Mélanie Laurent might be best known to American audiences for her work in films like Inglourious Basterds and Beginners, but she’s one of the best European filmmakers working today. Her last film, Breathe, was a quietly brilliant study into high school friendships and jealousy. I ended up seeing her last film on a whim and was really happy I saw the film. Because of that film, I made sure I saw her latest film Galveston, which happens to be her English-language debut as a filmmaker. Based on the novel of the same name by Nic Pizzolatto (the guy behind True Detective), Galveston is a tense, grim and solid crime thriller, featuring career-best work from Elle Fanning and Ben Foster. If you’re at SXSW this week, I highly recommend checking this one out during the fest.
Ben Foster plays a hitman who’s hired by Beau Bridges character for a job/home invasion. The job goes horribly wrong, with Foster’s character getting people killed. While on the job, he runs across a 19-year-old prostitute (Elle Fanning) who was being held captive at the location of this job. The two of them go on the run to Galveston, Texas, where their pasts continue to follow them both in the historic Texas town.
Laurent adapts the screenplay for the film, and the film feels heavily collaborative in that sense. After the film, Foster and Fanning praised Laurent as a writer and director, and how her work as an actor allowed for them to have a kind of freedom as actors in telling this story that they might not have with any other director. And it shows in the final product, as the two actors really get to shine heavily in this film. Foster is stoic, quiet, but charming with a heart of gold as the lead, and Elle Fanning’s performance is heartbreaking to watch, to say the least. This might be the finest performance to date for Ms. Fanning.
Laurent is a brilliant talent behind the camera not just in the performances she gets from her actors, but the same can be said from a technical standpoint. The film looks gorgeous (thanks to frequent Laurent collaborator Arnaud Potier), and the way she uses the camera is really impressive. The sequence when the job goes really bad in that house is brilliantly done, as the shot is a continuous one and it’s just a tight shot on Foster’s face as he’s traversing the house in this shootout. It’s brilliant and very tense to watch on-screen. I’m hoping that with this English-language debut that we begin to see more films in America by this multi-talented woman.
Galveston is a very, very well made crime thriller. It’s a simple idea and a simple tale, but it’s done so effectively thanks to a great writer-director, and an equally great cast. I hope that if you’re at the festival this week that you get to catch the film, as it’s screening a few more times during the week. And if you can’t make it, I’m hoping it’ll be released sometime in the U.S. later this year.