**** Spike Lee directing a concert doc might sound bizarre. But a closer look at both American Utopia and its subject, David Byrne, reveals a deeper connection between the filmmaker's body of work and this project. Performing with musicians from around the globe who make shimmering water on which Byrne's voice floats, he sings about love, life, home, harmony and chicken heaven (yes, chicken heaven). The Talking Heads frontman invited Lee to shoot a screen version of his Broadway show of the same name, which opened in October 2019 and closed four months later. The result is an intimate look at a grand stage performance. Byrne starts out alone, pondering a model of the human brain. When he finishes, barefoot dancers and musicians enter the stage, one by one, all clad in gray and carrying their own instruments. The group's message of unity binds together a set of songs—some new, some old (about half come from the Talking Heads' catalog)—that is enhanced by Annie-B Parson's glorious choreography. Cutting between 11 camera angles, in the crowd and onstage, Lee complements her work. The director also makes a powerful addition to the Janelle Monáe protest song "Hell You Talmbout" by showing photographs of the Black Americans killed by police who are mentioned in the anthem. Here, Lee is the same as he ever was. NR. ASHER LUBERTO. Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Hulu.
*** To say that Hasan Oswald's debut documentary is a snapshot of America's opioid crisis implies something too quick. There's nothing snappy about spending 10 minutes cramped in a room of New Jerseyans endlessly shooting up. The camerawork is graphic and unsteady, and you can feel the lack of control permeating every inch of squalor. Despite this grotesque intimacy, Higher Love finds its more interesting subject idling outside the trap house. We first meet Daryl, the 47-year-old printing press owner and father of eight, trolling dilapidated industrial parks in search of his pregnant girlfriend, Nani. If she's depicted as one of the opioid crisis's ceaseless tragedies (her mother died of an overdose), Daryl is one of its memorable supporting characters. You couldn't script his boundless patience with Nani or his explosions of contempt at how deep her addiction runs. Secondary stories of other Camden residents battling the needle aren't as layered, though they do reveal untold absurdities of the recovery system, like needing to score one final time in order to receive a suitably high dose of Suboxone for detox. In that light, Higher Love reveals utter extremity becoming dismally banal. For Daryl, the burning question becomes, when is giving up the only rational response? NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. On Demand.
Let Him Go
** In 1950s Montana, retired sheriff George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife, Margaret (Diane Lane), are rocked by the sudden, tragic death of their eldest son. Still struggling to cope, they watch with heavy hearts as their former daughter-in-law weds a new man, the abusive Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain). But when Donnie and his unhinged family take off to the Dakota badlands with the Blackledge's young grandson Jimmy, the last living tie to their late son, the bereaved couple will stop at nothing to bring him home. Thomas Bezucha's direction is assured, eliciting chilling performances from his cast of talented actors. The women shine in particular: Lane as the vengeful matriarch projects a steely determination and commanding screen presence that pushes Costner to the sidelines, while the always brilliant Lesley Manville (who earned an Oscar nomination for her role in 2017's Phantom Thread) steals the show as Blanche Weboy, Donnie's mother and mastermind. Though both of these portrayals and the pastoral visuals of the Midwest mountains are breathtaking, the story itself is lethargic, never fully getting off the ground nor matching the strength of the source material, Larry Watson's eponymous novel. Nevertheless, your repressed dad will probably love it for its themes of trauma, grief and masculinity. R. MIA VICINO. Mill Plain 8, Vancouver Mall 23.