It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
There’s minimalist filmmaking that’s quietly intriguing, and then there’s emotional detachment that’s stultifying to the point of being nap-inducing. "War Story" falls into the latter category.
Director Mark Jackson’s drama is a chilly study in grief starring Catherine Keener as a war-zone photographer shattered by her experiences in Libya. But Jackson and co-writer Kristin Gore have structured the film as a mystery, so we don’t really know who Keener’s character is or what happened to her until about an hour into the 90-minute running time.
Instead, Keener’s Lee smokes and sulks. She pops pills and avoids calls from her editor. She holes up in the darkness of a sparse Sicilian hotel room that she insists the maid shouldn’t clean. (Actually, all of her interactions with other people are uniformly terse.) When she does leave the room, bleary-eyed, Jackson follows her in long, Dardennes-style tracking shots down bland hotel hallways and through cloudy city streets. There is a numbing evenness in tone to every place she goes and everything she does.
Certainly, a film about a woman suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder shouldn’t be a laugh riot, but it should at least offer some glimmers of humanity to engage us and keep us hanging on. “War Story” is all about withholding key information, but it’s too languid to be engrossing in the first place. It takes an awfully long time to establish Lee’s isolation; the first 13 minutes are essentially wordless.