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It seems that ever since The Coens shot Blood Simple, neo noir has been a rite of passage in the early career of many auteurs. Christopher Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson, and the Wachowskis have done a crime film early in their career. Lawrence Kasdan said he chose Body Heat as his debut because it is a stylized genre that can be heightened, depending on less of a need for realism. Rose Glass applies her sensibility to the genre with her sophomore effort Love Lies Bleeding.

The movie connects it's players through coincidence many of us noir fans accept. Bodybuilder Jackie (Katy O'Brian) stops in a southwest burg to scrape up some money to compete in a Las Vegas competition. The nameless place can best be best described as "the outskirts" and is filmed in such a jaundiced style that makes you believe there is a scummy filter that can be put on a camera. She gets job at the family gun range owned by Lou Sr. (Ed Harris, whose eyes, voice, and hair style vie for most threatening). The range serves as a front for his illegal gun dealing. When working out at the low rent gym, she catches the eyes of the manager Lou (Kristen Stewart), estranged from father Lou Sr due to a dark history.

The two form a passionate dysfunctional romance. Lou gets Jackie hooked on steroids. Both see each other as their escape, but when circumstances lead to murder, it becomes a trap. I'll do my best to reveal little else, other than the two and their relationship become endangered by the manueverings of Lou Sr.

Glass works well as letting or getting her actors to cook. Like Schwarzenegger in Conan or The Terminator, it's difficult to picture anybody else being able to play Jackie than Katy O'Brian. A former body builder who posses talent and charisma, she believably portrays someone whose heart is fragile as her flesh is strong. She stands toe to toe with veteran Ed Harris in their first scene as they each make their point of what is more powerful, the body or the gun. Kristen Stewart connects with her in a chemistry that could lead to a dangerous explosion. We all know menace is a part of Harris' tool box, yet here he finds a way to shade it as he expresses a man navigating his need for control that struggles with the twisted version of love he has for his family. Rounding out the film are Anna Baryshnikov playing a clingy one night stand of Lou's, Jena Malone as Lou's sister, and Dave Franco portraying the sister's rat tailed abusive husband who also serves as. a henchman for Lou Sr.

Everything is in place, a great cast and a strong set up with a queer take and several other spins on the genre, but when it came to execution my first reaction proved mixed. Glass and co-writer Weronika Tifilska serve up a twisty plot that examines, love, obsession, family, and different forms of power and her direction portrays the violence with immediate and visceral drama. On The Big Picture podcast, Glass said she wanted to examine a parasitic romance that serves codependence. Her emphasis on the examination and her particular style slow the narrative drive.

Absurdity is often part of noir, but it usually moves so quickly we don't notice or care. By allowing us to notice the coincidences and the attention getting style, many things feels forced. A big swing the director takes in the final confrontation that is either a way Lou views Jackie at the moment or is full blown magical realism becomes unnecessarily polarizing with little context before hand. Steve McQueen examined gender, class, and politics with his noir film Widows. However he, did it by going deep into the genre as much as his thematics.

Many others who have written about the film express how much they love it and I've found more to admire in the two days between my viewing and knocking this review out. Still, when it came down to it, I was analyzing more than being carried along with it scuzzy tale. I didn't not see Rose Glass's first film, Saint Maude. It has often been described as elevated horror, a term many horror fans hate. Love Lies Bleeding, with its many strengths, comes off as "elevated noir" It feels like it's more interested in the personal expression than the genre it's using it for. At the end there is a darkly comic coda that sums up the story and is purely noir. If the rest of the film had carried that tone and sense of fun, I'd see it as the masterpiece many others have.


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