Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kate Bosworth, Emile Hirsch, Mel Gibson, Stephanie Cayo, David Zayas, Jasper Polish, William Catlett, Swen Temmel, Tyler Jon Olson
Written by: Cory Miller
Directed by: Michael Polish
MPAA Rating: R for violence and pervasive language
Running Time: 91
Date: 06/26/2020

Force of Nature (2020)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Tiger by the Stale

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A strange mix of snappy and silly, and of culturally aware and culturally clueless, this thriller may pass muster with a few viewers, but others will likely find it problematic in more ways than one.

In Force of Nature, a huge Category 5 hurricane approaches Puerto Rico, and local police officer Cardillo (Emile Hirsch) is expecting to work his usual desk job. But he's asked to go with another officer, Jess (Stephanie Cayo), to help make sure the city is evacuated. They answer a call about a man, Griffin (William Catlett), buying out the meat counter at a shop.

He pleads with the police to let him feed his cat before being arrested, and they comply, learning that there are two people in his apartment building that refuse to leave. There's an ailing ex-cop, Ray (Mel Gibson), whose nurse daughter Troy (Kate Bosworth) is trying and failing to coax him out. The other is a mysterious old man. As the storm ramps up a band of criminals led by the notorious John the Baptist (David Zayas) show up, seeking a fortune in stolen Nazi artwork stashed in the building.

Directed by indie veteran Michael Polish (Twin Falls Idaho, Jackpot, Northfork), Force of Nature is, on the plus side, a compact, tense little "B" movie, using the storm and its (mostly) lone location to cook up a lightly effective cat-and-mouse game. The prize, a multi-million-dollar painting, brings a sense of history/mystery to the proceedings. Additionally, the movie deals somewhat empathetically with its Black character Griffin, acknowledging the evils of prejudice, and the Latina character Jess has admirable qualities.

On the other hand, prior to its release, many took the movie to task for its naïve depiction of heroic whites — portrayed by two controversial actors — in a movie set in Puerto Rico, with Latino bad guys. Moreover, the movie also depicts the cruel treatment of an animal, a big cat that goes largely unseen (perhaps a tiger?), but who is kept in a locked, windowless, dark room.

Those things, coupled with moments of sheer disbelief — one notable line is "those stairs only lead up," and there's some head-spinning dialogue about shooting frozen turkeys — push Force of Nature just over to the negative side. It's too bad; just a little more forethought might have yielded a fun thriller.

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