Of all my movie critic dilemmas, perhaps the most perplexing is what I call “the cup of tea problem”.
The “cup of tea problem” is something like this: How do you review a movie that is expertly crafted, brilliantly scripted and capably acted but also just isn’t your cup of tea and probably never will be?
Consider, for example, Amazon Prime’s “Blow the Man Down.” I hated it on a deep and personal level. I hated every brutal, nihilistic, sawing-an-arm-off-a-corpse minute. But it is also, aesthetically, one of the finest movies of this young year- atmospheric, thrilling and deeply unsettling.
I imagine someone will love it. But that person is not me. So what is a poor hapless movie critic to do?
Well, I can start by recounting the plot, I suppose. This is a bleak crime dramedy in the tradition of the Coen brothers’ “Fargo” set in the Maine seaside port of Easter Cove. It starts with young Mary Beth Connolly (Morgan Saylor) impaling a man with a harpoon during an attempted rape and follows the attempts of Mary Beth and her sister Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) to cover up the crime. Throw in another murder, a bag of stolen cash, police corruption and a brothel masquerading as a bed and breakfast and things get complicated very quickly.
Of all of the elements of a good story, setting perhaps gets the shortest shrift in many films. But the strength of “Blow the Man Down” is how it absolutely luxuriates in its setting to the point where Easter Cove becomes a character in itself. You can feel the rocking of the waves, smell the salty air, taste the haddock cooking in the kitchen. It’s enough to make you want to visit if not for all the murder and rape going on.
If Easter Cove steals the show, the actual characters are no less compelling. Both Connolly sisters are well-drawn heroines with realistic goals, dreams and dialogue. Saylor and Lowe may not be the most familiar faces (I remember Lowe from a very short-lived “Once Upon a Time” spinoff series from a few years back), but they give these characters life and make you care for them even as they make one bad decision after another.
The AARP-aged supporting cast is even better. The great character actress Margo Martindale, playing Enid the brothel owner, reminds us what a magnificent actress she can be- matronly, murderous and majestic often all at the same time.
June Squibb, Annette O’Toole, and Marceline Hugot play what a co-worker affectionately calls “the old lady mafia” – a crew of snoopy senior citizens with very strong opinions on how Easter Cove should be run. They are, to a one, a hoot.
The music is consistently excellent, and that isn’t just a praise for Brian McOmber and Jordan Dykstra’s mesmerizingly thrilling score. There is also a Greek chorus of singing fishermen -led by folk singer David Coffin- whose periodic sea shanties set the tone and provide some of the film’s best moments. It’s a quirky touch, but it works.
But if “Blow the Man Down” is brutally effective, it’s also just brutal. There are no heroes and the comedy is as black as it comes. The script is predicated on acts of violence (some of it sexual) that is difficult to write about, let alone watch. In case it isn’t clear already: This is not a feel-good movie.
By now, you probably have an idea of whether “Blow the Man Down (rated R for language, some violence, sexual material and brief drug use) is your cup of tea or not. If so, be my guest: There is certainly a lot to appreciate if you can stomach it.
But if this is not your cup of tea, that’s OK too. May I suggest “Frozen 2?” There is a singing snowman and not a single arm gets sawed off. That’s much more my speed, as it turns out.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.