⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language.
Hazy summer nights lit with neon lights. Salty mist, smoky cigarettes. Peeking midriffs, lanky arms and torsos dripping with seawater; undulating in a cheap motel. This is the furtive, nocturnal, sensory world of Frankie (Harris Dickinson), effortlessly spun like sugar by writer/director Eliza Hittman in her sophomore feature, “Beach Rats.”
Frankie and his friends, a group of young Coney Island hoodlums without much to do, spend their evenings trolling the boardwalk.
We quickly discover that Frankie is interested, sexually, in men, as he tentatively explores local gay dating sites, eventually meeting up with a few men for hookups. But he is deeply closeted within his bubble of teenage machismo, and so his boardwalk flirtation, Simone (Madeline Weinstein), becomes his beard, all while he’s venturing into anonymous sexual relationships with older men.
This is essentially the entire plot of the movie, but the film is riveting and deeply compelling with the one-two punch of Dickinson’s astonishing performance and Hittman’s direction — awarded the directing prize at Sundance.
Tension courses throughout, as Frankie leads his double life. We’re concerned that his secret will be discovered, even as he tentatively reveals parts of himself to his friends, and we’re worried about whether he’ll do the right thing when confronted with conflict.
Alas, he makes the wrong choices again and again.
Hittman has a lyrical, dreamy aesthetic, also seen in her debut feature, “It Felt Like Love,” a similar tale of sexual coming of age. She and cinematographer Hélène Louvart use mood, environment and lighting masterfully.
In Hittman’s world, there is a place for everything and everything is in its place, even if it has the haphazard feeling of unrefined reality. She has an eye for the details of cultural iconography, from dirty mirror selfies to grimy vape shops filled with billowing chemical clouds.
A theater and television actor from London, Dickinson makes his film debut here, bringing an unstudied rawness to his character. It almost seems like Hittman scooped Frankie up off the beach fully formed, the accent, the pout, the downcast eyes already intact.
Katie Walsh, Tribune News Services
The Nile Hilton Incident
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
“The Nile Hilton Incident” owes debts to “Chinatown,” “The Long Goodbye” and half a dozen other crime mysteries that are marinated in cynicism.
Cairo police detective Noredin Mostafa (Fares Fares) trolls the city, demanding payoffs from whoever is unlucky enough to cross his path. To call him corrupt is not to say that the rest of the force is clean. Everyone here is on the take, all the time, from cops to clerks to politicians. Nonetheless, his father looks upon him and his ill-gotten gains with disappointment and says, “You can’t buy dignity, son.”
Noredin is called to a hotel to investigate the death of a guest. His higher-ups are eager for him to label it a suicide. But based on the testimony of a maid who saw something suspicious — and, perhaps, spurred by thoughts of his father — Noredin suddenly develops a conscience that leads him to investigate.
Fares, playing against his sidekick role in the superb “Department Q” films on Netflix, is captivating as he takes the lead. Anger seethes throughout the story, set days before the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Tarik Saleh, the writer and director, constantly eyeballs the crowded city, its chaotic masses and its crumbling buildings.
It’s fascinating to watch. But it’s also distracting. Saleh is so keen to survey Egypt’s dysfunction that his pacing wanes. It’s possible to admire each scene and still see this film, in its entirety, as in need of some serious sharpening.
New York Times