Less Clear, However, is To What End

As a portrait of self-destructive stardom, Taurus is undeniably convincing. Writer-director Tim Sutton does not pull his punches — both the music industry it’s set in and the artist at its center look abjectly miserable, with few promising signs of change — and lead actor Colson Baker delivers a committed performance, drawing authenticity from his day job as rap/rock star Machine Gun Kelly.


Less clear, however, is to what end all of this suffering is being performed. While Taurus does eventually get around to making a point — something about how the toxic combination of fame, addiction, and the music biz can destroy a young talent — it feels for most of its 98-minute run time like a plotless meander through one dude’s very awful week.


Taurus introduces three key characters within the first few minutes. One is a nameless little boy (T.K. Weaver) whose life is shattered by a horrific incident. Another is Lena (Naomi Wild), an up-and-coming singer awaiting her big break. But the full significance of those two won’t be revealed until much later. Taurus is first and foremost about Cole (Baker), a musician whose limitless success seems matched only by his bottomless despair. Fresh off a tour and recently divorced, he hurls himself at drugs, booze, strip clubs and call girls whenever he’s not being dragged from one interminable meeting or interview to another.


Sutton does not sugarcoat the intolerable emptiness of Cole’s existence. Sometimes, his camera weaves in and out of Los Angeles traffic as Cole blearily dodges cars. Other times, Sutton conveys Cole’s state of mind through surrealistic touches, like a phone conversation that Cole experiences as a performance to a laughing crowd. The morning-afters look more brutal still, as in one scene when Cole comes to with vomit crusted all down the front of his shirt.


For all his pain and anger, Cole is no soulless monster. He’s engaged when working on music with his fellow rapper Lil Tjay (playing himself) and tender when thinking of his daughter Rosie (Avery Essex), even if he’s often too fucked up to be much of a parent. But he can be cold to his fans and cruel toward his assistant Ilana (Maddie Hasson), who tends to him with an almost sisterly sense of loyalty. He’d be easy to hate, if not for the fact that he already seems to hate himself more than anyone else possibly could.


As with so many movies where actual famous musicians play fictional famous musicians (including this month’s very different Marry Me), Taurus borrows from its star’s real-life career and image to help flesh out its protagonist’s. Cole may not be Machine Gun Kelly per se. But the two share the same aesthetic and sound — Baker gets a “music by” credit on the film, which incorporates some of his existing songs as well as footage from his Lollapalooza set last summer. They even have apparently similar taste in women, with Baker’s fiancée Megan Fox appearing in a wordless cameo as Cole’s ex.


So when Baker throws himself into a story about just how alienating this life can be, it’s easy to buy that it’s rooted in reality. Everyone in Cole’s orbit, including Cole, seems to regard him as something between a prize pony and a fussy toddler. It’s hard to tell what came first: the endless team of handlers babysitting a grown man day and night like he couldn’t possibly be expected to control himself, or the out-of-control behavior that necessitated an endless team of handlers to babysit him day and night. Either way, it’s plain to see that Cole is a victim of the circumstances he’s trapped in. note: Murder on the Nile Movie


Where Taurus falters is in showing us what else he is. Sutton is efficient at sketching out what type of character Cole is supposed to be. A shot of him in the studio, a shot of him walking through a screaming crowd and a shot of him zoning out after the show are about all we need to understand that he’s a troubled musician feeling disillusioned and disconnected; it’s a template recognizable from countless other movies about the entertainment industry. But Taurus never does show us who Cole is beyond those familiar beats — what makes him uniquely magnetic or maddening, who he is outside his problems. note: Moonfall Movie


At the same time, Taurus‘ laser focus on Cole leaves little room for curiosity about anyone else. Cole may be self-absorbed, but based on what we see of his life, he’s not wrong to assume the universe revolves around him. The film spends so much of its run time patiently cataloguing his day-to-day that at the 50-minute mark, I still had no idea what the narrative arc was supposed to be, or if it was meant to have one at all. Every character who’s not Cole is defined almost entirely by their relationship to Cole. Even tragedies that have next to nothing to do with him — like the one involving the aforementioned little boy — are reduced to fodder for Cole’s personal journey. note: “Murder on the Nile Movie