Dead Pigs: Film Review

Dead Pigs

Cathy Yan‘s debut feature Dead Pigs received critical acclaim and caught the attention of Margot Robbie when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and landed her a blockbuster directing gig in the form of 2020’s Birds of Prey – but then it never got released. Finally, after three years, Dead Pigs is coming out.

The film follows the trials and tribulations of an odd mix of people, as thousands of dead pigs mysteriously float down the river towards Shanghai, something which actually happened in 2013. There’s Xia Xia (Meng Li), who crashes her car after a night out at a restaurant and ends up in hospital; Wang Zhen (Mason Lee), who finds her phone and helps her out while she’s hospitalised and also likes to get into accidents to make money; his father Old Wang (Haoyu Yang), who is up to his neck in debts and his pigs have all mysteriously died; and his sister Candy Wang (Vivian Wu), a prized pigeon-keeping beautician who is refusing to sell her house to a redevelopment company and stays in her property as an act of protest when its the only house still standing in the proposed new site.

Dead Pigs is a darkly funny and quirky social satire which deals with themes such as social change, globalisation, capitalism and the increasing inequality of wealth and employs a random assortment of characters, who are all developed well, thanks to Yan’s impressive screenplay. She makes bizarre choices in places though, for example, a random musical number that comes out of nowhere with singalong lyrics onscreen. What the hell? I was so baffled by this decision.

The most interesting storyline was Candy Wang, a beauty parlour owner who refuses to leave her home in case it gets knocked down, like the rest of her old neighbourhood. The Golden Happiness company are confident she will sell at the right price, considering she is now surrounded by rubble, but she cannot be bought – she was born and raised in that house and it has sentimental value, whereas her brother is a sad pathetic drunk who begs her to sell to help him out of his hole. Zazie Beetz also has a small and inconsequential appearance, so don’t be mislead into thinking she “stars” in this, because she really doesn’t.

Dead Pigs is a real mixed bag and a bit too long, so it didn’t completely gel for me, but it’s a strong debut feature from Yan – I’m not surprised she got hired for a big-budget movie (one on a whole other level in terms of scale) off the back of it.

Released globally (except China) on MUBI on Friday 12th February

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Dreamland: Film Review

Dreamland

Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote.

After impressing as Michael Gray in Peaky Blinders, British actor Finn Cole finally gets to prove his leading man chops by starring alongside Margot Robbie in Dreamland.

The film is set in a small Texas town in 1935. Local teenager Eugene Evans (Cole) decides to go on the hunt for wanted bank robber and suspected murderer Allison Wells (Robbie) to collect the handsome reward, but he doesn’t need to go very far – turns out the wounded Allison has been hiding out in his family’s barn. He becomes torn between helping and capturing the seductive fugitive.

Dreamland looks impressive, with stunning Depression-era landscapes set in the Dust Bowl, an area hit by a severe drought in the ’30s, but there’s not much going on under the surface. It had the potential to be much more, but the screenplay by Nicolaas Zwart is shallow and doesn’t amount to an awful lot. The film is narrated by Eugene’s younger sister Phoebe (Darby Camp) 20 years later (voiced by Lola Kirke) and it seemed like a cool idea at first but didn’t get used to great effect and ultimately felt rather unnecessary.

The movie is also described as a thriller but that doesn’t feel particularly accurate. It didn’t ever feel particularly exciting or thrilling. Not as much happened as I was expecting it to as the first half of the movie is spent with Eugene falling in love with Allison as she recuperates in the barn. More action comes in the second half but it’s fleeting – a glimpse of what we could have had – and the finale, which should have felt dramatic and poignant, made barely any impact at all.

Robbie, who also produces, is as captivating, alluring, and magnetic as always but as good as her performance is, she doesn’t steal the shine from Cole. She lets him lead and he does well as Eugene, particularly towards the end when he has more emotional heavy lifting. Individually they were strong, but I never once bought their romance; it was not remotely convincing, but that’s mostly down to the screenplay – the twists and turns of their love affair didn’t feel earned or ring true. I also didn’t understand why Garrett Hedlund signed up for such a small role – perhaps it was chopped down a lot in the edit?! That’s the only explanation.

It sounds like I hated Dreamland but I didn’t at all – it was a simple and easy enough watch and I enjoyed watching the two actors I like work with each other, but I’m frustrated because I wanted it to be better and it had the potential to do so.

In cinemas from Friday 11th December

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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