Stylistically speaking, ‘Ruben Brandt, Collector’ is a masterpiece

What if the only way you could exorcise the demons haunting your dreams would be to steal the paintings of which they are based upon?

Salvation via art heists is not a cinematic originality these days, but the stylistic touch that first time director Milorad Krstic places on his new film, Ruben Brand, Collector, should leave an imprint on your movie-loving soul. This animated movie is a visual pleasure if you don’t demand all endings come with a neat little bow.

Ruben Brandt (voiced by Ivan Kamaras) is a highly successful psychotherapist who treats his patients (often ex-cons) by having them paint the troubles stuck in their head, unfolding and peeling off the layers of torment stroke by stroke. All the while, Ruben can’t escape nasty nightmares of famous works of art scaring him out of his mind, the result of childhood trauma involving a rather vividly deliberate cartoon. A sly-looking individual, Ruben has problems and needs help. How does a shrink work out his own mental kinks? By turning to your patients to perform acts of robbery, of course.

One can tell Krstic’s adoration for movie history with the not-so-subtle nods to cinema’s history in the film’s look and plot. The investigator hired to crack the thieves, Kowalski (voiced by Zalan Makranczi and Csaba Marton), decorates his house with artifacts such as the knife from First Blood and throws Alfred Hitchcock-shaped ice cubes into his bourbon. The speak easy bars that Cooper and Bye-Bye Joe populate looks like any gin joint you can find in old classic movies. Wherever you look, there’s a movie reference either to see or hear.

The soundtrack aides the hyper-active plot, which follows Ruben and his band of unlikely partners in crime evading the police, mob, and other adversaries looking to thwart their attempts at reconciling the demons of their therapist. You’ll notice a couple of the songs covered, and offer a sly smile as you nod in approval.

Is there more to the plot? Yes. There are inner battles with Ruben about what is real and what is not, which may lead some viewers to madness as the slick film edges closer to its conclusion.

The genesis of his fright and terror comes from a traumatic childhood with his father, which sets up different moments of agony and longstanding torture for Ruben. What does one do when reality throws a stiff punch? You find a way to escape the noise. As long as you don’t need all the answers in a movie, the ending should leave you wanting more.

Luckily, Krstic layers the ever-evolving plot with enough visual flair to keep your senses occupied even when your brain runs into a brick wall. You’ll get a chuckle out of some of the chases sequences and moody dialogue driven moments that recall a Spencer Tracy or Humphrey Bogart relic from movie’s haunted past.

If I’d call Ruben Brandt, Collector anything, I’d label it ambitious and busy. Krstic’s desire to do something different overcomes a shortage of pop in the story. There’s a lot going on, which will take a couple cups of coffee and a slice of pie to unpack after the credits roll, but you’ll be glad Krstic took you on this ride. He took a concept, threw some graphic novel pulpy zeal on top of it, and turned it into something.

If this is his first feature, I eagerly await his second one. The main takeaway from this flick is that there’s a new visionary craftsman on the loose in Hollywood and his name is Milorad. Stay tuned.

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