The Royal Hotel 2023 1080p WEB-DL DD5.1 x264
The Royal Hotel writer/director Kitty Green continues her exploration of, I guess we'll call it, toxic masculinity. A few years ago, she presented The Assistant, a glacially-paced examination of the impact of a Harvey Weinstein-type character (never actually seen) on the culture of his office workforce, in particular a shy young lady (played by Julia Garner) who eventually works up the nerve to go to HR and report her concerns. The evisceration that follows was a masterpiece of a scene, but the movie ends on an abrupt note and the whole thing ended up feeling like a wasted effort despite some terrific moments. Green worked hard to show the mundaneness of the toxic environment, but somewhat forgot to make a gripping movie in the process. The Royal Hotel explores the toxic masculinity of a remote Australian mining community, particularly has experienced by two young ladies, Americans travelling the world but running out of cash to continue their journey. One could argue this environment is the complete opposite of what we saw in The Assistant. From a sleek, American corporate office environment to a dirty, grubby, fiercely blue-collar Australian bar. Liv (Jessica Henwick) and Hanna (Julia Garner) are two friends travelling the world and apparently very poorly managing their finances. Liv is running from some kind of trauma, and so rather than saying "well, we're broke, let's go home", she manages to find truly menial level jobs for her and her friend in the middle of nowhere. We know they're in trouble when the lady at the employment agency warns them that they'll get a bit of extra "male attention." But a long train ride, a long bus ride and then a car ride later, and they're being shown the ropes of the Royal Hotel, a supremely run-down locale. They are assigned to be bartenders and janitors, briefly shown the ropes by drunken owner Billy (Hugo Weaving, as far from his character in The Matrix as you can imagine). While somewhat protected by Billy's girlfriend Carol (Ursula Yovich), the two young ladies are left to navigate the male sexual politics of the bar's clientele pretty much on their own. Things go from uncomfortable to dangerous pretty quickly. The movie plays out a bit like a horror film, with growing dread and an increasing sense of disquiet. We fear for these two women. Our guide in the film becomes Hanna, who immediately senses the bad vibes around her and wants to leave, but Liv wants to stay, earn money, have fun, drink and NOT go back to the States. What I liked about the film was that you never knew who the "good guys" or "bad guys" were. For example, Weaving's owner starts out as a complete jerk, but we develop a little sympathy for him as his character seems to soften a bit and he even has a couple of nice things to say to the Americans. But at the same time, he says "smile more, you'll make more money." And his drinking eventually pulls him back down into the role of minor villain. We never know quite where our sympathies should lie. And it's that way with virtually all the regular characters in the film. There's one supremely creepy guy (Dolly, played by Daniel Henshall in a quietly masterful performance) who we have no doubts about, but even the "nicer" guys around the ladies can never quite make us comfortable with them. As each man shows signs of "niceness" but also signs of "toxicity", the audience and the two ladies are always just a little off-balance. Is there ANYONE who would step in and keep these girls safe if things get out of hand, which the whole tone of the film is clearly building towards? Or are these two going to have to defend themselves? Green has created a credible microcosm in this little bar. And she uses the countryside to her advantage. We see the beauty, but mostly, we sense how far away from ANYTHING we are. Hanna & Liv were clearly foolish to come here at all, and they are setting themselves up for trouble. And the movie also demonstrates the importance of booze in influencing bad decisions and bad behavior in otherwise semi-reasonable adults. The toxic masculinity is a small undercurrent at all times, but start the beer flowing, and the pack mentality ramps up quickly and, in the case of Liv, who drinks a great deal herself, women can make themselves unwitting co-conspirators in the horrible behavior. It's slow-burn of a film, for sure, and the ending will be divisive. Green hasn't quite learned how to stick the landing. But whereas The Assistant left its audience wondering if anything was ever going to happen, The Royal Hotel has its audience fervently hoping nothing more happens. The sense of disquiet, unease and fear is solidly achieved and sustained. I found this film well worth seeing.
- Julia Garner
- Jessica Henwick
- Herbert Nordrum