The real-life events that this film is based on are almost senselessly tragic and quite depressing, so if you’re already familiar with them you’d be forgiven for watching it with some trepidation. It’s an unpleasant story, a sad tale with no reassuring moral lesson or silver lining to soften the blow. Usually these aspects of storytelling are refreshing, especially in mainstream American films, but somehow they render things cold and unsympathetic here, which may well be the point. Each scene is an icy character study, mounted with hugely impressive tension by director Bennet Miller (who, off the back of his previous work like Capote and Moneyball, seems to be making a career out of dramatising true stories). So while there’s much to appreciate, it’s hard not to do so without an air of detached respect.

Things are buoyed along by some very good work from its cast, particularly by the ever-reliable Mark Ruffalo (who brings a remarkable dignity and focus to a not very showy role), and also from a nearly unrecognisable Steve Carell. The latter sports a prosthetic nose that is apparently 100% anatomically accurate, but is somewhat distracting in the sense that it draws attention away from what is easily the most subtle and layered performance of his career. Funnily enough, it’s this meticulous attention to detail that gives the film its edgy atmosphere (the script by E Max Frye and Dan Futterman is a very cleverly-judged balance between factual events and character build), but also keeps it at arm’s length. Despite all the critical acclaim, I found it easy to admire this film but impossible to like it.

A meticulous, finely-written account of some horribly depressing events7
Bennett Miller is becoming something of a master at directing this kind of thing8
Mark Ruffalo is brilliant here, as he is in everything9
Steve Carell is also great, despite all his prosthetics8
Something about all this just makes me feel cold5
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
Bechdel Test Failures
  • None of the female characters talk to each other
7Overall Score

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