A naturalistic portrait of a small town life
Synopsis: Amidst the oil and gas crash of 2015, chemical engineer Wendy Fong is new to Paloma North and unsure of the future she worked so hard for. As rumors of layoffs begin to circulate in her small, isolated team, her monotonous routine crumbles, giving way to ambivalence. Long days in the field and long nights alone begin to take their toll. With support, and often-questionable guidance from her coworkers, Wendy must navigate personal ethics and corporate interest within Canada’s most controversial industry. (Indiecan Entertainment)
Starring: Chantelle Han, Duncan Ollerenshaw, and Tina Lameman
Writer: Gillian McKercher
Director: Gillian McKercher
Running Time: 83mins
The first thing that draws our attention in this film is the subject matter: dealing with the struggle to maintain personal ethics and how stretchable our ethics are. In doing so, the film creates a complex portrait of the dilemmas one must face when their personal beliefs are balancing. Not knowing who or when is going to lose their jobs makes the journey of the characters, especially the protagonist, totally relatable. Wendy Fong’s (Han) quest is universal, making the themes of the film connect with the audience really easily.
However, there are two problems that plague the film as it is: the pacing is quite slow, making scenes feel longer than they really are and making the happenings very morose as a result. In a different sense, this would also work in the film’s favor: set in a small town in the middle of nowhere, the slow pacing totally emulates reality in that place, and the sense of naturalism is very strong. The movie runs slowly because life itself there takes its time to unravel. This feeling of naturalism is the strongest aspect of the film, making it feel almost like watching a documentary. We believe the characters and their journey because everything happens so smoothly.
On the other hand, the documentary style and the lack of bigger events or scenes make the proceedings all seem a little bland. The film needed more powerful scenes to makes us connect a bit more with the characters and takes us away from just being quiet observers. The characters are quite enjoyable as they are, but in time we are eager for scenes that shake the characters in a more powerful way, and that never happens.
Luckily, the film has a good hidden quality: Chantalle Han’s performance. She completely understands the tone of the film and she knows exactly what to do with her character. Wendy is going through some stressful times; the possibility of going unemployed is not an easy prospect to anyone. Han never loses her connection to the audience, drawing us into the story. A very commanding performance.
In the end, Circle of Steel is a good film that manages to impact its audience, even with the slow pace. It’s a good, universal story.
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