In the grand scheme of film criticism and the notion that groundbreaking directors can be born right out of their first feature, Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild is a perfect blend of emotional rapture and glorious narrative. The film tells the story of young Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), a girl living among her father (Dwight Henry) and neighbors following a natural disaster that may or may not be Hurricane Katrina. Hushpuppy faces the deteriorating environment that threatens her very existence and everyone she loves.
Zeitlin’s direction is controlled and spot-on as he operates the film with a heavy hand of love. His interpretation of a world that belongs to an eight-year-old girl is accurately and effectively moving. Zeitlin casts a spell and digs his way into your soul with his creation of some of the most beautiful characters of the year. The film, reminiscent of an older, more mature version of Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, encapsulates many of the qualities that makes films really extraordinary. Zeitlin’s vision is paramount and while he allows the imagery to become a secondary character, a tactic many director can only dream of, his artistic abilities haven’t even been fully realized…yet.
Co-writer Lucy Alibar, who adapted her own one-act play “Juicy and Delicious”, discovers a stunning internal premise that she and Zeitlin both develop into a three-dimensional tale with real people and real emotions. Despite a narrative glitch that is clear in the middle of the film, the strong finale puts all doubts to rest and becomes one of the most authentic and tear-jerking resolutions of the year thus far.
The film is a creative mainstream of thought and focus. It continues its approach on showing the different perspectives on the victims of natural disaster and psychological effects it can have on its communities. As the story unfolds, and different emotions about the characters come into play, we are left with a double-sided sword of brilliance and flaw. One side is authoritative, complex, and utterly intriguing; undeniably moving in its narrative approaches. On the other side, there are shortcuts, undeveloped characterizations and small blurs that don’t deliver clarity in the way one hopes for in a story this provoking.
I feel as though I get this feeling every year as a child performer makes their big début but Quvenzhane Wallis’ performance is one of the finest by a child in years. As other great works like Thomas Horn (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) and Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland) have blazed through the film circuit, Wallis’ abilities at the tender age of eight could be the beginning of a strong and admirable career. Wallis could very well be this generation’s Shirley Temple. As Hushpuppy, Wallis is submerged in a stampede of emotions that shoot high and low on the Richter scale. She’s Oscar’s next opportunity since Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale Rider to recognize one of the best talents to hit screens in years.
As Wink, Hushpuppy’s father, Dwight Henry is one of the greatest finds in Hollywood in years. Henry shows a depth and range that made actors like Denzel Washington so great. If Oscar is committed to citing the most original and brilliant performance of 2012, then Henry should be at the top of their list.
Cinematographer Ben Richardson also uses the camera lens as a blank canvas for Zeitlin and his actors to paint on. The outstanding set decorations by Annie Evelyn and Erin Staub along with Art director Dawn Masi are mixed brushstrokes along the taunting screen. Dan Romer and Zeitlin collaborate on a musical accompaniment that builds to the brims of our ears.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is still a fine made film at the end of the day. Though not entirely perfected, its admirable approach to a controversial topic tied in with heartwarming personalities benefits as one of the best films of the year.
Tags: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Ben Richardson, Benh Zeitlin, Dwight Henry, Editor Film Review, film review, movies, Quvenzhané Wallis
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