By Ray Bennett
KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic – Stark and inventive, Ed Gass-Donnelly’s “This Beautiful City” compares and interlinks the lives of a middle-class couple and a pair of down-and-out drug users all suffering from inner-city angst.
Boasting superior performances by a committed cast topped by the exceptional Aaron Poole and Caroline Cave, who won the big prizes at Canada’s ACTRA Awards in February, the film is contrived but powerful. A mood of underlying dread gives each scene extra tension and its gritty portrait of how urban life at all levels can ground people down is striking. It could do well if it’s steered towards audiences that respond to edgy and tough-minded dramas.
It’s not entirely clear what director Gass-Donnelly, who also wrote and edited the picture, has against Toronto specifically. The problem is probably just any big city where gentrification results in strange neighbors and stranger behavior.
Harry (Noam Jenkins) and Carol (Cave) are well off but lead parochial and suffocating lives that leave Carol increasingly frustrated. One evening, standing on a chair on the balcony of their apartment, she loses balance and plunges to the ground many feet below. Ignored by the first people who spot her, druggies Johnny (Poole) and Pretty (Kristin Booth), she is helped by troubled police officer Peter (Stuart Hughes) and rushed to hospital.
Cut to three months later with Carol back on her feet with a bad limp and no happier in her marriage. Peter has been put on medical leave from the police force as he’s distracted by his search for his missing daughter. Johnny is caught up in the murder of a drug dealer while Pretty turns tricks for her latest score and a chance encounter with Harry leads to an odd sort of friendship.
Gass-Donnelly’s script has several surprises in store as the film progresses and while in the end they are not totally unexpected nor entirely convincing, they are gripping. He draws stunning performances from his cast with Poole and Booth going to selfless lengths in portraying desperately lost souls.
Cave delivers a star-making performance as a beautiful and imaginative woman who finds escape from a stultifying life only by putting her life at risk. The anguish in her intelligent eyes caused by competing emotions is rendered subtly but unforgettably.
Venue: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival; Cast: Aaron Poole, Caroline Cave, Kristin Booth, Noam Jenkins, Stuart Hughes; Director and screenwriter: Ed Gass-Donnelly; Producers: Ed Gass-Donnelly, Lee Kim, Aaron Poole; Director of photography: Micha Dahan; Production designer: Rachel Ford; Music: FemBots; Costume designer: Rachel Ford; Editor: Ed Gass-Donnelly; Production: 3-Legged Dog Films; Sales: Seville Pictures; No MPAA rating; running time, 87 mins.
This review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.