Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Ad Astra (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Regency Enterprises and Plan B

Ad Astra – Film Review

Cast: Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland

Director: James Gray

Synopsis: After the Earth experiences deadly power surges, astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) is recruited for a top secret space mission, in the belief that the events may be connected to his father’s own space mission that blasted off several years prior…

Review: Ever since humanity first blasted off into space back in 1961, there’s always been something of a fascination with what’s out there in the great chasm that is space, and the solar system. Indeed it is a subject that has inspired many filmmakers to try and approach this fascinating, and at the same time, terrifying void of eternal emptiness. Through all the space films that have graced the big screen over the years, one thing is crystal clear: being an astronaut takes some very serious guts.

Like his father before him, Roy McBride is an astronaut, and a damn good one at that too. When some unnatural power surges start to cause some problems back on Earth, a top secret briefing leads Roy back to the mission that his father Clifford (Jones) departed for several decades ago. Believing that said mission could pose some extremely serious risks to the survival of humanity, Roy must venture deep into the unforgiving world of space in the pursuit of his seemingly long lost father, and the answers to some essential questions that NASA believe Clifford possesses, that could be integral to humanity’s survival.

Given that the majority of the film features his character’s crucial mission, the entire movie is resting on Brad Pitt’s shoulders. It’s a responsibility he carries faultlessly as he turns in a very subdued, sombre, but yet extremely powerful performance. Though regrettably, the fact that Roy’s main mission is the focus for the majority of the film, it means that pretty much every other member of this cast is severely underutilised. None of them have enough screen time to make you care about their plight, which is frustrating as there definitely was potential for a further exploration of some of the other characters’s stories. This is especially frustrating when considering the talent of some of these actors and this is best exemplified by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her performance from Roy’s distant wife, played by Liv Tyler.

After going on an interstellar journey with Christopher Nolan, Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography gives the film a rich visual majesty that perfectly captures the beauty and the terror that is space in equal measure. The production design and visual effects are so meticulously crafted, it makes it feel like the cast and crew actually went to the Moon and to the other planets beyond to film. James Gray’s screenplay, co-written with Ethan Gross, is cognitive and thoughtful. There are one or two action set pieces to get the pulses racing, but the film’s pacing is patient and methodical. There’s been no shortage of space films that have had awe-inspiring, heart-pounding intense scores, but Max Richter’s haunting, powerful score is right up there with the very best of them.

Though the film is not, and was never intending to be, an enthralling action spectacle set in the deepest depths of space. The film’s deliberately slowed-down pacing may begin to test the patience of the audience, particularly once the third act has come into view. Though not bereft of drama, the screenplay has some thought-provoking and bold ideas behind it. However. it doesn’t come nearly as close as other recent films of this genre in crafting something that has resonated as strongly as previous space films. Though if anyone was scared of space beforehand, after watching this, it will only reinforce their perspective that space is absolutely, completely terrifying.

Like astronauts themselves, the story’s extremely ambitious. However, even with an excellent performance from Brad Pitt, and some striking visuals, this thought-provoking adventure aims for the stars, but only just falls short.  

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

Image is property of Sony and Columbia Pictures

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Film Review

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Kurt Russell, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Synopsis: Set in 1960s Hollywood, amid fears that the industry is leaving him behind, actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stunt double Clith Booth (Pitt), try to reignite Dalton’s career, all the while new actors like Sharon Tate (Robbie) are becoming the new faces of the industry…

Review: There are certain directors who, whenever they come out with a new film, it becomes subject of much anticipation and hype in the build up to the film’s release, and Quentin Tarantino’s films definitely fall under that bracket. As he so often does, Tarantino fuses his passion for the craft of film-making, and blends that with his passion for a bygone era of Hollywood, as for his ninth and seemingly penultimate film, takes the viewers on a journey to 1960s Tinseltown.

