PUSH: Based on the Novel by Sapphire and BRONSON Sundance Reviews

     January 26, 2009

Written by Kenny Fischer

These were two amazing films. While I saw a couple films that were better, these two featured the best and most surprising performances of the festival. I’d even go so far as to say I was shocked by the work displayed on screen. From Mo’Nique and Mariah Carey in PUSH: BASED ON THE NOVEL BY SAPPHIRE to Tom Hardy in BRONSON, this was the year where a few actors took their careers in their own hands and decided to kick some ass.

Sometimes actors get in a rut. They start playing the same character over and over again. And sometimes that character sucks. Mo’Nique is someone I’ve never liked. She’s obnoxious, grating, and has never been funny. But in this movie she pulls the opposite of a James Franco. You realize she never should have been doing comedies in the first place. She should have been tackling hard core dramatic roles.

She gives an impressive and intense performance in PUSH: BASED ON THE NOVEL BY SAPPHIRE. Her character is abusive, both verbally and physically, delusional, and a force of nature. The film takes place in 1987 and follows Precious, a teenage girl in Harlem on the verge of giving birth to her second child, the product of incest and rape, and struggling with her own insecurities and disastrous home life.

Both of those problems are a result of the behavior of her selfish and horrible mother, played by Mo’Nique. I found myself both scared shitless of her and in awe. The psychopathic way she causes her daughter to hate herself and make her fatter seemed plausible and realistic because of her performance. Mo’Nique has a hell of a strong presence as a dramatic actor and I have a feeling she’ll be impressing us for years to come.

Mariah Carey, on the other hand, goes in a completely different direction. I had no respect for her as an actor based on her previous work, but I changed my tune after seeing the film. She plays the welfare worker appointed to Precious, and her performance is small, restrained, and devoid of diva shenanigans. Lee Daniels must have a way with actors, although I had assumed the opposite after watching his previous film, the boneheaded SHADOWBOXER.

But as much as those two actresses delivered the goods, Tom Hardy’s work in BRONSON was the standout performance of the festival. You may know him as Handsome Bob in ROCKNROLLA or as Picard’s Clone in STAR TREK NEMESIS. If you do, you’d also know he’s a scrawny and small guy. He blends into the background of any scene and barely shows up on your radar. Whether or not that effect is intentional is up for debate, but when you walk out of BRONSON only one questions will be on your mind:

Where did that come from?! No one thought he had this in him. Well, except for Nicolas Winding Refn, the director of BRONSON and the spectacular PUSHER TRILOGY. It’s not just the change in his physical appearance — he’s a large, bulky, and imposing thug in this film — but his over-the-top and larger-than-life performance. He doesn’t just chew the scenery, he destroys it. He’s a bull in a China shop. The film is a true story following the most violent prisoner in England‘s history.

It reminded me a lot of CHOPPER, not to say it’s derivative. You’ll be blown away whenever the film lands somewhere in your vicinity. But I could say the same about the previously mentioned performances and film. Sundance is great for many reasons, but creating an environment where these sort of risky and artistic career tangents are given a place to thrive is one of the best I can think of.

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