Opening 26 Apr 2018
People understand that tragedy comes in degrees: from normal, as in parental deaths at the end of good full lives increasing to maximum-extreme. Director Lynne Ramsay’s version is the latter based on Jonathan Ames’ novella and her screenplay. Joaquin Phoenix’s (Joe) character is a damaged soul – flashbacks throughout the film fill in blanks about his upbringing, military service, and government work. Presently, his mission is mom’s (Judith Roberts) welfare, and finding lost girls for McCleary (John Doman). The new assignment for a politician (Alex Manette) seems routine; Joe learns details about Nina’s kidnapping along with the request, “I want you to hurt them.” Ekaterina Samsonov’s character (the daughter) is another damaged soul: Nina counts backwards to help disconnect and disengage; immune to being surprised, she only knows of one reaction to ticklish incidents.
Music (Jonny Greenwood) and sound design increase tension, and blood pressure, thrusting audiences’ into the explicit narrative. Working flawlessly in tandem is Thomas Townend’s active, inquisitive camerawork that demands attention, particularly since dialogue is sparse and the pace deliberate. The Scottish director’s films are known for imaginative audio-visual and gritty realism. She gravitates toward somewhat gloomy themes—dying, angst, culpability—that often revolve around juveniles. Phoenix’s intuitive performance demonstrates someone suffering deeply, barely clinging to sanity – Phoenix received Best Actor award at Cannes 2017. Samsonov counters as the silent, tightly wound (easy) prey, adding a nebulous quality that emphasizes the awfulness Nina encounters.
As disturbing, sordid innuendos churn below the surface, it is gut-wrenching performances and a credible story that makes A Beautiful Day mesmerizing, and hard to swallow. Deviancy can emerge in many ways and is often overlooked because, hey, it becomes part of the norm. Or, is it. The topic and level of violence mark this film as not for the weak of heart – still, on such a beautiful day the options are limitless. (Marinell Haegelin)