It’s 1969 and after starring in a hugely popular TV show, actor Rick Dalton’s career has hit the rocks. He has a moment where reality bites hard, and he realises that his days as a leading man are seemingly drawing to a close, as the industry is leaving him by the wayside with other actors on their way to becoming the star that Rick used to be. Determined to stay relevant, alongside his stunt double and great friend Cliff Booth, Rick strives to pick himself up and reinvent his career.

Tarantino scripts of the past have thrived on the dialogue to drive the film forward, and in many cases given that it is superbly written dialogue, it serves the story extremely well. Through the sharp dialogue, it makes the lives of the charismatic characters that Tarantino so often brings to the screen absolutely worth investing in. Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are both on excellent form as Rick and Cliff. Though they might be as A list as you can get in present day Hollywood, both have excellent charisma and they form a solid friendship with one another. It’s not quite a Vincent Vega and Jules Winfield level of camaraderie, but it comes mighty close.

As well as the sharply written dialogue, a QT movie is known for being a touch on the violent side. However, in this instance the violence is dialled back significantly as Tarantino gives us a much more dialogue driven film. One that takes a nuanced, in-depth, fascinating look at the Golden Age of Hollywood, that has the careers of Rick and Cliff front and centre, with this era as the backdrop in all of its glory. Though these men are both fictionalised characters, there’s something about both their performances that makes them feel like they were cut from the same cloth as the stars that dominated the industry at this time. In a cast that is well stacked with considerable talent, the standouts besides DiCaprio and Pitt, are Margaret Qualley’s Manson family member, and a scene stealing performance from a young actor who gives Rick a damn good run for his money.

Though she was a perfect choice to play Sharon Tate, Margot Robbie, frustratingly, does not get nearly enough screen-time as her male lead co-stars. What’s more, in the scarce screen-time she is given, she has frustratingly few lines which feels like a scandalous waste of her talent. Nevertheless, Robbie works wonders with the little material she was given that honours the tragic actress. Given that a Tarantino Picture is usually in the realm of three hours, the first act of the film is a bit of a slow burn that, narratively speaking, is a tad uneven. It takes its time to find its footing and truly hit its stride. The excellent production design and costumes ensures that 1960s Hollywood is captured with a real sense of authenticity. Yet even with that, the near 2 hour 40 minute run time does feel somewhat excessive.

Meshing fact with fiction has produced some uproariously entertaining moments in previous Tarantino flicks, and OUATIH‘s best use of this blend of truth and fantasy, is in the film’s enthralling and nail-biting third act. You may know of the tragic fate that befell Sharon Tate on that fateful August night, but to see how those events would play out in Tarantino’s wacky, but brilliant mind is what you pay to see when you come to watch a flick by Quentin Tarantino. It may not be his strongest film that he has made in a glittering career, but like Tarantino reminiscing/pining for the Golden Age of Hollywood, present day Hollywood may find itself reminiscing if, after his tenth picture, Tarantino does decide to hang up the director’s chair for good.

A passionate love letter to the Hollywood of yesteryear, fused with the typical well written QT dialogue and a superb pair of leading performances from two of the most charismatic actors in the business.

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Se7en (1995)

Image is property of New Line Cinema

Se7en – Film Review

Cast: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey

Director: David Fincher

Synopsis: Two detectives are assigned to a case in which the killer is brutally murdering his victims, based on the seven deadly sins.

Review: Sometimes, it just seems that there is just no escaping from the brutality and horrors life can sometimes be. On any given day, you tend to come across stories of horrific violence committed against all sorts of people, brutal murders and the like all seem to have become just so common for us to hear about. As such, there is something almost generally disturbing and unsettling about the second directorial effort of David Fincher, because it depicts events that could very well happen in the world today.

The opening credits along let the viewer know the sort of ride that they are in for, and it sure as heck won’t be pretty. In an unnamed US city,  Detective William Somerset is a veteran at the job, and is just a week shy of retirement when he gets assigned to this deeply disturbing case of a killer who is using the seven deadly sins as a basis for his crimes. With each respective murder representing each of the seven sins: gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath, pride and lust. Also assigned to the case is the recently reassigned Detective David Mills who’s a bit brash, polar opposite to the calm and methodical William Somerset. Together these two must piece together the clues of the crimes to catch the killer. Except this mystery killer always seems to be one step ahead of the game.

