Directed by: Panos Cosmatos
Written by: Panos Cosmatos, Aaron Stewart-Ahn
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouere, Richard Brake
Runtime: 120 min
Pacific Northwest. 1983 AD. Outsiders Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) lead a loving and peaceful existence.
When their pine-scented haven is savagely destroyed by a cult led by the sadistic Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), Red is catapulted into a phantasmagoric journey filled with bloody vengeance and laced with fire.
Well, this one was unexpected. Who would have thought that Nicolas Cage still had it in him to deliver such a powerful and captivating performance in his craziest movie so far?! Mandy might be the return to form of Cage, though it brilliantly shines not only due to his performance but to the craft on display and the trippy screenplay.
I'm not going to lie, this is not a film for everyone, and I don't mean it offensively. Both visuals and story are so confusing and complex that they genuinely might get some people either sick or incredibly bored. It has a lot of flashy lights and intense colors, so watch out for any people with epilepsy or any other disease related to this condition.
Story-wise, it requires a post-watch time to think about it. In fact, it demands your attention from the first to the last second because this is not a lazy exposition festival. There is a tremendous focus on visual storytelling and the use of some jaw-dropping cinematography. The lighting on each background or on character's faces always means something and the way it elevates the movie is outstanding. Benjamin Loeb, sir, you are a man who really understands his art!
Jóhann Jóhannsson produces the score, and he has been providing so many amazing soundtracks for each of his films (Arrival, Sicario, Prisoners...). Once again, his powerful sound is part of the story, and it beautifully accompanies Red's journey of bloody vengeance. Undoubtedly, a movie to be seen in the best theater you have at your disposal unless you have a high-quality sound system at home.
Like I wrote above, it's a story that requires full concentration on what you're experiencing. Believe me, this whole film is a mind-blowing experience. Surely, it will leave you speechless. If it does in a good or bad way, that's up to each person's interpretation of the movie. Nevertheless, I have to say that if you don't have any knowledge of filmmaking, you will hardly understand the buzz around this film.
It is a remarkably technical movie, and I now understand why it barely had any marketing or screenings here in Portugal. It wouldn't get any profit. It is not a blockbuster, and it is not an easygoing film, at all. It requires an audience who isn't brainless or close-minded. I can only imagine a tiny group of people who would truly enjoy Mandy for what it is, while the rest would say that it is the most boring and stupid thing they've ever watched.
After some thinking, the plot is actually quite simple, but it's purposefully told in a confusing, trippy and crazy way so that we can experience what our protagonist is feeling. Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn deliver an astonishing example of visual storytelling, filled with clever dialogues and tons of long takes, with an extraordinarily short amount of cuts or no cuts at all.
Obviously, Nicolas Cage is an absolute standout. He can be as crazy as the movie itself, and his performance shows a range of expressions and emotions that only the greatest actors can have. He literally demonstrates that range in a 3-min, uncut scene, which I will remember forever as one of his best moments as an actor. Andrea Riseborough is also fantastic as Mandy and Linus Roache brilliantly portrays Jeremiah Sand, but Cage definitely steals the show.
As a vengeance story, it works not only due to the blood-heavy fights but especially because of its characters. Mandy and Red receive great development, and Jeremiah also gets an interesting yet horrible backstory. I love how Panos Cosmatos controls the tone of the film, by balancing the dark side with the warm, hopeful vibe that Red and Mandy emit from their loving relationship.
As for flaws, the first half's pacing is indeed a slow-burn. While most of it might be on purpose to build-up the change of Red, it's still a very tough time to go through all of that. The ending feels a bit underwhelming since the big climax is weaker than previous moments in the third act, which leaves the impression that the movie could have ended stronger.
I'm going to repeat this once again: this film is incredibly technical. If you don't have any knowledge of filmmaking, I doubt you will find this movie enjoyable. It is a seriously dark and heavy film, with not much dialogue and a lot of creepy and trippy visuals. It definitely packs a punch but I love productions like this, and Panos Cosmatos proved he is a director to put an eye on.
In the end, Mandy is one of the most unexpected movies I've seen in years. Not only I was surprised by how outstanding Nicolas Cage is, but the technical attributes are also off the charts. Panos Cosmatos is one hell of a director, brilliantly controlling the film's tone and filming some intense uncut sequences. He and Aaron Stewart-Ahn wrote a fantastic script, filled with visual storytelling and some clever yet short dialogue. Astonishing cinematography, powerful score, amazing performances, mind-blowing visuals, and a bloody vengeance story. What can I write more? See it to believe it!