I spent the earliest part of this day writing up the first couple of days, so I didn’t get started on films until the evening. But it was a really good night. Check out my thoughts!
We Are Legion: The Story of The Hacktivists
This was the third documentary I have caught at SXSW and was the first one I really loved. Accessible to computer people or total n00bs (like me), We Are Legion gives a history of the hacking group known as Anonymous. The documentary brims with energy, humor, and a revolutionary spirit. My sense is that the film leans in support of the hacktivists and also leans pretty “left” politically as well. Which means this could be a very divisive film. But I found the subjects to be hilarious and inspiring. And the exploration of the ideas is thorough and intriguing. We Are Legion suggests that the very act of computer hacking is a political statement and that “Hacktivism” is a very natural offspring of the unorganized pranking where lots of hacking begins. When the film gets around to highlighting the role of hackers in the success of various Arab Spring uprising movements, most notably in Egypt, you begin to realize the phenomenal (and frightening) power that a group of genius hackers really can have over the world. I found myself inspired and smiling at the end of this film, having entered a secret world that I never knew anything about and walking away better informed and highly entertained.
The Raid: Redemption
And, here it is. THE movie of the fest for me. I’m an action junkie and have been craving this movie for months. The buzz coming out of Toronto and Sundance was universally positive. And I had seen the previous film from director Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais called Merentau. The Raid is a bare knuckle action film that delivers enormous thrills and kills. Not even remotely for the feint of heart, The Raid has a high body count but creates a symphony of violence that rivals the best of John Woo’s early work.
The Plot? Well, I found the perfect combination of stripped down efficient plotting combined with some actual character beats and minor twists that surprised and engaged me. There is a building, with a major ganster and his army of thugs setting atop it as their castle. And a SWAT team raids the building for unknown reasons. Corruption and status quo collide and our rookie protagonist, Rama (Uwais), must rise to the level of action hero if he is to survive. Fortunately, Uwais IS a full on action superstar and offers an electrifying and physical performance.
The Redemption? I’m not sure exactly where that fits in. Although there are plot revelations, I don’t feel that any character goes through a lot of change in the film. Some dudes prove their undying toughness, but that is about it. So while light on spirituality, The Raid is probably one of the best pure action films seen in a good decade or so.
I made this night an Indonesian double feature as both The Raid and Modus Anomali hail from there. Modus is director Joko Anwar’s fourth film, but I had never seen any of his previous works. This film is one of many twists and turns, and it is the revelations of the mystery that prove to be Modus’ undoing.
There is a very intentional slow build in Modus, IE it feels slow very often. I am okay with slow and will later offer a positive review of a film that was even slower paced than Modus. At any rate, this film begins with a man shooting out from a recently dug grave. In a long process of discovery he realizes he doesn’t know who he is, sees a video of a pregnant woman being murdered in the cabin near his grave site, and that there are probably two children lost in the woods who may be his own kids. Oh, and there is some kind of masked surgeon killer on the loose. As the plot twists and turns, I kind of lost interest rather than gained it. And it took a few questions in the Q and A afterwards to even help me figure out what I had just seen. I sort of “get it” now, but I feel like the film cheats to create its twists, and I don’t like that personally.
I would be willing to give the film a second shot if only because in some ways the twists managed to “outsmart” me. Now that I think I understand what happened, I may watch again to see if I really like the film or not. I suspect not.