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Sundance Review: ‘The Voices’ Starring Ryan Reynolds Wrings Dark Comedy From Candy-Colored Carnage

by James Rocchi
January 20, 2014 9:06 AM
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The fourth film from director Marjane Satrapi ("Persepolis," "Chicken with Plums"), "The Voices" navigates the line between the gruesome and the goofy with a step as nimble as a tight-rope walker going over a sea of broken glass. It’s an extraordinarily warm and funny movie about a likable schizophrenic murderer; it’s candy-colored and meticulously composed and yet also shiny with fresh wet blood. It’s weird and funny and perfectly-pitched, and to cap off its catalog of rare feats, it also features an immensely likable performance from Ryan Reynolds.


That last is a light dig at Mr. Reynolds, a tremendously charming and gifted actor whose only apparent flaw is his willingness to appear in terrible, bad-idea-from-the-jump films like "Green Lantern" and "Turbo" and "The Amityville Horror." (It’s the crisis that often faces the modern would-be leading man: the industry cares more if you’re appearing in movies than if the movies you’re in are worth a damn.) But here, Reynolds plays Jerry Hickfang, a happy worker on the shipping line at a bath-and-toilet manufacturer in a small town called Milton. In the first scene, as a pink-jumpsuit-wearing Jerry puts his final touches on his day at work, his manager mentions how Jerry’s doing great, and how the manager was more than happy to report that to Jerry’s court-appointed psychiatrist…

Reynold’s Jerry wants to fit in – desperately – and he volunteers to work on the company picnic with the hottie from accounting played by Gemma Arterton, but two of the most important figures in Jerry’s life have divided opinions on if that’s good or bad; specifically, his dog Bosco and cat Mr. Whiskers, who speak to Jerry in a jovial slowpoke baritone (Bosco) or a coarse Scottish burr (Mr. Whiskers) and function as his super ego and id. Bosco and Mr. Whiskers’ capacity for speech is entirely in Jerry’s mind, of course; so are a lot of other things.

As an illustrator whose first film was animating her own autobiographical graphic novel, Satrapi has a certain and incisive understanding of color, composition, shape and space – and it’s a delight to watch that on the screen, as it’s used not just to make a beautiful film but to help make it’s points. (When Jerry goes on his meds, his tidy apartment where Bosco and Mr, Whiskers counsel him looks very, very different; it’s a simple, smart trick with ramifications that then linger through the film.) Reynolds winds up romancing Arterton’s co-accountant Anna Kendrick, after he makes a grave error with Arterton, and while Michael R. Perry’s script occasionally feels a little like a talking-animal comedy riff on some of the plot elements in Thomas Harris’ novel "Red Dragon," you might as well steal from the best.

As for Reynolds, he’s great – charming and hesitant, damaged and trying. Jacki Weaver also shines as his psychiatrist, and Anna Kendrick is great in the same part Joan Allen had in "Manhunter" – a woman who falls for man without being able to see the thing inside him. The animal performers are also top-notch, with their speech (and Jerry’s other hallucinations and delusions) brought to life by a crack production and FX team. Normally homicide and hilarity do not mix especially well, but "The Voices" – once you realize that Jerry is an unreliable narrator even to himself – manages to do exactly that in a way where both the tension and the grisly laughs are in perfect synch. It’s a bit of an irony that "The Voices" doesn’t have much to say, but the fact of the matter is that it’s the tone and the tenor of the film that make it most watchable; a truly hilarious film about truly horrible things, the real artistry in Satrapi’s direction of "The Voices" speaks for itself. [B]

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  • GABRIEL | January 25, 2014 5:45 PMReply

    I am not surprised that the interpretation of Ryan Reynolds in "The Voices" is grandiose.
    I think Ryan Reynolds has more talent than some people are willing to lend him. Anyway, in my eyes, Mr. Reynolds is an actor whose talent is so underrated.
    Just watch The Nines, Buried, The Butterflies in the garden, Chaos theory ect .... The cinema became an investment that must be profitable. The failure of a film is always based on the principal actor, no matter what the scenario is horrible and the realization is absolutely disastrous. From all evidence, Ryan Reynolds has made bad choices. Is the result of the pressure that is weilds by studios, agents, producers. I don't know? . I guess Ryan also has its share of responsibility. The important thing is to learn from these failures. Any way to Hollywood, they remember more from your failures than your successes. Safe House was a success at Box office but radio silence and will continue to talk about the failure of Green Lantern ect ...

