A Lesson in Cruelty (2018) review

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A horrible boss is thrown a birthday party by his wronged employees in the comedy movie A Lesson in Cruelty by director Alexander Salazar.

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There is no doubt the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has completely changed the game when it comes to the art of satire. Mainly because no matter what fiction or humour you can derive from the situation, the man himself has already done it and more than likely, even better than you could ever imagine.

Snuggled up to Russia, done it, employed family, done it, race baiting, done it, sexism, done it, homophobia, done it, saying stupid things, done it. Corruption? Scandal? Blatantly lying? U-turns? Broken promises? Done, done, done, done, done and then some.

The great Saturday Night Live has been somewhat successful in their comedic assaults on the White House but only through using imitation and mimicry, meanwhile the late night hosts, comedians and professional satirists can only resort to telling us what we already know, because Trump himself has usually set the news agenda for that week, by saying, doing or tweeting something absolutely ridiculous, all on his own. It is actually possible to argue that President Donald Trump, in fact, is a genius, because he has managed to make himself beyond satire.

In the era of a Trump presidency, if you want to attack him or his administration, the writing, script and jokes all have to be stellar, sharp and above all else funny, in order to make even a dent in the current TV reality show that is the good old USA. Sadly the new satirical, black comedy ‘A Lesson In Cruelty’ just doesn’t reach those heights and much like Trump himself, the film promises a lot but just can’t quite deliver the goods.ALessonInCruelty KeyArt 06 WebPoster Small 202x300 A Lesson in Cruelty (2018) review

This is a shame because there is a lot to like about ‘A Lesson In Cruelty’, from some of the performances to the technical bravado on show; it is a beautifully shot film. The external shots of the city look great and made a mockery of the films relatively small budget, while the framing of some particular scenes was also very good. There was plenty of detail in almost every angle and a few of the flourishes, particularly in the mansion scenes, reminded me of British filmmaker Ben Wheatley. While some of the music choices and the more abstract scenes were reminiscent of David Lynch’s ‘Wild At Heart’. That’s two auteurs for the price of one, so take a bow director Alex Salazar.

Justin Lebrun chews up the scenery as banker Julian Hassole, a horrible boss whose name, pun intended, suits him to a tee. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Julian grows up to be a racist, sexist, yuppy-esque, germaphobe, banker who has no respect for people or the world he lives in, he is Trump in all but name. Lebrun is clearly enjoying himself in the role hurling insults with relish at his victims. All Staff members, who after each confrontation with the acid-tongued Hassole, fantasise about how they would like to kill him.

Finally, at the end of their tether, one of Hassole’s abused staff decides to throw him a Roman-themed toga party for his 40th birthday and sends invitations to all of Julian’s wronged employees. With subtlety not being the scripts strong point, each invite is inscribed with the words ‘Beware The Ides Of March’ Hassole dresses as Caesar and his pet dog is even called Brutus. We know immediately what this celebration is leading too as the staff uses the party to speak their mind and exact bloody revenge on their dictator in chief.

Whilst many of the jokes featured in A Lesson in Cruelty are obvious, there are a few clever lines. A favourite of mine was in response to a black employee who was shot in ‘The Hood’, Hassole tells him he should learn to run faster or at least not live near black people. Unfortunately not all the dialogue is as clever or witty as this and there is even a genitalia grabbing joke to ram home the point, just in case we weren’t sure, of who this film is actually about.

Ultimately despite looking great and containing a fine central performance ‘A Lesson In Cruelty’ is not as clever as it thinks it is, nor is it as clever as it needs to be in order to satirise effectively the current political situation. No matter how good your talents may be, nobody can out Trump, Trump.

3 / 5 stars     

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