An actress of great emotional depth and tremendous skill – over the past twenty years, Patricia Clarkson has honed her skills as a humanistic mathematician.
As such, she's made a career out of transforming even the most blandly underwritten one-dimensional characters on the page into fully realized three-dimensional individuals on the screen.
And given her propensity for navigating the rough terrain of heartbreak and misfortune as well as her innate understanding of the inner workings of the women she brings to life, we often see Clarkson in the role of head matriarch as the figurative captain of a ship she's trying to get back on course following a tragedy.
She does this once again in IFC's October Gale, which marks her second collaboration with her Cairo Time writer-director Ruba Nadda.
Therefore it's only fitting that the role of Helen, a recently widowed physician still mourning the death of her beloved husband, seems tailor-made for the star.
Yet by giving Clarkson her long awaited opportunity to play an ordinary woman turned action hero –due to extraordinary circumstances – Nadda raised the stakes for the actress and Gale to levels reminiscent of The River Wild and Dead Calm.
And once the plot starts to build after a clumsily edited, slow-moving, flashback soaked first act, the result is a mostly successful character driven thriller.
Set on a Canadian island, Gale finds the mild-mannered Helen fighting for her life after giving emergency first aid to a gunshot victim embodied by Scott Speedman's handsome stranger.
Soon stranded at the cabin by someone she thought she knew, when the man who shot Speedman's Will comes back to finish the job, Helen is forced to confront not only the harsh elements of the Canadian wild but also question just who exactly she can trust.
Although the pace quickens along with the peril, the overwhelming amount of bittersweet flashbacks (showcasing Helen and her husband in happier times) threatens to ground Gale to a halt before it even gets going.
Making the first half feel nearly twice as long– along with a sharper edit and tighter script, October Gale would've benefitted from a dual plotline – building greater momentum by introducing Will's storyline earlier on given both its complexity as well as the undeniably riveting nature of his character's own flashbacks.
Admittedly skirting the edges of romantic storytelling stereotypes and pushing the limits of logic a few times as Speedman's sensitive, classic literature loving "bad boy" Will goes from at-risk to Action Jackson a bit too quickly, the shortcomings in Nadda's ambitious Gothic tinged thriller are easily forgiven due to its overall genre novelty.
Buoyed by its core ensemble cast including a brief but effective cameo late in the film from Tim Roth, Gale is a flawed yet worthwhile work of moody Saturday night movie suspense that celebrates brains over brawn in its penultimate sequence.
A real world thriller anchored by a real woman instead of a Lara Croft or Wonder Woman type, the vital message of self-reliance, independence, and empowerment at any age provides this action movie with a role worthy of Clarkson, who visibly relishes showing us the kickass side of her usual melodrama-prone matriarch.
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