After nearly a ten-year hiatus, famed director Francis Ford Coppola returned to his craft with Youth Without Youth, a captivating and alluring tale that signaled a change in direction for the man responsible for such classics as Dracula and The Godfather Trilogy. In his latest movie, the black-and-white drama Tetro, it's clear that the day of mainstream pictures has passed for the director, but that his talent hasn't eroded.
Tetro is about 17-year old sailor Benny (Alden Ehrenreich) who travels to Buenos Aires to find his estranged older brother. When he does find his brother, now called Tetro (Vincent Gallo), a volatile and melancholy poet who appears to no longer have interest in knowing him, the two brothers are forced to grapple with the haunting experiences of their past.
The movie comes off as a deeply personal film for Coppola, with many Rumble Fish qualities about it. Set almost exclusively in a small, artsy neighborhood in Argentina, Tetro at times feels like a stage production, with a strong focus on characters over plot. It feels like the characters are trapped in a small box, confined to its properties, and yet the production comes off as comforting more than it does claustrophobic or restrained. In many ways, it plays like On the Waterfront, presenting a handful of strong characters and a personal struggle they must overcome.
But Tetro is not On the Waterfront. The movie looks great, and Coppola's decision to film it in black and white with a smattering of color when emotions call for it pays huge dividends, but Tetro lacks the sizzle that intimate classics like On the Waterfront maintained.
The script is well written and Ehrenreich especially delivers a strong performance, but the actors as a whole seem restrained. While it's hardly fair to compare anyone to Marlon Brando, every player in Tetro lacks the energy this kind of film needs to elevate itself; it's not the actor's fault as much as Coppola's for failing to enable such performances. When all is said and done, Tetro is mildly engaging and well done, but immediately forgettable.
Tetro is another quality film by Francis Ford Coppola, but in the process of making a personal film he forgot that he needed to infuse some explosiveness into his story. The movie certainly lends itself to such a point where emotions and secrets boil over into something grand, but it never reaches that climax it so desperately needed. Still, recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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