Friday, May 10, 2024

SIFF 2024: 'Scorched Earth' Movie Review

a man brooding by a car
12 years after skipping town, career thief Trojan (Misel Maticevic) returns to Berlin, desperate and looking for work. What he finds is a world that’s moved past his old school ways, adopting new technology and the unfamiliar attitudes of those who adapt to such things, and a list of old contacts who have gone straight or otherwise left behind the life. When he finally lands a job, a four-person art heist, things spiral ever out of control. Such begins Thomas Arslan’s Scorched Earth. (Not to be confused with the DTV post-apocalyptic joint starring a certain disgraced former MMA star of the same name.) 


Scorched Earth desperately wants to be a Michael Mann-esque crime saga about outlaws with a moral code; tough, desperate men pushed to extremes; a slow-burn of escalating pressure from all sides, betrayals and double crosses and all the neo-noir trappings. (Seriously, it lifts the climax straight from Heat.) On its face, it apes that style, with a shady underworld, shadowy pasts, oblique motives, and all the rest. 


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The problem is, it only hits on the surface level and the result plays like a movie simply going through the motions. They case the joint, hatch a plan, encounter speed bumps, have to improvise on the fly; you’ve seen this many times before. There’s no authentic dramatic tension, between the gang of thieves, their adversaries, or even when the job goes to hell. None of the characters are memorable in any way. Diana (Marie Leuenberger), the crew’s driver, comes closest, only to be sidelined by the script. Trojan himself is so tight-lipped and stingy with his backstory and personality traits as to be almost a nonentity. Instead of being mysterious and intriguing, he’s barely a crook-shaped man doing what crooks do in movies like this. The primary antagonist, Victor (Alexander Fehling), the enforcer for a barely-there big boss who only shows up once, has a few fun moments where he gets to chew on the scenery, but that’s all. 


Scorched Earth isn’t a terrible movie, but it’s not an interesting one either. It’s never particularly engaging or propulsive, it meanders along without ever driving home the stakes, uses the standard crime movie blue/gray color palette, spends so much time brooding in cars, and concludes with more or less a shrug. It honestly doesn’t even feel interested in itself. [Grade: C]


Find all our 2024 Seattle International Film Festival coverage here.

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