Mark Reviews Movies

Wild Tales


1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Damián Szifrón

Cast: Ricardo Darín, Oscar Martínez, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Érica Rivas, Diego Gentile, Julieta Zylberberg, Rita Cortese, María Marull, Darío Grandinetti 

MPAA Rating: R (for violence, language and brief sexuality)

Running Time: 2:02

Release Date: 10/31/14 (limited); 2/20/15 (wider); 2/27/15 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 26, 2015

Maybe the first tale in Wild Tales is too strong. It certainly establishes a distinctly go-for-broke and seemingly fearless tone. It's so successful, in fact, that each of the following five stories pales by comparison.

All of these stories take everyday situations that go, of course, wildly and, more often than not, violently off the rails. They are unrelated stories, but the connective tissue is the existence of a troubled character or two within each yarn. Their bad intentions invariably lead to predictably demented ends.

In the first short story, we never see the troublemaker, which ultimately makes it even more frightening despite the story's absurdity. It follows a woman (María Marull) on to a plane. Her ticket has been purchased by a company, and she's slightly disappointed she won't receive frequent flier miles for her trip. Once aboard, she starts talking with the man (Darío Grandinetti) in the seat across the aisle from her, who has helped her get her luggage in the overhead compartment. He flirts a bit—of course she's a model. The conversation turns to classical music, which leads the woman to bring up an ex-boyfriend of hers. In a seeming coincidence, the man happens to have encountered the ex, too.

Any further discussion of the opening segment would be unfair, so let's just say that writer/director Damián Szifrón, who wrote and directed the entirety of the movie's collection of tales, builds off the coincidence and brings it to its inevitably dreadful but cleverly and darkly amusing conclusion. The segment is succinct, which cannot be said for a few of other stories, and genuinely stunning in its audacity, which cannot be said for any of the other portions of the movie—especially when compared to the sucker-punch sensation of the opening story.

There are momentary flashes of inspiration within each of the proceeding tales. For the most part, though, the rest of the movie's stories feel perfunctory or stretched too thin for whatever point Szifrón is making to have an impact.

For an example of the former, take the second, instantly forgettable segment. It begins at a roadside café in the middle of a thunderstorm. A man (César Bordón) arrives, and the waitress (Julieta Zylberberg) knows him. He's a gangster who ruined her life, and now he's planning to run for elected office. The cook on duty (Rita Cortese), who has served time in prison and kind of misses it, has a plan. There's only one, temporary twist to the whole murderous affair, but the story moves to its foreseeable conclusion without much influence from the kink in the works.

The third of the stories follows an incident of road rage between two men (Leonardo Sbaraglia and Walter Donado) to an irrational end. It's neat in the way Szifrón stages a ridiculously violent showdown in a relatively confined area—in and around a car—and with ordinary things—a tire iron and a seatbelt, for example—that become weapons in desperate hands. Even so, the whole thing feels routine.

The fourth tale begins a trio of lengthier ones that feel like exercises in wheel-spinning. It follows Simón (Ricardo Darín), a demolitions expert, as a parking violation reveals his stubborn, one-track mind, which, in turn, completely wrecks his life. The punch line of this section—arrived at well past the point that the story has anything left to say—is a foregone conclusion, although Darín might give the most complete performance of the entire movie within it.

There's a lot to admire in the fifth story, which presents a moral quandary and turns it on its head to uncover a practical business transaction in which the participants stop caring about right and wrong when millions of dollars are at play. In it, a wealthy man (Oscar Martínez) learns that his son has been involved in a hit-and-run incident. He decides to cover up the crime, but his co-conspirators argue about how much their cut of the payoff should be. The conflict between moral and financial concerns here is a fascinating idea, but this story ends just as it begins to explore the relationship.

In the final segment, a newly married couple (Érica Riva and Diego Gentile) are attending their wedding reception. Secrets come to light. Someone contemplates suicide. It becomes a mess of blood, tears, and cake.

The movie ends on something of a positive note—if one believes that the cynical idea that we're all united in misery and rage over our shared bouts of momentary hatred for society and each other to actually be a positive. Wild Tales is a deflating experience.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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