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Fantastic Fest Day 4: Borderline, Take Shelter, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

(Fantastic Fest is still going in Austin, Texas, and our intrepid reporter Brian Salisbury is bringing us the highlights of what he's seen at the world's largest festival dedicated to genre movies. For everything else Brian has been up to, check out all of his reports here.)


Middle class couple David (François Damiens) and Christine (Pascale Arbillot) begins to be buried under an avalanche of bad luck. David realizes he is not even in consideration for partner at his law firm and Christine’s insubordination just got her fired. To make matters worse, they are drifting out of touch with their children and drowning in debt. One night, while taking a walk to clear his head, David comes across a leather bag full of cocaine. Instead of turning it into the authorities, he decides selling the narcotics may be the key to solving all their problems; that is, until the original owner returns to reclaim the bag.

Borderline is a rather average comedy operating under the mechanics of a farce. The characters are contrived, but the authentic performances of Damiens and Arbillot rescue the protagonists from being completely unlikable. That being said, the central conceit of the film is a tough pill to swallow. David makes the decision to sell the cocaine within minutes of discovering it. It’s hard to accept that a hopelessly ordinary upstanding citizen would put himself and his family in serious jeopardy just because he was having a bad day. It just seems too easy. The cavalier way in which he, and eventually also his wife, sells the drugs telegraphs the inevitable conflict with the crime boss who shows up later. Borderline is peppered with a few hearty laughs, but ultimately hollow and forced.

Take Shelter

Construction worker and family man Curtis (Michael Shannon) keeps experiencing horrific nightmares featuring apocalyptic events. He tries to ignore them, but then they begin to plague him even as he is awake. Having had a family history of psychological disorder, he decides to consult a therapist. But even with the medication, he can’t control his hallucinations. He begins to prepare for what he feels is the imminent end of the world by building on to his underground storm shelter. But are his fears justified, or is he slipping into madness?

Take Shelter is an emotionally brutal character deconstruction. It’s a slow descent into schizophrenia that makes painfully clear the anguish felt by someone struggling to maintain their grip on reality. The visions that Curtis witnesses, that we the audience witness, are terrifying and incredibly effective. Michael Shannon proves yet again that he is one of the best actors working today. His performance is absolutely incredible; complexly layered and haunting. The relationship between him and his wife, played by the equally on-the-rise Jessica Chastain, is the at the heart of the drama, and the two fearlessly dig their creative claws into the emotional meat of the story. If Michael Shannon does not get nominated for an Oscar for Take Shelter, I will go live in a fallout shelter.

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

The crime rate in Rio de Janeiro has escalated to critical levels. The only thing that seems to stand between the city and total anarchy is Lt. Colonel Nascimento (Wagner Moura) and his special police unit dubbed BOPE. During a prison riot orchestrated by one of Rio’s most sinister crime figures, one of Nascimento’s men makes a tactical decision that leaves the riot mastermind dead. A local human rights activist launches a campaign against BOPE and Nascimento himself, but Nascimento refuses to quit. He institutes an initiative that ends up removing most of the drug dealers from the city. Unfortunately, that leaves Rio ripe for the picking by crooked cops and politicians. Now Nascimento must team with the activist, his nemesis, to take down this corrupt system.

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within professes within the first few minutes to be something it is not. The film opens with an exciting shootout followed by a title sequence featuring thunderous heavy metal. Suddenly the audience is locked in for a guns-blazing, nonstop action romp. But in fact this film is more of a political thriller with hints of film noir. Writer/Director José Padhila weaves an intricate tale of corruption and cover-up that wears its condemnation of Brazil’s political infrastructure on its sleeve. The film is gorgeously shot, thematically fascinating, and the performances are expertly crafted. Padhila’s adept handling of the themes of corporate greed, violent cops, and political corruption, instills a great deal of confidence in his qualifications to helm the upcoming Robocop remake.