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Review: Young Ones (Sundance 2014)

Young Ones (Sundance 2014)
7 10

PLOT: In a future where water is the rarest and most valuable commodity, a settler- Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon)- fights to keep his family and land safe from intruders.

REVIEW: Jake Paltrowís YOUNG ONES is easily one of the most ambitious films to be unveiled at this yearís Sundance Film Festival. It takes a page not only from post-apocalyptic actioners like MAD MAX, but also Dust-Bowl era literature and films - especially John Fordís big-screen adaptation of John Steinbeckís THE GRAPES OF WRATH- all mixed in with a certain punk rock aesthetic and Tarantino-style chapter breaks. Itís wild, itís sprawling, and itís uneven, but itís also very entertaining.

This is especially true whenever Michael Shannonís on the screen. He figures most prominently in the filmís first chapter, which focuses on his characterís day-to-day life, where his water reserves have run dry and heís begun taking on work running whiskey allotments to violent contractors working on diverting the water to government run-farms. His adolescent son- Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee) Ėworships him, while his daughter- Mary (Elle Fanning) resents their hardscrabble life and pines for a motorcycle riding bad-boy named Flem (Nicholas Hoult).

This is a departure for Shannon, who for once is playing a character thatís not only perfectly sane, but is also smarter than everyone else, using what little water he has left to feed the local starving children, while constantly outwitting poachers who meet the wrong end of his trusty, futuristic rifle. Shannon cuts an imposing but warm figure, and his father-son chemistry is especially strong with McPhee as his adoring son.

Once the focus drifts away from Shannon, the film begins to suffer only due to the fact that heís so charismatic no one else can quite compare, although they come close. The second chapter shifts its focus to Nicholas Houltís Flem, whoís probably the closest the film has to an antagonist, although itís a tribute to Paltrowís script thatís heís portrayed sympathetically, with the idea thatís heís not an evil person but only doing what he must to survive. Hoult, with his shaved head and cool leather jacket, looks at home in the dystopian future genre, which bodes well for his part in the upcoming MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. McPhee- whose role is very similar to the one he played in THE ROAD- anchors the third section of the film. Like Hoult, he seems right at home with the material, although Patrow tries to squeeze a little too much plot into the last half-hour of the film leaving some plot threads- such as his relationship with a local girl- dangling by the time the credits roll.

Other than Shannon, the most appealing aspect of the film is the gorgeous location photography, done in the Northern Cape desert in South Africa by DP Giles Nuttgens (who also shot the upcoming DOM HEMINGWAY). The music by Nathan Johnson (LOOPER, DON JON & BRICK) is also especially striking, being mixed-in with old fifties-era pop tunes, giving the film a neat retro-futuristic vibe. Itís also worth noting that despite the dystopian aspects of the film, this isnít strictly post-apocalyptic, as the impression is given that outside the desolated farm regions, life goes on, with jet airplanes still visible in the sky, and technology is still advancing.

While YOUNG ONES is maybe a bit uneven and rushed towards the end; for the most part, itís a pretty intriguing sci-fi effort, one of the few truly ambitious and smart ones to come out in a while. Running a lean ninety-five minutes, itís never boring and while itís maybe not quite FURY ROAD, itíll certainly tide us over for the time being.




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