May 28, 2024

Baltimore 2023 Movie Review

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Baltimore 2023 Movie Review

Based on a true story, they said, based on actual authentic events, but what does any of that matter if the actual story presented on screen doesn’t really resonate clearly or deeply? That’s the frustrating part of “Baltimore,” an intriguing but uneven new period-drama about an heiress turned Marxist revolutionary and radical, written and directed by Christine Molloy & Joe Lawlor, two Irish filmmakers (sometimes known as the creative pair Desperate Optimists) who emigrated from Ireland to England in the fraught and tumultuous 1980s during the Troubles when the IRA continued to mount their violent campaign aimed at ending British rule in Northern Ireland in order to create a united Ireland.

To Molloy and Lawlor, “Baltimore”—about a group of rebels who carried out an armed raid on a cherished Palladian stately house, in which 19 art masterpieces were stolen (including Rubens, Goya, and Vermeer) in an effort to support the IRA’s armed struggle— and its protagonist, Rose Dugdale, a privileged English debutante turned IRA-sympathizing dissident is clearly personal. Yet nothing much about “Baltimore”—which takes its name from the name of the idyllic county village where the revolutionary’s safehouse was kept— feels very personal. In fact, it feels much more abstract and serrated, a barbed portrait of a plot that seems doomed to fail from minute one.

“Baltimore” stars Imogen Poots as Rose Dugdale, the well-to-do inheritrix who rejected her wealth and affluent upbringing in favor of supporting the IRA and its struggle against the English oppressor. The drama jaggedly jumps through time, beginning at the start of the art heist that made Dugdale and her story infamous in the 1970s. But shattering through the narrative at sudden moments, the drama fires back into the past to tell the accumulatively evolving story of how Rose went from a sharp University student who grew politically aware to a committed Marxist and revolutionary, dedicated her life to the cause of Irish liberation through violence and bloodshed.

Co-starring Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (the standout supporting actor by far), Lewis Brophy, Jack Meade, Patrick Martins, and Dermot Crowley, all of these Irish character actors put in consummate work, but this is Poots’ showcase, and thank goodness because the movie, a little too stylish, and emotionally aloof, needs her.

“Baltimore” plays with many contemporary social issues that feel incredibly relevant today: privilege, wealth, class, social inequality, and similar matters of disparity that lead to extremism. Hell, even the “Star Wars” universe is currently telling the story of radicalization in “Andor,” so it’s not like these are obscure or uncommon ideas in 2023.

But the more personal human notions of sympathy, empathy, or hell, even simpler, who to even empathize with, are lost to moody atmosphere and psychology. While inherently political, obviously, Molloy and Lawlor are more interested in the emotional thermosphere of the story, which is one of claustrophobia, guilt, and the crushing inevitability of fate.

Part thriller, part art heist, part moral reckoning (to a degree)—Rose is deeply unwavering, but her haunted dreams tell another story of remorse. While all these genres are fun to play with, “Baltimore” is more a sharp shards-of-glass psychological portrait of a noose slowly coiling around someone’s neck than anything else and arguably even too one-note in that regard. That said, “Baltimore” is more interested in portentous dread and a slow date with death—that Rose seems all too aware of— than it does ideas of shame, moral wrongdoing, or even politics, class, or the social issues it professes to concern itself with. Looming threat and anxiety is where the film places its premium.

Easily the most striking element of “Baltimore” is the operatically doom and gloom score from Irish composer Stephen McKeon (“Black Mirror,” “Evil Dead Rise”); a chilling and unnerving clattering of percussion and sudden drum thwacks, atonal strings, and ominous horns as if he were composing for an eerie Stanley Kubrick that’s not quite horror, but still disturbing af.

Sadly, these elements tend to shortchange the rest of the movie, and nothing in “Baltimore,” other than Imogen Poots’ valiant efforts, matches the enthralling witchcraft of McKeon’s musical spells.

Poots is riveting as a revolutionary, and the drama knows how to pitch the escalation of intensity, but “Baltimore” and its sense of guilt and conscience is too obscure to affect the average viewer. Poots’ Rose really doesn’t care about the innocents she’s hurt, the patriarchy she’s dedicated her life to smashing, the crimes she’s committed, or anyone injured in the process. Her real dilemma is her central paradox, grappling with her innate appreciation and love for the beauty of the art that comes from a world she loathes and wants to destroy and tear down. As she wrestles with the chaos she has unleashed, pining for the escape and haven of Baltimore, knowing self-destruction is around the corner, “Baltimore” is an artful look at actions and consequences, but still ambiguous enough to feel distant and detached nonetheless.

Baltimore 2023 Movie Review