Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

Knives Out (2019)

Image is property of Lionsgate and Media Rights Capital

Knives Out – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer

Director: Rian Johnson

Synopsis: After a family patriarch dies in mysterious circumstances, a highly renowned private investigator is hired to lead the police inquiry…

Review: After making one of the most polarising blockbusters of all time in The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson would have been forgiven for taking a break from film-making, given the fierce, at times toxic, reaction that his Star Wars film generated. Yet, Johnson was having none of that and has wasted no time getting back into the game. After conceiving the idea of a murder mystery following the release of Looper, he takes obvious inspiration from the likes of Agatha Christie to give his own unique take on the “Whodunnit” genre, with extremely enthralling results.

As with all entertainment that centres on a murder mystery, it pays to know as little as possible about any plot details before diving head first into the madness. Therefore, vagueness is the name of the game from this point onwards. As he celebrates his 85th birthday party with his family, a family patriarch dies. Sensing something suspicious about the circumstances of the death, an official investigation is opened. As the tagline reads: “Hell, any of them could have done it.” As such, with everyone who attended the party a suspect, the detectives must interview the family members, and use those “little grey cells” in a bid to piece together the clues and to try and crack the case.

The most attractive group of suspects you’ll maybe ever see…

With such a stacked, A-list, ensemble cast, to give everyone their moment to shine would be extremely difficult. However, with a sharp and brilliantly witty script, Johnson does exactly that, and it enables him to get excellent performances out of everyone. Every member of this family is given fascinating, fleshed out back stories, which enables the audience to try and establish their potential motivations. Though, like all great murder mysteries, the audience is kept on their toes. Though, to go into too much detail about who gives the best performances is running the risk of getting into spoiler territory. With that in mind, let’s just say that, apart from Daniel Craig’s brilliant turn as the lead detective channelling his inner Poirot (if Poirot ever became a gruff Southern sleuth), the characters who wind up being at the centre of this investigation, are the best of a truly outstanding bunch.

There’s some ingenious subtext to the story that could have been a massive turn-off. However, it’s written so cleverly into the plot that makes it relevant and extremely entertaining. With every line of dialogue, Johnson’s passion for the genre comes across effortlessly, and he proves that he is a master of his craft. There’s also the distinct possibility that with some of the lines that these characters spit venomously at each other, that it’s Johnson’s subtle way of firing back, following the vitriol that was aimed in his direction following his Star Wars venture. For a film that centres on a murder investigation, it seems absurd that there’d be so many hilarious moments throughout. They are plentiful and they never feel out of place as the jokes keep the plot moving along at such a thrilling, kinetic pace. It ensures that not a single moment of the film’s run-time is wasted.

Bolstered by some immaculate, very colourful production design, this was the perfect film for Johnson to “bounce back” from the endless mire of the The Last Jedi backlash. It proves, if it were somehow ever in doubt that, Johnson’s mastery of the craft remains intact, and that he’s at the very top of his game as a writer and a director. Furthermore, it’s evident from every frame, that the cast are having a blast with this script, and there’s a good chance that this feeling will be reciprocal for the audience. It will make them want to grab their deerstalker hat and magnifying glass, and strive to  solve the riddle at the centre of this enthralling mystery.

A razor sharp, ingenious screenplay, backed by an impeccable ensemble cast ensures that Johnson’s modern update on the Whodunnit genre is an audacious, riveting spectacle. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

All the Money in the World (2017)

Image is property of Tristar Pictures and Scott Free Productions

All the Money in the World – Film Review

Cast: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Plummer

Director: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: After his grandson is kidnapped and held for ransom, billionaire businessman John Paul Getty refuses to negotiate, while his mother works tirelessly to secure his release.

Review: It became one of the biggest stories in the world of film in 2017. When allegations of sexual misconduct were made against Kevin Spacey, it had far-reaching consequences. With Spacey having completed filming for the role of John Paul Getty, amid fears that having him in the final film would be financially catastrophic, it prompted Ridley Scott to hurriedly axe Spacey from the role of John Paul Getty and instead replace him with Christopher Plummer, at a reported cost of £7.5 million. It was an enormous gamble, but one that definitely paid off.

Based on the incredible true story, as he’s walking around Rome, John Paul Getty III is whisked away by some kidnappers who demand a lofty ransom from his super rich grandfather. This sets in motion a tense battle between Getty and the mother of his grandson Gail (Michelle Williams) to ensure his safe release. While Gail is doing all she can to secure her son’s release, Getty remains defiant, refusing to submit to the demands of his grandson’s kidnappers, whilst being extremely cold and distant towards Gail. This sets off a chain of events that trigger a race against time to ensure that her son makes it back home alive, whose life it would be fair to say, is hanging in the balance.

For what it is worth, those pricey reshoots certainly made everything worthwhile as Plummer is tremendous and steals the show. It is hard to imagine anyone else playing this role. In spite of his vast riches,  and despite caring for all of his grandchildren, he simply refuses to negotiate or cave to the kidnappers demands, and though it seems heartless, you understand why he refuses to give in to the demands of his grandson’s kidnappers. The screenplay by David Scarpa, adapted from Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty (quite the long title!) tells this remarkable story in a manner that is extremely gripping. Though the film does suffer from some pacing issues where not a great deal is happening, the back-and-forth between Getty and Gail makes for some tense magnificently acted family drama.

Speaking of, Michelle Williams as Gail is also superb. In spite of the extreme difficulties she faces in getting Getty to cough up, she pursues every avenue that she can, possessing a relentless motherly drive to be reunited with her child, who is brought to the screen tremendously well by Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher). Wahlberg certainly doesn’t steal the show like Plummer or Williams, but he gets the job done as the man who Getty hires to assist Gail in her desperate quest to find her son.

Ridley Scott is a director who has had quite the career, but with Alien: Covenant receiving a decidedly mixed reaction among many cinema goers, it is pleasing to see him bounce back here. The film is directed tremendously well and Scott brings out some excellent performances from his cast, which is impressive given how little time he had to complete the reshoots to make the film’s release date. The third act especially is where Scott really turns the tension up a few levels and delivers a pulsating conclusion to a film that might have gone down in the history books for all the wrong reasons if Scott had chosen to not do anything. Thankfully, and indeed all the money in the world (well not quite) to help pay for those reshoots ensured it is another remarkable entry into Ridley Scott’s remarkable filmography, and given the circumstances, that is some achievement.

An incredible true story told with sincerity by Scott and boosted by the superb award worthy performances of Williams and Plummer, all the more remarkable given the circumstances that necessitated the latter’s last minute involvement in the project.