Tribeca: Ten Years of Mysteries, Thrillers, and Crime Docs
By Joe BendelApril 23, 2019
Since its inception, the Tribeca Film Festival has taken a leading role in efforts to revitalize post-9/11 Lower Manhattan. In that time, it has become the quintessential New York film festival. We dig our crime stories here in New York, so it stands to reason Tribeca has showcased many memorable mysteries, thrillers, and crime documentaries. Before this year’s festival opens, we here at Criminal Element look back at some past selections that should particularly interest you, our dear readers.
The Blumhouse-produced Stockholm just opened in theaters, but Tribeca patrons had a chance to see it nearly a year ago—and it was pretty good. Robert Budreu’s period thriller dramatizes the case that produced the term “Stockholm Syndrome,” but his presentation of the Normalmstorg Kreditbanken standoff is very different from what viewers might expect from subsequent media references. Ethan Hawke perfectly balances flamboyance and naiveté as the raucous hostage-taker “Kaj Hansson,” while Noomi Rapace does some of her best work since the Millennium Trilogy (redeeming her disappointing appearances in a string of middling Netflix original movies) as bank manager Bianca Lind.
Fans of cult actor Pat Healy got to see him at his schlubbiest in his amusingly twisty directorial debut, Take Me. Sad sack Ray Moody runs Kidnap Solutions LLC, a counseling firm that empowers its clients by placing them in abduction situations. Naturally, his customers have fully consented to his strange therapy methods, but rather awkwardly, such is not the case for Anna St. Blair. She assumes she has really been kidnapped, so there is not a lot of trust there when Moody realizes someone has set them both up.
Andy Goddard’s A Kind of Murder is exactly the sort of literary mystery adaptation CE readers probably wish were more frequently released in theaters. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer, it features stylish Mad Men-esque New York period trappings, a solid lead performance from the perfectly cast Patrick Wilson, and a colorful supporting ensemble, including Jessica Biel nicely playing against type and Eddie Marsan.
There were two dark noirs in 2015, but none has ever been as dark as Partho Sen-Gupta’s Sunrise. Think of it as a Giallo written by Andrew Vachss, set in Mumbai. SVU-ish copper Lakshman Joshi investigates a string of child abductions, including that of his own daughter, but what he finds might tear apart his soul (and ours).
Also notable was Alexis Alexiou’s Wednesday 04:45, in which an indebted jazz club owner tries to save his establishment from Romanian gangsters and economic austerity policies, but he just keeps digger a deeper hole for himself. (It is now streaming for free on Festival Scope’s public-facing VOD platform.)
Hans Petter Moland’s In Order of Disappearance is one of several international thrillers that was subsequently remade by Hollywood after screening at Tribeca, but in this case, Moland took the opportunity to remake himself, helming Cold Pursuit, with Liam Neeson. As usual, viewers should stick with the original, because it is tough to top Stellan Skarsgard as the deadest deadpan vigilante, probably ever, and his wickedly droll killing spree.
Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado proved they are budding masters of the one-darned-thing-after-another revenge thriller with Big Bad Wolves. A disgraced cop and a grieving father are convinced a recently released suspect is indeed the serial killer preying on young girls, so they abduct him and start interrogating him in a farmhouse on the outskirts of an Arab village. Complications ensue and ensue and darkly humorously ensue.
Ron Morales’ Graceland came in second in the voting for Tribeca’s 2012 Audience Award and it was distributed by Drafthouse Films, so it baffles us that we are still waiting for his next feature—especially since this one was really good. In some ways, it parallels Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low, except there is no equivalent to Toshiro Mifune’s virtuous Kingo Gondo. Marlon Villar, the former driver and clean-up fixer for an exceptionally despicable Manila congressman, temporarily returns to his service to act as the ransom go-between when the politician’s daughter is kidnapped, along with her best friend, Villar’s own daughter. It is safe to say he has a massive conflict of interest, but so does everyone else in this viscerally intense critique of contemporary Filipino politics and society.
Frederic Jardin’s Sleepless Night is like a French Die Hard in a nightclub, but the John McLane character is slightly crooked. Suffering from a stiletto wound after an ill-conceived cocaine heist, Vincent must infiltrate the drug lord’s dance club to save his son, who was abducted as a bargaining chip for the safe return of said drugs. Not that you probably noticed, but Hollywood remade Sleepless Night as just plain Sleepless, with Jamie Foxx. Once again, this is the one to see.
As a bonus, Tribeca ’11 also screened a terrifically devious thriller starring Michael Fassbender and Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham that hardly anyone covered, because it is a short. John Maclean’s Pitch Black Heist went on to win the BAFTA Award and the director and star would reunite on the moody but distinctive western Slow West, so it is probably safe to consider the thirteen-minute film a success.
Fred Cavaye’s Point Blank might be the exception that proves the rule, because Yoon Hong-seung’s Korean remake, known as The Target [not screened at Tribeca], might be even better, because of its super-charged action scenes. Still, the original is all kinds of gritty and adrenaline-soaked, thanks in no small measure to the hard-nosed Roschdy Zem, who is at his hardest-nosed as a sketchy underworld type, whom a nurse’s aide is forced to help escape from police custody, thereby making him a fugitive from justice as well.
Alas, Staten Island is often overshadowed in the media by the other four boroughs, so it was nice to see Richmond County’s preeminent serial killer get his due in Cropsey. Staten Islanders Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio explore both the established facts of Andre Rand’s murders—associated in the tabloid press with the local bogeyman Cropsey—and the surrounding folklore that has since taken on a life of its own. Frankly, this doc has some of the creepiest images of the 2009 Tribeca, such as the abandoned Willowbrook Mental Institution and the dark corners of the wild Greenbelt that have long been suspected of harboring occult goings-on.
Of course, Tribeca screens plenty of other genres. Conor McPherson’s ghost story, The Eclipse (’09) is too elegant and humanistic to be considered a conventional horror film, but it still has its chilling moments. Among the sub-sub-sub-genre of zombie animal movies, Jordan Rubin’s Zombeavers (’14) stands head-and shoulders above the rest. Plus, Tribeca has become an established showcase for some of the best science fiction shorts, like Romain Quirot’s The Last Journey of the Enigmatic Paul WR and Jocelyn Stamat’s Laboratory Conditions (starring Marisa Tomei and Minnie Driver). It is a full-service festival, but you can turn to CE for reviews you can trust of this year’s crime-related selections.
*lead image courtesy of Stockholm (2018)