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In the Shadow of the Moon

IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON is the latest from director Jim Mickle, whose work I really dig – my favorites are the Joe Lansdale crime story COLD IN JULY and the horror remake WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, but also check out MULBERRY ST., STAKE LAND and Hap & Leonard. This is a little different for him – it seems much more expensive than all his other movies, it has some science fiction involved, and it’s credited to other writers (Gregory Weidman & Geoffrey Tock of the tv shows Limitless and Zoo). It’s a Netflix production that played Fantastic Fest in September, then went straight to streaming.

It opens five years from now in the aftermath of what looks like a massive terrorist attack. We just get a glimpse of the damage before it skips back to 1988 (the year DIE HARD came out) and intercuts between a few different Philadelphians – a bus driver, a fry cook, a concert pianist – all of whom get sudden nosebleeds, then bleed from the ears and eyes, then fall dead.

Beat cop Tom Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook, LOGAN) hears his beeper go off as he’s making breakfast for his massively pregnant wife (Rachel Keller, Fargo season 1 2), so he has to regretfully run off. You know the drill. He and his partner Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine, WISHMASTER 2) report to the pileup that happened when the bus driver went down. An overachiever hoping to be promoted to detective, Lockhart oversteps his bounds and discovers a weird mark on the driver’s neck missed by the actual detective on the scene, his uptight brother-in-law Holt (Michael C. Hall, PAYCHECK).

It sort of becomes a friendly competition between the two as Lockhart goes tenaciously out of line, checking out the other accident sites, asking questions at the lab, getting ahead of Holt and having a weird encounter with a suspect, a young woman in a hoodie (Cleopatra Coleman, STEP UP REVOLUTION) who knows his name and says some strange things to him before getting hit by a subway.

And then he finds out his wife is in labor. Long day. FIRST ACT SPOILER COMING UP. There are complications, and this is a movie so that’s not gonna turn out to be nothing. We didn’t see much of his wife Jean before this, but the love that spreads across her face when she sees him arrive in the middle of her painful labor is profound. The baby makes it. She doesn’t. I think I was in a vulnerable emotional state at the time, but this scene made me cry. And then it’s 1997.

Ah ha! It seemed like it was gonna be an ‘80s period piece, taking full advantage of vintage cop mustaches. But here we are in the year of Ally McBeal, FACE/OFF, and of course “Candle in the Wind ’97.” It’s exactly nine years later, in fact, because it’s his daughter Amy (Quincy Kirkwood)’s birthday. There are protests all over town on the anniversary of the notorious incident where a still unknown woman of color was killed by a subway while being chased by an undisclosed white police officer who was not only not punished, but promoted to detective. (Oh no, Lockhart. Also, congratz I guess?)

But that’s only the beginning of the craziness because 1) people start bleeding again and 2) he sees the woman in the hoodie again. The dead one.

Pretty soon we start to figure out the structural gimmick here. Every nine years he encounters the woman again as he gets closer to figuring out why. Themes pop up a little bit here and there until there are enough pieces to put together. At the beginning of each chapter we find him more obsessed, more seemingly crazy, more shaggy and dirty, more down on his luck. He basically transforms into Michael Shannon. (Meanwhile, Woodbine as Maddox goes from balding Al Powell type to cool guy in a track suit.)

I really like Holbrook in this, but from reviews I’ve read he seems to not really click with some people. Same thing with THE PREDATOR. I don’t know, I like him as a character actor in stuff like A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES and JANE GOT A GUN, and I like when a guy like that then gets to be the center of a movie. And he really chews into this one. Having him instead of Ryan Reynolds or whoever makes it feel a little off-kilter in a good way.

This is definitely a more complicated narrative than we’re used to seeing from Mickle, but it’s far from empty spectacle. Behind all the contrivance there are layers of meaning. There’s a deeply upsetting undercurrent of hopelessness, since he’s sacrificed his relationship with his daughter, his career and his happiness for this obsession that in a more traditional story would be rewarded with vindication when he finally solves the mystery. But we suspect pretty early that what he’s trying to stop is an attempt to save the world. And then when he gets on board with that it’s hard to be comfortable because they talk of it in terms of destroying ideas. It’s basically a version of the “killing baby Hitler” plan that assumes it would be much more complicated than just killing the one baby. You also gotta kill everybody that would’ve influenced the baby otherwise it’s gonna be some other fuckin baby, you know?

