Manderlay

Movie Review by Neils Hesse

Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Isaach De Bankole, Danny Glover, Willem Dafoe
Director: Lars Von Trier

Do you miss the days when films were just about the story and the characters, not the special effects or luscious landscapes? If you do then the setting of this tale of slavery and misconceived ideals all unravelling on a very basic studio sound stage ought to be ideal for you. Picking up from where DOGVILLE left off but minus Nicole Kidman, this time around Bryce Dallas Howard steps into the shoes of the character of Grace. Stumbling upon a cotton plantation that still practices slavery, Grace decides to once again put things right or so she thinks. So with a group of her father’s gangsters in tow she promptly, puts the white farm masters to work leaving the slaves to their own devices. Despite words of caution from an old slave played with a world weary feel by Danny Glover, Grace diligently moves on with her idealistic changes with surprisingly disastrous results.

This is the second part of the Von Trier trilogy of films on America and it follows the same tone as DOGVILLE with slightly more emphasis on the story than on Grace’s character. I personally think that he has succeeded as a director to forge some essential viewing out of racism, slavery and democracy.

Performances are all acceptable with the exception of Bryce Dallas Howard who quite simply gives an exceptional performance. From one scene where she misleads an old lady so she can execute her in a more humane way to two very sexual scenes that have to be seen to be believed, she comes across as being very real.

If you can handle the extra work load that your brain will have to take on to imagine all the scenery then by all means go and see this movie. But if you can’t fathom the idea of a film that is basically all happening in one big room but is meant to be on a plantation then leave it be.

I found it to be quite an engaging experience and as such I am looking forward to the third and final part of the trilogy. Based on the grand show that Bryce Dallas Howard has put on as Grace I bet that Mr Von Trier is having a hard time deciding whether to stick with her or to give Ms Nicole Kidman a second go.

3 out of 6 stars

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