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‘Leave the World Behind’ Hates America, Not White People

Netflix original serves up constant dread, garbled statements about modern life

Many movies drop us into a post-apocalyptic world without modern amenities.

“Leave the World Behind” wonders what it’s like at the start of the mayhem.

The thriller isn’t interested in big, bold action sequences or flashy effects. The focus is smaller, more contained on how two families process what could be an extended blackout or the end of America.

The story’s simplistic messaging can’t derail the intensity brought by three great performances, making the film’s ominous tone inescapable.

Leave The World Behind | Official Trailer | Netflix

Amanda and Clay Sanford (Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke) rent a beach-side vacation home to escape from their day-to-day grind. She’s a burned-out executive while he’s a chipper college professor.

Their trip, featuring their two standard-issue teens, is interrupted in dramatic fashion.

First, an oil tanker crashes on the beach, forcing them to run for their lives. Later, the owners of the rental property show up in the middle of the night, fleeing a city-wide blackout.

Oh, and the Sandfords’ phones and iPads suddenly stop working. 

No WiFi? The horror, the horror.

Mahershala Ali and Myha’la Herrold play G.H. and Ruth, the affluent property owners who happen to be black. Amanda is instantly suspicious about them for reasons that aren’t fully explained.

Racism? A Mama Bear protecting her cubs? Plot expediency? All three?

Leave The World Behind | Exclusive Clip | Netflix

The families must co-exist to not only stay safe but figure out what’s happening to their country. Is it a terrorist attack? Hackers gone wild? The dawn of World War III?

“Leave” isn’t eager to spill the details, which helps maintain the sense of dread. So does writer/director Sam Esmail’s camerawork. It’s showy at first, maneuvering around the vacation home like a real estate agent’s dream video.

Those clever angles keep us as off-balanced as the troubled families.

Much has been said about an exchange between Ruth and G.H. suggesting they shouldn’t trust the Sandfords because of their race.

There’s nothing wrong with the sequence. Ruth is clearly a Gen Z type with all the personality tics that entails. G.H. is a good father, someone willing to meet his adult daughter halfway in times of crisis.

And, yes, the pair have racist feelings toward white people. Should storytellers not include flaws in their characters?

Esmail tips his ideological hand with a few measured moments. Kevin Bacon’s character, a cruel survivalist, is repeatedly framed with an American flag in the background. We’re led to believe his selfishness reflects the country’s true spirit.

Amanda delivers a monologue about how much she hates her corporate job. It’s more revealing, though, about the storyteller’s vision of America as a capitalist state that poisons the soul.

There’s even a line the Rev. Jeremiah Wright might applaud. To paraphrase, America’s chickens are coming home to roost.

The movie’s critique of how we lose ourselves in technology and fluffy TV sitcoms isn’t original, but it does land as intended.

The messaging moments are often banal but fleeting, and we’re never taken out of the story or the characters’ plight. Credit Roberts, Ali and Hawke for making that possible. They’re equally brilliant, finding fresh layers in roles that could have been cartoonish in less capable hands.

Roberts and Ali share several outstanding scenes together, including an unexpected whiff of sexual chemistry.

Movies like “Leave the World Behind” rarely stick the landing. The setup is what counts, and it takes an exceptional scribe to pull all the strings together.

That doesn’t happen here despite a cheeky final shot.

The third act features a clumsy sequence involving Bacon’s conspiracy theorist and a poorly realized CGI moment involving wildlife.

“Leave the World Behind” isn’t a racial screed. Far from it. It’s a brilliantly assembled swipe at America, one where the characters have more than enough depth to make even patriots appreciate the artistry in play.

HiT or Miss: “Leave the World Behind” delivers a disorienting thriller powered by great performances and an unsettling premise.

19 Comments

  1. And, yes, the pair have racist feelings toward white people. Should storytellers not include flaws in their characters?
    uh… The racist feelings don’t come across as “flaws”

    1. The best scene in the movie is where the clearly racist black girl is saved by the white one. Woops, I think the Obamas overlooked that scene.

  2. When are we ever gonna see a more optimistic view of America that looks at it beyond its flaws?

    Probably not in a long time…

  3. Garbage in, garbage out. When your screenwriter hates America, this is what you get.
    Thanks for the warning, Chris. I will not be seeing this one.

  4. I watched it not knowing Obama was involved till I saw the articles coming out.

    I enjoyed most of it, the sense of dread and score were well done – unlike many modern movies that rush it and rely on fantastical elements and cgi. I didnt know much about the movie so I couldnt tell the first 30 minutes what kind of movie it would be. Were the owners imposters, scammers, or more dangerous? It really starts coming together reveal itself half way through.

