Nominated for four Oscars including Best Director and Best Picture, Beasts of the Southern Wild has come out nowhere with its story of survival, courage and tough love. Though undeserving of its award nominations, Beasts is still an engaging movie that focuses on a part of America rarely seen.
The movie is set amidst an isolated bayou community that is struck by a hurricane and massive flood. The residents are forced to come together to survive as their world is poisoned by the salt water. Meanwhile, young Hushpuppy (played by nine-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis) must grow up quickly as her strict father begins to suffer from illness.
Wallis turns in a fierce performance and serves as a strong protagonist. It's easy to rally behind her during her adventure, as random as it may be. An Oscar nominated performance? Not to take anything away from her, but no. There were simply other, better performances this year, and the Academy appears to have been overzealous in awarding a talented child who screams and hisses more than she does act.
In a year that featured Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck delivering three of the best movies of their careers, Benh Zeitlin doesn't deserve a Best Director nod, nor is the film among the year's ten best. But that aside, Zeitlin still does a fine job in bringing his characters and setting to life.
The crux of the film relies on the relationship between Hushpuppy and her father Wink, played by Dwight Henry. Their relationship transforms in unpredictable ways throughout the film. At first, Wink appears to be an unsavory, brutal antagonist, but he develops into one of the more complex characters put to film in some time.
I didn't get the purpose of the actual "beasts" that appear very intermittently through the movie, however. Symbolic, sure, but pointless and silly.
Beasts of the Southern Wild isn't perfect, but it's a well made movie with good performances and an intriguing story. It may not deserve Oscar love, but it does deserve your attention.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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