Even from the opening credits, there’s something just so deeply unsettling about the events that we see on screen. The weather is almost always drab and bleak, which mirrors the tone of the film, extremely sombre and just downright macabre. The film-making is gritty and realistic to the point that it and almost makes you feel like the events you’re witnessing are real life events, but the film doesn’t go all out with the gore, it all just feels very realistic. With each murder that takes place, it keeps the plot moving along at a very steady pace. You want to turn away as the events, and more specifically the murders are so disturbingly gruesome, but the quality of the writing keeps your interest glued to the screen.

In a story that feels like it could be something you see in real life, the performances from everyone, in particular Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are tremendous. Their relationship is not exactly harmonious, and indeed the crime scenes they’re investigating understandably take their toll on the duo, but they remain committed in their efforts to bring down the killer. Gwyneth Paltrow as Mills’s wife Tracy also gives a very vulnerable performance, a woman who is hiding something quite important from her husband, something that plays great significance when we reach the final act of the film.

Speaking of said final act, though there is tension right right throughout the film, particularly during a gritty gun battle in a residential block. The finale is where the tension is really turned up to maximum and the whole story comes to a head. Right up to this point, you had never actually witnessed the murders be carried out on screen, only the very bloody and unpleasant aftermath of each crime scene. Yet all that changes, and the whole plan of our mystery serial killer comes full circle. It’s so unexpected, delivering one of the best twists in cinematic history and providing the viewer with an ending that is more than likely to leave them reeling.

It’s shocking and bold storytelling combined with meticulously crafted film-making. Thus, credit where credit is due to Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker for creating not just an ending that surely ranks up there with one of the very best ever put to screen. For creating a chilling tale that won’t be leaving your mind in any hurry, and one that ensures you will never hear the sentence “what’s in the box?” in the same way ever again.

Dark, brutal and uncompromising storytelling, with great performances from Pitt and Freeman, and a masterfully executed ending all equal one of the best films of all time.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

inglourious_basterds
Image is property of The Weinstein Company, A Band Apart, and Universal Studios

Inglourious Basterds – Film Review

Cast:  Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz,  Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, Daniel Brühl

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Synopsis: A group of Jewish American soldiers set out with the intention of killing Nazis in the heart of Nazi occupied France, all the while, a plot to assassinate Nazi High Command is being devised by a cinema owner with a tragic past.

Review: The Second World War, a truly dark and troubling part of European History in the 20th century. The rise of Fascism and Communism and a continent that was seemingly on the brink of tearing itself to pieces. A period that has been the subject of many textbooks. Therefore presenting a perfect opportunity it would seem for writer and director Quentin Tarantino, a chance to make a fun and violent movie during the period that quite literally throws the history textbook out of the window, and shoot it a couple, or maybe ten times.

Set in 1944 with the war raging across the continent, enter the Basterds lead by Lt Aldo Raine (Pitt)  a group of Allied soldiers who are killing Nazi soldiers with with a large amount of glee as they do. Meanwhile a cinema in Paris becomes the centre of a plot by the owner (Melanie Laurent) who is after one thing only, vengeance. The perfect ingredients for a three hour Tarantino flick filled with violence and superbly written dialogue and some truly memorable characters, and it sure is bloody entertaining stuff!

With what is without doubt one of the finest opening scenes in cinema history, we meet Colonel Hans Landa, played wonderfully by Christoph Waltz who’s on his way to meet a farmer, about the whereabouts of some missing Jews.  Although this conversation is initially warm and hospitable, it isn’t long before things go cold, unwelcoming and becoming all the more tense with each passing scene. On this scene alone, Waltz deserved the many accolades that came his way for this performance, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Tarantino has created many memorable characters in his filmography, but Landa is right up there with the best of them. Laurent is also spectacular as the cinema owner, Tarantino knows how to make compelling female characters, and he does so yet again as both Shoshanna (Laurent) and Bridget (Kruger) are intriguing and well developed characters, the former more so than the latter though. Brad Pitt as the gruff Aldo Raine is also on spectacular form as the leader of the Basterds, with Michael Fassbender also lending his tremendous talents as a British Double Agent in what is a very talented cast.

