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Review: ‘Faults’

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Leland Orser in 'Faults'
Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Leland Orser in ‘Faults’
Obviously, the unconditional love of parents for their children knows no boundaries. So when a heart-wrought mother and father decide to hire Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) to find and “rescue” their daughter from a cult they consider to be dangerous, it’s completely understandable, even if their self-righteous piety rankles a bit.

After all, Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) may be young, but she is an adult. Still, her disappearance from the lives of her loved ones has caused profound distress, and Ansel readily accepts their case — as long as they can pay his fee. As becomes apparent in the opening scenes of Faults, a new film written and directed by Riley Stearns, Ansel is no longer living up to his reputation. He’s a bestselling author who has fallen on hard times, and he desperately struggles to present a good appearance despite his abject poverty.

When Claire’s parents approach him, he is in a particularly low state, yet he still displays a remnant of the energy and persuasion that he must have once wielded with aplomb. And his brainwashing technique is so embedded in his own mind that he easily applies it to his new case, kidnapping and then secreting Claire away in a cheap motel room for his patented five-day “cleanse.”

For her part, Claire is strong-willed but not unreasonable. She appears to be calm and reasonable, even after the traumatic snatching and confinement. Her peaceful and placid personality could represent a hollow shell of her former life — or maybe it’s a more mature evolution of her character. People change over time, though it’s usually less dramatic than what is presented here, and without seeing her in the past, it’s impossible to know whether she has changed for the better or the worse.

Her parents, of course, feel it’s for the worst, but is that simply a manifestation of their natural fears that their little girl has grown up and away from them? Again, it’s impossible for an observer to know for certain, and that’s where Ansel finds himself. He has been hired to do a job, he desperately needs the money, and he is bound and determined to do whatever it take to please new clients so they will pay him.

Stearns sets a lot of plates a-spinning in his script, creating a big challenge for him to fulfill as a first-time director, and ultimately things fall apart. But before that happens, he establishes a mesmerizing tone that is difficult to shake. Part of that rests on the strength of the performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She is warm and winning, yet also withholding, and occasionally a steely glance of coldness escapes her countenance, hinting at an inner strength that will not be rebuffed no matter what trials she may suffer.

Given the rare opportunity of a leading role, Orser delivers a complex, fully-realized character who is no longer at the top of his game. Still, there’s plenty of evidence that Ansel Roth is capable of almost anything, which lends the material an additional layer of menace and peril.

Haunting and mysterious, Faults is an imperfect drama that wavers between blackly comic moments and nail-biting tension. Whatever it is, it’s certainly memorable.

Faults is now playing a limited engagement at AMC Mesquite. It is also available to watch via various Video On Demand platforms.

Indie Weekend: ‘Smashed,’ ‘The Sessions,’ ‘Samsara,’ ‘Sister,’ and More

Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 'Smashed' (Sony Pictures Classics)
Mary Elizabeth Winstead in ‘Smashed’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

Awards season is in full bloom, and Dallas is the beneficiary this weekend, with a flurry of independent movies clamoring for attention.

  • Smashed features a noteworthy performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a young woman who recognizes her own symptoms of alcoholism and tries to go sober, without much assistance from husband Aaron Paul. (Landmark Magnolia; Angelika Plano)
  • The Sessions is receiving attention for John C. Hawkes, who plays a not-so-young man confined to an iron lung for much of his life. He yearns to lose his virginity, a difficult proposition for someone with his physical limitations, and so he turns to a sex therapist (Helen Hunt) for assistance. (Landmark Magnolia; Angelika Plano)
  • Samsara is a documentary by Ron Fricke (Baraka); the film “transports us to the varied worlds of sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial complexes, and natural wonders.” (The Texas Theatre)
  • Sister stars Kacey Mottet Klein and Lea Seydoux in a drama “set at a Swiss ski resort and centered on a boy who supports his sister by stealing from wealthy guests.” (Angelika Dallas)
  • The Details is the sophomore feature by Jacob Aaron Estes (Mean Creek) starring Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks, Laura Linney, Kerry Washington, and Ray Liotta; it’s a dark comedy involving sex, extortion, and murder. (Angelika Dallas)
  • The Other Son tells the “switched at birth” story of an Israeli and a Palestinian; no, it’s not a comedy. (Angelika Dallas)
  • Amber Alert is a thriller about two young friends on the trail of a murderous child rapist. (Angelika Dallas)

And of those, I have seen in advance a total of none, unfortunately, but Smashed, The Sessions, and Samsara have all gotten above average critical notice, so I would start with one of those three. Unless you have children and/or love animated films about video games, in which case I recommend Wreck-It Ralph (read my review).

Also opening in wide release:

  • Flight, a drama directed by Robert Zemeckis, with Denzel Washington as an airline pilot struggling with alcoholism.
  • The Man With Iron Fists, martial arts action starring Lucy Liu and Russell Crowe; directed by the RZA, and not screened in advance for local press, which probably tells you all you need to know (i.e. not likely to be a critical fave, but could provide genre kicks). (UPDATE: Sad to say, a mediocre effort; read my review at Twitch.)

Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World'
Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World'


The very first frame announces the intent of the movie: the Universal Studios logo, in pixellated form, with cheesy synth music playing the theme. We’re in an 8-bit world, and director and co-scripter Edgar Wright is at the controls.

A dazzling plunge into an unending deluge of visual and cinematic tricks proceeds forthwith. Yet they’re not really “tricks” in the sense of a magician’s sleight-of-hand; they’re a means of expressing the alternating currents of bliss, confusion, fear, hope, lust, and love (maybe? possibly?)  that surge through the mind and body of anyone taking the delicate first steps in a relationship.

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