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SIFF 2024 Review: Scorched Earth Is a Slow Burn

Posted by May 16th, 2024 No Comments »

Scorched Earth (2024) 
Directed by Thomas Arslan 
Starring Mišel Matičević, Marie Leuenberger, Alexander Fehling, Tim Seyfi and Bilge Bingül

Sometimes a title says it all. Wedding Crashers, A Bridge Over the River Kwai, The Godfather, you get the drift. Then there are titles that intrigue: Chinatown, The Third Man

The title for Thomas Arslan’s Scorched Earth is certainly intriguing, but it’s also like the film: unexpected.

When a burglar who’s hard up for work returns to Berlin, he’s invited to partake in an art heist with a big payoff.

I love the casting in this film. Mišel Matičević as the lead, Trojan, is perfect. He is cool, calm, and quiet; one of those tight-lipped, to-the-point types who’s seen enough to know when to keep his mouth shut. I was immediately rooting for him. Can’t say I’m familiar with Mišel’s other work, but his likeability as Trojan felt crucial for the story’s success. Same is true of the villain, Victor (played by Alexander Fehling), but it wasn’t his likeability that was crucial.

Scorched Earth feels like an updated Jean-Pierre Melville thriller. Renowned for his minimalist and suspenseful storytelling, Melville’s influence is all over Scorched Earth. Mišel, the lead actor, exhibits a laconic style reminiscent of Alain Delon’s portrayal in Le Samourai, a classic film about a stoic hitman navigating the criminal underworld. I’m also reminded of Melville’s Army of Shadows, a gripping tale of the French Resistance during World War II. Please. If you haven’t seen Army of Shadows, make it the next addition to your must-see list.

The pacing of this film is also unexpected. With a title like Scorched Earth, most viewers would likely assume something similar to The Bourne Identity. Thankfully, it’s not. Instead, I would describe Scorched Earth as methodical. It is a slow burn, but the conflagration that unfolds is beautiful to watch.

Another compelling aspect of this film is its authenticity. The planning, the heist, the shakedowns and shootouts, they all have a humility to them. They feel down to earth. No spectacle needed. No John Wicking it in Scorched Earth. The story is tense enough as is. Hats off to Thomas Arlan for crafting such a gripping thriller without the flash. Again, this film feels like a Melville remake, but in those films, Alain Delon had a superhuman quality. Nothing in Scorched Earth is super. It’s simply superb.

I really enjoyed this film. Any fan of Le Samoruai and Jean-Pierre Melville should check out Scorched Earth. The title suggests an all out war. The film, however, is high stakes without being over the top. So, if you like a crime thriller but thought John Wick and Ocean’s Eleven were gaudy, Scorched Earth will be right up your alley.

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