And then there’s the inevitable doom of the grave mistake he made in the past that he now knows will affect his future. This is an extreme version of the “stop and smell the flowers” adage. He knows for sure the limited time he has to spend with a loved one, and he has to try to make the best of it.

I’m still bummed we didn’t get to see GODFORSAKEN, a crime drama Mickle was going to direct in 2016, with Sylvester Stallone playing “an aging ex-con who seeks vengeance after his estranged son is killed.” Stallone even worked on the script but it lost funding when he backed out eight days before it was supposed to film. (Sadly his next movie that was more than a cameo ended up being ESCAPE PLAN 2.) That seems like a great lead actor for Mickle, and a great director for Stallone. But life goes on. This is good too.

I do think getting away from the simplicity and intimacy of Mickle’s other movies makes this one less powerful, but it’s also cool to see him working on one with such gigantic scope, and big car crashes and shit. When he started he was literally chasing ambulances to get them in his movie, so good for him. I look forward to whatever he does next, big or small.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 26th, 2019 at 12:19 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

17 Responses to “In the Shadow of the Moon”

  1. I didn’t think this worked entirely (what exactly WAS that accent Michael C. Hall was attempting?), but I still liked this. I’ve also read complaints about Holbrook, and they seemed rather harsh to me. I mean, sure, I could see a big name actor tearing into that role, but I thought Holbrook acquitted himself well.


    I love Mickle, but I gotta confess I thought this was straight-up terrible. Not badly made, but man is the story a complete disaster, and it’s ALL story (the few gestures towards drama are so overwrought and nonsensical they’re basically comedy). The only potentially interesting thing the movie has left after that is the extremely dubious morality of pre-assassinating political radicals for thought-crime, which the movie ferociously refuses to engage with, really seeming for all the world to consider this a self-evidently ethical action which needs to questioning.

    I do like the idea of a decades-long relationship that is experienced in reverse-order by its time-travelling participants, but nothing comes of that here because the two characters barely interact with each other except by chasing and shouting exposition.

    Basically, it’s a movie which manages to bungle every single thing that is potentially interesting about its premise.

    Also what in the world is up with the baffling anti-Black-Lives-Matter sequence? What the fuck were they thinking, throwing that in there?


  3. That should read, “really seeming for all the world to consider this a self-evidently ethical action which needs *NO* questioning.”

  4. Sometimes our real name are cooler than our nicknames.

  5. Stallone and Mickle does sound a little like peas and carrots. They should try that again.

  6. Subtlety – Which part are you talking about? The protests after the first time jump? I thought the movie was very much on the side of the protesters, but it’s definitely a touchy thing to play with.

  7. Rachel Keller is Fargo season 2

  8. Vern — yeah, that was the part I was talking about. If the movie really did want us to side with the protesters, it really fumbled that point by

    A) making the death an accident which occurred during a fight
    B) making sure we know that the person who died literally murdered three innocent people in a gruesome, horribly way earlier that day and
    C) that the white cop who killed her has a very conspicuous Black Best Friend, universal moviespeak for “don’t worry, he’s not racist”

    All that adds up to a big muddle. In a movie so woke it advocates pre-murdering racist writers, I’m sure their intent wasn’t to denigrate BLM; more likely, they felt like they couldn’t have a white cop kill a black suspect on-screen without making reference to the very of-the-moment cultural dialogue around the subject. But obviously they also didn’t want us to immediately hate the main character, so they just hedged the point until the whole tangent is completely meaningless. Which is kinda death for a hot-button issue like that.


  9. SPOILERS Pretty shocking to see Vern praise Boyd Holbrook in this, considering it’s one of those amazingly, comically terrible performances that should be treasured by lovers of bad movies. In the early going he is simply unconvincing as a brilliant cop; by the end, when he’s a drunk and an unhinged obsessive, he is full-on hamming it up.

