Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

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. 

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Hustlers (2019)

Image is property of STX Films and Gloria Sanchez Productions

Hustlers  – Film Review

Cast:  Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo

Director: Lorene Scafaria

Synopsis: When business at their strip club starts to diminish, a group of the club’s employees devise a scheme to turn the tables on the wealthy clientele that frequent their establishment…

Review: In the wake of the #MeToo movement that shook Hollywood to its core, it seems timely, one could argue even necessary, for more films to be made that feature women front and centre. Films that feature women in empowering situations, not being beholden to any men, and firmly in control of their own destinies. Furthermore, for a film that features women in a line of work that a debate could rage all day and all night about whether said line of work is objectification, or empowerment. In this case, it is absolutely, unequivocally the latter.

Destiny (Wu) is a young woman, who with people she needs to take care of, finds herself struggling to earn a decent living whilst working in a strip club. This is until she meets the confident Ramona (Lopez), who soon takes Destiny under her wing. Under Ramona’s tutelage, Destiny learns how to make more money for herself while she’s on the job. Things start off well, but when the establishment’s customers (and by consequence the money) start to diminish, these women take matters into their own hands to make their living and provide for those they care about. In doing so, they may just manipulate some wealthy individuals along the way.

Right from the very first moment she’s introduced, you know straight away that Ramona is Queen Bee (no, not that one) of this establishment, and our central group of women. Lopez possesses such a commanding on screen presence, and it helps her to own every minute of screen time that she has, delivering arguably her best ever performance. Destiny is at first a little unsure of herself but under Ramona’s tutelage she absolutely comes into her own Ramona, and Constance Wu turns in a solid performance. Though other ladies (Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart) become part of the titular hustle, the film’s focus is squarely on Ramona and Destiny, and the sweet and sincere friendship that they have. Their chemistry is the glue that binds the whole film together.

Lorene Scafaria’s direction is confident and assured. Given the profession of these women, a choice could definitely have been made under a different to director to overly sexualise them. Thankfully, Scafaria is having none of that, simply because such a decision would be completely unnecessary. She chooses to structure the film with various cuts back and forth between the events of the hustle, and a journalist (Stiles) who’s interviewing the key players for an article that she’s writing about the hustle. While this choice could hamper the film’s flow, the screenplay is sharp and stylish enough to ensure, and the excellent editing ensures that the sharp pace of the film never waivers. The first half of the film takes its time, as it is the calm before the storm, of the hustle. Whereas the second half is relentlessly exciting as the events of the hustle play out, as well as the immediate aftermath.

The film doesn’t exactly paint these women as heroes, because what they are doing is, simply put, not legal. On the other hand, it refuses to completely vilify them. It makes you see where they are coming from and why they are targeting these well-off clients. Quite a few humorous moments are interjected throughout, mainly courtesy of Lili Reinhart’s Annabelle. However, though there may be upsides, it’s not going to be all fun, and games and shopping sprees. There will also likely be drama, and above all, there will be consequences, for the hustlers, and for the people caught up in it all.

With a career best performance from Lopez, and a sharp as a stiletto screenplay, Hustlers combines a gripping and dramatic story, whilst celebrating female empowerment in a respectful manner.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2019)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight

Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Film Review

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E Grant

Director: Marielle Heller

Synopsis: When biographer Lee Israel’s (McCarthy) work dries up, she discovers some personal documents and manages to make an extortionate amount of money by forging these documents…

Review: For certain actors, they can be well known for a certain type of role that they tend to play quite a lot, they run a risk of getting typecast in that particular roleYet, every so often an actor breaks that typecast. This is certainly applicable for Melissa McCarthy, who has so often played roles of a similar ilk to her vulgar but extremely hilarious turn in Bridesmaids. Yet, for this considerably more dramatic role, it’s quite the transformative change for her, and it might just be the best performance of her career.

