With The Green Knight and Stillwater , (Actually Good) Movies Are Finally Back
Movies are back—perhaps you’ve heard that already? Cinemas have been open for months, almost a year in some places. And we’ve even had box-office hits like F9, A Quiet Place Part II, and Black Widow, which have given Hollywood something to cheer about. But are good movies back?
As of this weekend, I’d say the answer is finally yes. Two new films, playing only in theaters—David Lowery’s strange, transfixing Arthurian fantasy The Green Knight and Tom McCarthy’s deeply human and gripping drama Stillwater—are the most compelling reasons yet to grab a mask and head back to the theater (if you feel safe doing so). I myself masked up and saw both on the big screen, and wouldn’t have wanted to experience them any other way.
The Green Knight, which stars a hunky Dev Patel as the Round Table knight Sir Gawain and comes to us from the hyper-curated studio A24, was delayed by COVID for more than a year. During that time Lowery, a 40-year-old American filmmaker whose small and fascinating body of work (A Ghost Story, The Old Man and the Gun, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) seems impossible to classify, took the time to re-think and re-edit his two-hour-plus fantasy (based on the 14th-century epic poem you may have been assigned in college). The result certainly feels richly considered, and more than a bit weird, in a good way. This is a movie that flirts with modern horror-movie tropes—but is decidedly not scary—even as it remains classical in its storytelling and preoccupied with grand, humanistic themes: temptation and honor and the inevitability of death.
I wasn’t sure always what to make of The Green Knight—especially the nude giants and the talking fox—but I sat there, ravished by the expert filmmaking and swept along by Patel, who manages to give human dimension, and a ton of appealing physicality, to a lightly sketched hero. Gawain is young and brave and in love (with Alicia Vikander, excellent in two roles here) when he takes an ill-fated challenge from a monstrous Green Knight who visits King Arthur’s Round Table one evening. Having chopped off the Green Knight’s head (but not fatally), Gawain must submit to the same treatment a year later. And so an existential quest begins, with Gawain traveling to the Green Chapel and encountering challenges and threats and wonderment along the way. I can’t explain this movie, but I was thinking about it for days—especially the ending which Lowery got exactly right: mordant and provocative at once.
Stillwater is a more effortless entertainment, a mystery-drama set in Marseille, but McCarthy, who directed the Oscar-winning Spotlight, is not a typical filmmaker and this tense, nuanced, and empathetic movie confounds expectations (and is ill-served by its broad-strokes, thriller-ish marketing campaign). The headliner here is Matt Damon, who puts in a committed performance as a blue-collar oil man from Oklahoma named Bill Baker whose daughter (Abigail Breslin) has been locked up in Marseille for murdering her girlfriend during her semester-abroad program.
Stillwater, which was co-written by McCarthy and alludes to Amanda Knox headlines from several years ago, never feels sensationalistic or lurid. We watch with growing dread and a deepening sense of tragedy as the stolid, baseball-cap wearing Baker makes his way in Marseille, doggedly attempting to understand the crime his daughter (may have) committed. While in that sun-blasted city (photographed beautifully here), he falls in love with a theater actress, played with marvelous energy by Camille Cottin of Call My Agent!, and bonds with her adorable daughter (Lilou Siauvaud). The movie is both heartfelt and ruthless and leaves you shaken at the end.
If you prefer not to venture to a theater this weekend, here are two more things to watch:
The Pursuit of Love
Fans of Bridgerton and last year’s stylish spin on Emma will adore The Pursuit of Love, Emily Mortimer’s new adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s eponymous 1945 novel. It stars Lily James and Emily Beecham as Linda Radlett and Fanny Logan, two cousins-slash-best-friends leading rather divergent—if often intertwined—lives between the wars. Where Fanny is the sensible, stable one (steered straight by the antics of her mother, known within the family as “The Bolter”), Linda is romantic to a fault; her love affairs luring her to Oxford, the South of France, and Paris. Both Beecham and James are wonderful in their roles, as are Mortimer (as The Bolter), Dominic West (as Linda’s domineering father, Matthew), and Andrew Scott (as Radletts’ eccentric neighbor, Lord Merlin).
Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson
On Apple TV+, Mark Ronson now leads Watch the Sound, a six-part docuseries in which the DJ and producer examines the creative and technological innovations that have helped shape modern music. Included on his roster of expert guests are Sir Paul McCartney, Questlove, King Princess, Dave Grohl, Adrock and Mike D from the Beastie Boys, Jónsi, Santigold, and Charli XCX.
Originally Appeared on Vogue