Tarantino is one of the finest writers and directors working in the industry, and there are more than a few scenes that are just flawless in terms of the writing, the actors performances and the execution of the scenes are all just exceptional. The aforementioned beginning sequence jumps to mind, but so too does the quite brilliant restaurant scene, which has potential to be one of the finest Mexican stand off scenes ever put to film. The tension is almost unbearable at some points. Whoever knew that a scene where two characters eat strudel could be so tense? This being a Tarantino flick means that there will be violence, and there is plenty of that indeed, and it’s glorious to watch. The script also manages to fuse a perfect amount of comedy in there as well, watching Pitt try and mask his thick American accent to masquerade as an Italian is just extremely entertaining.

The length is often a gripe with some of Tarantino’s work, and yes at and at just over 2 and a half hours, Basterds is certainly a movie you need to sit down and invest your time in. Yet it’s a worthy investment when the climax is reached and the credits begin to roll. “This might just be my masterpiece,” says one character as the film reaches its conclusion. It almost feels as though that dialogue was from Tarantino himself direct to the audience, and on the evidence of this film, it is kind of hard to disagree with him.

With exceptional writing, tremendous acting, and a bloody exciting story set in the heart of the Second World War. This is vintage Tarantino, and one of his best.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Big Short (2015)

the-big-short
Image rights belong to Plan B Entertainment, Regency Enterprises and Paramount Pictures

The Big Short  – Film Review

Cast: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt

Director: Adam McKay

Synopsis:  An account of a group of people who foresaw the collapse of the housing market and the crumbling of the world’s economy in 2008.

Review: When the world’s economy went pretty much to shit in the latter half of the noughties, one thing we all knew was that the global economic situation was in complete disarray, with jobs being lost and lives ruined. But the vast majority probably had no idea who was to blame, why this happened, could it have been prevented and did anyone see this enormous mess coming? The answer to all of those questions is yes, four individuals to be precise who not only saw what was coming, but decided to do something about it and challenge the banks on their greed and their failure to avoid this catastrophe. Enter Anchorman director Adam McKay and screenwriter Charles Randolph, giving the account of how the entire world’s economy crashed and burned.

The account follows three different groups of people, who at various stages foresaw the impending doom, and each goes about their responses in very interesting ways. Firstly you have Christian Bale’s drumming, no shoes wearing kind of guy who likes to listen to metal music whilst foreseeing the imminent disaster via numbers on a screen. Then we have Steve Carrell’s melancholic hedge fund manager who teams up with Ryan Gosling’s trader, and finally we have Brad Pitt’s veteran banker, aided by two newbie investors. Through these three perspectives McKay flits between them as the months go by, and the financial crash looms on the horizon. The acting from all is of a very good calibre, with Bale being the stand-out amongst the ensemble and ensuring another Oscar nomination comes his way. After his unique role in Foxcatcher, Steve Carell again shows he too is a force to be reckoned with as he, mixing grumpiness and comedy surprisingly well.

Your average viewer is in all probability not going to have much clue when it comes to explaining the reasons behind the economic crash, and lots of the economic terminology are likely to sail over their heads. Therefore in order to understand the specific terminology that the cast are speaking of, there are some amusing celebrity cameos who are there for the purposes of dumbing it down so that those audience members who are not well versed in economics are able to catch their drift. There is humour peppered throughout to keep the story flowing, something McKay knows very well from his Anchorman days, and it does to a certain extent. However due to the vast amount of financial terminology, it means the story does falter a little bit. The interest in the story does diminish, which it shouldn’t given the impact that this crash undoubtedly had on many people the world over.

