In Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang’s appreciative and insightful review of Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round,” Chang notes “ ‘Another Round,’ while very much about addiction, isn’t really an addiction drama. It’s a male midlife-crisis comedy in which drinking to excess is less a cause than a symptom of Martin’s funk — and sometimes, yes, a viable solution to it.”
Chang, aware of the film’s provocative examination of intoxication, quotes director Vinterberg, who calls the film’s POV a “scandalous approach to a serious topic,” and Chang notes that “Round” “not only acknowledges, but also celebrates the life-giving buzz his characters experience with every swig of absinthe or Smirnoff.”
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This unorthodox and non-judgmental view of the possible joys of dipsomania doesn’t just run counter to the cultural moment we’re in, but it’s also in stark contrast to the mainstream cinema’s traditionally more dour take on Dah Booze and its most fervent hounds, even in kudos-collecting prestige films, both foreign and domestic.
The grandaddy of all cinematic souses is Ray Milland’s Oscar-winning turn in Billy Wilder’s Academy Award best picture (1945) “The Lost Weekend.” Milland’s alcoholic on a four-day bender was the gold standard for big-screen drunks, rivaled in acclaim perhaps only in 1995 by Nicolas Cage’s Oscar-garnering gassed ten-percenter in Mike Figgis’ “Leaving Las Vegas.”
As with another first-rate 2020 contender, “The Way Back,” the tone is serious and the consequences of indulging are severe.
More in tune with Vinterberg’s mood, which Chang likens to “a piece of music: Staccato in its rhythms and symphonic in structure,” are two films by John Huston, who was certainly no slouch when it came to both the big screen and the big binge.
Huston, who once noted, “I prefer to think that God is not dead, just drunk,” directed Albert Finney to an Oscar nomination in his masterful 1984 adaptation of Malcolm Lowry’s anatomy of a cosmically heroic lush, “Under the Volcano.” But it’s the complex, comedic, propulsively engaging “Night of the Iguana” that most resembles the new Vinterberg film.
Richard Burton received no awards or nominations in 1964 for his edgy, unhinged but lyrically enchanting portrayal of one of playwright Tennessee Williams’ greatest characters, the defrocked clergyman Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon. Like Mikkelsen’s Martin in “Round,” Shannon is a man in turmoil, consumed by angst, seemingly ready to fall off the face of the Earth, but luckily for him and us, he winds up in Mexico instead. The deadly serious and the raucously comic exist side by side, much like “Round’s” impressive balancing act of tragic consequences and giddy horseplay.
A third Huston film, “Key Largo,” contains a more conventional inebriate, Claire Trevor’s troubled female foil of Edward G. Robinson’s memorable gangster, Johnny Rocco. One devastating scene of Trevor unraveling, suffering unbearable humiliation connected to her advanced alcoholism, was all it took for Trevor to snag the 1948 supporting actress Oscar.
Martin does unravel, but he also deftly dances with the demon spirits for most of “Round’s” 117-minute running time, and by the tale’s end he hasn’t hit the skids like Andreas in Ermanno Omi’s poetic, fatalistic masterpiece “Legend of the Holy Drinker,” but has navigated the high-wire act of life not unlike Oscar-nommed Peter O’Toole’s wicked comic spin on capital “T” thespian Alan Swann in “My Favorite Year” (1982).
Also, like Mickey Rourke’s Henry Chinaski, author Charles Bukowski’s alter ego in Barbet Schroeder’s 1987 “Barfly,” Martin is never reduced to a poster boy for sobriety.
Perhaps the fact that both films are helmed by European filmmakers explains the guilt-free observational nature of their takes on tippling.
Will Oscar-voters recognize Mikkelsen for his daring and effective performance and/or Vinterberg for putting the “dram” in “drama?” One never knows, but as a devoted fan of the genre, I must note that you’d have to be smashed to overlook “Round’s” sparkling qualities.
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