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Review: Nothing is learned from ‘A Lesson in Cruelty’

Justin Lebrun in the movie "A Lesson in Cruelty."
(Indie Rights)

A sadistic boss gets his comeuppance in director Alex Salazar’s “A Lesson in Cruelty,” written by Gregory P. Wolk. Justin Lebrun tears into the role of privileged banker Julian Hassole with gusto, but his efforts don’t help the fact that as written, Julian is a poor man’s version of a Neil LaBute character from the ‘90s — a powerful man who insouciantly revels at the taboo language he hurls at everyone around him. He seems to laugh at his own naughty wickedness, in the form of lowest common denominator racism, sexism and classism.

Julian’s tortured employees throw him a Roman feast for a birthday celebration, where the airing of grievances turns bloody, as the mob turns on their Caesar.

The characters at whom Julian directs his identity-based cruelty are presented as total stereotypes — a Latino driver who uses “señor” repeatedly, an accented Asian woman, a Jewish man with a yarmulke and sidecurls. Their interaction with him feels as if it’s supposed to inform some sort of social commentary, but it completely falls flat with these one-dimensional characterizations.

“A Lesson in Cruelty” tries to affect a dark comedic tone, but fails spectacularly. There’s no comedy, despite Lebrun’s over-the-top vamping, and the dark elements are far too disturbing and violent. An extremely melodramatic score doesn’t help the situation and only adds to the amateurish aesthetic. This lesson can only be described a both bizarre and pointless.

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‘A Lesson in Cruelty’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 12 minutes

Playing: Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood

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