If I ever see Robin Wright Penn walking down the street, I'm crossing it. I suggest you do the same. The actress turns in a chilling and downright creepy performance as a manipulative psychopath who takes advantage of a struggling Muslim man to carry out her evil deeds.
"Sorry, Haters" is a powerful yet somewhat inconsistent picture that offers some rather slow and obnoxious scenes, yet still packs a punch when it really needs to. Remember Muhammed Ali's fight against George Foreman, the Rumble in the Jungle? That's what this one's like. Okay, not really, but the film definitely lands a few blows.
Little known Abdel Kechiche, in his first English film, stars as Ashade, a cab driver who makes the mistake of picking up the mysterious businesswoman known as Phoebe. Emotionally disturbed, she forces him to drive him around for quite some time before they both end up at his cousin's place, and she is meeting the whole family. Her entire demeanor is strange, but eventually she gets to the point - in exchange for helping him free his innocent brother from Guantanamo, she wants him to harness his unknown anger against Americans into some kind of terrorist attack. He flatly refuses her, but she already knows too much about him... and will do anything to get her way.
Penn delivers her best performance in years, even though I almost turned the movie off fifteen minutes in because she was annoying me so very much. Crying pathetically and acting like a fool, her character was painful to watch... then, as it turns out, her character is only acting like that. Penn glides through the rest of the film, emotionally unstable yet intentionally so, manipulating her counterpart who hates her with a passion, yet seems to feel compassion for her.
Kechiche is also terrific in the lead, delivering a heartfelt performance as a Muslim man caught in the middle of a plot that he cannot so easily escape.
The movie itself has a good script, as most of it consists of dialogue exchange between the two main actors. Other actors, though, play their parts, including Sandra Oh and Aasif Mandvi. As for the directing, it's not perfect and could have been better. While most of the film requires seemingly little effort and director Jeff Stanzler handles it fine, he stumbles at the end, even though the ending is the most shocking part of the movie. His attempt to turn the film into some kind of music video seemed so out of place that I had no idea what was going on. Still, his ending gets the point across.
The movie is also under an hour and a half, but still seemed inconsistent in its pacing. When Penn is showing her true colors, the movie races along, but when she relapses into her more forgivable, emotional character, the movie grinds to a halt and relies a little too much on the actors to muscle their way through the scenes. The result is an uneven film that allows your attention to waver in a few parts.
"Sorry, Haters" is a surprisingly good film that could have been even better had a few scenes been tightened up or redone. Despite some flaws, the movie is dark and psychologically twisted, and Penn single-handedly makes this movie worth watching.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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