Cinematic Releases: Leopard (2016) - Reviewed

Formerly titled Cold before being renamed a title that’s sure to have some viewers confuse it with the 1963 Luchino Visconti film of the same name, English character actor turned writer-director Eoin Macken’s Leopard is a mixture of Irish scenic beauty, Southern gothic and old-fashioned intrigue that unfortunately emerges stagnant and torpid rather than swift and engaging.  Loosely inspired by John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, the film concerns two estranged English brothers who are reunited after the mysterious passing of their father and a series of strange and violent events that follow.  Biting off more than it can chew, Leopard tries to immerse you the viewer into the hazy and alcohol-fueled points of view of the central characters in the same manner Raphael Neal’s Fever did.  While such a bold form of narrative approach can be quite the hook, in the case of Leopard it never seems to connect with the viewer.  For all the murders that do or don’t happen, all the characters that seem to die and come back to life and an especially vague third act, I sat through Leopard bored and tired rather than enmeshed in the brothers’ frankly meandering psychodrama.

That’s not to say Leopard is entirely without merit.  Clearly a labor of love and not studio material in the slightest with many scenes designed to place us at odds with how we feel about these black sheep of the small Irish town the film takes place in, Leopard takes risks with the two leads and has more than plenty of the bleak yet beautiful rain soaked countryside to spare.  Modern depictions of Ireland are few and far between in the cinematic medium these days and there’s a quiet charm to the sights of old Irish bars and rowboats as the only available form of transportation.  Acting by Macken and Tom Hopper is generally good with both asked to play a confused and lost duo who may or may not be serial murderers, with neither the film nor the characters themselves certain of what’s real or imagined.  Cinematography of the Irish countryside is quite good even if it’s largely overcast by grey clouds, adding to the overall bleak feel of the piece, and the acoustic soundtrack can’t help but remind some viewers of the somber acoustics often heard in Werner Herzog documentaries.  There are enough ingredients here to make for an engaging character study and visually enthralling mystery and yet for all the scenery on display I kept waiting for the picture to rope me in which sadly it never did.

I’m not gonna call Leopard a wasted opportunity because for a newcomer to writing and directing it’s a decent building block towards greater things.  As it stands though, it’s just not a very satisfying film experience despite all the dark alleyways it tries to take us down.  Nonjudgmental character studies are among my favorite kinds of films, especially the ones in which by design walk you through the protagonists’ shoes with all of their narrative unreliability in place to offset the viewer.  It can make for some seriously engaging character driven cinema and take you on quite the ride.  Which cements my disappointment with Leopard, a film that unfortunately for all the hard work put into it is a stagnant watch.  Comparatively the far less technically proficient and even less ambitious Durant’s Never Closes released earlier this year didn’t have nearly as many ingredients as this one does and yet that film had a real spark in it that held my attention.  Something in it clicked with me early on and despite scenes where it clearly fumbled the ball, I cared more about the hangups and misgivings of that film’s central lead than any of the dreary meanderings undertaken by the characters in this unfortunately sluggish misfire. 


- Andrew Kotwicki