McKay presents his vision of this story almost documentary like with a lot of use of hand held cam in a handful of scenes. There is also a lot of breaking the fourth wall with the characters taking the audience for a ride. Yet the breaking of the fourth wall and the use of handheld cam does not always work. The latter in particular, it makes it look a bit sloppy and badly edited. And as this style is not always implemented, the film lacks a bit of consistency in terms of delivery and tone. It tries to be both a comedy and a documentary, and while sometimes it does work, others it really doesn’t. The film is probably the best attempt at telling the story of the housing crash, but even then, unless you’re very well versed in economics and all that jazz, the film is probably going to leave the audience found wanting when the credits begin to roll.

The acting is of a very decent order, with a solid enough script but unless you’re well versed in economics and the whole crisis, you may not be as interested in the story as you perhaps ought to be.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Moneyball (2011)

moneyball
Image is property of Scott Rudin Productions, Michael De Luca Productions and Columbia Pictures

Moneyball – Film Review

Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt.

Director: Bennett Miller

Synopsis:  A true story focusing on Billy Beane’s efforts to restructure a baseball team on a shoestring budget and in doing so transforms the sport of baseball.

Review: Sports films often feature scenes of glorious success, and sometimes dark misery for the protagonist in question, whether that be Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt or Niki Lauda in 2013’s Rush. Or Sylvester Stallone from the Rocky series. The viewer watches with glee and sometimes anguish as the main sporting hero is either put through their paces, goes through a horrific event, or comes out on top in glorious fashion. There is that moment where everything appears to be going completely horribly wrong and the protagonist must find a way to turn it all around. However, in the case of Moneyball, there is a remarkable absence of sporting-y action to witness. Is this a problem? Well no not really, because director Bennett Miller to use a baseball analogy, has hit a home run to win the championship with this remarkable tale of triumphing against the odds. It’s not all balls, bats and runs that define this engaging story, but one of numbers, facts, and one man’s relentless desire to see his methods through.

The story focuses on Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) as the general manager of the Oakland Atheltics, who has the unenviable task of rebuilding the club’s squad after a number of high profile exits, yet he has to operate on a very small and tight budget, with not much room for negotiation. Through his challenges he hires economics graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) and together, they develop some unprecedented ideas about the value of a player and seek to revolutionise the very nature of the sport and change the game forever. It’s not about the big dollars of a brand new signing, but rather the clever way to cut costs down and still produce a team that is capable of challenging for the very top honours in the sport. This may not sound like a thrilling premise, or one to get the pulses racing like many other sports films would. However, the sport is on the periphery of this story, and even if you have never watched a baseball match before, or have no interest in the sport, it is not a vital ingredient of the enjoyment of this movie, that comes in the shape of their performances and the brilliant screenplay penned by The Social Network‘s Aaron Sorkin. One could think you’re sat in the middle of a very boring maths class with all these stats and numbers being chucked in your direction, and you’re sat there struggling to make sense of it all. However, thanks to the excellent screenplay and dialogue, this is not so.

The acting here is certainly championship quality with Brad Pitt really shining in the lead role as Billy Beane. He anchors the movie with his usual charm and you root for him, because he’s the underdog, going up against all the seasoned scouts who ridicule him and his seemingly preposterous ideas. Also on top form is Jonah Hill as the economics graduate. A man who has spent many years of his career in comedy and has honed his craft in said genre, really showed his terrific acting ability with a serious and strong performance that earned him his first well earned Oscar nomination. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman also delivered a subdued but nonetheless powerful portrayal of the Oakland A’s manager, and the clashes between him and Beane do provide some first class acting and riveting story-telling under the masterful direction of Bennett Miller. For many sports fans, the action on the pitch, be it football, baseball, rugby, cricket or whatever, is what matters. Yet after watching Moneyball, you will come to realise that what goes on behind the scenes is equally, maybe even more important than what goes on on the field of play.

