Rob Connolly pushed his stars hard and they liked it

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Edge of Winter
Opens August 19

The gods were smiling on director Rob Connolly when he was casting his first feature-length film, Edge of Winter. He signed Joel Kinnaman a week before he was chosen as Tom Hardy’s replacement in Suicide Squad. The film’s second lead, The Impossible’s Tom Holland, auditioned to become the next Spider-Man while making Connolly’s movie. He got the part.

Thanks to these serendipitous circumstances, the Canadian thriller has a higher profile than originally expected. Not that Edge of Winter isn’t up to it: basically a two-hander, the movie pits an abrasive, crumbling father (Kinnaman) against his bookish son (Holland) in an unforgiving environment (Sudbury, Ontario). The setting may sound familiar — see review — but the film has a couple of tricks up its sleeve.

While it’s his first time in the director’s chair, Connolly has had a long career behind the camera, notably as operator for Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse, the short that inspired This Is the End. It’s no surprise, then, that Edge of Winter has the looks to go with an engaging plot.

Shooting an outdoor movie in the middle of winter couldn’t possibly have been easy.

It definitely wasn’t. We knew we needed extreme weather and a location that appeared remote, which is really tricky when you’re dealing with a large film crew. We were looking for a place without any sign of civilization, but that would allow the presence of large trucks and heavy equipment. In preproduction, we were dealing with temperatures of 40 to 50 below zero, and then suddenly it began to get warmer. Some days we had to bring dump trunks with snow and shovel it around so the shots would match. It’s something you can’t plan for.

On the plus side, you got some striking visuals.

We were chasing a landscape that could support different points of view. Elliot (the Joel Kinnaman role) sees the remoteness as beautiful and alluring, while the boys perceive it as an immediate threat. It was important for me to establish that Elliot wasn’t an evil guy or out to hurt someone, but increasingly desperate. While we planted the seeds of Elliot’s transformation, he had to remain watchable — sympathetic and terrifying at the same time.

Kinnaman has done some superb work in his native Sweden, but outside The Killing he hasn’t been as challenged as an actor in North America.

He’s a classically-trained actor and was excited to sink his teeth into a complex character. Elliot wants to be a good dad, but doesn’t know what that means. He follows tropes like taking the kids hunting because he doesn’t have the innate ability to be a loving, warm father.

Watching the film, I couldn’t help thinking “this guy is probably a Trump voter.”

Exactly. He doesn’t have a filter or the ability to reign himself in. He lashes out quickly and you never know what’s going to set him off.

What are the mechanics of shooting someone going through a sheet of ice?

When I first met with Joel, he said to me “if I do this, I’m going in the water.” He followed through. Of course Tom wasn’t going to be left out, so he did it too. We put a cage underneath the water for them to fall into. They were wearing wetsuits and we had a tent with a hot tub to rush them into. Unfortunately, it was so cold they ended up jumping into water just slightly warmer than the one they were into. They didn’t complain.

What would you have done differently with a bigger budget?

Get more days to shoot. The Revenant was filming at the same time, and they were able to postpone shooting until the weather suited their needs and relocate if things got rough. That’s a major luxury we weren’t afforded. In low-budget indie filmmaking, you have to play with the hand you’re dealt. It’s a problem-solving game.

Father Knows Threats

Edge of Winter
Opens August 19
3 out of 5

Tell me if you’ve heard this one: A father with something to prove takes his two kids deep into the woods in the middle of winter. The adventure takes several dark turns and soon they find themselves fighting for their lives. But the family unit is powerful, overcomes the challenges and comes out stronger, wiser and closer than ever.

This is not that kind of movie.

An indie Canadian film with more star power than many studio efforts, Edge of Winter brings together Marvel and DC cinematic universe players Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flag) and Tom Holland (Spider-Man). Both actors are challenged beyond their comfort zones and come out on top, even when the material falters.

By relying on an established blueprint, writer-director Rob Connolly gets to focus on character development. The father in this scenario, Elliot (Kinnaman), is a hothead lumberjack, divorced and emasculated. His inability to keep a job has cost him a relationship with his older son, Bradley (Holland). The younger kid, Caleb (Percy Hynes White), still craves his attention and is all too willing to go along with dad’s stupid ideas.

While things are tense, Bradley hasn’t entirely written off his father, even as his overcompensation goes array. Alas, the revelation that the kids will be moving to London exposes a whole new layer of volatility in Elliot, who sees them as his only shot at redemption. It’s up to the boys to decide if their dad has his best interest at heart.

The film does a fairly good job ramping up the tension but as good as Kinnaman is, the movie asks too much from the actor without enough support from the script, particularly as his mind begins to slip. Far more interesting are the kids, torn between loyalty and self-preservation.

Edge of Winter isn’t as tight as it could’ve been and the end borders on campy, but it’s a solid debut for Rob Connolly, a filmmaker with an ear for dialogue and a knack for subverting expectations. /by Jorge Ignacio Castillo