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The Hawk Is Dying | Review

Falcon’s Nest

Thorny drama shows how we deal with life after death.

You won’t find meaning-of-life anecdotes, doctors passing out prescriptions like candy, or funny family portraits for mental depression in Julian Goldberger’s Sundance entry, in fact this drama visits some of the greyest corners in the human psyche. Consciously examining society’s disaccord on how to grieve, The Hawk is Dying offers no easy prognosis or roadmap to recovery, but instead Goldberger prescribes the notion of detachment as a mechanism for survival. Dark, ambitious, sometimes uneven, sometimes on the mark, this is a difficult cinematic journey made more impressive by the fountain of talent found in the free ranging Paul Giamatti and from the conscious look of the picture. Word of advice: animal lovers stay clear of this art house picture.

Dealing in themes of death and alienation, the 1973 novel by Harry Crews focalizes on the mental breakdown and emotional collapse of an uncle who believes he may be responsible for his autistic nephew’s suicide (played by the anemic-looking Michael Pitt). Though he has a support system in place, the narrative walks viewers through a difficult dwelling process. In an especially difficult role for Paul Giamatti, think American Splendor with a thousand pound gorilla on his back, this platform piece banks on the actor’s ability to demonstrate grieve without the characteristic clear signs of grievance.

Much more different than working with a child actor, sequences are mostly chaotic not because of the unexpected emotional outbursts from Giamatti but by the unpredictable nature of hawks in captivity. The learning curve made up of failed animal experiments and difficult social interactions are made more extreme by the use of long takes – Goldberger navigates such scenes with a visual composition that is strengthened by cinematographer Bobby Bukowski’s handheld approach that gets into the physical space of the protagonist. Some of the darkest, emotionally unpleasant material to grace the screen in some time, the commercialability might be in question and in order to reach a broader audience will need some trimmings.

Sundance 2006 – Jan. 23

Rating 4 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at IONCINEMA.com (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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