Acted to perfection, with a sharp and engaging screenplay, Bennett Miller and co have hit a home run, and in some style too, to the tune of 6 well earned Oscar nods.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

12 Years A Slave (2013)

Image rights belong to Fox Searchlight Pictures, Entertainment One, Regency Enterprises, River Road Entertainment, Plan B, New Regency, Film4
Image is property of Fox Searchlight Pictures, Entertainment One, Regency Enterprises, River Road Entertainment, Plan B, New Regency, Film4

12 Years A Slave – Film Review

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulsen, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Dano, Paul Giamtatti, Brad Pitt

Director: Steve McQueen

Synopsis:  The extraordinary true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man in the United States who is one day deceived, abducted and sold into slavery, facing the remaining years of his life in captivity.

Review: The slave trade is a dark part of the history of the United States and rarely, if ever, has a film captured the sheer brutality and injustices that existed within this vile trade. Previous films have glossed over these details. However,  in this heartbreaking true story, it absolutely does not hold back in showing to the audience the horrific hardships and cruelty that people endured as a result of this barbaric business.

Director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) along with an adapted screenplay from Solomon Northup’s memoirs by John Ridley, gives us a moving and powerful telling of the story of one man’s struggles against slavery that went on for more than a decade. Solomon Northup, a talented violinist who when offered work in Washington DC, is tricked and sold into slavery.  McQueen does not deceive the audience by sugar-coating the situation. He shows the horrendous treatment that Northup received once he had been sold into slavery. Locked in a tiny cell, in chains, intense whippings, and made to work for long hours by malicious and evil people that took great pleasure in beating these people up. Furthermore, the terrible abuse and hardships that these people suffered at the hands of slave owners has rarely been put onto the big screen. There is no hiding from the situation, it is in your face and it reminds you from a very early point in the film that this trade was monstrous and brutal and even now, it still leaves its mark on the people of the USA in particular.

The acting on offer here is among the best acting to appear on the big screen in 2013. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a fantastic performance as Solomon Northup. In the early scenes, he is a man who is free to do as he pleases, but then he wrongly becomes a captive man. His body language once he has been captured breaks your heart as it displays a man who is broken, devastated by the fact that he has lost his freedom. From a mere  look in his eyes, he is a man who despairs  in the fact that he is more than likely to be a slave until his death. Michael Fassbender collaborated with McQueen in both of his previous films. He appears here as the malicious slave owner Edwin Epps. A man who believes it is his right to beat and torture his slaves as he believes they are his “property.”

There is no restraint on his part and he viciously takes it out on slaves who dare to defy him. Patsey, played by newcomer Lupita Nyong’o is one of those slaves who feels the full force of Epps’ cruelty. Everyone in the film was phenomenal but Fassbender, Ejiofor and Nyong’o were the stand-out performances and all three have landed Oscar nominations in the Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories, and all deservedly so.

When watching this film, some may draw comparisons between this and Django UnchainedWhile it can be argued that Epps is like Calvin Candie from Django Unchained, Epps is a far more realistic representation of a slave owner.  Django Unchained was undoubtedly a very enjoyable film. However, it used slavery as a backdrop to give a signature Tarantino style story about vengeance, filled with dramatic violence. It did really illustrate story of  the brutality of slavery, certainly not to the level that McQueen does.

On the other hand, 12 Years A Slave is a hard-hitting, disturbing story. It captures the awful situation that many black people found themselves in during this period, and really illustrates the brutal nature of this business. This film has a great chance of winning some Oscars this March, with a total of nine nominations and it deserves every one. It is being tipped by many to win this year’s coveted Best Picture Oscar.  It is a film that should be shown to every pupil learning about slavery in school and a film for everyone to remind them of the inhumane slave trade. It is by no means an easy watch and some scenes are particularly horrific in nature. Nevertheless, it is a very moving and very powerful film that will have you thinking about it for a long time once you have finished watching it.

The film is dark, and is not a pleasant watch for sure, but the brilliant acting and emotional story make it a must see.

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