Paradox movie review: A confusing mixture of experimental concert movie and activist film

Paradox relies all too heavily on Neil Young’s music to save the day

Anupam Kant Verma March 28, 2018 13:52:44 IST

1.5/5

Veteran actress Daryl Hannah dons the director’s hat and hauls in Neil Young aka The Man With the Black Hat to come up with an occasionally strange but perpetually confusing mixture of experimental concert movie and activist film. Hannah sets out to invite us into a dreamy future tarnished by the greed of monopolising corporations where hope for salvation can only be found in music, provided by the ever reliable Young and his band of musical outlaws. But the earnestness and fervour of Hannah’s endeavour is ill served by a rambling narrative, however justifiable it may have appeared on paper.

The setting is seemingly the virginal West of the future. Women and men are separated, united briefly every full moon, farm seeds are controlled by a single corporation and the outlaws roam this world hunting for old technology. The outlaws spend most of their time engaging in quasi-philosophical banter and old world tomfoolery, while Young drops in and out of the film randomly speaking stuff. The only constant is the background music, beautiful as ever, here a welcome reprieve from the banal task of witnessing these people go about their day.

Paradox movie review A confusing mixture of experimental concert movie and activist film

Still from Paradox. Netflix

Fundamentally, the film is let down by the inconsistency of its tone, stemming from a directorial vision sullied by misplaced faith in the film’s ambition. On paper, it certainly doesn’t lack for reasons to be loved. And anyone who’s watched the masterful tone poem that is Dead Man is aware of the magic Young’s music can brew on film. But while Dead Man was acutely cognisant of its cinematic ambition, Paradox goes off on one too many tangents, half heartedly hoping for the music to correct the imbalance when it falters too keenly. It is hardly surprising then that the most engrossing moment in the film comes when Young and his band perform live, improvising an extended guitar solo that sadly drowns out all the other noise Paradox wishes to make.

The outlaws’ utter inability to act convinicingly poses another problem. They appear far more at home with their instruments around. The director’s decision to shoot them as they go about their daily life away from the concert stage fails to pay off cinematically. Then there’s the annoying tendency to shift between 16mm and digital formats, ostensibly in an effort to conjure a dreaminess, which in more skilful hands could have lit up the film. Hannah inevitably begins to hammer into our subconscious a virginal world where deer prance about and women in spotless white float to the sound of entrancing music while men devote their time to being men, making music and comparing love to farts. It soon becomes all too confusing to make any kind of sense. Hannah’s anti-GMO activism, earnest as it is, lodges itself uncomfortably within this hodgepodge, thereby failing to elicit any meaningful engagement. Unfortunately, it becomes a classic case of too many things happening at once, in effect alienating the audience from every single one of them.

Paradox movie review A confusing mixture of experimental concert movie and activist film

Neil Young in Paradox. Netflix

The director was clearly going for a lot more than just a traditional concert film. By turning the camera away from the stage and towards the interludes between shows on the road, she was laudably risking breaking convention. However, her efforts at justifying her decisions by employing a loose, rambling structure and quasi-experimental editing fall flat. At some point, even Willie Nelson shows up. You can’t help but feel a sense of desperation in his forced appearance. Young and Nelson’s forgettable standoff remains as confounding and utterly ineplicable as a substantial chunk of the film. But by then you’re simply too bored to care.

For a film that set out to question the narrative of a future that’s slowly becoming normalised, Paradox unpardonably ends up romanticising the American West by the time the end credits start rolling. It fails to deliver on the promise of the risks it decides to take and relies all too heavily on Young’s music to save the day. The viewer might as well hear his way through the film, paying scant heed to the images which, beautiful as they may occasionally be, are all too lazily put together to make any impact.

Paradox is now streaming on Netflix.

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