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Great casting, acting saves Labor Day from predictable Stockholm Syndrome story

labordayBy Richard Crouse & Mark Breslin – Reel Guys Metro Canada

Synopsis: Based on Joyce Maynard’s novel of the same name, the action in Labor Day begins when a wounded, escaped criminal (Josh Brolin) hides out in the home of two strangers, Adele, a depressed divorcee (Kate Winslet) and her 13-year-old son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith). What begins as a hostage situation slowly changes as the stranger’s sensitive side is revealed and he becomes a surrogate father figure for Henry and companion for Adele.

•    Richard: 3/5
•    Steve: 3/5

Richard: Mark, it’s been said that 90 per cent of the director’s job is casting, and on that score Jason Reitman has knocked it out of the park. Labor Day is essentially a three-hander with Winslet, Brolin and Griffith responsible for the emotional weight of the movie. Griffith is convincing as a youngster abruptly placed in the position of son and surrogate spouse, but it is the leads that really carry the movie. Winslet is delicate and effective as the world-weary Adele while Brolin hands in another of his manly man performances, tempered by a hidden sensitive side. I’m curious to hear what you thought.

MB: You bet it’s the acting that makes this one work, Richard! There’s genuine chemistry between Winslet and Brolin. Brolin is so good I could actually believe his escaped convict could be innocent — no small feat. But the movie, set in 1987, feels like it could have been made in 1987. It’s so square compared with Reitman’s other work, which I adore. Only someone who’s never seen a movie before wouldn’t be able to figure out where the story was headed. But you can admire the film’s quiet, stately pace, even if the whole thing feels like it’s ripped out of a Harlequin romance novel. Don’t get me started on the pie scene.

RC: I liked the pie scene. I don’t want to give anything away for people who haven’t seen the movie, but imagine the scene from Ghost with pastry instead of pottery and you’ll get the idea. It’s just wonky enough to spice up the story, and I thought Brolin pulled it off. Of all the leading men out there right now he’s the only one I can think of to have the old school Lee Marvin grit to still look badass while folding pastry.

MB: Me, I just laughed, until I was shushed by a middle-aged woman in the back row … I think the movie would have been more interesting if you weren’t convinced from the start that Brolin was a good guy and if Winslet’s romantic despair weren’t quite so acute. Luckily, Griffith provides a good foil for both of them and distracts the viewer from these issues. One thing I really liked about the movie is its shortened time frame: the entire story takes place over one weekend and it sharpens the plot and the tension.

RC: Even though the movie takes place over one long weekend it does take its time to develop the relationship between Adele and the mysterious stranger. Because Reitman takes his time unveiling the relationship, it’s a bit more believable than the story might otherwise have been. You’re left with the question, “Is it Stockholm Syndrome or true love?”

MB: True need, Richard, and that’s close enough for me.

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