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Front Page - Friday, May 6, 2016

Patrick Stewart elevates ‘Green Room’

The Critic's Corner movie review

David Laprad

Death comes quickly and without remorse in “Green Room,” a blood-spattered thriller starring Patrick Stewart as the head of a group of white supremacists. While Stewart’s performance runs superbly against type for the Shakespearean actor, the poorly executed action often left me wondering what I had just seen, and turned a potentially good film into a slightly frustrating experience.

The opening scenes establish how the members of the punk band, The Ain’t Rights, come to perform at a skinhead bar buried deep within a Pacific Northwest forest. Siphoning gas to rattle from gig to gig in their rusty van, Pat, Sam, Reece, and Tiger are barely making enough money to sustain themselves. But the band isn’t about success, it’s about their passion for their music.

Still, when a radio host lands them a slightly lucrative engagement at a neo-Nazi club, they jump at the chance (and siphon just enough gas to get there). Things go poorly during their set, though (opening with a cover of “Nazi Punks F--- Off” was probably a bad idea), so they’re hurrying to leave when Sam forgets her cell phone in the green room and returns to retrieve it. As she enters the room, she sees two of the club’s regulars standing over the corpse of a girl with a knife in her head. As the rest of the band is ushered into the green room at gunpoint, Pat makes blooper number two: calling 911.

Calling the cops seconds after witnessing a murder in a neo-Nazi dive bar is probably near the top of the list of Dumb Things People in Movies Do, but it gets the band into the green room, and it deposits most of the skinheads on the other side the room’s barricaded door. From there, a brutal game of cat and mouse ensues as the band tries to escape and the skinheads try to eliminate the unwitting witnesses.

The best part of “Green Room” is Stewart’s wonderfully nuanced performance. His Darcy is a vicious man, but Stewart doesn’t play him like a grimacing beast. Instead, he reminded me of a diplomat: he doesn’t have to raise his voice to get people to obey him, and he has a dangerously conniving way with words. In one scene, I almost found myself convinced the band should do what Darcy suggested as he tries to get them to open the door. That would have been even higher on the list of Dumb Things People in Movies Do, so I’m glad the band thought better of it. Anyway, Stewart handles the role brilliantly, and is a pleasure to watch.

“Green Room” needs the distraction Stewart provides. Writer and director Jeremy Saulnier effectively pieces together a scenario from which escape seems impossible, and then turns up the heat during several tense scenes, each of which builds on the last one to create a horrific dream-like reality in which death can come at a moment’s notice. However, Saulnier drops the ball when it comes to the action: several characters are killed in the shadows, leaving viewers to wonder who died. At least twice, I was able to determine who died only by taking an inventory of the survivors.

There are also a few clumsy scenes in which it’s unclear what someone is doing and why. For example, I was confused by the bit where Darcy sends a lackey in to hack up the band, and then the guy switches sides and tries to help the musicians get away. It didn’t make sense.

Saulnier does show potential as a director: In one scene, a neo-Nazi is on his hands and knees and staring down into an underground bunker, where two of the band members are trying get away. Slowly, a friend of the murder victim emerges from under the cushions of a nearby couch and creeps toward the bad guy. Saulnier keeps her out of focus, even as she becomes the focus of the scene. The imagery is arresting.

I wanted to love “Green Room” but I merely liked it. While the performances are strong, and Saulnier fosters an atmosphere of pure evil, the shoddy action frequently undermines the viewing experience. Thriller fans should enjoy it well enough once it reaches streaming channels, though.

Two-and-a-half stars out of four. Rated R for strong, brutal, graphic violence, gory images, language, and drug content.

Reader’s tip: If you’re reading this, “Captain America: Civil War” is in theaters. Check our Twitter (@HCHeraldEditor) for photos of a Thursday night showing and our first impressions.

David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at dlaprad@hamiltoncountyherald.com.