VOD film review: Elephant Song
Ivan Radford | On 14, Jul 2015
Director: Charles Binamé
Cast: Xavier Dolan, Bruce Greenwood, Catherine Keener
Watch Elephant Song online in the UK: Flix Premiere / Amazon Prime / iTunes
Xavier Dolan. Director. Writer. Producer. Editor. Costume designer. The 26 year old does so much – and so well – that it’s easy to forget he’s an actor too. “Do you remember the days,” the members of the Costume Designers, Producers, Directors, Editors and Writers Guild will ask each other in 20 years’ time, “when we used to, just, act?”
And so it’s fortuitous timing that just as Mommy hits DVD shelves across the UK, the 2014 thriller Elephant’s Song also arrives on VOD. The movie stars Dolan as a wunderkind patient in a mental hospital, who is being questioned about the disappearance of his psychiatrist, Dr. Lawrence.
Things, naturally, aren’t that straight-forward, as Michael plays games with his questioner. What follows is a tense two-hander, as power shifts between the two men. One, a trained professional susceptible, apparently, to enigmatic riddles; the other, a boy with a taste for stuffed elephants and boxes of chocolate.
Dolan sinks his teeth into the role – and the scenery to boot. “Giving you a straight answer does not fulfill my mandate of lunacy,” he intones, with the smug smirk of a boy genius. It’s a joy just to watch him go at it and Bruce Greenwood, impressively, matches him every step, with the presence that he brought to JFK in Thirteen Days. Between them, they produce a battle for cognitive control that, at its best, recalls the work of Harold Pinter. Indeed, the film is based on a one-act play by Nicolas Billon, which gives the film its tellingly single location.
Their scenes, though, are presented within a flashback that has been added on to the source text, which on the plus side, brings a bigger scale to events, but on the down side, detracts from that central suspense. The excellent Catherine Keener, who plays a veteran nurse, brings convincing depth to her brief interactions with both Dolan and Greenwood, but the longer the piece continues for, the more uneven it feels. Some inserted scenes, such as a glimpse of Michael’s opera-singing mother mother, add to the intrigue, but others, such as the inevitable elephant sequence, have far less heft.
Nonetheless, director Charles Binamé shoots things with an eye dynamic enough to keep re-capturing your attention – spiralling overhead close-ups of Dolan’s face give him even more space to play with.
As a psychological thriller, Elephant Song is disappointingly forgettable. As a showcase for three top performances, though, it makes for a frequently enthralling watch. Between this entertaining turn and Tom at the Farm, you wish Xavier Dolan took off his other hats to act more often.
Elephant Song is available to watch online on Flix Premiere as part of a £3.99 monthly subscription. It is also available on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.