"You won't fool the children of the revolution." -- T-Rex
Yeah, but what if the children of the revolution are fooling themselves? That's the central question of Reg Harkema's prickly, perverse and poverty-riddled new comedy Monkey Warfare -- a comedy that, bizarrely, has more in it to talk about than 90% of most dramas. In Toronto, Dan (Don McKellar) and his life-partner-in-crime Linda (Tracy Wright) make something like a living thanks to careful scavenging from other people's refuse and long-term rent control. Dan and Linda are living outside society -- yet still in the heart of it in downtown Toronto - because they have to: Years ago, as part of an act of protest, they severely burnt a security guard. Dan and Linda's relationship used to burn with revolutionary fervor, but now it's just embers -- they're tired, of life on the run and with each other. Their biggest solace, social crutch and anesthesia is weed -- and their supply dries up without much warning.
Chance has Dan meet Susan (Nadia Litz), and her youth and idealism appeals to Dan's jaded sensibilities -- as well as the fact that she's a smoking hottie with access to marijuana. Liz is distrustful of Susan and Dan's friendship for a number of reasons -- what if Susan's a cop? -- but Dan's not worried: "She's not that kind of heat." Dan shows Susan how he lives -- scrounging thrift stores for hidden treasures, jacking restorable furniture from the streetside when it's abandoned -- and she asks him about what it was like to be a real revolutionary. As Dan and Linda's neighborhood starts gentrifying, Susan begins acting on the principles Dan and Linda articulate -- with extreme methods, and extreme results.
Harkema captures the look and feel of shabby bohemia; Monkey Warfare's Toronto is a city with sirens constantly in the background, as if society's constant battle against chaos were being fought -- and being lost -- all around. But Monkey Warfare isn't just a high-minded examination of radical ideas and actions; it's also funny as hell. McKellar's got a near-perfect deadpan, and Wright portrays Linda's mix of apathy and paranoia (both political and personal, as Susan spends more and more time with Dan) with razor-sharp acuity. And Litz not only turns a role that could have been a shallow symbol into a mix of enigma and allure, but delivers a few nice laugh lines as well, even as her role deepens and darkens. Harkema's direction is also excellent -- Harkema knows when to let a scene breathe, even within Monkey Warfare's short, sharp running time; he also knows how to capture a moment of pure visual imagery, as in Dan and Susan's stoned, sun-splashed bicycle ride through Toronto's streets.
Monkey Warfare would actually make a great double-bill with Fight Club -- another tale of urban discontents and rebels who've lost sight of what they were rebelling against, where radicalism turns and poisons itself. Monkey Warfare may be great entertainment -- from the lemon-bitter laughs to the ace soundtrack -- but it's also thought-provoking; stick around after the credits for a (literally) incendiary and perversely instructive vignette that unfolds after the film. Monkey Warfare doesn't close with every question answered and every lesson learned; it leaves you stumbling back into the world as unsettled, unfixed, uncertain as Dan, Linda and Nancy are by the film's end. That's a rare pleasure, and one Monkey Warfare delivers without flinching.