Available on DVD / Blu-Ray Now
Having spent much of the early nineties taking on projects to avoid bankruptcy, including the much maligned third entry in The Godfather trilogy, it’s fair to say that Francis Ford Coppola’s career isn’t what it once was. Following an unprecedented decline which reached its nadir in 1996 with the decision to direct the dismal Jack, the glory days of Apocalypse Now and The Godfather, it seemed, were something of a distant memory.
Mercifully, however, time is a great healer and following his return after a ten year absence in 2007 with the little-seen Youth Without Youth, Tetro marks Coppola’s first original screenplay since The Conversation and a welcome return to the sophistication and maturity that defined much of his early career. With its striking black and white aesthetic reminiscent of Rumble Fish, Tetro is a visually stunning piece of work. But whilst it may represent perhaps the most visually captivating film of his career, Coppola isn’t concerned with spectacle – Tetro is a profoundly character-driven piece with two astonishing performances at its core.
Having cut himself off from his family in America for many years, Tetro (Vincent Gallo) lives a relatively isolated existence as a writer living with his girlfriend Miranda (Maribel Verdu) in Argentina, still harbouring an unrelenting anger towards his father. Curious to find out why his brother left the family, Tetro’s younger brother Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) goes to visit him in Argentina, and quickly begins to uncover the complex rivalries that lay behind the family’s inner turmoil and the real reason for his brother’s resentment of their father.
Coppola clearly relishes the freedom granted by his decision to operate independently of a studio, a fact reflected in the curious yet undeniably successful casting of Gallo in the lead role. But whilst Gallo turns in a remarkable performance as the troubled writer with a chip on his shoulder, it’s ultimately Ehrenreich who steals the show. With a quietly understated and incredibly nuanced performance as the inquisitive brother eager to uncover the secrets of his family’s past, it’s clear that Ehrenreich is a talent worth keeping an eye on.
At a time when his peers are still churning out blockbusters, Coppola’s decision to make a film such as Tetro doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. Having been through the studio system and clearly not found the experience to be creatively rewarding, a film like this is exactly what he needed to get back on track. Tetro may not have mass appeal, but if Coppola continues to pursue compelling little features such as this for the foreseeable future, then that’s certainly no bad thing for smaller audiences who like their drama subtle and contemplative.