Timothée Chalamet’s rise has been strong and steady with films like art-house dramedy “Lady Bird,” addiction drama “Beautiful Boy” and same-sex love story “Call Me By Your Name,” for which he was nominated for an Oscar. Chalamet’s also appearing opposite Frances McDormand and Adrien Brody in Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” this fall.
So, it’s no surprise that this young powerhouse was chosen to play royal-turned-messiah Paul Atreides in the latest remake of “Dune.”
In it, tensions rise when planet Arrakis shifts power from beastly Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) to righteous Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac).
Despite efforts by Leto’s advisers Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) and Gurney (Josh Brolin), Paul (Chalamet) and his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) are forced to survive the desert’s unforgiving heat and deadly sandworms while trying to reach the planet’s native inhabitants for aid. All the while, Paul is beleaguered by visions of his future with a mysterious woman, played by Zendaya.
This reimagining feels squarely made for those already entrenched in the mythology.
Based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, the screenplay by Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth lacks depth and character development.
With little screen time, supporting players feel wasted and as if their likeability must be informed by previous roles or cursory banter. (“Did you put on muscles?” Psych!)
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It was difficult for this “Dune”-newbie to feel grounded in this galaxy.
For the first hour-plus, director Villeneuve (“Blade Runner: 2049”) delivers bloated and brimming landscapes with a wailing and rattling score by Hans Zimmer, which at times drowned out dialogue. It felt like sensory and narrative exposition overload.
Around the halfway mark, Villeneuve focuses on the movements of Paul and Jessica, allowing his lens to move to refreshing and intimate close-ups, and the story a linear shift.
Chalamet does it all — a commanding intensity, paralyzed with fear and boyish charm when he meets Chani at last. As Paul and Jessica wait it out in a buried tent, he owns the far-off look of a tortured soul, disgusted and horrified by his premonition, saliva bubbling on his bottom lip.
He soon moves from rage and whimper, and to see this character evolve through Chalamet’s interpretation will be something to behold in Part Two.
Ferguson’s Lady Jessica has a larger role than in David Lynch’s 1984 remake or the 2000 miniseries — and well worth it.
Ferguson is expansive as a remarkable Bene Gesserit sister, fluent in many languages and capable of hand-to-hand combat and mind-reading.
Sharon Duncan-Brewster is steadfast and sympathetic in the previously male role of Dr. Liet Kynes; Javier Bardem is mysterious and encapsulating as Fremen leader Stilgar; and Zendaya’s Chani is pragmatic, righteous and principled.
“Dune” is showing in theaters and on HBO Max. After experiencing both, the latter may serve you if you’re new to this universe. ’Tis a dense, dense world of Frank Herbert, and subtitles help.
This one is worth it for what we’re able to see of the performances, the stark parallels to today and to watch a promising Chalamet further ascend in the craft.
“Dune was written 60 years ago, but its themes hold up today,” Chalamet said in a Time interview. “A warning against the exploitation of the environment, a warning against colonialism, a warning against technology.”
Well said, sir.
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth, Frank Herbert (1965 novel)
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing images and suggestive material
Now showing: Duluth Cinema, Lakes Cinema, Premiere
Melinda Lavine is a features reporter and movie reviewer for the News Tribune. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.