Thursday, August 11, 2016

Edge of Winter: Estranged Fathers and Sons

You can practically hear a Hollywood casting director describe Elliot Baker as a Trump voter (turns out he is played by a Swede, but that makes him even more white). Baker has been laid off from the timber mill, emasculated by his ex-wife, and alienated from his weakling sons. He is definitely a gun owner too. However, director Rob Connolly and his co-screenwriter Kyle Mann are clearly torn whether they should demonize or empathize with Baker, so they constantly split the difference in Edge of Winter (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

While Baker’s ex-wife and her nauseatingly responsible second husband are off on a cruise, his sons, the teenaged Bradley and the ten-ish Caleb will stay with the unemployed old man. Of course, Baker’s quick temper almost immediately shows itself, despite his cringey trying too hard. The discovery of his hunting rifle leads to an impromptu trip into the mountains to do some shooting, once the father finishes his conniption fit.

Naturally a perverse set of circumstances conspires to trap the ill-prepared Baker clan in the woods. In retrospect, it was also probably a bad idea to let slip their stepfather’s plans to relocate the family to London. It definitely rattles him, but when two scruffy French-Canadian hunters barge into their cabin shelter, it sets off Baker’s darkest paternal instincts.

Yet, what that all means is still mostly up to your interpretation. Baker either shares a kinship with Michael Douglas in Falling Down or Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Connolly can’t seem to decide. Joel Kinnaman’s halting performance is equally ambivalent, but the sulky, stoop-shouldered Swede is a compelling picture of wounded masculinity. Frankly, we really do not understand Kinnaman’s appeal but his beaten-and-battered twitchiness is not out of place in this half-pregnant film. In fact, Tom Holland and Percy Hynes White are so eye-rollingly entitled and hopelessly white bread as Bradley and Caleb Baker, respectively, it sort of manipulates us into sympathizing with the wildly problematic father. They too earn our scorn for so callously pushing their father away, yet who can blame them?

Ambiguity can be an eerily effective on-screen strategy, but in this case, it just feels like we are constantly waiting for the film to make up its mind. One thing is clear. Nature is a dangerous, back-stabbing place. Connolly and Mann clearly imply the world would be a much safer place if we commenced a massive deforestation campaign. It would have the extra added benefit of providing dignified work for the marginalized Elliot Bakers of the world. Be that as it may, Edge of Winter is a frustrating odd duck of a film that is hard to recommend to any readily identifiable audience when it opens tomorrow (8/12) in New York, at the Cinema Village.