The Devil's Tomb
Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as one of an elite group of soliders on a mission to save a scientist from an underground lab where they encounter an evil presence
Oscar-nominated Belgian crime thriller. A cattle farmer (Matthias Schoenaerts), haunted by an emasculating childhood trauma, becomes embroiled with the local animal hormone mafia.
Marion Cotillard's Rust and Bone co-star, Matthias Schoenaerts, confirms his star quality and sports a similarly pumped-up physique in this earlier film, made in his native Belgium. The difference here is that his character's muscles are achieved not through a boxer's training, but with the help of a chemical cocktail – drugs he's been taking since a childhood attack robbed him of his testosterone-fuelled masculinity. Ironically, farmer Schoenaerts is also pumping his cattle full of drugs, in order to fatten them quicker. He's worried, however, that a proposed deal with a dodgy vet and a slimy beef trader will compromise his beastly business, especially given the unwelcome 'heat' generated by the recent shooting of an investigating policeman. In the meantime, a chance encounter with a childhood friend dredges up memories of the incident that robbed him of his manhood.
Played more nimbly, and with a sharper eye for its black comic elements, writer-director Michaël R. Roskam's over-plotted, over-cooked drama might have succeeded in blending human tragedy and oblique humour. Instead, its complicated skeletal frame has trouble supporting the dramatic weight imposed upon it. The parallels between the hormone-enhanced cattle and Schoenaerts' bullheaded beast are laboured, the storyline plods when it should gambol, and the sludgy brown and green palette – while appropriate to the bucolic setting – sucks the life out of the gloomy landscapes and murky crime drama. Worst of all are Schoenaerts' clumsy, ill-fated attempts to woo his childhood sweetheart and re-write the life-defining trauma of his lost masculinity, which utterly fails to tread the fine line between fatalistic inevitability and melodramatic predictability.
A bovine crime drama that confirms breakout Belgian Matthias Schoenaerts' star quality.
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