September 14, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “Peterloo” & “Viper Club”


PETERLOO (Amazon – November 9):  Not so much a movie as an illustrated historical recitation.  Mike Leigh’s film concerns the brutal 1819 government militia attack on civilians listening to a public address at St. Peter’s Field in Manchester, England, which came to be known as “Peterloo” because the bloodshed was likened to the then-recent rout at Waterloo.  A depiction of the attack provides a powerful ending to the film, but the bulk of its 154-minute length is devoted to what amount to position papers from the activist farm and factory workers on the one hand, and the aristocrats and industrialists on the other.  Each side talks to its own repeatedly and at great length, the activists to proclaim their ideals of fair pay and broader voting rights, and the monied interests to demean the poor and calculate their violent response.  There’s nothing nuanced about any of this, and the characters are basically mouthpieces for points of view, although Rory Kinnear has some chance to shape a role as the gathering’s principal speaker.  One can accept Leigh’s recounting of the facts and agree with his point of view as to its implications for future conflicts between the rich and poor, and yet find Peterloo rather arid.  As with Leigh’s other historical pageants (Topsy-Turvy, Mr. Turner), Peterloo‘s matter-of-fact recreation of the past is admirable, and there’s fine work from cinematographer Dick Pope and production designer Suzie Davies.  Dramatically, however, Peterloo has the feel of a reference work, rather musty from its time on the shelves.

VIPER CLUB (YouTube Originals/Roadside – October 26):  Maryam Keshavarz’s film (co-written wth Jonathan Mastro) is a fairly standard “ripped from the headlines” TV-movie for the big screen.  (It will have a limited theatrical release followed by online streaming early next year.)  We follow Helen, a concerned mother (Susan Sarandon) whose free-lance journalist son has been kidnapped in Syria.  As in Costa-Gavras’ Missing, Helen initially trusts the government to help her, only to realize that they’re ineffectual at best, and she’ll have to try to save him on her own.  Unlike Jack Lemmon’s character in that film, though, she’s half the world away, so all she can do is try to make contact (in part through a not-quite dark web site called “Viper Club”) with those who may know more about the captors, and work with a clandestine network of the very rich (led by a woman played by Edie Falco, whose son had previously been a captive) to raise funds for a ransom.  Perhaps because the material needed to be fictionalized–which has already brought complaints from a real-life captive’s mother–Sarandon’s character is somewhat generic, harried by her son’s situation but otherwise a near-saintly emergency room nurse.  (She’s chided for reading to a little girl recently woken out of a coma.)  Keshavarz, whose first film was the arthouse drama Circumstance, seems to have decided to aim for the mainstream this time, but it’s sapped what was special about her debut.  Sarandon is of course watchable, and the supporting cast includes solid performers like Matt Bomer, Lola Kirke and Sheila Vand along with Falco.  Despite good intentions and a smooth level of craft, however, Viper Club doesn’t really stick.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."