Can’t cult, the cultee. Or something.
Famed author Ansel (Leland Orser) made a living off of knowing all about cults and their mentality. He was so well-known at one point, that he actually had a TV show of his own. Nowadays, he spends most of his time trying to get free meals from hotel diners, evading people he owes money to, and holding Q&A’s where he constantly gets criticized for some shady practices he performed back in the day. However though, Ansel gets a second chance at not just his job, but at life when an older couple come up to him with a proposition: Kidnap their daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and brainwash her out of the brainwashing that she apparently was subject to while in a cult. Given the right amount of time, resources, and most of all, money, Ansel believe that he can make this work and have their daughter be normal again, but problems arise. Not only does Ansel realize that his brainwashing skills may be rusty, but he’s getting more and more threats from those he’s indebted to, which puts him in a tight spot: Walk out on this procedure that he was practically hired to do, or see to it that it’s completed and the family walks away with their daughter, happy and reunited after all of this time?
A lot of people I know out there, in the real world and on the worldwide inter-web, have a gripe with me not appreciating a movie trying to be more than just what’s presented on the surface. It’s a complaint that I can see some understanding in, but I wholeheartedly disagree with. While I know that many movies out there should be simple and left grey enough for the viewer to decide and make up their own minds about on, I’m not opposed to watching a movie that tries to dig deeper than what may have already been written. I just have a problem when these movies get a bit too big for their britches and lose all sight of what could have been an impactful, yet small story.
However, Faults is one of those rare movies where the simplicity came to bite both of us on our asses.
See, one of the problems with Faults is that it prides itself in being about this one man, who tries to sneak and connive his way back into some sort of fame and fortune, but by doing so, has to remember what made him have all that in the first place. That right there, is interesting, and the movie clearly seems to take pride in this character, giving us an unlikable protagonist, but one that’s still compelling enough to want to watch and see what he does next, to whom, and for what reasons. And then, it gets all the better once it’s made abundantly clear that this movie could actually be about his relationship with this new subject of his. The possibilities here for a rich, subtle character-drama were all set in stone and ready to shined down on.
But sadly, that’s not what happens.
Instead, Faults turns into a murder-mystery that’s more concerned with the art of cults and brainwashing, that it ends up being a nonsensical piece where people just blabber on and on about stuff we don’t understand, nor do we care about. Which, oddly enough, is how I felt the movie approached the same material; there’s an odd comedic-streak in this movie that comes and goes as it pleases, yet is still effective enough that it breaks up some moments that would have been too self-serious and dramatic for its own good. Writer/director Riley Stearns uses a lot of these humorous moments to shine a light on some of the more extreme aspects of cults and it made me wonder just where the hell it all went in the later-half.
Because, eventually, Stearns loses all sight of what was already an compelling premise about a small group of interesting folks, and throws them into a sub-par Coen Bros. flick. There’s twists, turns, murder, money, cults, black henchman, and even a gay loan shark! It has all the makings of a fun, thoughtful character drama, yet, never gets to be that because Stearns is a tad too concerned with hearing all of the random stuff these characters rant about. None of it is ever decipherable, but then again, I don’t think it’s supposed to be.
So why the hell are we focusing on it so much?!?!
However, the only reason why Faults gets something of a pass from me is because of its small, but amble cast that puts a lot of faces in some key roles, that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen them in, had this been a bigger, more mainstream flick. And the one member of the cast I’m really talking about is Leland Orser as Ansel, an interesting creation of a character who I felt would have done wonders with a better movie. Orser already has a bit of a creepy-presence in everything he shows up in, so that’s why when I saw him here playing something of a shady fellow, I knew he was perfect for the role. There’s something sort of off-putting to this character that knows he cannot be trusted, but by the same token, we get the impression that he’s not such a bad guy to where he would purposefully do something wrong to hurt this family, their daughter, or anybody else involved.
He’s a weasel, but he’s got a heart and it’s noticeable, too.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Stearn’s wife in real life) is also another actress that’s been so good in just about everything she’s done and still has yet to be given that career-defining performance that puts her from being “indie darling” to being “the next big thing in acting”. And regardless of when that time comes or not, Winstead’s still fine here, playing a character that we’re never too sure is as crazy as she makes herself be. We know that she’s been apart of a cult for very long, but we don’t know how long, so therefore, it’s hard to come up with an idea of how far gone her mind is and whether or not she’s a sensible thinker. There’s a lot of mystery to this character and Winstead constantly keeps us guessing, even when it seems like we’ve got her all figured out.
If only the movie would have realized this and kept the focus on these two. Oh, and gotten rid of all the cult-talk, too.
Cause honestly, who the hell cares?
Consensus: By depending on its cast, Faults is interesting, but continues to add on more and more elements to this story that just feel unnecessary and stuffy.
5.5 / 10
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images