By Ezra Haber Glenn
This “father and son on the run” film skillfully mixes genres (in this case: science fiction and thriller). It’s well put together, emotionally compelling, and beautifully shot.
Meet, directed by Michael Pearce. Streaming on Amazon Prime.
One of the most common tropes in science fiction, Invasion of the Body Thieves at They live, features a protagonist who finds himself in the unenviable position of facing imminent danger – an alien invasion, a zombie plague, a massive government conspiracy – but is unable to convince others to take the threat seriously. Worse yet, not only do they refuse to believe the warnings, but generally view the heroes as delusional and may even try to lock them up, or worse. (Which, of course, feeds the paranoid feedback loop and / or provides further evidence of said alien invasion or government cover-upâ¦)
In Meet, the latest cinema and streaming release from Amazon Studios, this stock setup is delivered via a fresh take on the hybrid vigor that comes from mixing genres (in this case: sci-fi plus thriller). The film is well put together, emotionally captivating and beautifully shot, and it uses its relatively scarce screen resources during the Covid era very effectively. And while the finale is a bit simple and predictable, the action-packed twist of a ride is well worth the plot’s somewhat underwhelming final destination.
We meet Malik Khan (Riz Ahmed), a former Marine, in a flea hotel. He’s unlucky and clearly in distress, but we can tell he’s planning his next big move. Through gripping animated montages and captivating visual storytelling, we see what troubles him: He’s hunting down a silent and unseen alien invasion right here on Earth. Alien insects – microscopic mind-controlling parasites brought to the planet in a recent meteor shower and transmitted from host to host via airborne insects – are only visible to those who know the warning signs as they secretly colonize the human race for their own infamous (and admittedly vague).
Soaked in a protective layer of bug repellent, Khan uses his best special forces tactical training skills to complete a daring rescue mission. He recovers his two young sons, living at the time with his ex-wife and her new boyfriend, presumptive tools of the extraterrestrials already. Running into the wee hours of the night through the deserted nature of the California-Nevada border, the trio make their way to a mysterious “base camp.” It’s a road trip full of male bonds, tough decisions, and – for Malik’s eldest son Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) – very rapid coming of age. (Despite the differences in style and genre, the setup is remarkably reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s classic from 1973 Wild lands, if the role of Sissy Spacek had been played by two young boys. Or maybe it is Thelma and Louise. Or Smokey and the bandit. You know the genre: on the road and on the run, with the law behind you.)
It’s hard to say too much about the plot without falling into spoilers, but the well-drawn characters – played by actors who are masters of their simple and effective craftsmanship – deserve critical praise, as does the film’s careful pace. , which creates the necessary tension and drama without going (too) far.
Ahmed delivers a powerful performance, not quite The sound of metal, but intense and rolling nonetheless. He’s onscreen for almost 100 minutes, and throughout, he mixes fear, threat, humor, and benevolent compassion in a role that simultaneously celebrates and challenges the well-worn icon of the father figure. soldier-protector. (Some might be put off by Ahmed’s hokey accent, but I found him enjoyable and folkloric.) Meet includes some great action sequences, but the best moments are the intervening scenes, when Malik tries to reconnect with his boys, to reassure them amid the chaos he has brought them. It trains them in the (albeit potentially toxic) arts of self-reliance and responsible virility. To some extent, the role covers the same ground as Oscar Isaac’s recent work in The card counter – both disgraced ex-soldiers fresh out of Leavenworth, both tortured by their pasts and struggling to hold it together, both seeking meaning and purpose as they embark on confusing and desperate missions to save the innocent. But while Isaac’s Will Tell wallowed and simmering, here our hero overflows, burning himself and everyone in the vicinity. Critics (but not this one) were drawn to the former, but the portrayal of Ahmed offers an honest frenzy that brings more human emotional depth, the kind viewers connect with.
The key to his captivating performance is Ahmed’s chemistry with supporting roles, Khan’s two sons. Despite their young age, children turn out to be excellent screen partners he can act against. Their relationship deepens the protagonist’s motivation beyond the artifices of the premise. Khan fears for the planet and is wary of the authorities, but he does more than just run for his life – he stands up for his family.
The young boy, Bobby (newcomer Aditya Geddada) is charming, with a courageous temper, a quirky intriguing smile, and big eyes that often beam up at his heroic father. He’s happy that he’s broken up from the routine – a road trip full of ice cream and candy, no bedtime and even a real gun – and he’s confident enough that he doesn’t even get too stressed out by the madness. of the situation.
But for his older brother Jay, the reality of the situation quickly sets in, draining any joy from the ride. He’s stuck in the middle: not yet an adult, but already wise enough to know that something is wrong with his father’s plan; old enough to know he has to protect his little brother, but too young to know how. It’s a painful and sadly real place for a child, and Chauhan plays it for all it’s worth, often without a word, telegraphing fear, worry, worry, indecision, frustration, and anger. with nothing more than the little muscles in the corners of his eyes. As with so many memorable films, from King Vidor The crowd at De Sica Bicycle thieves, the simple addition of a childish character to an adult story tips the scales, encouraging the narrative to explore a whole new emotional landscape.
And, speaking of scenery, the movie features some terrific scenery once the trip hits the road. The similarity with Wild lands has already been noted, including thrilling moonlit car chases over arid desert terrain. When day breaks, the film offers luxurious views of an abandoned industrial ghost town, worthy of the most captivating pornographic ruin photo sites and urban exploration sites.
Of course, there is a squad of cops and special agents, who may or may not be controlled by alien zombie parasites, chasing them. The group is led by an uncompromising but fair Special Agent with the almost comically stereotypical name of Shepard West (Rory Cochrane), who appears determined to put his prey to the ground, if not for his own good, at least to keep the children from coming to the wrong. More squarely in the corner of Malik is Hattie Hayes (Octavia Spencer), a parole officer with a heart of gold. And, for those worried that the movie might be too sweet for law enforcement in the Black Lives Matter era (or those who closely parallels Brown’s, including Khan’s), the script includes the requisite macho highway patrol supply, as well as a trio of white-winged vigilantes armed with firearms.
Overall, it’s an engaging ride with enough thoughtful breaks to allow for some real soul-searching and character development. Director Michael Pearce plays it fair and provides the right combination of clues and timing to give viewers a chance to piece together the plot contortions we won’t spoil here.
The character backgrounds and resulting psychologies might be a bit too straightforward, but this is a fairly common failure in Hollywood given the difficulty of working the nuances into an action / blockbuster format. More problematic, Malik’s ex-wife – and above all, Bobby and Jay’s mother – is only briefly presented (Janina Gavankar) then discarded: at best a wasted opportunity, at worst a deeply questionable omission. He completely ignores the poor woman’s emotional stake in a story ostensibly centered on trauma and its aftermath.
And finally, as we quibble over how to improve on Pearce’s generally solid genre-spanner, there’s the title, generic and mundane to the point of embarrassment. After seeing Meet, I’m open to the suggestions below for any of the top 1,000,001 titles for this movie.
Ezra Haber Glenn is a senior lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT, where he teaches a special subject on âThe City in the Filmâ. His essays, reviews and reviews have been published in The fuse of the arts, CityLab, the Journal of the American Planning Association, Bright Lights Film Journal, WBUR L’ARTery, Experiences Magazine, the New York Observer, and Next city. He is the regular film critic of Planning magazine and fellow of the Boston Society of Film Critics. Follow him on https://www.urbanfilm.org and https://twitter.com/UrbanFilmOrg