Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Fantastic Fest Review: Hitman Thriller 'John Wick' Starring Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe & Adrianne Palicki Fantastic Fest Review: Hitman Thriller 'John Wick' Starring Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe & Adrianne Palicki Watch: First Trailer For Tim Burton's 'Big  Eyes' Starring Amy Adams And Christoph Waltz Watch: First Trailer For Tim Burton's 'Big Eyes' Starring Amy Adams And Christoph Waltz 'Deadpool’ Spin-Off With Ryan Reynolds Is Finally Green Lit, Set For A Winter 2016 Release Date 'Deadpool’ Spin-Off With Ryan Reynolds Is Finally Green Lit, Set For A Winter 2016 Release Date First Look: Cobie Smulders & Guy Pearce In Andrew Bujalski's 'Results' First Look: Cobie Smulders & Guy Pearce In Andrew Bujalski's 'Results' 10 Films We Haven’t Yet Seen That May Be Serious Oscar Contenders 10 Films We Haven’t Yet Seen That May Be Serious Oscar Contenders Review: 'The Maze Runner' Starring Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Patricia Clarkson, Will Poulter And More Review: 'The Maze Runner' Starring Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Patricia Clarkson, Will Poulter And More Exclusive: Matthew McConaughey Won’t Be Back For ‘Magic Mike XXL,’ Director Says Sequel Will Be “Very Different” Exclusive: Matthew McConaughey Won’t Be Back For ‘Magic Mike XXL,’ Director Says Sequel Will Be “Very Different” David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 2 ‘The Good Listener’ Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 2 ‘The Good Listener’ Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Review: Award Winning ‘The Rocket’ Is A Lovely, Resonant & Deeply Accomplished Drama

Photo of Rodrigo Perez By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist January 8, 2014 at 6:01PM

There’s a tricky balance to be found in Australian documentarian Kim Mordaunt’s impressive narrative debut “The Rocket.” Mordaunt, who returns to Laos after exploring the country in his documentary “The Bomb Harvest,” tells a tale that’s both humanistic and soulful, yet political and socially aware. Tip the scales in either direction and your tonal equilibrium is thrown out of order. And that’s perhaps what makes “The Rocket” so special; it’s a thoughtful, well-observed drama that contains many painful struggles and hardships, quietly chronicles third world poverty and social inequities, and yet never condescends to preach or teach. In fact, when the beleaguered protagonists finally receive some much-needed respite and joy, the payoff is well-earned.
2
The Rocket

There’s a tricky balance to be found in Australian documentarian Kim Mordaunt’s impressive narrative debut “The Rocket.” Mordaunt, who returns to Laos after exploring the country in his documentary “The Bomb Harvest,” tells a tale that’s both humanistic and soulful, yet political and socially aware. Tip the scales in either direction and your tonal equilibrium is thrown out of order. And that’s perhaps what makes “The Rocket” so special; it’s a thoughtful, well-observed drama that contains many painful struggles and hardships, quietly chronicles third world poverty and social inequities, and yet never condescends to preach or teach. In fact, when the beleaguered protagonists finally receive some much-needed respite and joy, the payoff is well-earned.

In rural Laos, a young boy, Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe), is unknowingly born into bad luck. Local superstition dictates that twins are evil omens and the children should be killed off. Ahlo’s seen as doubly rotten because his twin brother is stillborn. The boy’s grandmother Taitok (Bunsri Yindi) pleads with his mother, Mali (Alice Keohavong), to get rid of this harbinger child, but she resists and nurtures him instead. 10 years later, still poor and disadvantaged, Ahlo and his family, along with his father Toma (Sumrit Wari are relocated by the government from their village -- the local Australian corporation that essentially owns the area is planning on building a dam and flooding the area. The family and villagers are assured new housing and money to compensate for their troubles, but these guarantees end up being empty promises, and beleaguered villagers are brought to live in squalid slums.

The Rocket

Ahlo’s family’s difficult exodus becomes tragic when his mother is killed in an accident while trying to cross a mountain with all their possessions. Cursing Ahlo, his grandmother once again admonishes him as a cloud of misfortune around the family and blames the young boy for his mother’s death. Stricken, the father can do nothing apart from help his family finish the journey.

The makeshift ghetto they are forced to endure is arduous, with no proper sanitation, running water or electricity. To boot, Ahlo’s inquisitive and vivacious yet mischievous nature gets him in dutch with the neighbors. And with tensions already running high, a small unintentional insult transforms like a brush fire into an outraged affront and a show of violent force. Now scorned and despised by the community even more so than the resident misfit, James Brown-loving weirdo Purple (Thep Phongam) and his niece Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam), the family is forced to set out once again to look for shelter, food and a place to call home. With the legacy of war all around them -- Mordaunt clearly referencing the consequences of conflict he documented in “Bomb Harvest” -- this new family unit, Purple and Kia also in tow, face several calamities on their journey. But their circumstances could soon change.

An exciting and lucrative yet dangerous rocket festival is on the horizon, and to prove he is not the cause of all disasters, Ahlo enters the annual contest in hopes of bringing hope back to his family.

The Rocket

While tonally in the same vein as, say, “The Kite Runner,” "Turtles Can Fly" or “Tsotsi,” with similar circumstances of resolute humanism in the face of bleak hardship, “The Rocket” is not just another enlightened third world country movie. Any political commentary is tertiary to the story of family, love and, yes, overcoming odds. While the film's emotional and celebratory big finish is perhaps predictable and feel-good, it’s joie de vivre is genuinely well-earned. Furthermore, there’s tonal balance throughout. Many bleak hardship movies can be relentlessly oppressive (Sundance hit “Frozen River” with Melissa Leo comes to mind), whereas Mordaunt contemplatively observes struggle without ever employing a heavy hand to underscore it. There are also naturalistic joys and humor to be found that feel like organic life moments rather than well-calibrated and crafted moments of comic relief.

In fact, this is exactly where Mordaunt’s film succeeds where others may fail. There’s a fundamental integrity and respect for the characters, the situations and the overall milieu. “The Rocket” never exploits its characters’ burdens and catastrophes, instead treating them with a straightforwardness and virtue. Well-shot and well-scored, Caitlin Yeo’s original music is particular affecting and beautiful without dipping into the sentimental or treacly. It imbues the expressive, yet impartial movie with a resonant soul.

The Rocket

Mordaunt’s eye indicates a thoughtful filmmaker able to listen to the winds of what a movie needs. Effortlessly natural, his workmanlike craft carries the capacity to keep an ear open to happenstance. He coaxes tremendous lightning-in-a-bottle performances out of the children in the film that are always affecting and never feel forced.

Endearing, gripping and heartwarming, “The Rocket” won the World Narrative Competition prize at the Tribeca Film Festival (among other accolades) and it’s easy to see why. The picture is crowd pleasing and enjoyable, but admiringly respectful and carefully considered. A deeply accomplished first narrative feature, “The Rocket” will hopefully make a bigger splash when it inevitably gets picked up for distribution later in the year. [A-]

This is a reprint of our review from the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.

This article is related to: The Rocket, Reviews, Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates