“The Keeping Room” (2014)
Set in the last days of the American Civil War, “The Keeping Room” is about a family trying to survive. Two sisters, Augusta (Brit Marling) and Louise (Hailee Steinfeld), along with their slave, Mad (Muna Otaru) are attempting to keep their family farm going. Their father and brother have gone off to fight for the South, and their mother has recently passed away. Augusta is the older sister, headstrong and hard working. Louise, the younger sister, seems to dwell in the past, still thinking that she should be treated with kid gloves, not wanting to pull her weight. Louise is convinced that any day now her father and brother are going to walk through the door and restore the life she once knew. Mad is just trying to survive, stuck between Louise, who still treats her like she is beneath her and Augusta, who sees her as an equal and well-respected partner. Augusta knows the world has changed, and the family must adapt to survive.
In contrast to the women are two rogue Union soldiers, Moses (Sam Worthington) and Henry (Kyle Soller) who are who are creating a wide path of destruction. They are killing and looting any and everyone that they encounter. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to this blood-lust, just the fact that they can do it. It’s as if the war has flipped a switch inside them, and they can’t shut it down.
A sense of doom and gloom hangs over this film directed by Daniel Barber and written by Julia Hart. The three women are on a collision course with the two rogue Union soldiers. We know from their actions that the men have dark intentions in their heart, and while Augusta has shown us grit and determination, the odds are stacked against the three women. War is hard on the men who fight it, but it is equally hard on the families that they leave behind. Barber lets us experience the effects first hand as Augusta is a force of nature, whether it’s nursing her sister in illness or just trying to keep the farm working and productive. Barber ramps the tension up as we keep cutting back to the progress of the ruthless and murderous men getting closer and closer to the farm. We know what is coming for the women but don’t know if they can handle it. When the women encounter the soldiers, they know that it is them or us. There will be no one to rescue them, and they will have to do it themselves. This is what war is, and the film shows it in all its unflinching madness.
Brit Marling is brilliant as Augusta, a woman driven to keep her family safe. She is extremely believable in the part of someone who makes every effort to survive. Marling plays well off of both Seinfeld and Otaru and has a real sister like connection with both characters. Steinfeld plays Louise as a self-indulgent young woman, someone who cares more about herself but when pushed to her limits fights back. Marling does most of the heavy lifting in the scenes with Steinfeld, but you get the idea that Steinfeld’ s character is more complex than we first thought. Muna Otaru is amazing as Mad, a woman who has seen incredible hardships in her life but continues to have some hope for the future. The scenes between Marling and Otaru are some of the most moving and touching scenes of the film. Otaru gives us a character that whose dignity shines through. Sam Worthington makes for a convincing menacing lunatic who is bent on continuing his path of destruction.
Director Daniel Barber has created a movie that keeps building the tension until there is the breaking point conclusion, and its talented cast makes that tension almost unbearable. It’s a film that shows war is hell for everyone and because of it, lives are changed forever. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
“The Keeping Room” is playing in Atlanta exclusively at UA Tara Cinemas 4
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