'Loving Vincent' film review: A bold, eye-popping tribute to the Dutch master
Bold and visually stunning, the animated masterpiece "Loving Vincent" (now playing in select cities) is a breathtaking and audacious impressionistic tribute to the famed Dutch artist.
In short: One year after Vincent van Gogh's suicide, a young man (Douglas Booth) is sent to deliver the famous painter's final letter. Along the way, the man learns of van Gogh's life as a painter - and he investigates the famous artist's last days. Eleanor Tomlinson ("Poldark"), Chris O'Dowd, Helen McCrory, Jerome Flynn ("Game of Thrones") and Saoirse Ronan ("Lady Bird") also star.
This is the handcrafted spectacle of animation is a eulogy worthy of Vincent van Gogh. The sheer conceit of this film's ambition is itself bold and amazing - more than 100 artists created the world's first hand-painted animated feature. Unlike most animated films, every frame is filled with breathtaking oil painting precision. Every frame feels alive. It's impossible not to be awestruck by the sheer audacity of this cinematic marvel or its breathtaking execution.
"Vincent" achieves a dreamlike quality with a grounded humanity by combining its meticulously hand-painted animated frames with rotoscoped footage. The filmmakers actually filmed its cast performing the scenes, then had an army of artists painstakingly oil paint each frame. This imparts a genuine, nuanced humanity to an visually distinctive world - human performances imbued with an abstract aesthetic. Stylized in van Gogh's techniques, every frame is reminiscent of his works, as if they were painted by his own hand.
For all its astonishing technical merits, "Vincent" leans a bit heavily on its animation feats while its winding story is thin. What begins as a simple mission to deliver a letter becomes a crime drama/biographical hybrid. In trying to accomplish two distinctly different narrative goals at the same time - celebrate the painter while trying to solve the mysteries of his death - "Vincent" divides its focus. The film offers an impression of van Gogh from afar, through the villagers who knew him best in his final years. Upon realizing several characters in the film are based on real life people van Gogh painted in portraits, it becomes slightly disappointing the film opted to shoehorn in tertiary supporting characters not to advance the story, but just to pack the cast of characters with portrait subjects. For a painter famed for his self portraits, "Vincent" only offers a vague, brooding and troubled characterization of its subject. The film's investigation into van Gogh's final days ends with an anticlimactic resolution, one that leaves leaves an underwhelming aftertaste.
Final verdict: The feat of simply realizing a fully hand painted animated feature film is itself extraordinary - the fact that it brilliantly pays tribute to its subject just makes "Loving Vincent" all the more extraordinary. While the narrative isn't entirely compelling, this animation masterstroke is a feast for the eyes.
"Loving Vincent" is now playing in select cities. This crime drama is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violence, sexual material and smoking and has a running time of 94 minutes.