Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Well that was mighty unpleasant. This isn’t to say that young director Ed Gass-Donnelly’s film ‘This Beautiful City’, which is an examination of a section of his home town of Toronto Canada is a bad film, just not the film to watch if you’re trying to find your happy space or are looking for some reason not to kill yourself. Damn.

Carol (Caroline Cave) and Harry (Noam Jenkins) are couple of upscale urbanites living in a high rise city condo and are entertaining friends during a dinner party when we first meet them. We can see almost immediately that Harry is bit insensitive towards his wife, taking little jabs at her as she doesn’t seem to be quite as sophisticated as Harry and his people. Existing directly below our urbanites in the ‘real world’ is strung out street pimp Johnny (Aaron Poole) and his girlfriend / junkie / prostitute Pretty (Kristin Booth) as their lives are a never ending battle with Pretty doing whatever she can do to get that next hit, and Johnny doing his damndest to try to stay clean, try to get his girl clean, and maintain his rather tenuous grip on his sanity. Also of interest in our film is Peter (Stuart Hughes), a troubled police detective who spends much more time searching for his wayward daughter and getting into the business of other people which has nothing to do with him than actually doing any actual police work.

Incredibly depressed, Carol finds some solace in sneaking a smoke from a pack of cigs hidden high in a flower pot outside on her balcony. Now either she slipped or she was trying to end it all, but Carol plummets to the ground right in front of Johnny and Pretty who quickly make haste, but fortunately Peter was there and he was able to call for help as Carol’s fall was fortuitously broken somewhat by some wayward garbage bags.

We pick up our story some three months later where Carol has recovered from her fall, albeit with the added addition of a noticeable limp, while she and her husband Harry are as miserable as ever. Peter the cop has been temporarily relived of duty,

because quite honestly he’s probably the worst cop ever, but he has managed to get into a torrid sexual affair with the miserable Carol. Johnny is quickly losing his slim grip on reality as he is tripping pretty badly after witnessing the murder of a drug dealer and then being forced to take out the killer of said drug dealer to save his own life. Pretty’s drug addition has worsened, as if that were possible, but she has made the acquaintance of the miserable Harry who for whatever reason has taken it upon himself to elevate and ‘save’ the drug addicted whore, though Pretty doesn’t seem all that interested in being saved. The intersecting lives of our characters will get even closer as we witness first hand the self destruction of lives in a city that is anything but beautiful.

I kid you not when I tell you that ‘This Beautiful City’ is about as nihilistic, depressing and as sad as a film that I have ever seen. But it is effective and starkly precise in its presentation of the lives of these incredibly miserable people. Considering that Ed Gass-Donnelly wrote, directed and edited this film, I have no doubt that we saw the vision on screen that the director saw through his own eyes in crafting his movie. The film is highlighted by a string of raw, tough and unapologetic performances from its cast which absolutely carry the film. I’ve seen actress Kristin Booth in quite a few things, mostly light, fluffy stuff which tends to take advantage of her fresh and youthful looking demeanor, but girlfriend went deep for this one bringing an all new meaning to the term ‘crack ho’. Equally as effective was Aaron Poole’s performance as Johnny who brought a live wire intensity to his character, and though slight in build, he completely absorbed the screen while he was on it. In an ensemble character piece such as this one, it’s rare to have all the characters seem real and authentic, but none more so than Caroline Cave’s turn as the depressed woman who brought an incredibly sad humanity and joylessness to a character who you would think could find some palatable joy somewhere in her somewhat idyllic life. Again, efficient and effective. This also applies to the Gass-Donnelly’s directing style which unsurprisingly is tight and effective as he simply seems to step out of the way and allows this talented group actors to tell his rather depressing story.

The conclusion of the film probably got a bit too fantastic in the way all of the various elements of the characters came together, though not so much so that it veered off the course of what the movie was about, but it did seem the director was striving to make his conclusion as depressing as the rest the movie was and went out of his to make this happen.

So if you’re looking for a reason to justify why we’re on this rock, then please don’t stop here. But if you’re for an effective piece of filmmaking by a talented filmmaker guiding a talented cast through arguably the worlds most depressing film, then by all means watch ‘This Beautiful City’. Damn.

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