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The Childhood of a Leader [2015]: As the Treaty of Versailles is pieced together in twentieth-century France, the young son of an American diplomat develops a lust for manipulation that incites horror in his household. The Childhood of a Leader [2015], taking inspiration from Jean-Paul Sartre’s short story of the same name, explores the dark roots of tyranny that threaten to permanently mark the heart of a child.

Not without a challenge: It is hard to put a finger on what makes Brady Corbet’s debut feature an occasionally difficult watch. The ideas presented within the film are arguably elaborate and gritty – perhaps not a film to pick if you are simply looking for a basic suspense film or family drama. The parallels between the diplomat’s tricky political work and his son’s increasingly horrifying behavior are complex but slowly become clear; the gently simmering tension threatening to boil over completely by the film’s third act. Even basic facts like the names of characters are barely uttered, creating a curious yet complicated element to an already meaty plot. Much like attempting to study Sartre’s writings, the themes explored in the film can lead to a classic love-it or hate-it divide. Corbet – co-writer, director, and producer – is clearly confident enough to piece together all of the intricate details required to tell the tale. Those willing to be patient will surely be rewarded.

A little less Marker, a little more Cullen: For an actor still trying to shake off the memories of a notorious franchise, Robert Pattinson’s dual role in The Childhood of a Leader does him no real favors. Appearing barely a handful of times in just over one hundred minutes, he is nearly forgettable. It can almost be acceptable to compare this to his role in The Twilight Saga: New Moon [2009], the highly anticipated sequel he barely appeared in. While his role as family friend Charles Marker is simple and clear from the start of Corbet’s film, Pattinson then disappears and returns in the middle of a literally topsy-turvy ending to the drama – blurred shots of a crowd, the camera itself seemingly being jostled around in hundreds of hands. By the time the credits roll, Pattinson’s entire presence only prompts the scratching of heads.

Show stealer: Scott Walker’s orchestral score is a beautiful accompaniment to the drama of the film. Jarring use of strings in the minor key lifts the tension running throughout each scene to almost dizzying heights. Each composed piece is anxiety-inducing and erratic, but also darkly satisfying. Every bass note is enough to bring out goose bumps. Walker’s work is the essential ingredient in creating The Childhood of a Leader’s maddening atmosphere, leaving it totally inescapable.   

While it may not be for everyone, The Childhood of a Leader tackles complex ideas to great effect.
It only takes a little patience to piece it all together.

The Childhood of a Leader
4.0Overall Score
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