Francis Ford Coppola, Alden Ehrenreich and Vincent Gallo on the set of Tetro
By CAINE GARDNER
Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro is a bold, operatic film, whose black and white imagery hearkens back to a time when films were films. With Tetro, it's exceedingly clear that Coppola is still a master behind the camera.
Coppola has said before that his films can be stripped down to one word. In Tetro that word is rivalry. The director's ability to take a single word, break it to bits and reassemble it into a fascinating cinematic work is astounding.
Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) is a young man on mission. Stranded in Argentina when the cruise ship he works for must dock for repairs, Bennie seizes the opportunity and heads out into the Argentine night in search of a specter.
Tetro (Vincent Gallo) is that specter -- the older brother who left the family years before and now lives an unassuming life below the equator. Tetro finds his newly content life abruptly interrupted when Bennie shows up at his door.
Since the moment his brother left, Bennie's life has been one question after another. What happened to make his brother leave? How long would he stay away? And as time slipped by, and most importantly, why didn't he come back for Bennie like he promised?
Family secrets slowly reveal themselves as Bennie, Tetro and Tetro's lover Miranda Maribel Verdú try to make it through the week until Bennie's ship is ready to leave the dock.
The younger brother struggles to make sense of the moment and Tetro refuses to peer into his mysterious past.
Rivalry is the underlying issue that permeates Tetro. That solitary emotion has torn two brothers apart and will eventually bring two souls together.
When Tetro declares to his father that he wants to be a writer, Carlo (Klaus Maria Brandauer) tells him he'd have to be a genius to accomplish it. He quickly informs his son that there is only room for one genius in the family.
Carlo's inflated ego has resulted in the alienation of his brother, driven his son from his side and results in a dark secret that, once revealed, will change Bennie's world forever.
During his stay, Bennie discovers a forgotten suitcase that contains the writings of his older brother. The once promising writer has turned his back on the pen, so Bennie assembles the manuscript and brings to Tetro what everyone surrounding him believes he needs -- success.
It turns out to be the one thing he doesn't.
While the stars of the film are Gallo and Ehrenreich, Verdú is a real treat. Through the whirlwind of activity, she remains the solid ground for Tetro as well as the audience. Also, she has the most lines in English, yet didn't speak the language prior to filming.
Gallo wears a shadow better than anyone in the business. The black and white canvass on which Coppola has painted his latest masterpiece is tailormade for Gallo.
Gallo is one of those actors who is haunted by a reputation of being difficult to work with. If this is the outcome of said reputation, I think filmmakers would be wise to pick of the phone and lock him up. The biggest thing Gallo brings to any project is artistic integrity.
Ehrenreich's performance is a slowburn. The young actor is able to move from a vanilla-plain performance in the opening scene, to a character who emotionally fights for the lost story of his family in a hospital room. He's definitely an actor to watch. With an angelic face and devilish glint in his eye, Ehrenreich is sure to turn heads.
At 70, Coppola is at a stage of his career in which freedom is taking him back to his roots. He's able to make artistic films that appeal to film lovers and explore without the constraints of a studio. The film also marks his first original screenplay since 1974's The Conversation.
Coppola, along with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, led a west coast cinematic revolution that changed the face of cinema in the late 60s and early 70s. Could Tetro be the first hint that the giants of the industry have one final revolution in them? We can only hope.
Final Cut: Gallo, Ehrenreich and Verdú deliver wonderful performances, but the story here is Coppola. The director gives the audience a bold, thought provoking film that's beautifully shot and shows that his best days might be yet to come.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Starring: Vincent Gallo, Alden Ehrenreich, Maribel Verdú
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writer: Francis Ford Coppola
Playing in select theaters. Opens Aug. 7 at Keystone Arts, Indianapolis