Restless, dir. Gus Van Sant
I was a little wary at first of going to see Gus Van Sant’s film about “two young teen outsiders (who) are drawn to each other through their fascination with death.” His best work stems from his treatment of classic drama with an arthouse eye. When it succeeds you get films like MILK and ELEPHANT which represent two halves of the same Van Sant aesthetic. When it fails you get films like FINDING FORRESTER and GERRY. So as the first few minutes unspooled, with lead Henry Hopper outlining his body on the ground crime scene style with chalk, I was pleased to see the former combination come into play. Hopper stars as death-obsessed Enoch and looks just like his late father Dennis Hopper. From the opening frame the resemblance is jaw-dropping. This undeniable visual works well with the theme of the film that is about the way the dead and the living haunt us. And everytime you see Henry onscreen you also feel the faint lifeforce of Dennis.
The performance in general is stuck in “awkward” setting that fits the character, but not sure how much of that is naturally Henry. This stilted awkwardness of the character, and actor, is slowly drawn out after Enoch meets another funeral crasher Annabel, played by the mega-talented Mia Wasikowska. Soon the two bond over the many facets of death and the so-tragic-it-must-be-a-joke state of their lives. Their relationship blooms despite an inevitable end for one of them. This heaviness is given some levity by Enoch’s imaginary friend Hiroshi Takahashi, a Japanese kamikaze pilot from World War II, who not only beats him continually at Battleship, but acts as a level-headed sounding board for all of Enoch’s angst. It’s one of many whimsical touches that makes it possible to laugh at a situation where death is the lingering backdrop. The story as a whole is predictable, but it’s the smaller moments between Enoch and Annabel (with genuine chemistry between the two leads) that make the movie.
Mia Wasikowska of course is well on her way to being a big force in Hollywood so I’m interested to see how Henry Hopper develops as an actor from this point. He shows some great promise in RESTLESS, but will he be able to follow in the big footsteps left by his legendary father? Either way, RESTLESS is a great first film for Henry and for Gus Van Sant it’s another successful blend of function and form. He’s crafted a delicate artistic look at young love with the very real drama of young death.