“Failure!” is a riveting single-take chamber piece that impresses in every way, anchored by a spellbinding performance from Ted Raimi.
Ingmar Bergman is my favorite filmmaker. His best-known (and possibly his best) film, The Seventh Seal, has profoundly impacted countless cinephiles and budding filmmakers, including, it seems, writer/director Alex Kahuam.
In The Seventh Seal, a disillusioned medieval knight (the brilliant Max Von Sydow) returns from the brutality of the Crusades amid a ravaging plague. Desperate to find some salvation amongst the horror, the knight challenges the personification of Death to a game of chess, hoping to stave off his inevitable demise in a final effort to give his life meaning.
Kahuam seems to have been heavily inspired by this profound exploration of love, sacrifice, suffering, and redemption.
His exceedingly bold and unconventional film Failure! tells a simple but richly satisfying tale of James (genre stalwart Ted Raimi), a floundering businessman and divorced father of two daughters.
James has recently inherited his family’s once-lucrative business, a plastics factory, and its legacy of wealth and influence from his recently deceased father. Unfortunately, he’s also inherited a mountain of debt and the looming prospect of bankruptcy.
Standing at a pivotal crossroads, he now has one hour to make a choice that will forever alter the course of his life: sell the company at a loss before it goes under or fight to preserve his legacy and protect the people who have devoted their lives to the company.
It’s no simple decision, as the consequences are monumental, regardless of his chosen path.
Multiple lives hang in the balance, and everyone has a strong opinion regarding James’ next move.
On one side, his long-term foreman, Michael (John Paul Medrano), aggressively urges James to protect the interest of his workers, who will be left with nothing if the plant closes.
On the other side, his financial partner Alvar (Daniel Kuhlman) demands that he sell immediately despite the lowball offer from a shady Mr. Serge (a mesmerizing Merrick McCartha).
The only thing that means more to James than the business is his two daughters, one of whom is planning a lavish wedding. But he’s not the only one willing to do anything to protect and care for his loved ones. With the world’s weight on his shoulders, he must figure out how to maneuver the next piece on the chessboard.
As he struggles to wage an internal war within himself while battling external forces that besiege him from every direction, a constant presence is ever-looming — one only he can see and interact with.
This mysterious figure in a dressing gown (Noel Douglas Orput) offers constant advice while challenging James to a game of chess and berating him for not being more strategic and anticipatory with his moves.
What follows is a tense 86-minute tale told in real-time, impressively consisting of a single take in a single location, during which James battles with his conscience, pride, partners, and destiny.
With no cuts and no editing tricks, a single mistake would have derailed the entire production.
Fortunately, the conceit is brilliant, and the execution is flawless.
We follow James in a life-or-death struggle, literally and figuratively, as he faces the consequences of his choices and the sacrifices required to be the man he’s desperate to be.
Rising to a monumental acting challenge, in which he must carry every scene of an entire film without a single mistake or second take, Raimi delivers a mind-blowing tour-de-force performance.
A believably complex and conflicted character, Raimi’s James is not above dancing with the devil to get what he wants, often embodying the essence of capitalistic greed and corruption. Yet, he still evokes sympathy, pity, and understanding as a man who desperately wants to be better than he is — for himself, his children, his friends, and those who deserve better than the hand they’ve been dealt.
It’s an absolute masterclass in nuanced characterization and tight, well-crafted scripting.
Raimi was given three weeks to learn a script of 90 pages in which he was never absent from the frame. Like the character he plays, the entire weight of the film rests upon the effectiveness of his performance and his ability to emotionally invest viewers in his every move.
Make no mistake; Raimi absolutely nails it, ensuring the exquisitely orchestrated Failure! is anything but.