Elle (2016) Written by David Birke and Philippe Djan Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Elle is a deceptively simple film, jolting its audience by opening on the ending of a brutal assault and rape inside the home of Michele, an upper middle class older single woman. The rapist, his face covered in a ski mask, flees and Michele with almost mechanical automaticity takes a bath, puts makeup over her black eye, and goes about her day and the next with no reaction. It’s only the following evening at dinner with friends and her ex-husband that she casually reveals, trying to laugh it off, that she was raped. The viewer is meant to be unsettled by how cold Michele is through all of this with her friends and family acting as our stand-ins, utterly shocked at what happened.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013) Written & Directed by David Lowry
Ruth tells Bob she’s pregnant and he couldn’t be more excited. Bob needs to pull off one more robbery, and they’ll be set, able to escape their small Texas town and start over somewhere else. However, things don’t go as planned; a shoot out ensues with an officer wounded and Bob taken into custody. Ruth is taken in by her father figure Skerritt and raises her daughter as a single mother. Patrick, the officer, wounded in the shoot out, begins coming around to Ruth’s place to help her out and they slowly develop feelings for each other. Meanwhile, Bob escapes prison and starts making his way to Ruth, to take her and their daughter away to a better place.
American Hustle (2013) Written by Eric Warner Singer and David O. Russell Directed by David O. Russell
Inspired by the FBI’s Abscam operation to take down organized crime and later public corruption, American Hustle shakes off the procedural to tell a more stylistic and fictionalized version of the events. Irving Rosenfeld is a con artist in New Jersey who has found a soulmate and partner in Sydney Prosser. The two are running an art scam, and some loan sharking but get caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso who coerces them into using their skills and connections to start taking down bigger fish. Irving’s life is complicated by his irresponsible wife Rosalyn whose son he has adopted which causes him to refuse to leave her. DiMaso gets the pair embroiled with the mayor of Camden, New Jersey and on the ground floor of the mob-led rebuilding of Atlantic City. As expected the stakes crank up to a frenetic level and Irving finds himself deeper and more threatened than he ever wanted to be.
Destroyer (2018) Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi Directed by Karyn Kusama
Erin Bell has been worn down by her life as a police detective and the alcohol she downs to self-medicate herself. An envelope arrives at her desk containing an ink-stained bill which suddenly pulls her back into memories that are seventeen years old. Erin and her partner Chris went deep undercover to join a bank robbing gang run by Silas, a sociopath. The envelope is a sign to Erin that Silas is back and she starts to hunt down old associates as a means to find where her enemy is and finish him. To do this, she must cross every line that an officer is expected to uphold and will even kill to find this man that has tormented her mind for decades.
True Detective Season 3 (HBO) Written by Nic Pizzolatto, David Milch, and Graham Gordy Directed by Jeremy Saulnier, Daniel Sackheim, and Nic Pizzolatto
In 1980 two children go missing in a small Arkansas town. The detectives assigned to the case are Wayne Hays and Roland West. Hays is a stoic and determined investigator having spent his tour of duty in Vietnam as a tracker, wading deep into the jungle often alone. West is a more boisterous personality, a hard drinker, and a man who knows how to navigate the political game that makes up policing. The two men find themselves going down a rabbit hole of dead-end leads as they race against the clock to locate the children. In 1990, after the case is rushed to a close by the district attorney a new lead emerges that brings Hays back from a desk job. These new revelations confirm doubts Hays had about the person ultimately charged. However, they also create a whole new host of questions and confusion about what happened to the kids. Finally, in 2015, Hays is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and the passing of his beloved wife, whom he met back in 1980. Hays’ son has worked with a true crime television series to have his father sit down and be interviewed about the case that has haunted the old man for so many years. As Hays’ mind slips away his hold on the present begins to crumble and soon finds himself pinballing across decades in his brain, finally intent on uncovering the truth.
Killing Them Softly (2012) Written & Directed by Andrew Dominik
In the fall of 2008, with the presidential election and the financial crisis playing out in the background, Frankie and Russell carry out the robbery of a Mafia-run poker game. Planned by their friend Johnny “The Squirrel” they target a competition run by Markie, a man who once held up his own game and so now suspicion surrounds him. They figure everyone will think Markie did it again and he’ll feel the brunt of the mob. However, the Mafia calls in Jackie, a well-known hitman who immediately knows Markie isn’t this stupid. It’s only a matter of time until all parties involved in the heist are found and Jackie has to deliver his revenge. From there, things get dodgy as the film meanders off, focusing on side characters and slowing the momentum of the story way down.
Lawless (2012) Written by Nick Cave Directed by John Hillcoat
In 1931, among the foothills of Virginia, the Bondurant brothers were successful moonshine runners. Forrest (Tom Hardy) runs the operations with a cool even hand making sure to reign in wild man Howard (Jason Clarke) the youngest and greenest brother Jack (Shia LeBeouf). They also have the local law under their thumb by sharing some of the product from time to time. Things change when U.S. Marshall Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce) is assigned to the region and works alongside the state’s attorney to pressure the Bondurants into handing over a more significant percentage of their profits. Meanwhile, Jack becomes obsessed with courting the preacher’s daughter (Mia Wasikowska) while Forrest strikes up a growing intimacy with city girl on the run Maggie (Jessica Chastain). Oh yeah, Gary Oldman plays a Chicago gangster who has moved into the area. Movie crowded enough yet?