' ' Cinema Romantico: The Vicious Kind

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Vicious Kind

There are films where you're grateful they refrain from providing opening credits. For instance, if I had seen at the outset of "The Vicious Kind", shown at Sundance two years ago, that Neil Labute acted as executive producer I would have had some idea of what was coming and known to batten down my proverbial hatches. But because this credit was not shown until the closing credits I could nod when I saw it and exclaim, "That makes so much sense!" "The Vicious Kind", written and directed by Lee Toland Krieger, is like Neil Labute for "The O.C." crowd. I think.

Peter (Alex Frost) is returning from college for Thanksgiving with his girlfriend, Emma (Brittany Snow), in tow. The trains aren't running so Peter's older brother, Caleb (Adam Scott), picks them up. Caleb, to put it midly, is a piece of work. He is a hardcore misanthrope, employed, kind of, as a construction worker whose heart has just been broken and has not spoken to their father (J.K. Simmons) in eight years for reasons relating to their deceased mother that will eventually be revealed. He hasn't slept in a week - "literally," he says - when he arrives to ferry them home. He has gone past the point of being on edge. He weeps when no one is around. He is highly suspicious of this raven-haired Emma, convinced she means only harm to Peter, even though we're not entirely certain he likes Peter, but at the same time it seems that perhaps Caleb might feel a tinge of attraction to Emma for an aim not described as honorable.

The goings-on here you have seen before, more or less - secrets of the past long buried will be dredged up, inevitable confrontations will occur, so on and so forth. But, like the work of Labute, there is the undeniable undercurrent to "The Vicious Kind" that all humans are awful and while redemption may be had it is also useless.

The character of Caleb is a wonderful, uncomfortable creation played with charm, resentment and lunacy by Scott (he earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination). You never really like him, even when he does something likeable, which he does a few times throughout the movie, and when he does something absolutely awful, which he does more than a few times, you don't completely despise him because he still retains a certain amount of unhinged charisma. You can see why Emma is enticed by him while her relationship with Caleb's brother moseys along in the background.

A film like "The Vicious Kind" is all about the details and, thus, if you want to see this film I don't want to spoil the critical bits and pieces that go into creating Caleb - except to say the film gives him a nice relationship with a fellow construction worker named J.T. (Vittorio Brahm) that functions as a fantastic bromance.

The end of the film is curious. It masquerades as a happy one but be careful. The character of Peter seems quite underdeveloped compared to others but that might just be the movie's aim. The whole time he is a pawn, an unwitting innocent who seems to have no idea how many extra layers there are beneath everything happening around him and is destined for a crash and burn in the very near future of spectacular proportions. My friend Brad recently said of Neil Labute: "(He) does not like people very much." I'm not sure Mr. Krieger likes them much either.


Derek Armstrong said...

I just reviewed this movie -- I think I like your review better than mine, although I think I also liked the film a little better than you did. Excellent encapsulation of Adam Scott's performance. Here's what I wrote about Peter:

"Playing the role of Peter, Alex Frost leaves little impression, partly due to his performance, partly due to how the character is written – he misses most of the movie’s major scenes either because of total obliviousness, or by sleeping through noisy incidents that might awake a coma patient."

Just discovered your blog and am really enjoying what I read. Look forward to reading more.

Nick Prigge said...

Thanks for the kind words. I agree Frost left little impression, mainly because he felt so much like a pawn. The whole movie felt like an experiment more than a story, which sometimes is how a Labute films feel too.

Derek Armstrong said...

Totally. The only reason I'd tend to disagree slightly is that I dug The Vicious Kind, whereas the films LaBute has directed have been bad "experiments" for some time now. I have not liked a movie of his in ten years (since Nurse Betty), and when he's failed, he's failed really spectacularly (The Wicker Man, anyone?) Having hated the British original, I'm not expecting Death at a Funeral to change that opinion for me, either.