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Sundance Review: ‘Incendiary’ Showcases the Very Talented Michelle Williams

It may not be the most entertaining film to come out of Sundance this year, but it certainly packs a punch.
By  · Published on January 21st, 2008

For some reason, when I think of actress Michelle Williams I don’t always think of the word “sexy”. I do however, think of the fact that she has held down some pretty stellar roles and delivered great performances time and time again. Hell, she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Brokeback Mountain. But despite the acclaim, I still always think of her as a very good actress who has always played very plain and somewhat unsexy characters.

In Incendiary, Williams gets to bring a little bit of the sexy and deliver a very powerful performance all in one shot. Written and directed by Sharon Maguire (Bridget Jones’ Diary) and based on the book by Chris Cleave, Incendiary tells the story of an adulterous woman whose life is absolutely torn to shreds when a terrorist attack on a London soccer game takes the life of her husband and 4 year old son. As the young mother, Michelle Williams gives a performance that is nothing short of award worthy.

It begins with her as a content, yet somewhat bored housewife who gets into an affair with her wildboy reporter neighbor (Ewan McGregor). In a somewhat surreal scene that begins as one of the hottest sex scenes I’ve seen in a while, the two adulterers are having at it while watching the soccer game. Then, all of the sudden, the stadium is attacked by a suicide bomber and all hell breaks loose. From there, we are witness to the deterioration of this woman’s life, falling hard as she is forced to cope with the loss of her only son and her husband.

The story itself is interesting but not necessarily strong. At certain points, it begins to take on the broad issue of terrorism and ongoing struggle between Islamic fundamentalists and the western world. As an example, the narration by Williams is in the form of a letter to Osama Bin Laden. And while this does serve as a driver for the story, it doesn’t make it any more exciting. And at only a 97 minute running time, to say that this film feels slow is not a very good thing.

Slow pace or not, the film is saved by an absolutely spectacular performance from its leading lady. As we observe her character as she falls all the way to the bottom, even to the point of delusion, we can be continually impressed with her range as an actress.

In comparison with other post-9/11 dramas, Incendiary is a step above. It is not political, not preachy and offers no commentary on the war on terror, it just shows us the situation from the eyes of a desperate woman, a woman who has had her life dragged through the dirt by a random act of terror. It could get lost as just another drama about terrorism, but if you have any sense in you, then you will be sure to keep an eye out for Incendiary — as Michelle Williams’ is one of the best performances you will see this time of year.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)