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Movie Review: Sleeping Giant

I don't even know if I can accurately express how much I love Sleeping Giant.
Aisle Seat, Rob Slack

Sleeping Giant

Directed by Andrew Cividino

In Theatres

Editors note: The Film will actually be screened at North Bay's Galaxy Cinemas on Wednesday, May 18th at 7:30pm ( All proceeds for the screening support the non-profit Near North Mobile Media Lab, providing artists and audiences with the means to produce, present and enjoy media art.

Sleeping Giant is film of contradictions and paradoxes. It has a sense of urgency but it unfolds patiently. The story is tight like a drum skin but feels loose and improvisational. On the surface it's about the machismo of teenage boys and the physical and emotional damage they do to each other but it is also sensitive and graceful. The film is never judgemental, always objective but at the same time has the intimacy of a home movie. The director's singular vision is very much on display but somehow Sleeping Giant never feels manipulative, the audience is never aware of the godlike hand marshalling everything together. Sleeping Giant is a coming-of-age story, one of the most oft told stories in film, but it feels original and fresh. 

The film follows Adam, a 15 year old boy spending the summer with his parents in cottage country on the northwest shores of Lake Superior. Played by Jackson Martin, Adam is shy and timid, quiet and sensitive, unsure and easily manipulated. He meets cousins Riley and Nate, played by Reece Moffett and Nick Serino. Riley is out-going and social and athletic and confident. Nate is kind of like a 15 year old Johnny Rotten - all brutal honesty and pushing emotional buttons, manipulative and jealous and influencing those around him into making horrible decisions. The three leads are so good, so real and natural. Every choice, every word of dialogue, every decision made, every moment rings true. 

The adults in Sleeping Giant are present in the film but almost absent from the lives of the kids. Adam's parents are perpetuating a myth of a perfect family. His father wants to be his best friend, wants to be seen as cool by Adam and his friends. His mother is blind to what is going on around her, willfully or not it is disturbing how out of touch she is with her son's life. The cousins are spending the summer with their grandmother, foul mouthed and handing out cigarettes. The adults in these kids' lives are trying, they're trying hard. But they either treat them like the children they were or treat them like co-conspirators. They never seem to treat them like the teenagers they are, on the cusp of adulthood, looking down that off-ramp to manhood and what it means to be a man. It is telling that after tragedy, Adam turns to a near stranger to confess, for absolution. He never tells his parents his secrets. When his father pushes him to hook up with a girl, he just shrugs, never once hinting at the confusing feelings he has for his friend. 

Sleeping Giant looks great, it is one of the best looking films I think I've ever seen. The wilderness around Thunder Bay is as much a character as any of the human characters. In the same way that New York or Boston or wherever are a character in some films set in urban centres. In the same way Toronto is a character in Scott Pilgrim. Or the Soo in The Story of Luke. The setting isn't just a placemat, it isn't an anonymous background. The story finds its rhythm in its setting. Where the adult me looks at the wilderness and the small community in Sleeping Giant as a paradise, as a place to spend some downtime recharging the batteries, the teen me would look at the same setting as boring. It would be the worst thing ever to be stuck in the middle of nowhere for a summer. What is there to do? With no connection to the outside world, with nothing but downtime, teen me would have sought out my own entertainment. If those decisions were beneficial or not, if they were good or bad wouldn't have mattered. And I think that might be the most honest thing about Sleeping Giant, the way it treats the thoughts and emotions and internal lives and cruelty and violence of the teens at the centre of the story. 

They aren't judged by the film, they are judged by each other. Left to their own devices, nearly abandoned by the adults, with no guidance but a local pot dealer, they are left to deal with their lives on their own. The parts of the brain where rational thought lives, where the ability to project future consequences from current behaviour lives doesn't fully develop until we're in our early twenties. Showing teens trying to deal with all the stuff coming at them, all the influences be they internal or external, showing this honestly is a hell of an achievement. Showing this entertainingly is a whole other level of achievement. 

Every frame, every moment is perfection. The score, used so sparingly, is perfection. The acting, every breath, is perfection. And from such young novices. I don't even know if I can accurately express how much I love Sleeping Giant. It's not just one of the best films of the year, it is one of the best films of the decade. The word masterpiece gets tossed around a lot. But, hand on heart, Sleeping Giant is a masterpiece. It is an artistic statement of the highest order that is incredibly entertaining. 

Sleeping Giant needs to be seen, it needs to be experienced. Wherever it is showing, find it. See it. Don't let the words "Canadian film" scare you off. 

The stereotypical Canadian film is pretentious and weighty and Serious with a capital s. They are cold like Atom Egoyan or adult like Denys Arcand or disturbing like David Cronenberg. We have internalized this reputation, this stereotype to the point that when most Canadians hear the words Canadian film they have visions of a group of people talking, talking, talking for three hours. But for every exploration of existential angst and the nihilism of the human condition, there is a One Week or a Goon or a FUBAR. For every film that is like The Big Chill with all the fun removed, there is the work of Sarah Polley and Deepa Mehta and Denis Villeneuve. My point here, if I can find it, is that Canadians should be seeking out Canadian films. Not as homework or as some sort of national pride but because a lot of them are entertaining. They can be fun and they can be challenging and they can be dramatic. They're as diverse as our nation. We're the country that birthed Room and Juno and Porky's

We're a weird bunch.