­ful out­come. Kathy oc­ca­sion­ally in­vites Beatriz to her home for mas­sages. She’s done so on the af­ter­noon of the din­ner party, but Beatriz’s car has bro­ken down and she lives on the op­po­site side of Los An­ge­les. So, de­spite Grant’s mis­giv­ings, Beatriz is in­vited to stay the night and to at­tend the din­ner.

Given all that has been said by US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump about Mex­i­cans and the need for a wall and a crack­down on il­le­gal immigration, this is clearly a fairly in­cen­di­ary sub­ject.

Though Trump’s name is never men­tioned, it’s more than prob­a­ble that the hosts and the four “of­fi­cial” guests are all Trump sup­port­ers. They are all clearly dis­com­fited by the pres­ence of a Mex­i­can woman who is so ob­vi­ously not “one of them”.

They’re slightly shocked when, on be­ing in­tro­duced, she hugs each of them. They quiz her, none too tact­fully, about how and when she came to Amer­ica, and then they pretty much ig­nore her. The men talk busi­ness, the women chat about homes and gar­dens and gos­sip about the in­ti­mate sex­ual prob­lems of a fe­male friend.

Af­ter a few glasses of wine, it grad­u­ally dawns on Beatriz, who has been pretty much shut out of the con­ver­sa­tion, that Strutt is the man who de­spoiled an area of the Mex­i­can coast­line near her home, dis­plac­ing the pop­u­la­tion, raz­ing the nat­u­ral habi­tat of rare birds, Aus­tralia Day; Moun­tain, and of­fer­ing in re­turn jobs that never ac­tu­ally ma­te­ri­alised. More than that, Strutt ad­mits to be­ing a big-game hunter who kills rare an­i­mals. (“It’s a deep pri­mal thing — man ver­sus na­ture — very pure,” he claims.)

The screen­play, by Matt White, grad­u­ally in­creases the ten­sion in this sit­u­a­tion and we won­der how it will all be re­solved. Beatriz is out­spo­ken, but she seems to be no match for these suc­cess­ful Amer­i­cans, all of whom tower over the diminu­tive Mex­i­can. As the evening wears on, and a great deal of ex­pen­sive al­co­hol is con­sumed, it be­comes clear that, to quote one of Strutt’s book ti­tles, this can’t pos­si­bly end well.

It’s a bit dis­ap­point­ing, then, that Arteta and White seem not re­ally to know quite how to bring the film to a con­clu­sion. Ac­tu­ally they of­fer two dif­fer­ent end­ings, so you can take your pick. But it’s a shame that such a pow­er­ful and con­tem­po­rary sub­ject should fal­ter in the fi­nal stretch. There are fine per­for­mances from the en­sem­ble, with Hayek’s feisty out­sider and Lith­gow’s smug, self-sat­is­fied ty­coon mak­ing the most sat­is­fy­ing con­tri­bu­tions. Run Lola Run meets Gran Torino in Kriv Sten­ders’s breath­tak­ingly fast-mov­ing Aus­tralia Day, a very well-made thriller set in Bris­bane one Jan­uary 26. These are not the only movies ref­er­enced in Stephen M. Ir­win’s screen­play, which ap­pears to be mod­elled af­ter films such as Crash, in which sev­eral dif­fer­ent sto­ries tak­ing place si­mul­ta­ne­ously in­ter­sect and con­nect. It’s a good de­vice for com­bin­ing what is ba­si­cally a se­ries of short sto­ries.

Most of the char­ac­ters in the film are on the run. Teenager Lan Chang (Jenny Wu) has been forced into pros­ti­tu­tion but has man­aged to es­cape from the brothel where she’s been held pris­oner. Her pimp is pur­su­ing her, but she’s helped by Terry Fried­man (Bryan Brown), a cat­tle farmer who is driv­ing around the subur­ban streets ap­par­ently aim­lessly, though we even­tu­ally dis­cover that he has a grim mis­sion in mind.

Mean­while, April Tucker (Miah Mad­den) is also on the run; she and her sis­ter were in­volved in a po­lice chase that ended in a fa­tal crash in which the sis­ter was killed; April is search­ing for her mother, a drug ad­dict, while Sonya Macken­zie (Shari Sebbens), an in­dige­nous po­lice of­fi­cer in­volved in the fa­tal pur­suit, is des­per­ately try­ing to lo­cate the girl.

And there’s Chloe (Is­abelle Cor­nish), in love with Sami (Elias An­ton), an Ira­nian youth. Chloe’s brother, Dean (Sean Keenan), and his loutish friends, the sort who drape them­selves in the Aus­tralian flag and bash Mus­lims, want re­venge on the man they think raped Chloe, even though the re­la­tion­ship was con­sen­sual.

This, then, is the “lucky coun­try’’ cel­e­brat­ing its na­tional day with bru­tal­ity and vi­o­lence, but Sten­ders doesn’t dwell too much on the social and po­lit­i­cal themes in the film. This is pri­mar­ily a thriller, and a very ef­fec­tive one. The pac­ing is ex­tremely brisk so there’s lit­tle time to ask awk­ward ques­tions about some as­pects of the plot­ting and the char­ac­ters.

An ex­cel­lent en­sem­ble cast brings the char­ac­ters vividly to life, with Brown’s rugged Terry es­pe­cially out­stand­ing.

Other ma­jor pluses of the film are the pho­tog­ra­phy of Ge­of­frey Hall, who skil­fully uses Steadicam to keep up with the ac­tion, and the crisp edit­ing of Nick Mey­ers. Moun­tain is a rav­ish­ingly beau­ti­ful doc­u­men­tary from Jen­nifer Pee­dom, di­rec­tor of last year’s Sherpa.

(Dis­clo­sure: Pee­dom was a pro­ducer on my doc­u­men­tary, A Cin­e­matic Life.) Moun­tains all over the world were filmed by a team of cin­e­matog­ra­phers and the footage has been edited to an orig­i­nal score by Richard Tognetti and the Aus­tralian Cham­ber Orches­tra.

Erupt­ing vol­ca­noes and avalanches are spec­tac­u­lar enough, but close-up scenes of moun­tain-climb­ing and var­i­ous ex­treme sports are tremen­dously ex­cit­ing. This de­mands to be seen on a big cin­ema screen.

BEATRIZ IS OUT­SPO­KEN, BUT NO MATCH FOR THESE AMER­I­CANS

Salma Hayek in Beatriz at Din­ner, above; Sean Keenan, left, as Dean in a sherpa in

bot­tom

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