The transgressive, gleefully nasty thriller "Terminal" is Margot Robbie's producing and starring follow-up to her Oscar-nominated "I, Tonya," and, in its depraved way, it's every bit as good.
Any film that opens with Robbie sashaying into a confessional, seizing the camera with green eyes radiating pure controlled dementia and saucily announcing, "Forgive me father, for I have sinned" is off to a good start.
The film traffics in outsized crimes, extremely cruel and graphic (if stylized) violence and a serpentine plot as misleading as a three-card monte street hustle. This high-concept head trip directed and written by Vaughn Stein takes us to a film noir Oz seen through a bloody, stylish "Sin City"/"Pulp Fiction" lens. It's all shadowy streets and vibrant skewed neon, a very naughty place just by the look of it.
The images and the mind-set of the movie are both colorful and shadowy. We may not see people under chartreuse lighting in our normal daily lives, but here it works.
The story is set in an English city where life is cheap and there are never police nearby. Most of the action happens around the train station, where men as hard-boiled as six-hour eggs cross paths at the End of the Line Diner where Annie (Robbie) slings hot coffee, hotter attitude and mischievous back talk. Given our earlier introduction, she indisputably has a back story worth investigating.
Her clients are a dicey crew. Simon Pegg is phenomenal as Bill, a cynical English teacher whose late-stage fatal illness makes it pretty hard to threaten him in any way. There's veteran hit man Vince (Dexter Fletcher) and his novice partner Alfred (Max Irons, son of Jeremy). Finally, there's Clinton, the train station's cockney janitor, giving Mike Myers one of those false teeth-elaborate makeup parts he adores. He appears to be a simple fellow devoted to cleaning up messes, but as Robbie's Annie makes clear, in this yarn people doing humble service jobs may have their own agendas.
Vince and Alfred get a new assignment from the mysterious kingpin Mr. Franklyn, provided they can postpone murdering each other before the contract is completed. Exasperated Vince growls about his dangerously naive helper, who has eyes for the sassy Annie.
There is a great deal of trickery, scheming, backstabbing and betrayal among the players, along with the sense that expecting entirely consistent logic would be a waste of time. Repeated references to Alice in Wonderland warn that everyone in the story, including those of us watching it, have fallen down the rabbit hole into a seamless other world whose gritty idiosyncrasies we all must learn as well as we can.
Meanwhile, there will be blood. The plot is an orgy of feral violence, with a wry, mocking surface grimness, just like its B-movie/pulp comic book ancestors. Annie certainly seems as mad as a hatter.
Every moment of "Terminal" engages the eye, and — unexpectedly — the mind. Even the makeup is arresting — the arterial red of Annie's lipstick is hypnotic. Robbie continues to amaze in performance. It's not enough to say she's good. Every expression, each line of dialogue delivered with a killer topspin, says something unexpected, paints a mood or instills a feeling. Her Annie has a nonchalant nihilism that Tarantino would admire.
Robbie, at the peak of her hireability and running her own production company, can do anything she wants. She lights up the screen irrespective of the role. Since Hollywood is afraid to greenlight anything that isn't a known quantity, I'm impressed that she choose this gloriously diabolical con game. It's ambitious, weird, genius-level junk.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186
★★★½ out of 4 stars
Unrated by the MPAA
Theater: AMC Apple Valley 15, iTunes, Amazon and other streaming services