States of grace un­der pres­sure

Arnold Arnold fur­ther re­fines her taste for the po­etry of grime with this stun­ning road movie

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

AMER­I­CAN HONEY Di­rected by An­drea Arnold. Star­ring Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Arielle Holmes, Ri­ley Keough, McCaul Lom­bardi 16 cert, lim­ited re­lease, 162 min Dur­ing one of many ve­hic­u­lar epipha­nies in An­drea Arnold’s loosely struc­tured fourth fea­ture, Star (Sasha Lane), a trou­bled young woman hang­ing with a wild crew, bel­lows out: “I feel like I’m fuck­ing Amer­ica.”

It’s not clear if the f-word is meant in its ver­bal or ad­jec­ti­val sense, but I like to think that it’s the lat­ter. It re­quires some chutz­pah to give your film a two-word ti­tle be­gin­ning with “Amer­i­can”. This in­di­cates you are mak­ing a state­ment about an en­tire con­ti­nent.

Sure enough, Arnold sweeps a great many na­tional dis­con­tents into her wide em­brace. De­rived from a 2007 ar­ti­cle in The New York Times, the film de­tails the adventures of a team flog­ging mag­a­zine sub­scrip- tions across­the Mid­west. Star and team meet all sorts. She is picked up by the sort of wad-wav­ing oil-rich cow­boys whose pen­cils will not wa­ver when choos­ing be­tween Mr Trump and Mrs Clin­ton.

Later on, she warms to chil­dren liv­ing bravely in ex­treme poverty. We break fre­quently for sin­ga­longs to con­tem­po­rary bangers. In ev­ery one of its many min­utes, Amer­i­can Honey cel­e­brates the ge­o­graph­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tic – wide open space – that most dis­tin­guishes the US from Arnold’s na­tive Eng­land.

We first meet Star, a spir­ited Texan, do­ing her best to care for her layabout mother’s other two chil­dren. Life changes when she en­coun­ters Jake (Shia LaBeouf, an­noy­ing on pur­pose) and his crew cre­at­ing may­hem in the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket. He talks her through the lo­gis­tics of the op­er­a­tion – hus­tle, sell, hand over most of the loot – and she de­cides to throw her lot in with the gang. They climb into a peo­ple-car­rier and make for Kansas City.

The taste for the po­etry of grime will be fa­mil­iar from ear­lier Arnold pic­tures such as Fish Tank and Red Road. Her long-term col­lab­o­ra­tor, cin­e­matog­ra­pher Rob­bie Ryan, is given greater free­dom than be­fore and pro­duces end­less smeared mas­ter­pieces. What we haven’t had from Arnold be­fore is this de­gree of sprawl. This pi­caresque film could lose a whole hour or (we’re told the footage ex­ists) gain another two.

Many will find the jour­ney ex­haust­ing. What it most sug­gests is a big, sprawl­ing triple al­bum by a re­ally good band (more San­din­ista! than Lon­don Call­ing). There are many troughs and peaks. But the bag­gi­ness is very much part of the aes­thetic.

Af­ter all, Amer­ica is an un­even na­tion.

Hus­tle and flow Sasha Lane and Shia LaBeouf in Amer­i­can Honey

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