A lot of folks will see this film for Robert Pattinson, but they should see it for the score.

It’s rare to see such exceptional pieces of music put so deftly to use. Actor Brady Corbet’s directorial debut, if compelling, is no masterstroke, save for his deployment of composer Scott Walker’s shockingly taut creation. Rising and falling with the clangs and doldrums of each passing sequence, Walker’s score imparts the greatest sense of urgency and burgeoning anticipation to even the most unexceptional affairs, including that of figures walking through a hallway or lifts going up and down. Despite the absence in large stretches of any efficacious bulwark to upset the otherwise muted proceedings or instil fear, the music achieves just that and to thrilling effect.

In spite of its frequently unsettling tone, not a lot happens in The Childhood of a Leader. The title itself gives just that little too much away, this being the type of film where you are better off not even reading the synopsis; the less you know, the better. In short, long-haired Prescott, otherwise known as ‘the Boy’ (Tom Sweet) is prone to trouble and antithetical to all his parents’ wishes; his behaviour all the more unwelcome as his father (Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham), a senior advisor in the US State Department, tries to set the stage for a post-conflict Europe at the end of the Great War.

Robert Pattinson pops his head in occasionally in a markedly proficient turn which should have merited him more screen time. A shame, because in his absence nothing really transpires, despite what the film’s unresting score might suggest. The whole picture urges you to believe something is about to happen or will happen in an unrelenting campaign of anticipation that only really delivers at the end and all too late. The denouement, fascinating and with only seconds to absorb it, is something that warranted much greater introspection rather than only a fleeting glimpse in a treatment that could otherwise have afforded the play a few wanting upticks of excitement.

Any number of false starts and failures to deliver after a while neglects to build anticipation and only lead to frustration; the film’s lack of eventuality only squandering the suspense built in its early stages rather than furthering it. The classic shockers, including Psycho and The Omen, the latter from which this film draws no end of inspiration, too saved the best for their respective finales yet still featured 2-3 jaw-dropping moments seared on the memory, instances Corbet’s effort is noticeably lacking.

With so much going for it, The Childhood of a Leader sadly squandered so many of its assets.


The Childhood of a Leader is screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival on Wednesday 15 June – for tickets head to the Festival website

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