Here are my reviews for Hold Your Fire and Lakewood from the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
HOLD YOUR FIRE
In 1973, four Black men were looking to rob guns from John & Al’s Sporting Goods in Brooklyn, New York. What transpired was one of the most infamous hostage situations in American history and would later be considered the birthplace of hostage negotiation.
Stefan Forbes’ enthralling documentary Hold Your Fire tells the story of what occurred during this 47-hour hostage situation from the people who were there and those affected by it. In a Rashomon-like manner, we get to hear different perspectives on how the events went down from the people who were there first hand. We hear from the robbers, a number of the cops called to the scene, and some of the hostages and their family members. Depending on who was talking, the situation played out very differently. The robbers talk about how the situation got out of hand. They never expected this situation to happen or for people to die during it and they had no idea what they were doing and were terrified that even if they tried to surrender they would be shot down by the cops. The cops talk about how they were ready to pull the trigger at any moment, especially when one of the robbers killed a cop, and were confused and annoyed by the hostage negotiation tactics. And the hostages talked about how terrified they were, what they witnessed while sitting there, and how they conjured up a plan to get free. Though there isn’t a straight story being told between everyone, you get a terrifying picture of how intense, brutal, and sad this situation was.
The archival footage of the film is incredible. Seeing actual footage was chilling and only made the stories the robbers, cops, and hostages were telling come more alive. It was also interesting to hear about the birth of hostage negotiation and the work of Dr. Harvey Schlossberg, a cop who looked at hostage situations as more than just “shoot the bad guys” and saw it as a mental game with a goal of a small body count. The film looks at masculinity, misplaced testosterone, racism, and police violence is as strong and is, sadly, socially relevant in today’s world.
Hold Your Fire is a tense, captivating, captivating look at a terrifying hostage crisis.
Lakewood is a film that would have made a better short film than a feature. It might be a brisk 84-minutes in its runtime, but the film can’t maintain the intensity and intrigue that it starts with and ends up being nothing more than a showcase for star Naomi Watts.
Watts stars as Amy, a woman who is trying to keep her family together and functioning after the death of her husband a year ago. While on a run, she sees a number of police cars speeding down the street. With only her phone available, Amy begins to call around and finds out that there is an active shooter at her son’s high school. With millions of questions, no answers, and nowhere near her home, Amy desperately tries to get home and get answers about her son and what is happening.
Lakewood is a one-woman show for Watts. She is in every scene of the movie and a large chunk of it is just her running through the woods while on her phone. It does take a captivating actor to pull off the one-person-on-screen film, a la Tom Hanks in Castaway, Will Smith in I Am Legend, Sam Rockwell in Moon, Blake Lively in The Shallows, and Watts does a great job given the tough task. Watts lets us understand the chaos and whirlwind of emotions that are going through Amy’s mind. Amy’s scared, sad, frustrated, confused, and angry all at once. She wants answers and will call anyone from friends to cops to a local auto shop to get any information that she can. Even as the movie loses steam towards the end, Watts is still interesting and has us hoping Amy gets the answers she needs.
Lakewood starts off intense and gripping but quickly falters at about the halfway point. The last half of the film is loaded with plot contrivances and sheer ridiculousness that take away from the interesting first half. The film also has Amy running for her life trying to get back to her house or to find a ride, yet it cuts too much when Watts is running, which takes away the intriguing idea of someone running for their life. Had this been a short film, it could have been an interesting filmmaking experiment to use either one or a couple of long-takes of an actor running the entire time while trying to figure out what is happening. That would have been a more effective movie, and probably a better one too.
Follow Kevflix on Twitter and Instagram, @kevflix, and on Facebook by searching Kevflix.