Method acting and badlands
There are few experiences that can measure up to reading Bukowski and watching Apocalypse now back to back. Drowning ourselves in the eclectic experience that comes with the thrill of watching other people’s misery is a grey area in which we all dabble from time to time. And on other special occasions the images of that misery are so vivid that we decide to book ourselves into a sort of permanent stay. The fiction becomes so real that it eventually starts masquerading as reality. If there is one actor I have seen at this year’s Durban film fest translate that veracious need to express into a well timed and well articulated performance it is Jeremy Crutchely in Retribution.
He shows up for our interview which was not on his schedule. He wears two rings on his left hand and one on his right. The later is the winged figure of a raven. I don’t bother asking why he wears it or where he got them. He shakes my hand with an almost fading squeeze that says hi-I’m not a movie star. He does not make eye contact but clearly he is self assured. What else would compel him to leave a mustache and draw his hair back, no grease required—he fits the typical description of what might be described as the garage band rocker—although far from being a heartthrob.
He is very animated but does not pipe around his vocabulary. He uses his hands and speaks in clear well thought phrases. He does not use declarative sentences.
His appearance is very different from the lanky character in the film. I ask him how he went about preparing for the role of the demented Alan he tells me about months of research and locking himself into a commitment of goodwill with first time director Mukunda Dewill “It required a kind of intense psychological performance” he says “and so I had to go and do a lot of research about what that kind of person is about”
Retribution moves at a pace that resembles the pulse of person who is partially recovering from a heart attack. There are monuments of unrelenting velocity that are quickly coupled with understated quietness. But as a viewer you are assured that every second is clinically controlled by Dewill perhaps he gets a good eye for short scenes from having the burden of almost unrivaled experience as a commercial director.
Speaking on working with Dewill, Crutchely uses just one word “blessed”—there is a prolonged pause he draws his breath and then continues. “he is the kind of director who tries to accommodate new ideas and in the time that we spent together he was really wanting to get into the meat of the character and then the story, he is unique in that way because a lot of directors like to work with the overall objective of the story in mind”
The most interesting aspect of Retribution is that the overall arches of revenge and the small cast film are not new. Even the righteous nature of the avenging man is not particularly fresh. Noteworthy however is that for a first time director Dewill has made a film that is not self consciously South African. The narrative could work equally as well in the Karoo as it would in the Australian outback or a Las Vegas desert. And because the script has been stripped of any social context we are much more able to get into the business of being drawn in by the distorted nature of the characters.
Retribution can easily be billed as a “dark film” but it is beyond that. It is exposing. The action all happens during the light of day—out in the open and in that way, it avoids the trouble of being snubbed by anti-thrill freaks.
According to Crutchely If there was one fear that he had going into the film it was that, working with Joe Mafela might render him limp because of the star power that comes with Mafela’s name. “I was afraid cause he is such a famous person” says Crutchely “but after just the first day he was very welcoming and whilst we were making the film we would do little rehearsals well into the night and it helped me a lot”
It’s been a long time since I have seen Joe Mafela on screen. Admittedly upon entering the cinema to watch the film there was a pre conceived sense of nervousness. The billing of the film made it quite intriguing, but as many who have done the rounds on South Africa’s film circuit will tell you-log lines can be deceiving.
Mafela is convincing but not over the top, even in the moments when he occupies the screen alone, he invites us into the scenes yet makes us cringe in discomfort and chuckle lightly whilst we are at it. Retribution is a film that in one way or another stems from the tradition of films like Sleuth, but it has a much simpler reasoning behind it—revenge. Crutchely does well to find a middle ground in this performance. He liquefies between crazy and righteous. Without forgetting those well articulated British like manners, yet somehow he still makes us accept it all.
The film was made in two weeks but from my conversation with Crotchelty the editing probably took longer. It almost goes without saying that in the cutting room Dewill must certainly have been spoilt for choice. The scenes in the film are accompanied by two scores, the hard banging orchestra composed by James Matthes and Daniel Matthee and the ear shattering sound of silence. Retribution is a film that does not stylize violence, the prolonged dramatics and violins that often follow someone being shot are emitted for a more frank approach. When there are dead bodies the next order of things is to get rid of them, there are no politics involved.
But even Crutchely admits that there are few lessons to be learned from Retribution and perhaps that insight is what makes this film unravel that much better. It is what it is, and there are no apologies or appropriations necessary.