Opening this week
The Hollars — Even though the small-town middle American family of the title isn’t especially prone to raising their voices, the name somehow fits just the same. They’re an explosive bunch; you get the sense that hollering is what they’re always on the verge of.
John Krasinski plays John Hollar, the son who ran away from home. An aspiring but blocked graphic novelist, he’s been living in New York, working a day job he hates, and reluctant to marry his girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) even though she’s in the homestretch of carrying his child.
When John learns that his beloved Mom (Margo Martindale) has collapsed and is in the hospital, he hurries home.
Immediately he’s dropped back into the squabbles between his blubberingly emotional, short-fused father (Richard Jenkins) and his divorced, underachieving, angry older brother Ron (Sharlto Copley), whose ex (Ashley Dyke) and two daughters are now living with a maddeningly nice, patient pastor (Josh Groban).
Ron, by contrast, is living back at home with the ‘rents, even though Dad has fired him from the family plumbing business, which John also learns is about to go belly-up. Interrupting all of this drama is Mom’s massive brain tumor, for which she’ll quickly need surgery.
If you’re not hearing anything particularly groundbreaking in this synopsis, you’re not wrong. The Hollars, written by Jim Strouse and directed by Krasinki, is fairly standard dysfunctional family comedy-drama, the sort of modest, “character-driven” piece that actors have a hard time resisting.
Fortunately, the actors who couldn’t resist this script include several of the best now in American movies, and Krasinski managed them briskly.
There are scenes that seem heavy-handed and obvious, as when the brothers confer with their mother’s Asian surgeon (Randall Park) and the anxious Ron can’t stop himself from bringing up the man’s race. But most of the interactions between these frightened, ticked-off, loving people ring more or less true, and the actors get all that there is to get out of them, and maybe a bit more.
Vibrant as the whole ensemble is, Krasinski deserves highest marks for giving Margo Martindale a juicy opportunity in a feature film. Long valued as a supporting player, Martindale is showcased here, and has a couple of Oscar-clip-worthy scenes with real punch. But her quiet scenes with the lantern-jawed, sadly smiling Krasinski are even better—John and Mom are the soft-spoken, mild-mannered Hollars, and their conspiratorial, amused rapport is the heart of the movie.
Still in theaters
Don’t Breathe — It’s sort of like Wait Until Dark in reverse: Three crooks are in a blind person’s home, but this time they’re the victims and the blind person is the menace.
Like the 2014 chiller It Follows, this shocker is set in the deserted economic wasteland of Detroit. It follows a trio of attractive young burglars (Jane Levy, Dylan Minette and Daniel Zovatto) who learn of a blind guy living in the last occupied home in his ghost-town neighborhood, and reportedly sitting on a fortune.
They get into the once-beautiful, now fortified house, and discover that the man in question (Stephen Lang), an Iraq war veteran with, apparently, some specialized training, may be sightless, but he isn’t helpless, and has reasons beyond protecting his money to want them not to escape. They’re soon fighting for their lives.
Directed by the Uruguayan Fede Alvarez from a script he wrote with Rodo Sayagues, Don’t Breathe has some obligatory scenes early on meant to make us sympathize with the robbers.
From there, though, it gets off to a sensational start—tense, atmospheric, simultaneously poignant and grimly funny.
After a while, the strain of maintaining its rather narrow central premise starts to show, but just as the complications are starting to seem contrived, Alvarez and Sayagues throw us an unsavory, messed-up plot twist that I didn’t see coming.
And then, just as that’s sunk in, they toss in an even more unsavory, more messed-up plot twist that I really didn’t see coming. How plausible it all is, I can’t say, but it’s nasty and wild and I, at least, hadn’t seen it before.
Jane Levy are Dylan Minette are likable (Zovatto is odious, on purpose), but what elevates the film from mere skillful lurid thrills is Stephen Lang. With only a few lines, spoken in a disused croak, and his craggy face adorned in a regal halo of silver-gray hair, he brings a Shakespearean bearing to this boogeyman part.
The veteran Lang is a great actor who’s never quite had a great movie role, but through sheer force of his presence he makes this one come pretty close.
The Hollars is rated PG-13 and plays at Harkins Camelview; Don’t Breathe is rated R and plays at Tempe Marketplace, Chandler Fashion 20, Arizona Mills and other multiplexes Valleywide.