It is 1991 and Lee Israel’s life and career has hit a dead end, having found herself out of a job and new opportunities are becoming increasingly very hard to come by. Furthermore, she has very few acquaintances to share her life with. It is all rather gloomy until, quite by chance, she finds some unique personal artefacts of celebrities that she forges to her advantage. In doing this, she earns a substantial amount of money, and through these acts of forgery, she runs across fellow outcast Jack Hock (Grant), who aids her in these acts of deception.

The scene of the crime…

Though she comes off as quite the unlikable person, McCarthy is truly excellent in her performance. From the moment we first meet her, it is clear that she is difficult to work with and other people do not like her. These feelings are evidently reciprocal, as Lee clearly prefers the company of animals to people. The screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, adapted from Israel’s own memoir, goes about exploring how Lee intricately created her forgeries in an exciting fashion, whilst at the same time balancing that with Lee trying to build some sort of social connections with a select few people.

One of those few is Richard E Grant’s Jack Hock, who is something of an outcast himself and a recluse like Lee herself, similarly, he’s also a bit of an arsehole and not exactly the most pleasant man, but Grant is uproariously entertaining in this role. There is something heart-warming about watching these two connect despite their mutual difficulties of connecting with people, build a relationship and accomplish these naughty deeds, whilst having a tipple or two in their downtime. However, director Marielle Heller doesn’t shy away from the fact that what Lee is doing is a crime. Which, as various people begin to suspect that they have been deceived, the tension begins to grow as the authorities get involved.

Though the film does suffer from a few pacing issues, there is something about the story of Lee Israel that will be pertinent for that anyone who writes for a living, and equally so for those who dream of writing for a living. Equally so, if anyone has been an outsider, or has experienced difficulties in connecting with people, the struggles that people experience in those sorts of situations can undoubtedly take a heavy toll. And whenever people find themselves in those dark times, it can make people do things that they regret, or in Lee Israel’s case, do things and have the time of your life while doing so.

Simultaneously funny and tragic, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a poignant but fascinating study of one woman’s descent into deception, whilst getting arguably career best performances from both McCarthy and Grant.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Widows (2018)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Film4 Productions and Regency

Widows  – Film Review

Cast:  Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, Jon Bernthal, Liam Neeson

Director: Steve McQueen

Synopsis: After a bank heist goes horribly wrong leading to the deaths of all the crew, their widows step up to finish what their husbands started…

Review: When as a director, you make one of the most heart-wrenching but extremely impactful pieces of cinema to come out in this decade. A film that landed you the Best Picture Oscar no less, how do you follow that up? For Steve McQueen, following on from his success with the aforementioned 12 Years A Slave, the answer is simple. You team up with another recent Oscar winner and make another exhilarating, heart-pounding piece of cinema. Namely a heist film quite unlike anything the genre has concocted before.

After a team of criminals are caught up in a heist that gets all of them killed, their widows are left in a very desperate situation. Veronica Rawlings (Davis) is the widow of the leader of the crew, Harry (Neeson). Not long after her husband’s death, she receives a rather uncomfortable visit from crime boss Jamal Manning, (Brian Tyree Henry) the target of the botched heist. Demanding repayment of the stolen money, and given a rather tight window in order to do so, Veronica has the plans for what would have been her husband’s next job. Needing her own crew to pull it off, recruits the other widows who also lost their husbands in the same heist, for a new mission to score the money that their husbands stole. Conceptually, though this may sound like your average heist film, in execution, it is a very different beast.

The screenplay, co-written by McQueen and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn adds deep political subtext to this story that really gives the film a unique feel to it. Furthermore with such powerful women at the centre of this gripping story, in the era of the Me Too movement, it feels all the more powerful and relevant in modern times.  What McQueen and Flynn’s script does so excellently is give each woman involved in this daring heist a significant amount of development. Though they come from different backgrounds, each woman absolutely stands on her own two feet and all give excellent performances.

