The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
Vincent Cassel is incapable of being uninteresting. His Gallic charm, wolfish features and ever-present hint of a slitheriness lurking beneath the surface commands you to watch him. Very closely. His domineering dance master in “Black Swan” is typical of the sorts of complex characters he plays. One minute he is your supportive coach, the next minute he is using his powers of persuasion to warp your fragile mind.
“Partisan,” Cassel’s latest movie that smartly keeps his innate menace on a slow, low simmer, isn’t nearly as convincing or compelling as its star. The feature debut of Australian director Ariel Kleiman, who co-wrote the script with partner Sarah Cyngler, is a moody drama that employs a dystopian-type premise that is not too far afield from a typical young-adult book series although with loftier aspirations and a less propulsive pace.
We watch as Cassel’s Gregori, first seen toting pieces of wood as if it were a cross, turns an abandoned residential area near an unidentified rubble-filled city into an idyllic compound cut off from the rest of the world. It will eventually serve as the living quarters for a cult consisting of damaged women and their children. We then observe this charismatic man with a mission as he recruits his first two members after walking into a maternity ward and spying Susanna (Florence Mezzara), the one new mother with no flowers next to her bed. He kindly gives her the bloom off his own jacket and soon she and her newborn son, Alexander, are on board.
Jumping ahead, the focus switches to Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel, blessed with a delicate handsomeness but not quite up to the challenges of his role) as he celebrates his eleventh birthday. He is the eldest of a brood of 20 or so children of different mothers who live in this seemingly happy commune. The female adults garden, tend to livestock, cook and wash clothes while Gregori teaches his young charges in a makeshift classroom.