A lone gunman enters a suburban US diner and creates mayhem. Those who survive are haunted by the incident and have to deal with the emotional aftermath: Charlie Archenaut (Forest Whitaker) the self employed gambling man; young Anne Hagen (Dakota Fanning) and her friend Jimmy Jasperson (Josh Hutcherson); the waitress Carla Davenport (Kate Beckinsale); and Dr Bruce Laraby (Guy Pearce) from the nearby hospital. But their families are also drawn into the whirlpool of grief: Bruce's wife Joan (Embeth Davidtz), Anne's mother Doris (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Jimmy's mother Lydia (Robin Weigert) and his father Bob (Jackie Earle Haley), Charlie's daughter Kathy (Jennifer Hudson) and Carla's mother (Beth Grant), among others. Anne and Jimmy are especially affected, having witnessed the event from a unique vantage point.
Review by Louise Keller:
Playing God, faith and doubt are the central themes of Rowan Woods' Winged Creatures, an engaging but often frustrating film in which beginnings and endings are intertwined. The film begins with a shooting. The ordinary suddenly becomes extraordinary. And there are consequences. Woods has amassed an impressive cast to portray the characters in the unconnected stories, for whom life can never be the same again. We connect with some stories more than others, but the pace drags and what should build up to an explosive and emotionally charged climax feels less than satisfying.
The day begins like any other day and we meet all the key characters at the diner, where the shooting takes place. The frazzled waitress; the cancer sufferer waiting to be served; the family group laughing over burgers and chips; the busy doctor collecting take-away. Everything happens quickly and suddenly strangers are connected by a common trauma before they venture back to their own lives.
'Every day life may feel different,' says Troy Garity's councillor, and we quickly see how different each day plays out. The central story involves Dakota Fanning as Anne, a young girl who becomes born again and discovers faith and Jeanne Tripplehorn is outstanding as her mother. Roy Freirich's script (from his novel) misses somewhat here, although Anne's relationship with Josh Hutcherson's Jimmy, the youngster who becomes withdrawn and won't speak, is well handled. Forest Whitaker engages as a gambling addict who rides the highs and lows of his addiction and Jennifer Hudson is well cast as his worried daughter. But the plot involving Guy Pearce's god-playing doctor, his troubled marriage to Joan (Embeth Davidtz) and flirtation with Kate Beckinsale's frazzled waitress struggling to cope with her ever-crying baby fizzles.
For all the potent themes and bottled up emotions, Winged Creatures is only partially successful. There is something interesting about the fact that each story elevates a seemingly small detail into something that impacts profoundly. The film looks great and Woods injects pathos and a tenseness that clings to each character. It should have the power of Paul Haggis' 2004 Crash, and I was sorry not to like it more.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
What do you get when you mix an Australian director with a screenplay adapted from an unusual American book dealing unconventionally with grief and trauma, making an indie film with an outstanding cast? Simple: an unconventional film in which traditional story resolutions (plural because several would be needed) are not forthcoming. The film plays like an immersive, observational experience in which the audience stands behind a one way mirror to witness snatches of the lives of the characters involved. But we are moved on quickly to the next one way mirror to see a new fragment. And occasionally, a curtain is opened at one special one way mirror/window, where we see in fragments, the crucial event at the diner where the shooting takes place. We see it in jigsaw pieces, the most crucial pieces left until the end.
If it weren't for the brilliant performances, the film would collapse in a heap of troubling themes and ideas about characters who we never know anything about. Not anything meaningful anyway. This is perhaps still the film's weakness, one it cannot overcome. But we go along and try to put the puzzle together - an instinctive reaction to storytelling.
Even afterwards, as we digest the film, it resists rationalisation. And we are left with feelings; emotions that are stirred, associations that are made in our own minds about what we see on the screen and what we know about life and human nature. It's a difficult film to review within the usual reference points, although (apart from the performances) it's evident that editor Meg Reticker worked the edit suite to exhaustion.
The missing pieces about the characters and their actions (little Anne's complex reaction to the event, Dr Bruce and his treatment of his wife's migraines with a sinister twist, Jimmy's implosion, Charlie's behaviour ...) remain mysteries. In the end, we are not quite satisfied in the usual way. It's a work that perhaps requires multiple viewings and offers an extensive menu for lengthy and grainy discussion. Not a bad thing in itself, if it helps invigorate discussion about cinema at more complex level.
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WINGED CREATURES (MA)
CAST: Kate Beckinsale, Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Jackie Earle Haley, Josh Hutcherson, Embeth Davidtz, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Robin Weigert
PRODUCER: Robert Salerno
DIRECTOR: Rowan Woods
SCRIPT: Roy Freirich (novel by Freirich)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eric Alan Edwards
EDITOR: Meg Reticker
MUSIC: Marcelo Zarvos
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Max Biscoe
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 9, 2009