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Working in the highly-charged style of Terrence Malick, documentary film-maker Jeremiah Zagar makes his feature debut with this poetic, sensual coming-of-age movie about growing up dirt poor in rural America. Painfully chronicling the lives of three brothers over the course of a year or so as they amass scars they will carry into adulthood, this film is filled with golden sunsets that give scenes the fairytale quality of childhood memories. It is a thing of beauty: too beautiful perhaps, running a real danger of prettifying poverty.
The setting is the mostly white world of upstate New York, all rusted trailers and junked cars on front lawns. The film’s narrator is sensitive, observant 10-year-old Jonah (first time actor Evan Rosado is astoundingly good). He’s the youngest of a trio of semi-feral brothers, who sleep like a little wolf pack in one bed, arms slung over each other. The camera hurtles to keep pace as they sniff out mischief. The boys are well loved but not loved well by parents who had kids too young. The family are blow-ins, originally from Brooklyn: dad Paps (Raúl Castillo) is Puerto Rican. Every once in a while he’ll boil over, beating Ma (Sheila Vand) and taking off.
Adapting Justin Torres’s acclaimed novel, Zagar pulls us into a child’s view of life. One day, Paps gives Jonah a hard-knocks swimming lesson, taking him out to the middle of the river and letting go. Jonah sinks helplessly into the black water. Zagar then cuts to the family’s silent miserable drive home, skipping the rescue – editing this defining moment of boyhood in the way it might be encoded in Jonah’s memory. It’s a vivid eloquent scene, and there are others. But a few, like the boys, hungry, ransacking the kitchen with glee, felt unreal, not quite honest, too lovely to look at. Ken Loach it ain’t.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: We the Animals review – tough times in the sunshine | Drama films