Michael is no comedy, however, and refers to a balding, chubby, nerdy outcast who keeps a 10-year-old captive in his basement. Michael is more than a mere kidnapper: He’s a pedophile. The subject matter alone will keep many from giving the German-language film a try, but his most devilish acts of evil thankfully go unseen.
Debuting director Markus Schleinzer goes for an antiseptic look (Michael is a creature of habit), yet conveys the dirtiest of feelings. As the titular beast, Austrian actor Michael Fuith plays the part so well that you wish to strangle him through the screen, and perhaps too well that he risks being associated with the hateful person he plays.
By contrast, as young prisoner Wolfgang, David Rauchenberger has our deepest sympathies. The kid is so good, so natural, you don’t catch him acting. You can’t wait to see him escape, which Schleinzer shrewdly knows all too well — separating the wheat of Michael from the bow-tied Hollywood chaff.
Silver Tongues, meanwhile, is another story. You can laugh along with it, although it’s likely to disturb as it tickles. In a brilliant feature debut that recalls Neil LaBute, but worth the hype, writer/director Simon Arthur plays viewers like the proverbial fiddles from the opening shot to the final one, surprising them as his leads surprise others.
It’s almost a spoiler to tell you who the leads are because Arthur sets it up to make you think otherwise. But to not reveal that would deprive the actors of the praise they are madly due. Besides, you’ll find out soon enough; being in the first sequence of the film, it’s fair game.
Gerry (Lee Tergesen, a longtime reliable character actor who notably brightened the TV series Oz and Weird Science) and Joan (Enid Graham, Blue Valentine) love one another, but have the strangest effing way of showing it. On their vacation together, they go from one town to another, participating in mind games for their own twisted amusement, at the expense of everyone else.
To watch them at work — and I speak both of Tergesen and Graham, and Gerry and Joan — is a marvel. I won’t reveal the methods to their madness, nor their targets, but just when you ask yourself, “Holy crap, is anything off-limits for these two?,” Arthur shows you — in increasingly anxious situations — that, no, there is not.
Arthur knows he’s testing his audience’s limits, and it is to the betterment of his movie. In an age where script predictability is a given nine-point-seven times out of 10, not knowing just where Gerry and Joan are going — physically or mentally — counts as a real plus. The comedy is as black as the chunk of coal that Krypton’s favorite son squeezed into a diamond in Superman III, and Silver Tongues is that gem hidden inside. —Rod Lott