Film Review: Upstream Color

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Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color has been long anticipated since the release of his first film, Primer, and this follow up eclipses his first work in almost every way.

Be sure to check out my breakdown of the film, after you have seen it.

Upstream Color’s plot is better to be discovered upon your initial viewing rather than having any sort of formal plot synopsis, but it is a sci-fi/crime/romance/revenge film at its heart. The plot is extremely more straightforward than his previous work, but that isn’t to say there isn’t plenty of mystery and puzzles laid throughout the picture. The film has a little bit of everything, for everyone, and even if you aren’t terribly enjoying the picture, I find it hard to imagine it won’t engage in some way. Things are just too original, interesting and bizarre not to pull even the most tepid viewer in and Carruth makes it work because he is so damn sure of himself and this story.

Carruth’s craft is leaps and bounds beyond his work on Primer and I was in awe of the storytelling he does for the films first third. Never stopping and ready to leave you behind, Carruth creates this world and sets the rules of the game with pure visual elements and it is incredible to watch. The editing throughout is inspired, but the opening of the film is a tour de force. You get a history lesson on the origins of the criminal intent that we get into and seeing its execution is brilliant and terrifying. The film never lets up for the first thirty minutes or so and when our lead, Kris, is spit back out into the world we are just as confused and exhausted as she is. As the film goes on we slowly pick away at events we previously saw and Carruth’s script does a great job revealing his world in bits and pieces that help us understand the mystery all the more.

Fans that relish in the complicated contortions of Primer’s plot will not find as nearly as intricate maze of confusion, but Carruth leaves plenty for the viewer to chew on when they leave the theater. A couple key questions aren’t really answered after one viewing, but they might actually be there in the subtext to be absorbed on subsequent viewings. Even if they aren’t there, the world is so sure of itself that it doesn’t even matter. We trust the storytelling and we go with it because it we can believe in the elements Carruth has shared with us. There is still plenty to discuss afterwards, and the film is dense enough that it demands repeat viewings, but the film is very accessible and most viewers should be able to have a grasp on what’s happening after their initial viewing.

Amy Seimetz stars as Kris and is a revelation in a role that should allow her to break out as this film finds an audience. She is the through line of the story and she shows a strong range as Carruth asks her to give us just about everything. She has the physicality the role needs, she plays the manic moments wonderfully and her work opposite Carruth feels authentic as their relationship grows stronger. It’s in the film’s final third that she really takes off as she makes us believe in the connections she has made. She is the centerpiece of the film and she grabs the moment and shines. Carruth co-stars as Jeff and he does a fine job as well; even if there is plenty of room for him to grow. He has a charm and chemistry that is needed for the film’s romantic side to work and he should be commended for being able to be as solid as he is with the million other things he is doing behind the camera. Andrew Sensenig is also an effective presence that is equal parts mystery, intrigue and power that is essential to selling the film’s weirder angles that fill half of this story.

Any complaints I have with the film are minor and I am sure will be ironed out on future viewings. The middle act feels a bit slow, but this is more likely do to the ripping pace of the films first third. The film also might get accused of multiple ending syndrome, but I think it settles on the perfect note so any head fakes that came before can easily be forgiven in retrospect. Prepare to love pigs.

Upstream Color is already a firm contender for my favorite film of 2013 and it is only February. You will be able to see this film the first week of April and anyone that loved or was intrigued by Primer should put this at the top of your must-see list. Carruth has greatly matured as a filmmaker and has crafted an original and mesmerizing film that will leave audiences talking. I can’t wait to see it again (and I was actually given the opportunity to do so immediately after, and would have if it wasn’t 11:30 and I had an hour + drive ahead of me) and I think this will be a tough competitor as the fight for best film of 2013 rages on this year.

Upstream Color is an A+

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