    One thing is sure, it is a major risk that Ryan Reynolds, has taken, in turning "The Voices." For me, this is a risk in the good sense. He fooled me on this one. I hope this is positive for him.
    After all the screenplay of the film, dates from 2009 and was blacklisted from Hollywood for years. I don' see a director, recognized in the profession and a bankable actor agree to do this film.

    The choice of Marjane Satrapi to make this film is very interesting on an artistic level, that her vision is shared or not. Now Matthew Rhodes and production partners must find a distributor who agrees to promote the the diffussion of the film. Ryan Reynolds should turn soon in New Orleans, Missippi Grind. The screenplay is by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (Half Nelson). He turned "The Captive" with director Atom Egoyan. Should we see a change of direction?

    Anyway, I hope that Ryan Reynolds will get a bit of success, recognition and respect for his work.

  • ODessa Bourque | January 21, 2014 4:34 PMReply

    That you for this review! I will be keeping my eyes peeled (Not in a literal sense ^_~) for this film when it comes to US theaters!

  • Ellie | January 20, 2014 5:13 PMReply

    Since when is Turbo a Ryan Reynolds movie? Is he responsible for the success of The Croods?

    The bad films he's been in wouldn't have been salavageable with different casts. He's often been one of the saving graces in otherwise unwatchable films.

    Amityville came early in his career, when he needed something different from the comedy flicks. It was the beginning of a slew of dramatic turns in modest budget films and indies (Smokin' Aces, The Nines, Buried, Fireflies in the Garden, Adventureland) that weren't seen by a lot of people but more than proved he could do more than comedy.

    I'm not of most of his big budget studio movies, but I recognise the importance of those productions (even fails like GL) in raising his profile. Hopefully his indies will have larger audiences now, at least among critics and independent film fans.

  • beth | January 20, 2014 3:08 PMReply

    " Mr. Reynolds, a tremendously charming and gifted actor whose only apparent flaw is his willingness to appear in terrible, bad-idea-from-the-jump films like "Green Lantern" and "Turbo" and "The Amityville Horror."

    I couldn't agree more . I always found Ryan Reynolds to be more talented , more watchable , and more charismatic than Bradley Cooper , Channing Tatum , and even Will Smith . But , this guy continues to choose the most hideous studio movies . Ryan showed so much promise in Definitely , Maybe ( one of the all-time great rom-coms ) , The Proposal , Adventureland , and even in The Changed- Up . Hopefully , this guy can get his career back on track.

  • Lou | January 20, 2014 5:19 PM

    Agree. However, the films you are listing- to which I might add Chaos Theory, The Nines, Buried, Safe House and, why not? Turbo - show that not all his movies are a result of a bad choice. Also, are we sure that actors are really given the chance to really 'select' their movies, except, perhaps the 'official' movie stars (even though there are plethora of films by anointed stars which are literally indecent)? Probably the agencies they belong to select for them and they make it difficult for the actors to refuse. We also know that, if one is successful in a particular genre, the industry tends to employ them for the same kind of role over and over again. It's called type-casting, and actors might strive unsuccessfully to break free from that cage.

  • Milly | January 20, 2014 10:35 AMReply

    And you must be a valued international woman of importance, who's sarcastic comment was warranted!!

  • lamarr | January 20, 2014 12:26 PM

    Lol don't you wish for once they would use their 'wit' against the powers that be who insist on making these films in the first place, or the people most responsible for them turning out crappy, rather than lay all the blame on the actor's doorstep? All an actor can do is work with what they're given. Maybe if the executives in charge were taken to task on a regular basis, there would be more good movies.

  • heather | January 20, 2014 10:23 AMReply

    Don't forget RIPD.

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