Year:  2023

Director:  Joseph Schuman & Austin Stark

Rated:  TBC

Release:  April 11-21

Distributor: Inner West Film Fest

Running time: 98 minutes

Worth: $18.50
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Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Magnusson, Sarah Gadon, Fisher Stevens

...truly affecting and thought provoking.

American independent cinema has an exciting new dual voice in Joseph Schuman & Austin Stark, whose first collaboration is the exhilarating satire Coup!, a scathing, no-holds-barred take-down of both the madness that surged out of the Covid pandemic, and the societal structures that allowed it to rage out of control. Prior to this cracking work, prolific indie producer Austin Stark had two uneven but highly topical directorial efforts to his credit in 2015’s The Runner and 2021’s The God Committee. His vision appears to have crystalised in his partnership with Joseph Schuman, who has his first credit here. Coup! is wonderfully assured in its boldness and swagger, and has the feel of far more seasoned and experienced filmmakers, reverberating with the echoes of everyone from Joseph Losey to Paul Thomas Anderson.

It’s 1918 and The Spanish Flu has its fevered, crippling hooks buried in the tender underside of American society. From a safe distance isolating on his island country estate, rabble rousing journalist J.C Horton (the consistently fascinating Billy Magnusson, who throws himself into the role with brave abandon) hurls literary bombs at President Wilson for his mishandling of the pandemic, and raves passionately on behalf of the working class. Horton, however, is a complete fraud, claiming to be there on the streets in the thick of the conflict when he couldn’t be any further away from it. For the pompous, narcissistic, and utterly phony J.C Horton, a reckoning arrives in the form of an itinerant gypsy-hobo (Peter Sarsgaard rips into his juiciest role in years with visible relish) masquerading as his new chef. A wily, crafty and charismatic schemer, this strangely spellbinding man will soon upend the class system on this country estate.

Despite its economic running time, Coup! is jammed tight with ideas, and wonderfully rich, baroque, highly symbolic imagery. Recalling the Jospeh Losey/Harold Pinter classic The Servant, this darkly comic tale sees Sarsgaard’s intruder slowly usurp all of idiotic Horton’s power, first turning his staff against him, and then his own wife (the excellent Sarah Gadon) until he is left a buffoon. All of this plays out against a disturbingly familiar picture of a society reverting to stupidity and corruption while forces from outside stir up rancour with no real eye to the consequences. Though an embittered blast against the entrenched have-and-have-nots societal structure that really flourished during Covid, Coup! is a lot more than that, positing real, flesh-and-blood characters within its satirical tableaux, and stoking up something truly affecting and thought provoking in the process. As blackly funny as it is emotionally rending, Coup! is a masterclass in shrewd, savvy, topical cinema.

Coup! screens at The Inner West Film Fest on Saturday, April 20 at 8:00pm at Palace Norton Street. Click here for all information and to buy tickets.