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Morel stages the action so cleanly that even when it hurtles by fast—almost too fast for the naked eye—the killings have a satisfying snap. There’s no fussy slo-mo, no vulgar splatter, just blasts, breaking bones, and baddies who barely hit the floor before the hero has moved on to the next Albanian wave. But it’s the big, dolorous Neeson who makes the movie a keeper. He does not gloat, he does not preen. But neither is he a blank terminator. His motivation is clear: He wants his daughter back. (What’s your motivation, Liam? I want my daughter back.) As he gives instructions over the phone to Kim, cowering under a bed as Albanian footsteps approach, his focus is uncanny. He is stripped down to pure, righteous, patriarchal American genius.

In his finely tuned first feature, Medicine for Melancholy, the young writer- director Barry Jenkins has a gift for getting into the heads of his two African-American protagonists, Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo (Tracey Heggins), who’ve just had a drunken one-night stand. Following an awkward parting, Micah tracks Jo to the well- appointed apartment she shares with her (white) lover, who’s in Europe, and his mixture of humor, attentiveness, and appeals to her racial guilt get under her skin. The movie unfolds over the next 24 hours as the couple bikes around San Francisco, a city with a dwindling number of blacks, and Micah gives voice to his resentment at being exiled, symbolically robbed of his potency. Jenkins is so desperate to give his love story a social and economic context that he stops the movie cold for a bunch of unrelated white people to articulate their grievances over gentrification—it’s as if Annie Hall had paused for a seminar on agrarian reform. Otherwise, the politics are woven into the (fraught) love story; the black-and-white palette (with faint hints of red) endowing every wounded look, glower, and twitch of longing with the weight of the world.

Coraline
Directed by Henry Selick.
Focus Features. PG.

Taken
Directed by Pierre Morel.
Twentieth Century Fox. PG-13.

Medicine for Melancholy
Directed by Barry Jenkins.
IFC Films. NR.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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