After the pseudo rom-com mainstream outing of Ruby Sparks and the sci-fi Looper, Paul Dano retreats to character-driven downer with Korean director So Yong Kim's first US film.
Dano plays Joby Taylor, a once on-the-brink-of-stardom rocker whose band has regressed; the new album, the one to break them, isn't cutting the mustard and he knows it. However, he's got more on his plate - he's in Minnesota (?) to sign divorce papers; his wife (an unrecognisable Margarita Levieva from TV's Revenge) won't talk to him, preferring instead to let his lawyer iron out the details. Joby is prepared to sign until said lawyer, Jon Heder, points out that he's signing away any and all rights to his daughter, Ellen (Mandigo), whom he's never met.
So Yong Kim's quiet Treeless Mountain was more of the same - a series of tender, intimate moments that build to a subtle resolution. The writer-director isn't one for grand gestures and 'movie scenes': one of the best scenes here is when Joby follows Ellen around the toy shop for her to pick out a doll. Without saying a word it shows the gulf between these two strangers - he does his best to keep his frustration in check when every toy looks the same to him but of course there are vast differences. It's one of the rare scenes that is shot from a wide angle as most scene are in close up, hemming Joby in and cutting him off.
For Ellen takes its time getting going with the action centring on Joby drinking, playing guitar in his hotel room, driving around the frozen landscape and smoking. It's only when Heder drops the bomb that Ellen will be non-contactable that the film, and Joby, clicks into gear. It then becomes a touching drama with some power.
Once again Dano is magnetic - he's all hunched shoulders and fringe and fingerless gloves. Though believable when awkward and frustrated, Dano struggles to convince when asked to be the rock star; his dancing to a Hair Band in the bar room fails to persuade the audience that he actually likes the music he bops too.