Cannes 2015 Review: SLEEPING GIANT, Provocative And Probing
Despite a seemingly endless number of tries, pulling off the 'coming-of-age' film well is miserably difficult. There's a balance between precociousness versus pandering that makes the balance extremely delicate, as complex and awkward as any pubescence.
When it goes right, you get something timeless like Stand By Me that takes genre tropes and nostalgia and crafts a delightful mix, or John Hughes' gothic Americana as seen through the eyes of a Ferris Bueller's Day Off, or the fondled protagonist of Sixteen Candles, or David Gordon Green's epic and unsettling debut George Washington that is as stunning today as when it was released.
Normally we're treated to an onslaught of ennui, a pat and simplified version (usually highly autobiographical) that follows either an ugly-duckling narrative or a similar clichéd tale. The kids are usually too amateur or too polished, and the stories too dour or too polished, and it ends up being a mess.
All this is a long way of saying that, well, Sleeping Giant isn't that. It's not a transcendently amazing feature unheralded in the history of cinema, but equally, and perhaps more impressively, it's a low budget indie about a bunch of kids in a small town that doesn't provoke the desire to gouge the central character's eyes out. Or, at least, when you are prompted to inflict violence, it's well earned.
Set in Northern Ontario, Canada, this is a land of conifers, deep blue lakes, and glacier-sculpted cliffs and mesas. Starting with a wrestling match on the dark sandy shore, this confrontation between three boys is the heart of the tale, but as overt as the imagery is, it manages to appear organic instead of some heavy handed metaphor.
The same can be said of the film's soundtrack. Its aboriginal rhythms by a band aptly named Bruce Peninsula easily could have devolved into hokum, but instead the music sets the appropriate tone, both at home with the setting and in contrast to the misguided (and decidedly Caucasian) conflicts of the residents of the community.
What further sets the film apart is the exceptional performances by the lead kids that director Andrew Cividino elicits. Jackson Martin is the ostensible central character, and he quietly but convincingly comes across as equal part innocent and asshole. Newcomers Nick Serino and Reece Moffett are revelatory, complete naturals as endemic to that environment as the landscape. The two boys battle with such convincing verisimilitude that it's hard not to see them as documentary subjects.
There are dares and deals and drugs, and other paraphernalia from a summer spent on a lake. Yet the film hardly feels idyllic even in its warmest moments, nor does it feel contrived at its most theatrical or dramatic. It's a film that goes to the edge of the cliff that it sets as its central metaphor, never letting us fall over, and taking the leap when required.
Sleeping Giant is exceptional and affecting, a film both provocative and probing of the deep characteristics of these kids. Yes, there are moments that veer towards the predictable, but there's enough heart and grit in the telling that I found myself swept away anyway.
This is a very good film and that's well worth celebrating. What it does showcase is done in an extremely deft manner, with confident direction by Cividino, some top-notch work by a cast of professionals and amateurs, some beautifully lensed moments by director of photography James Klopko, and astute editing that keeps the smartly written script moving. Sleeping Giant may well prove to be a sleeper hit for those willing to give this remarkable film a shot.