    I think maybe Nic Cage set a dangerous precedent with readers of this site. The idea of “mega acting” was that an actor could go big as a sort of expressionistic creative choice that, in certain contexts, could be effective. But for years now I’ve seen countless terrible examples of overacting referred to here as “mega,” as if going broad and hammy was always enjoyable and deliberate, regardless of its appropriateness, and not sometimes a sign that someone is bad at serious acting.

  10. Yeah, Holbrook is basically giving the exact performance that Will Ferrell would give in a parody version of the same material. And Ferrell’s makeup would probably be more convincing. Not that any acting could have saved a role this ridiculous, but Holbrook is so over the top he makes you forget about Michael C. Hall’s accent, which in any other movie would make him a lock for the most embarrassing performance.

    I guess maybe I kinda respect Holbrook for trying to compensate for the inane writing by fearlessly going all-out-overkill on the tormented acting. The movie would probably just be more boring, not better, if he tried to go for subtlety. But the end result is pretty much pure comedy from about the halfway point onward.

  11. As somebody who’s bored to tears by the vast majority of the bland, timid competence that passes for dramatic acting these days, I hope you both realize that your description of Holbrook’s performance just makes me want to watch the movie more. I’ll always prefer somebody making bold choices, even if they don’t pan out, over somebody with so little personality that they’re happy giving the same “subtle” performance you can see on any given episode of television any day of the week.

  12. He’s not doing it on purpose, I think is the issue. Holbrook isn’t making any bold choices, he’s trying to give a dramatic performance and doing a bad job, coming off corny and embarrassing. I did enjoy it, but not in a “this guy is having fun chewing the scenery” way, but in the “this is making me cringe, I can’t believe I’m watching a professional actor” way. I guess I could be wrong, but the whole movie is so earnest that it’s hard to believe that Mickle was directing Holbrook to overdo it.

    To be fair, Mr. S is correct in pointing out that no one could have saved this material. It’s not Holbrook’s fault that the movie about a time travelling assassin with a brain melting gun also wants to be a poignant tale of learning to appreciate your family.

  13. Why shouldn’t it be? Sincerely – I don’t understand why you state that like it’s an inherently bad thing. Pulpy genre movies that also have other aspirations are one of our favorite things around here, aren’t they?

    (Also I feel like I need to rewatch this, because in the review I thought I was defending Holbrook against accusations of blandness, now Dan and Subtlety are describing the opposite problem.)

  14. I’ll take your word for it, but even the cringe factor still sounds more entertaining than the average dramatic performance.

  15. I mean, a good movie might have been able to pull that off, but not a movie with a plot this stupid, with a morally indefensible message about how it’s cool to murder people for thought crime.

    Or maybe you’re right. I mean, who can’t relate to a guy who ignores his daughter for her entire life because he’s obsessed with a killer who only appears for one day every 7 years?

  16. I always appreciate a movie swinging for the fences, but the script just isn’t there in this case. Like, I don’t even really understand dramatically speaking –let alone logically– why Holbrook’s character lets this case take over his life the way he does. There’s just nothing in the character as written which explain how (comically) extreme his behavior gets. Like Dan says, there just aren’t really any real-world parallels for the weird turn his life takes, and without seriously delving into what’s motivating him, his actions simply seem bizarre. I’m all for more ambition in genre movies, but if you’re this committed to operatic, over-the-top pathos, you need more substance to support it than this script is remotely close to offering. Otherwise it just comes off as contrived and silly.


    I’m also very baffled by the idea that it is poignant that he accidentally kills his own granddaughter in the past (her future) and that she won’t do anything to change it because it already happened, even though she is literally traveling through time to change the past. It’s going for some sort of grand philosophical statement, but it doesn’t make any sense. That big finale is played as if it’s very moving, when it’s exactly the opposite.

    Also, does this mean that he now has to convince his granddaughter 28 years into the future to go back in time, murder a bunch of people she’s never met (including several who maybe never technically did anything wrong) with a pointlessly cruel brain melting machine, and then get killed by her own grandfather, even though they are now living in the timeline where the terrorist attack doesn’t happen?

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