Irrespective of how often cinema has examined the rise-and-fall pattern of a celebrity, there is nuance in almost every new stardom story. In Tim Sutton’s Taurus (2022), that novelty comes from the blurred line between the fictional character Cole and the life of its leading performer, Colson Baker (better known as rapper Machine Gun Kelly).
Hollywood knows that story all too well – a new promising celebrity emerges out of nowhere, soon is followed by flocks of vultures, which bring about stress, drug and alcohol abuse, and an inevitable fall. One would love to quote Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy here – we fall so we can pick ourselves up. But that isn’t always the case.
Tim Sutton lays the foundations in Taurus (2022) with a patient observation of an artist already deep into the abyss. Cole, a striking self-portrait of Machine Gun Kelly himself, sits by the piano, struggling to compose new material. One quick glance is enough to capture the state of things in Cole’s life.
To say that Cole’s a mess would be a massive understatement. Any presence of his wife Mae (Megan Fox, who is Machine Gun Kelly’s partner in real life) causes an allergic reaction; meanwhile, a deeper connection to a daughter Rose is numbed by all various substances that keep pulsating in Cole’s blood system. The closest person he has – assistant Ilana (Maddie Hasson) – puts up with the splenetic attitude to a degree. Other than that, Cole’s surrounded by a regular entourage of music industry figures – producers, agents, and artistic collaborators.
Among these various puppets hopping around Cole, it’s Ilana who becomes one of the central anchors in Sutton’s narrative. She’s distinguished by outstanding tenacity, and Maddie Hasson channels the conflicting emotions toward Cole that her character feels. The most impactful scene in Taurus (2022) belongs to Baker and Hasson, where the two spiral into a fiery argument. Both actors nail their parts, particularly in the follow-up scene in which Cole transforms into a lost child while Ilana takes on the motherly figure role. Cole can be fumish, aggressive, and ill-spirited, but there’s also a softer, broken piece in there. And Ilana may want to just get the hell out of this deadlock of calming tantrums and observing the man waste his life, but how can she leave him to self-destruction?
Sutton does not always want to explore the human side of Cole. Through various scenes of drug and alcohol abuse, the director reflects on the self-destructive nature of the protagonist. Cole’s aware of his serious health issues, yet the only comment we’ll hear is the typical sarcasm and disdain, followed by “Seems like I still have seven months left” logic. Once on a path of tragic self-annihilation, there’s no turning back.
Taurus (2022) is, therefore, a very nihilistic picture. Hope’s a dim light that fades away as the story progresses because Cole constantly thrusts himself into anger-stirring patterns. Perhaps this is a haunting experience because of the disturbing similarity between Cole and Baker’s life, almost like a documentary. Baker draws from his own experiences and likely from the demons, he’s battled too. Fox, who currently dates MGK, appears only twice on the screen, but it’s also her role – a trauma as opposed to being his rock – pointing out the fears that MGK seems to battle in Taurus (2022). In that sense, this is a very close picture to Honey Boy (2019), which also played out as its central figure’s therapy.
By connecting to these real concerns, Colson Baker puts on a raw, captivating performance, even if the story’s somewhat formulaic. And for Baker, who occasionally likes to flirt with cinema – e.g. Captive State (2019) – Taurus (2022) constitutes his first serious role. Finally, the sin of starring in The Dirt (2019) is forgiven.
Unlike Elvis (2022), this year’s biggest biopic hit, or rap-music classics like Straight Outta Compton (2015), and 8 Mile (2002), Taurus (2022) cares very little about the impact of its star on the bigger picture. That’s particularly surprising since many biopic movies suffer from friction with aggrandizement. Eminem got to tell his own story and become the only rapper to win an Oscar for a song composed specifically for this film. Along the lines was, however, a whole lot of construction of his own legend. If Taurus (2022) ever portrays Cole in action, it’s only to build the impression of a man once filled with energy, for whom life didn’t play out well – despite all the money in the world he’s accumulated.
Surprisingly, it plays as one of the film’s strengths. Instead of building a monument for MGK, the film looks at the hideous machinery that uses celebrities until they lose any fuel to keep going. In that sense, the film’s ending – somehow predictable – turns out surprisingly horrid for one of the characters. Sutton cements the sad truth that shows business never sleeps – it just finds a new victim. Sutton tends to fall for designing dialogues and scenes which leave us crushed. It may be Cole’s agent who admits to paying his kid to spend time together; or self-realization of Cole when he learns about one family’s tragedy and his involvement in it.
For a film that moves along a beaten path, Sutton likes to fiddle with editing and audio effects a lot. A remixed version of Blue Foundations Eyes on Fire returns like a boomerang (and is guaranteed to stick with you for a long time); it’s an echo that drills a hole in Cole’s life that becomes larger and larger. Sutton’s eye for eye-pleasing moments guarantees a few standouts, too – like in a genuinely beautiful scene of a dance where Sara Silva morphs into Megan Fox in Baker’s arms.
Eventually, Taurus (2022) escapes becoming an old chestnut. While Cole’s decrepit career resembles a myriad of versions of the same story, Sutton’s film still manages to entangle us in it once again.
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