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It has been eight years since Panos Cosmatos eye-lacerating, mind-melting debut “Beyond the Black Rainbow” came out. While not a well-known film it is one that picked up a small but dedicated following that was eager to know what Cosmatos would do next. Anticipation grew further when this film finally hit at Sundance in January to rave reviews. However those who were not lucky enough to see it there had to wait until June to get even a trailer but now the wait is over, and “Mandy” has finally hit cinemas. Was it worth the wait? Well if you’re a fan of “Beyond the Black Rainbow” or Nicolas Cage almost certainly.
The movie is not the same as Cosmatos’s debut though as while it may be similarly visually intense, 80’s inspired, neon-soaked and trippy but it has much more of a plot throughline. In fact, in narrative terms, it is relatively simple. The film is set in 1983 where lumberjack Red Miller (Cage) is living out in the woods with his partner Mandy Bloom (Riseborough). Mandy is subsequently abducted and then murdered by a hippie cult led by Jeremiah Sand (Roache). These events inevitably lead Red on a path of revenge. This plot is the kind of plot set-up that will be very familiar to any action movie fan as it has been used innumerable times.
However, the plot of the movie is entirely beside the point here. No the magic of the film lies in its visual invention, atmosphere and a barnstorming performance from Nicolas Cage. As this is really Cage’s movie in many ways. With all the drugged –out madness going on you need a central figure to match that and Cage can certainly do that. It is often easy to disregard Cage given all the dross he stars in but this film reminds you what a talent he can be. As the performance he gives here is easily his best since “Kick-Ass” and should go down as one of his all-time best. That is not too disregard the other actors as the like of Roache and Riseborough give decent performance as well. Plus there is some decent cameos from Bill Duke and Richard Brakes.
If there is a weakness, it is it would have been good to see the character of Mandy fleshed out a bit. Due to Riseborough quality acting, you do get a sense of Mandy, but it would have been good to spend a little more time with the character. Also not unlike the films of Nicholas Winding Refn it is likely some will bristle against the film surface sheen and too-cool-for-school vibe. That may be a tad unfair though as you do sense this picture was a real labour of love for Cosmastos, and he is not just being cool for cools sake. There also no doubting his visual sense of flair from all the psychedelic interludes to the animated dream sequences to even the more naturalistic looking scenes early this is a stunning film to look at. Aside from his superb direction and the aforementioned Cage performance, the film also has a pulsing synth soundtrack provided by Jóhann Jóhannsson which fit perfectly with the films 80’s horror vibe. It is one of the year’s best and sadly the last one we shall hear from Johannson after he passed away earlier in the year.