    I noticed right away the daughter’s inclination to immediately think white people are possibly racists, but it’s only her character that randomly leans into thinking “oh could there be some reason you’re acting that way towards us?” The father (Ali) has the best role imo, the level headed professional who seems to keep his head on straight. Robert’s character was mostly unlikable, just mean towards everyone but late into the story there were some redemptive moments.

    I loved the Tesla’s piling up, My first reaction was wow that’s stupid to show all the same type car blocking the roads, but the reveal was clever.

    The biggest flaw is runtime and the very end, that was a stinker.

    I definitely recommend it though even though Obama’s somehow involved as a producer. He’s a better producer than he was a President so there’s that I guess. Don’t let the articles labeling it as racists against whites, it’s really not at all.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. We shouldn’t let a producer’s attachment to a film overwhelm the project itself. It might help explain why some elements are in a movie, but if the film transports us that’s what matters most.

    2. I too put on the movie having no idea what it was about and with an open mind. I found myself sucked in by the amazing acting and, I thought, great angle on a story line that has been beat into the ground, I have probably watched over 25 post-apocalyptic movies over the last few years, it is a genre I enjoy for some strange reason.

      I agree with everything you wrote except for the ending.

      Roberts character came across as very racist and unlikable at the beginning, then as the movie progressed you understood her and she warmed up to you. Somewhat…

      All the characters in the film were perfectly executed by their respective actors. This movie was cast perfectly.

      I thought Kevin Bacon’s role was well done, while I am somewhat of a prepper, I am not over the top, I live is a suburban setting and there is only so much self-sustaining you can do. I understood Bacon’s character and his response, how many unprepared people are you going to help before it brings about your own demise? There are many movies like this one where characters have to make hard choices, you are in for the long haul, there is no longer room for charity.

      The ending pissed me off, initially. After I contemplated it, I felt it was brilliant. That little girl was ignored by the grown ups through the entire movie, she kept observing nature, noticed the empty house in the distance, she felt a need to explore it, all her ideas and observations were dismissed by the adults. It was serendipitous when the cameras cut to her pigging out at the dining room table, then finding the underground bunker. Looking back now, I chuckle at her choice to finish her show, everyone was ignoring her.

    3. It was okay as for the Obama’s he was just fine as a president. He was definitely a he’ll of a lot better than that thing that came behind him .Yes we know that a lot of white people are racist.

  5. Behind it all are the significant number of Jews across the West – 70-75% – who yearn for the “good old days” of their Messiahs – Lenin and Stalin – and intend to get there BAMN!
    Bernie’s campaign claimed the gulags “paid a living wage.” Bernie never repudiated that claim.
    Have the Jews repudiated Bernie???

  6. “Roberts and Ali share several outstanding scenes together, including an unexpected whiff of sexual chemistry.” Unexpected? Really? By who? Saw this coming a mile away. There seems to be a rule in film/tv requiring a woman to “settle” for a White husband if she stays with him at all. These tropes are tiring and your obtuse take on it is too.

  7. Someone at work recommended this movie and told me to be sure to note all the “cool symbolism.” Right from the opening credits I noticed the inverted American symbols all over the screen, (upside down flags, statues of liberty, etc). I didn’t like it. Even more startling was reading “Produced by Barack and Michelle Obama”, giving credence to the right-wingers who, in recent history, described them both as America-haters. Despite all this, I tried to watch it and made it 45 minutes before getting completely uninterested and bored to death.

    I’ll say what I’ve said before: political messaging and propaganda suck all the fun out of entertainment and yield nothing but flops.

  8. Too many two-dimensional characters inhabiting a sloth-like meandering storyline. I laughingly enjoyed the hilarious scene of the Teslas piling up all crazed on self driving technology. There must have been someone, anyone, who brought up the fact that the script calls for an outage of GPS and internet taking place. But Elon Musk, once the darling of the left, has become a pariah to them. The ultra-lefties making this movie insisted on sticking it to him.

  9. This is unacceptable.. THE MAGA CULT HAS COPIED & PASTED HUNDREDS of FAKE REVIEWS ACROSS- THE INTERNET
    JUST BECAUSE Ex President Obama was the producer. HOW PATHETIC CAN A GROUP OF LOSERS ACT..
    ‘’’’’ WONDERFUL MOVIE””’’

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