Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Philippe Falardeau's CHUCK: an under-the-radar movie that will knock your socks off

French-Canadian filmmaker Philippe Falardeau ought to be a lot better known that he is. With seven full-length films behind him -- four of which TrustMovies has seen and found exceptional, each in its own way -- this fellow has the knack of directing a movie (and sometimes writing it, too) with exactly the tone, style, pacing and all the rest that the subject requires. That the four films I've seen are wildly divergent in subject, tone and style, makes Falardeau's work all the more impressive.

There's no way you could watch one of these films and pronounce, "Ah, yes: a typical Philippe Falardeau movie!" (The filmmaker is pictured at right.) They're simply too different, one from another. Congorama (2006) is like little seen before or since: a search-for-family movie that goes from real to surreal and beyond without missing a beat. It's Not Me, I Swear! (2008) is all about a oddball ten-year-old with growing pains, and it's as good a film, in its own way, as is The 400 Blows. His next movie, Monsieur Lazhar (2011) was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and might easily have won. It's that good, as it takes in everything from education to immigration, suicide to sacrifice. Based on a one-man theater piece, the manner in which Falardeau opens it up to include a whole world is in itself stunning. (You can read my earlier interview with M. Falardeau here.)

Now comes CHUCK, another "little" movie that turns out to be big in every important way. Here, the filmmaker is working with his starriest cast yet -- the likes of Liev Schreiber (above and below), Elizabeth Moss, Naomi Watts and Ron Perlman -- as he tells (with the help of a four-man writing team, including Mr. Schreiber) the tale of the boxer, Chuck Wepner, whose life story appears to have inspired a certain Oscar-winning movie named Rocky.

So, this time Falardeau is dealing with a bio-pic coupled to a period piece (most of the film is set in the 1970s), and -- surprise! not. -- the filmmaker gets everything right.  Performances are stunning without ever once calling attention to themselves by offering us "great acting" in quotes. Every actor simply lives his/her role and is utterly convincing at every moment. And the sets, hairstyles, cars, clothes and all the other "period" details? Perfect, again without calling undue attention to this fact. In addition to being period, everything looks quite "lived in."

Mr. Wepner's tale is also a warts-and-all kind of story, in which Chuck hardly comes off as any great guy. But this, too, makes the movie seems all the more real. This fellow cheats on his wife (Ms Moss, above right, makes her so much deeper and more "felt" than the usual wronged woman), takes dive after dive into booze and dope, and -- when he finally get the chance at a small role in Rocky 2 -- he can't even manage to arrive on time or sober for the audition.

Yet so real and so deeply does Mr. Schreiber probe into character and need that his performance -- were Chuck the kind of movie that Academy members made sure they saw -- would be a shoo-in for a nomination. This actor is as good here as he has ever been. And that is saying a lot.

Perlman (above, right) is just fine as Chuck's trainer/manager, and Ms Watts (at left below and further below) excels, as usual, at disappearing into a role so thoroughly that you may not even recognize her at first. She is as good here as she was in Mulholland Drive, though the role itself is not nearly as major.

As appears to be the constant case, M. Falardeau has again given us one terrific movie that seems to be disappearing without a trace -- despite mostly excellent reviews and a "look" and a cast to die for. This is the kind of film that will find its audience over time, probably on cable to streaming, and will have people saying/asking, "This was a great little film. Why haven't we heard more about it?" Indeed.

From IFC Films and running a solid, entrancing 98 minutes, Chuck hit the cultural centers a couple of weeks back (in Los Angeles, look for it at Laemmle theaters; in New York City, you can view it at the AMC Lincoln Square 13), and it will open here in South Florida this Friday, May 19, in the Miami area at the AMC Aventura 24, Regal South Beach 18, and AMC Sunset Place 24. On May 26 it will open in Boca Raton at the Regal Shadowood 16 and in West Palm Beach at the AMC CityPlace 20.

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