TIFF 2015 Review: Green Room


Punk rockin’ in “Green Room”

It’s hard to be a musician these days. Songs and albums are downloaded as free promotional materials and piracy is justified as increasing an artist’s fanbase so they can “make the real money” in touring. In Green Room, the band is touring, but they’re not making any money. In desperation they take a solid gig that will pay the equivalent of roughly $85 per band member – “the real money” – at an isolated neo-Nazi clubhouse hidden in the middle of a forest. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best idea.

The punk rockers (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner) start their gig off with a bang – by insulting the entire room with a cover of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” They get some death glares, and a few bottles thrown at them, but when the band starts their actual set, the crowd is surprisingly receptive. I guess they appreciated that playing the first song was a pretty ballsy – and punk rock – type of thing to do. Unfortunately for the band, they end up seeing something they shouldn’t see, and barricade themselves in the titular green room to try and survive the night.

Director Jeremy Saulnier has created another nail-biting thriller by throwing atypical and hapless heroes into deadly scenarios. Survival thrillers used to have gruff alpha-males that inevitably turned out to be ex-Special Forces (or ex-Green Beret, or ex-Navy SEAL, or ex-Boy Scout Troop Leader, etc.) with specialized and lethal skills that ensured they would see a sequel. But these characters don’t exist in Saulnier’s movies. In Green Room, it’s a quartet of punk rockers versus two handfuls of neo-Nazis. The punk rockers aren’t survivalists. They know how to siphon a tank of gas and one of them has some grappling skill to put an enemy into a sleeper hold. That’s about it. Admittedly, the neo-Nazis are deadlier, but they’re not that far off from our heroes. They just have better weapons. In Saulnier’s hands, the action is messy, the violence is brutal, and characters survive mostly by mishaps or chance rather than brilliant tactics or strategy.

The realism applied to the scenario seeps into the actor’s performances. Patrick Stewart plays against type as a villain, but his performance is pragmatic and understated rather than over-the-top. He plays the character as a man caught in a situation he doesn’t want to deal with, but must calmly figure out a solution to. He is effective and persuasive, and briefly convinces the rockers (and by extension, the audience) that he might be a reasonable guy about this whole thing. The punk rockers, meanwhile, are fully-realized characters with opinions on the value of live performance versus digital downloads, what record they would bring to a desert island, and how they really wouldn’t like to die by box cutter, pistol, shotgun, or vicious attack dogs.

It’s not quite a masterpiece (the film sometimes slips into unrealistic Hollywood moments that are in stark contrast to its sweaty-palmed realism), but it’s pretty damn close.

Grade: B+


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