J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Thoroughbreds: Featuring the Late Anton Yelchin


Most of us would consider a drug dealer to be bad news all around, especially one who pushes product in school yards. However, to Lily and her bestie Amanda, shaggy-haired Tim is still merely one of the help. He just happens to carry a gun, making him more useful to them. They expect to get what they want, because they are young, entitled, and sociopathic, so they don’t see why the murder of Lily’s step-father should be any different in Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Lily and Amanda were once close, grew apart, and have been forced back together recently. Socially, Amanda has become persona non-grata ever she one-upped Equus with her prized horse. Although Amanda claims she no longer feels emotions (basically bragging she is a full-stop sociopath), her mother is sufficiently concerned, she has actually hired her old BFF Lily to tutor her, as a means of providing some socialization. Unfortunately, bringing these two together could potentially be very dangerous, like the Key-Master and the Gate-Keeper.

Indeed, before long, Amanda has adopted Lily’s despised step-father Mark as her nemesis as well. Instead of passive aggressive tantrums, Amanda suggests more proactive steps—specifically murder. They will not do it themselves, of course. They will frame-up poor Tim and then extort him into murdering Tim for them. At least, that is the plan, but plans usually go awry in the film noir classics they constantly watch together.

It is a terrible shame this is one of the final screen appearances from the late Anton Yelchin, but Tim the reluctant killer was a perfect role for him. He has to be the most nebbish drug dealer ever seen on film, but there is still something dangerously unpredictable about him. There is nothing awkward about Thoroughbreds as a capstone to Yelchin’s career, but it leaves us wondering what could have been.

The film also advances Anya Taylor-Joy’s steady build to superstardom. Most encouragingly, genre roles seem to be her thing. She conveyed a profound sense of inner torment in The Witch and now she gives us frost-burn as Lily, a spectacularly icy femme fatale, if ever there was one. For most of the film, Olivia Cooke more or less hits the same note as the conscience-less Amanda, but it is quite a chilling note. Yet, she nicely sets us up for some surprises down the stretch. Paul Sparks also makes a perfect noir antagonist for them as the contemptuous step-father. We basically agree with his disdainful opinion of Lily, but viewers still will root to see him get his own comeuppance for his arrogance.

Thoroughbreds is relatively narrow in scope, but it is lethally effective. Finley, a playwright turned filmmaker, is definitely working in the tradition of classic stage thrillers: limited settings, a small cast of characters, and some deeply rooted resentments. It is the little film with a cold, cold heart. Recommended for fans of film noir and the late Yelchin, Thoroughbreds opens tomorrow (3/9) in New York at multiple theaters, including the Regal E-Walk.

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