Friday, December 31, 2010

DVD/Streaming: With THE TROTSKY, Jacob Tierney finds fun/wisdom in "the struggle"

Movies that offer a good premise -- and then don't live up to it -- abound. Films that do the reverse -- in which the premise seems a bit shaky, at best, yet the story unfolds well and the ideas encompass us -- are much the rarer bird. I'm happy to count THE TROTSKY, written and directed by Jacob Tierney (shown below), among the small, latter group.
That premise --  in which our lead character, Leon Bronstein (a wonderful match for the talents of Jay Baruchel, shown below), has decided that he is the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky -- would be grounds for "committal" to an institution (or at the very least heavy-duty time with a shrink) in anything approaching the real world. Does Leon really believe this, or does he just want to emulate his hero? Who knows? So we must let  the premise pass in order to get to the good stuff. Leon wants to change the world. But don't they all, those revolutionaries!

How our fellow does this, or tries -- first at his father's factory, then at his new school -- is the meat of this movie, which bounces giddily along, with scene after scene of charming, slyly political and satiric goings-on. This isn't nasty satire (Fran Lebowitz would not approve); it's more on the gentle side. (Well, the movie's Canadian.) Yet it does raise a lot of interesting questions along the way. Putting aside for a moment our notions of ego and power-grabs, for whmo are revolutions -- yes, like the original that Trotsky was involved in or the high-school version sparked by our young hero -- actually created?  The people, of course.

OK. Whether we take a rueful look at the Russian people today, or at the high school kids shown here, we'll detect a certain... apathy. So does the film -- which points this out from several angles: that of the "power elite," the "reformers" and the kids themselves. Along with the bubbly charm and amusement, there's enough to think about to make the movie more than just another high-school episode. And if The Trotsky never rises to anything approaching greatness, it is also never less than thoughtful fun.

As a filmmaker, Tierney keeps things bouncing, using editing and split screen effectively.  He's assembled a very good cast, too, some of whom -- Saul Rubinek, Geneviève Bujold, Michael Murphy, Colm Feore -- should be quite familiar, while others -- Emily Hampshire, Liane Balaban, Jessica Paré -- maybe not. Ms Hampshire in particular (shown above) makes a fine "older woman" for Mr. Baruchel. It's good to see this actress, intelligent and vital (who was so indelible in one of the finest Canadian films of the last decade, Snow Cake) in another worthwhile role.

The Trotsky, via Tribeca Filmmade its U.S. debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, and is now available on DVD and/or to stream from Netflix, iTunes or Amazon.

TrustMovies owes a shout-out to his compatriot, Nora Lee Mandel
who recommended the film to him earlier this week.

And to all of my readers: 
May the new year be better than the past one!

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