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Elephant Song – Movie Review

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Elephant Song – Movie Review

Rating: D+ (Bad)

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It takes a special kind of performance to sink an otherwise mediocre film to major lows. It’s rare, but it happens and it can be so distractions, one wonders why the director and other actors couldn’t have stopped it before it entered the editing suite. This feat of acting happens in Elephant Song. The film as a whole is already a dull stage play with no visual flair, but the decisions made by Xavier Dolan are so bewildering, it results in a frustrating viewing experience. Nobody could have possibly predicted that he would turn in one of the worst supporting performances seen in a motion picture, but he has accomplished exactly that.

The premise of Elephant Song is intriguing as a patient is blamed for the disappearance of a doctor and it becomes one psychologist’s job to find him. Nicolas Billon’s screenplay does a solid job of looking into lead protagonist Dr Green’s home-life and his relationship with his niece is well-handled. Even the little bits of mystery about Green’s past is well-written, especially when the film digs into his former relationship with a nurse working at the hospital. Where the script falls apart is in the interrogation scenes between Green and Michael. Charles Biname’s direction lacks a cinematic foundation and the cinematography is consistently dull. The whole film is painted in a boring white colour which surprisingly starts to weigh on the eyes after a while.

Xavier Dolan seems intent on using every acting tic when portraying a crazy or mentally unstable role. This is the sort of performance that Robert Downey Jr.’s character from Tropic Thunder criticised as going too far. The result is something that reaches into the hammy and frustrating. Michael surely wasn’t an easy personality to play as the audience is meant to be ambiguous about him being certifiably nuts or psychopathic. However, Dolan takes it too far and portrays him as somebody who would never exist in any sort of reality. One wonders not only why Dr. Green doesn’t punch him in the face, but how Bruce Greenwood didn’t break character and deliver the blow. Dolan gives a performance that would make even Nicolas Cage quiver with its lack of subtlety. Dolan has become renowned recently as a filmmaker and I have no doubt he likely has some abilities behind the camera, but as an actor, he either doesn’t pass muster or he possibly needs better direction either from himself or somebody else at the helm.

Outside of Dolan, the other actors do their best with the material handed to them. Bruce Greenwood gives a solid and subtle performance, carefully showing the difficult task of trying to figure out this strange young man in the office and dealing with his home life. Catherine Keener has to also bring character and dimension to somebody who is mostly exhausted and tired through a lot of the film. How does one deal with both a patient and a former lover at the same time, when tensions are running high? Carrie Ann Moss’s role is more thankless as she is mainly directed to act cold and smoke cigarettes.

Elephant Song is clearly based on a play, which is hardly a negative. The problem is Charles Biname doesn’t bring a lot of life to the picture and it mostly sits there as we tolerate the mostly stale story. What really sinks it is Xavier Dolan’s performance, which is so shockingly bad that one wonders how it got past not only the director, but the editors as well. Even the biggest over-actors would react in disbelief at Dolan’s work in this film. Elephant Song is a very small picture that won’t make a blip on the radar, which is a shame, because Dolan’s acting deserves to be studied under a microscope to decipher precisely why these choices were made.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison

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