This is a film I have been waiting for as director Daniel Barber and Drafthouse Films bring a story of survival and “The Keeping Room.”
The American Civil War has taken all the men for fighting. Having to rely on their own wits and will are Augusta (Brit Marling), younger sister Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) and Mad (Muna Otaru) living on a farm together.
Augusta is strong and takes the lead in keeping the three women safe and fed. Louise is a young woman wanting so much more than survival. Wishing for days of dancing and fancy clothes, Augusta understands but has to be stern. Helping Augusta is Mad, the slave who is also waiting for something more but helps in every way she can.
If their life isn’t difficult enough, two soldiers Moses (Sam Worthington) and Henry (Kyle Soller) wreak havoc on the neighboring town. Murder isn’t beneath either of the men and when Augusta comes across them on a town visit, she knows what they want.
Getting back to their home, Augusta and Mad know it is time to defend themselves against these men with no conscious and their fear of the oncoming Union Army fades fast.
The women know it is time to survive!
Marling as Augusta is superb in this role. That doesn’t surprise me in the slightest as I have been following her career since seeing ANOTHER EARTH in 2011. In this role there is such a mixture of feeling with the need to be the strong leader of the house and moments of fear that she can not let anyone see. That instantly makes Augusta relatable which drew me in to the story. It is in the films finale that Marling’s character is able to unleash every bit of those emotions with one goal in mind – their survival. Once again, Marling gives an amazing performance.
Steinfeld as Louise is everything that might be expected of a young girl. She wants to get away from the ugliness of the life they are enduring so seeks anything beautiful. Louise is endearing but also has a hard time dealing with her emotions. Looking to her sister Augusta to take care of everything, Louise isn’t even sure she could save herself if it were necessary – and trust me, it will become necessary. Steinfeld gives a strong performance.
Otaru as Mad is a revelation in this role. Mad plays her role well knowing what her station is during the Civil War. As the situation worsens, she brings her story forward and along with it her need to stand on her own. I so admired that about this character. Without giving too much away, there is one scene where my jaw dropped because Mad clearly should be falling apart yet Otaru’s gives her character a strength that just stunned me.
Worthington as Moses strips this character down to the bare bones of a man who clearly doesn’t care about anyone or anything. Going after Augusta wasn’t about anything more than a need to take and destroy. This is certainly a departure role for Worthington because there isn’t a moment where I could like Moses, I tried!
Soller as Henry is a character even worse than Moses! There was nothing charming or likeable about Henry which got my blood pumping with hostility. Yet, that’s the point of this character, during the Civil War, someone like Henry isn’t unheard of. It takes one heck of a performance to make me rage at the screen – well done!
Other cast include: Ned Dennehy as Caleb, Amy Nuttall as Moll, Anna-Maria Nabirye as Alma, Luminita Filimon as Prudence, Delia Riciu as Mary and Nicholas Pinnock as Bill.
TUBS OF POPCORN: I give “The Keeping Room” four tubs of popcorn out of five. The performances by Marling, Steinfeld and Otaru are gritty, powerful and riveting. The cinematography is so well done with the openness of the land mixed with the dark and run down look of the women’s living conditions. The costume design is equally impressive. Both of these things draw the viewer into the film and give it such believability.
From start to finish I was captivated as the entire story is built on the performances of these actors. There are no special effects or wayward music trying to direct us on how to feel about what we are seeing. Instead, the film gives us a humbling peek into the lives of these women and all the pain and brutality of the time brought by writer Julia Hart.
I am so impressed by this film and truly want to see it again. Getting over the jaw drops, emotions and shocks, “The Keeping Room” is a treasure to be explored again. The final scene gives the viewer a sigh of relief in one sense and a sense of sadness the next. Brilliant!
In the end — some things are worth fighting for!