Wednesday 29 March 2023

Prime Time: Triangle Of Sadness (2022)

The very talented Ruben Östlund, a writer-director with a track record that currently holds a 100% success rate with me, returns with another film poking at class, money, social media, and gender roles. It’s about double standards, moral standards, and standards used to measure wealth and/or power. Some may be put off by the lengthy runtime, it clocks in at just under 2 1/2 hours, but I cannot think of any scenes I would want to remove, considering how well Östlund makes his main points.

Things start with Carl (Harris Dickinson), a young model already past the peak of his success, as evidenced by him being questioned about him now attending a general casting call. Carl is in a relationship with a model/influencer named Yaya (Charlbi Dean), and the argument we see them have over a restaurant bill shows the strain caused by the imbalance of one partner being much more successful than the other. That success may be fleeting though, and it may not even be real, as we see in the second act (the film is divided into three main acts) when Carl and Yaya join some super-rich and pampered people on a luxury cruise. Some of the other people on the cruise are super-rich tech guy Jarmo (Henrik Dorsin), the also-super-rich-from-fertilizer-sales Dinitry (Zlatko Burić), a head of customer relations/manager named Paula (Vicki Berlin), a woman named Therese (Iris Berben) who can only repeat the one phrase after having suffered a stroke, and a Captain (Woody Harrelson) who just wants to stay in his quarters and get drunk. It isn’t long until a snowballing chain of events leads to disaster, and being rich isn’t necessarily any good when disaster strikes.

On the one hand, I can see why some people would criticise this as a slightly lesser film from Östlund. The targets are obvious, it sometimes feels like picking low-hanging fruit, and many will doubt that something so relatively simple needs to be couched in a film that runs for almost 150 minutes. I would respectfully disagree with those who view the film that way though, and I actually think this is Östlund’s best film, weaving between various scenarios in a way that feels fast and loose while actually remaining smartly on point with every observation, character detail, and barb.

Both Dickinson and Dean (who sadly passed away before the film was released) are both very good in the lead roles, with the former giving a performance so strong that I was stunned to realise it was the same person I had recently watched, convincing American accent and all, in a small, interesting, film called Beach Rats. I am already keen to see whatever else lies ahead for him. Berlin is also excellent, Burić and Dorsin are both great fun, Berben delivers a fantastic physical performance, and Harrelson is hilarious in what is basically a star cameo appearance. His fatigued, drunken Captain feels very much like a fatigued and drunken Woody Harrelson. Dolly De Leon is the other character who proves vital to the plot, a “lower deck” worker who ends up in a very different position during the third act, and she almost steals the movie with her sly and formidable turn. Others worth mentioning are Sunnyi Melles, Amanda Walker and Oliver Ford Davies (a married couple setting things up for a punchline that is both very funny and the weakest scene in the movie), Arvin Kananian, Jean-Christophe Folly, and Alicia Eriksson, with no one cast member dropping the ball for even a second.

Densely-packed, with Östlund orchestrating every minor and major moment like a maestro, Triangle Of Sadness is a rewarding viewing experience that expertly dances around comedy, awkwardness, drama, and occasional nightmarish imagery. It is satisfying to watch, but I also suspect that a rewatch will allow viewers to pick up on many more details, whether they feed into running jokes or keep bursting the bubble of an environment populated by the rich and the privileged.

Oh, and the Captain’s Dinner sequence may be the best scene of 2022, a comedic trip through a dining experience in hell that, whether you like it or not, is absolutely unforgettable.


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