Thank the movie gods that Bong Joon-ho is getting a chance to make movies, and that Netflix had the scratch to finance a $60 million art film that would never have been made at this level anywhere else. I don’t care how many theaters Netflix Originals have access to; that’s not my business, I don’t finance movies, I don’t care what they gross. I care about seeing NEW STUFF and thought provoking social commentaries and this is exactly that. It’s also a family drama, a CGI-thing-a-ma-bob experience, a corporate satire, and a haunting rumination about “where does the beef come from?”
The final moments of this movie left me with a lump in my throat, and reminded me of why I stopped eating cattle and pork roughly 5 years ago. Also, more massive Brad Pitt POWER for helping to get this film made through his Plan B shingle; this guy can do no wrong from where I sit in terms of delivery high-caliber films both in front of and behind the camera. Tilda Swinton is insane, the cinematography by Darius Khondji (Seven, Evita, The Lost City of Z, The Immigrant) is frequently gorgeous and more elaborate and tricked-out than I’m accustomed to seeing from this master of the moving image, and the overall tone can never be pinned down, which I’m always a fan of.
But that’s Joon-ho for you. In all of the films that I’ve seen from him, including Barking Dogs Never Bite Memories of Murder, The Host, Mother, Snowpiercer, and now Okja, there’s so much going both inside and outside of the frame, that sometimes his narratives feel overstuffed, but in a great and fascinating way. And that’s because he understands that life isn’t just one thing at all times; we’re allowed to be happy and sad in the same exact moment, and he always allows for humor to bubble to surface, no matter how dire or upsetting the situation becomes. He’s also prone to mixing graphic violence into his stories, something that’s done a bit less here, but the film still retains that special edge that he always brings to the table.
It’s also interesting to note that Joon-ho collaborated with co-writer and gonzo journalist Jon Ronson (the brilliant The Men Who Stare at Goats) on this project. Also, I’m a stickler for poorly integrated digital effects, so I’m happy to report that, for the most part, and especially considering how much occurs during daylight hours, the renderings of Okja are very strong and tangible, despite a few ropey looking moments from time to time. But overall, this is a phenomenally cool piece of work, with winks to classics like 12 Monkeys, while still defiantly marching to the beat of its own drum.
Review by Nick Clement