Green Room (2015)
Studio: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Release date: July 12th, 2016
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Note: this review features mild, vague spoilers. Click here for a theatrical review of the film from earlier this year.
By all accounts, the world lost a wonderful soul last month when Anton Yelchin passed away in a tragic, freak accident that still seems incomprehensible. And while it’s obviously not as important, the film world lost an enormous talent: Yelchin was the type of person whose participation in a project made it an inherently interesting one. He didn’t seem to take any decisions lightly, and he actively sought to collaborate with masters like Jim Jarmusch and Joe Dante*. As a devotee of all film genres (he was a New Bev regular), it’s no wonder he did his fair share of horror work even after his appearance in blockbusters like Terminator and Star Trek. I loved that he kept returning where so many actors never look back once they find such high-profile work, and his turn in Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room is not only an example of his eagerness to appear in such fare but also a stark reminder of why he was so perfectly suited for it.
As Pat, the bass-guitarist for the ill-fated Ain’t Rights, he’s the group’s de facto leader and something of an audience surrogate. When the band finds itself trapped in the green room after witnessing a murder at a white supremacist club, he emerges as their spokesman despite being the most soft-spoken of the bunch. He’s also the most level-headed, as evidenced by his almost immediate regret at suggesting the band open with “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” Even though he’s heading a ragtag group of relative degenerates (the opening scene has him stealing gas), there’s more than a hint of decency resting beneath that rough exterior—and that’s all Yelchin, quite frankly. There was just such an obvious goodness to him that it’s no surprise directors often gravitated towards it—even in a film that doesn’t really give a shit about coddling or comforting its audience, it still plays off of Yelchin’s natural charisma.
Specifically, it thrives on his acute sense of vulnerability. Saulnier sharply preys on Yelchin’s nice guy persona—he knows everyone is going to naturally gravitate towards Pat, so he also becomes a de facto point of empathy. In turn, Yelchin gives a sharply reserved performance, one that subtly exhibits a very human terror. Unlike some of his bandmates, Pat doesn’t have a tough exterior; instead, a slight tremor rumbles through every nervously-delivered line of dialogue. It hardly seems like a coincidence that it’s Pat who’s at the center of the action once things go really south, at which point his nearly hacked-off hand signals that shit has hit the fan. Yelchin’s reaction here is one of the film’s signature moments, as a raw, anguished howl fills the green room—it’s the tipping point where this slowly simmering film finally boils over, and so much of it hinges on this wonderful performance.
It’s a performance and characterization that’s somewhat deceptive as well. Green Room isn’t an easy movie to swallow—Saulnier’s the sort of demented mind that pairs Yelchin with Amber (Imogen Poots), a firebrand who also happens to be a white supremacist. The two form one of the more unexpected and delightful odd couples in recent memory, with the latter giving a sort of perpetual side-eye to the former’s nice guy routine. Even when she indulges him by listening to a ridiculous paintball anecdote, there’s a sense that everyone knows it’s bullshit false bravado—including Yelchin himself.
One of the sharpest aspects of his performance is his knowledge that, deep down, Pat’s always going to be the soft-spoken, nervous dude who immediately balks at any provocation. Even his decision to shave his head and don makeshift war-paint feels like an act of overcompensation. This isn’t the sort of film that sees a mild-mannered guy transform into a ruthless killing machine when forced into violence, largely because Yelchin never becomes that guy. Until the end, his hesitance betrays him at nearly every turn, as Yelchin is smartly reserved, willing to downplay big emotional beats in order to let Saulnier’s whirlwind of chaos engulf the audience.
Nothing quite reflects Pat’s wishy-washy demeanor more than his inability to provide his “desert island band,” a recurring bit that always draws a doe-eyed, blank stare from Yelchin. It’s the look he keeps throughout Green Room: that of a deer caught in the headlights even though he’s the one everyone leans upon. That Pat never becomes an action hero is a testament to Yelichin’s humility and willingness to play scared. You don’t walk away from Green Room roused and convinced that Pat is some sort of badass; in fact, Yelchin’s performance is almost a 90-minute setup to the film’s howler of a punchline. Delivered just before it crashes into the end credits, it’s a line of dialogue that practically summarizes the entire film: “tell somebody who gives a shit,” Poots bluntly delivers to a weary, bewildered Yelichin. The look on his face says it all; what’s more, it likely reflects the audience’s own demeanor.
*In an interview for Burying the Ex, he insisted he took the film’s lead role because “the thrill…was coming to work every day on a Joe Dante movie.” Yelchin was most certainly one of us.
After ripping through festivals and a theatrical run earlier this year, Green Room finally hits Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment. The disc features a terrific presentation for the film, particularly its meat-grinder of an audio track. Green Room is a real banger, a heavy-metal whirlwind of ferocious music, seething dogs, torn flesh, and shotgun blasts, all of which are faithfully reproduced by the DTS-MA soundtrack here. Likewise, its moody, overcast aesthetic is wonderfully reflected by a sharp video transfer—Saulnier’s film is great for many reasons, but this muddy, rain-soaked, almost despairing visual palette is among its most notable strengths.
Sauliner—who has quickly become one of cinema’s sharpest, most exciting directors—appears for a feature-length commentary and a 10-minute making-of featurette. The latter also features most of the cast, who briefly share their motivations for joining the film and their subsequent experiences. It should come as no surprise that Yelchin comes across as an artist truly engaged with his craft. In only a few sentences here, he’s able to pin down exactly why Green Room works so well, and it’s a depressing reminder that we really lost a good one. He had so many more years and great films ahead of him and there’s a moment in Green Room that’s now sobering: during an interview, Pat insists he doesn’t want to live to be a 70-year-old burn-out, a declaration that hits like a ton of bricks because the world certainly would have been a better place had Yelchin been able to reach that mark and beyond. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: