The Ain’t Rights, a punk band from D.C., are doing an unceremonious tour of the Pacific Northwest in their ramshackle van. The hard-luck quartet – Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) – find themselves playing sparsely populated gigs that net them a paltry $6 a man and are reduced to syphoning off gas to remain on the road. After a mohawked college DJ (David W. Thompson) takes pity on them, he sets them up with a gig just outside of Portland that he promises will pay a decent wage. The catch: the venue is a skinhead bar located deep in the woods. But a gig’s a gig, and the Ain’t Rights aren’t in a position to be choosy.
Green Room never really builds much in the way of characterization for any of the bandmates (Reece being something of a hothead is the closest we get), but their situation is nuanced to an almost painful degree. The filthy van, the scuzbucket clubs, the seedy patrons and the overall ignominy inherent to the touring process of a punk band struggling to build a name, all of it has a lived-in feel of authenticity. In these early scenes, the film paints a fascinatingly wart-covered portrait of life on the road. The Ain’t Rights have to be soldiering on for love of their craft because there don’t appear to be any other perks in the offing.
However, Green Room’s ultimate aim isn’t to explore the lowly path punk bands must tread. Once the Ain’t Rights arrive at the club in the woods and perform their set (opening bravely, if foolishly, with a cover of Dead Kennedys’ "Nazi Punks, F**k Off," which goes over with the crowd about as well as one might expect), Green Room quickly segues into a siege thriller. Pat returns to the green room to retrieve Sam’s phone and witnesses the immediate aftermath of a murder, with a young woman lying dead on the ground with a knife in her head and her friend Amber (Imogen Poots) sobbing helplessly on the sidelines. The band is locked inside the green room at gunpoint while the bouncer Gabe (Macon Blair) contacts the club’s owner, Darcy (Patrick Stewart), to get a handle on the situation. Soon, the band manages to overpower their captor and use the green room as a stronghold away from Darcy’s encroaching red-laced acolytes.
From there, Green Room remains commendably tense for the duration of its running time. The Ain’t Rights and Amber have to struggle to figure out how to survive while Darcy and his men attempt to keep the situation contained. As the band members slip in and out of the green room in a series of escape attempts, the film is often unbearably nerve-wracking. Most interesting is the film’s brutality. The wounds sustained on both sides are sickeningly graphic, and the film freely kills off major characters in joltingly cavalier ways. Green Room is at its best when it’s at its nastiest.
The drawback is that the film is often very confusing, both in its staging and in the actions of its characters. The geography of the club outside of the green room is never neatly laid out, and our heroes frequently seem to have too much of a run of the place. If Darcy had simply left armed guards in the hallway outside of the green room, the situation would be resolved in his favor instantly, yet he and his men base themselves outside the building for the duration of the film, sending pit bulls inside at regular intervals. Darcy’s planning and the Ain’t Rights’ seat-of-the-pants improvising often don’t make a great deal of sense. Near the end of the film, for instance, our surviving heroes hatch a plot involving head-shaving and face paint that never makes much sense as depicted. Also, when the internal schism among the skinheads (most of which, save for Darcy, have hair) that led to the initial murder is revealed, it arrives with a half-hearted shrug.
Stewart is the big draw here, playing far against type as a villainous white supremacist, and he brings his usual gravitas to the role. Yet aside from one tossed-off epithet, Stewart never really embraces the role the way you want him to. Darcy never seems nearly as venal and frightening as he should. Stewart doesn’t allow himself to get ugly enough to really set the character apart from his house style. He remains stately and dignified in a role that really doesn’t require those qualities. He plays it safe, leaving you wishing Ben Kingsley had been deployed here in Sexy Beast mode.
Yelchin does fine work as a soft-spoken sort forced to toughen up fast, but if there is a standout in Green Room, it’s probably Poots’ Amber. Coming from a much rougher background than the band, she is the only one with a genuine tough side on display, and winds up becoming the quick-witted, merciless brains of the group. Poots infuses the role with a worldliness and intelligence that marks her as an intimidating force in spite of her size. She’s not in a punk-rock band, yet she’s the only person around who seems in any way punk-rock.
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