Always an adventurer, Willem Dafoe defies the odds once again with another exceptionally, entertaining and elevated performance. Abel Ferrara’s ferocious semi-autobiographical “Tommaso” is a meticulously mesmerizing performance of a tortured soul.
Filmmaker Tommaso (Willem Dafoe) is an American expat living in Rome with his young wife Nikki (Cristina Chiriac) and daughter Deedee (Anna Ferrara). As he prepares for his next project, Tommaso tussles with past misgivings and overcoming obstacles as a recovering addict. Despite defeating his heroin and crack addiction, can Tommaso turn his life around completely and be a true family man putting his bad boy ways to bed?
Don’t dismiss Dafoe. Constantly challenging himself, Willem Dafoe delivers another charming character piece by reuniting with one of his favorite filmmakers Abel Ferrara. The thinly guised, semi-autobiographical drama is their 5th collaboration (the upcoming “Siberia” will be their 6th). Great collaborators complement one another and bring the best out in each other. Without a doubt, “Tommaso” terrifically translates from the script to screen showcasing why Willem Dafoe is a generation-defining performer. Dafoe definitely makes the uncomfortable, comfortable allowing awesome characters to continuously emerge naturally with “Tommaso” being the latest addition. Dafoe has a way to genuinely generate a warm, fuzzy feeling for fantastic characters and does it so seamlessly. This performance should be the feather in his cap and finally reward him for decades of hard work.
His eclectic roles have allowed Dafoe to approach each character honestly without hesitation. There’s no routine or reluctance, but actual acceptance to inhabit each eccentric character wholeheartedly. Unlike most mainstream entertainers, Dafoe defiantly refuses a restless nature and asserts a remarkable rhythm regardless of screen time. As the titular “Tommaso,” Dafoe delivers an interesting insight and incredible performance portraying his friend/frequent collaborator Ferrara. Dafoe disappears into the material and terrifically transforms before the viewer’s eyes with Ferrara’s most personal film.
Although best known for controversial content, Abel Ferrara has grown up much like Dafoe’s vessel in this movie. “Tommaso” portrays an honest character study about addressing anxiety and guilt with trying to conquer past demons. Fatherhood found Ferrara and instead of desperate despair, viewers can appreciate the entertaining and endearing “Tommaso” of what the filmmaker has learned. It’s an interesting, intimate story of reconciling your past and learning from your mistakes. It’s a sublime self-portrait brought to life by a headlining and award-worthy performance by Willem Dafoe.
“Tommaso” might have been a micro-budget , free-form film, but the loose nature creates an almost vignette like quality. It takes the best bittersweet moments from “Birdman” of self-realization and assessing your past transgressions with a hint of Werner Herzog meets classic European cinema. The film frequently references an unsuccessful attempt of a sequel to “La Dolce Vita,” something Ferrara has frequently referenced over the years in interviews, however the movie is like a hybrid of “8 ½ “ and “Bad Lieutenant.” Willem Dafoe beautifully brings to life a reformed bad boy reflecting on his reckless lifestyle and coping with past decisions. Despite being a melancholic movie and possibly incoherent at times, the documentary-like atmosphere enhances this unflinching, unforgiving story about a tormented artist. This soul-searching exercise is perfect for cinephiles and lovers of European cinema. “Tommaso” combines cult classic with a twist of Fellini, Rossellini and Bresson with Willem Dafoe delivering one of the year’s best performances. For some it might be indulgent and pretentious, but it’s truly a masterpiece with an unbelievable character study showcasing Willem Dafoe at his best.
3 ½ out of 4 stars
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