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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
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Good 3 Stars
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Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Alex Frost
Eric Deulen
John Robinson.
Directors
Gus Van Sant.
Screenwriters
Gus Van Sant.
Running Time
81 minutes

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Elephant
Gus Van Sant's account of a Columbine style shooting


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Plot
An ordinary day in an ordinary school, with students working, flirting, whining and wandering, caught up in mundane concerns. Then Alex and Eric, two of their schoolmates, show up with gym bags full of guns and set out to kill as many people as possible


Review
It was inevitable that someone would make a movie about the Columbine High School shootings, and it's probably inevitable that several more films will follow Gus Van Sant's low-key, blankly devastating, simple account of a day in an American high school which ends as two teenagers murder a number of their schoolfellows and teachers for reasons that will never be clear.

Some have put Elephant's surprise Palme d'Or win at Cannes down to a reaction to the momentous nature of its subject rather than any inherent cinematic achievement; in fact, it's not even a movie movie but was shot for the US cable channel HBO. However, it's not a TV-style true crime exploitation picture but a restless, improvised back-and-forth that would probably be dull (like Van Sant's interminable but similarly handled Gerry) were it not for the foreboding that comes from the fragility of the youths (almost all well above average in looks) and the long following shots as we get time-overlapping snippets of the day of the massacre.

We latch onto a cross-section of kids, from playground demi-gods to a quietly nerdy girl, and have time to get a sense of who they are on the point of becoming before the killers (Alex Frost, Eric Deulen) show up in combat gear with their stash of internet-ordered weaponry.

The second half is about the murderers' backgrounds (the cast mostly use their real first names rather than playing the kids from Columbine), with a lot of cultural baggage (murder-spree video games, classical piano, a TV doc about Hitler, semi-gay shower clinches, automatic weapon target practice in the woodshed) that still don't 'explain' the unfathomable.

We see the note-taking and mapping prep for the atrocity, with a chilly sign-off ("The most important thing, have fun"). The massacre isn't sensationalised, with snippets of the action intercut with credible moments of people wandering around not knowing what's going on and living or dying for no fault of their own.

It's deliberately studied, with punctuating shots of the calm sky and long takes that strain patience. In the end, it's basically a statement that this happened and could too easily happen again – undiluted by the editorialising that a conventional picture, or even a Michael Moore documentary, would be compelled to add.


Verdict
Van Sant’s least ‘show-offy’, most personal, best picture in years (maybe ever), and an honourable attempt at respectfully considering the unbearable.


Reviewed by Kim Newman

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Elephant
Empire Star Rating

fairly interesting idea for a film, but the finished piece is easily forgettable

nothing special about this film, nothing that particularly holds your attention. thought it would be better.........it wasn't overall rather dull ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by WhiteRabbit23 at 20:59, 10 August 2009 | Report This Post


Definately not for everyone...

. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bramvh at 14:11, 18 May 2009 | Report This Post


Definately not for everyone...

This movie is very slow, a lot of long takes and a very thin plot. For some people this is a reason to literarly hate this movie. So if you only like films such as mission impossible or other films with rapid editing you should not waste any time on this movie. This movie aint a cool shootup fest ... at all... Having said that, now about the film. This movie registers events on a great way by showing everything the way it happened without cutting every boring line out. This way you will get ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bramvh at 14:10, 18 May 2009 | Report This Post


But why..?

this is a good movie. it's cold, stark, and uncompromising. the only thing i would say is that this movie gives you no answers as to why. we already don't know why they did it. van sant doesn't attempt to give us any further answers so his is an exercise in further not knowing. so we still dont know why any one would do such a thing. if that his point, that we cannot know then he did a good job. but we already knew that from the actual massacre....he just confirmed that we cannot know. which is ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dhowdy at 22:12, 08 February 2009 | Report This Post


This has got to get at least 4 stars. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lego_9000 at 02:11, 02 October 2006 | Report This Post


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