Leading the pack and fresh from her Oscar success, Viola Davis is once again superb in the role of Veronica. She is a woman who has been to hell and back again, both with events in her past and in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s demise. Yet her fiery spirit keeps her going through this turbulent time. Likewise for Alice (Debicki) and (Rodriguez), both of whom are also dealt with a torrid set of consequences in the wake of the heist that robbed them of their spouses. But with the resolute Veronica at the helm, there is no time to mope, they have some work to do.

Though the women have the spotlight absolutely deservedly on them, Daniel Kaluyya’s portrayal of Jamal’s brother, Jatamme is magnificent and absolutely terrifying in equal measure. A VERY different kind of role especially in comparison to his Oscar nominated performance in Get Out, but with every moment he has on screen, his cold demeanour and brutality is enough to send shivers down the spines of the audience. This is a man whose path you do not want to cross under any circumstances.

With the theme of powerful women front and centre, McQueen also brilliantly weaves political drama into the story. There is one moment in particular that really stands out in terms of how the scene is filmed. And by doing it this way, it really sends a startling message about modern day America and in particular modern American politics. It is another film released this year that feels very timely in terms of its themes, whilst also being not afraid to pull any punches, or to let the bullets fly.

A heist/thriller with a lot to say for itself, boosted an impeccable stellar ensemble cast and bold direction, another exhilarating addition to the filmography of Steve McQueen.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Sicario 2: Soldado (2018)

Image is property of Lionsgate

Sicario 2: Soldado – Film Review

Cast: Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Matthew Modine, Catherine Keener, Isabela Moner

Director:  Stefano Sollima

Synopsis: As the drug war at the US-Mexico border rages on, and with the cartels now transporting terrorists across the border, the US government recruits Matt Graver (Brolin) and Alejandro (del Toro) to fuel tensions between rival cartels…

Review:  Every once in a while, a film comes along that is so gritty and grounded in terms of its execution, that you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a real life drama that was unfolding in front of you. One such film that falls into this category is 2015’s Sicario. The scope of this film focused on the battle on the drug trafficking across the US-Mexico border, and the murky boots-on-the-ground mission that ensued. It was a simple story, but one that was told magnificently through superb cinematography and directing, and a compelling lead performance from Emily Blunt.

So for this next mission, unfortunately all of those three aforementioned components are gone. Blunt’s Kate Macer is out of the picture and out go Denis Villenueve and Roger Deakins as director and cinematographer, and in come Stefano Sollima and Dariusz Wolski respectively. Brolin and del Toro return as does Taylor Sheridan on screenplay duties. This particular story is one that feels very timely as the cartels are smuggling terrorists across the border and so in an attempt to retaliate, the US Government wants to put petrol on the fire and ignite a war amongst the cartels.

Taking the reins from Villeneuve is a big ask, but Sollima’s direction is assured and retains that gritiness and horrifying realism that the first film captured. In addition, with Brolin and del Toro, you know you’re going to get confident performances from these two. However, as good as these guys are, the absence of Blunt feels like a missed opportunity as no one really steps up to fill that important moral compass role that she represented, even in such a murky and dangerous world. Because these guys are not heroes, not in a million years.

And it’s good night for this person…

With the high of his directorial debut Wind River, Taylor Sheridan again pens the script. Though he has written four stellar screenplays, this is his first major misstep. Though this film is a lot more complex than the first film as it tries to weave several different strands together, but this results in a very messy and meandering story that just does not mesh those strands together well enough, and is really unfocused. What’s more the characters of Matt and Alejandro are barely developed from the first film, which is a real shame as for Alejandro especially, given the enthralling and deeply personal arc that his character went on in the first film. There is an attempt to expand on that arc, but it is minimal at best.

That is not to say, there are one or two moments in the film that really ground the film in reality, especially a scene near the beginning that bluntly remind the viewer that this is a dangerous conflict that we face in the world today. Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score is assured, but nowhere near on the level of the brilliant, incredibly tense score that Johann Johannsson (RIP) provided for the first film. There is an argument to be made that a sequel was certainly not needed for this film, and when you take away the elements that made that first film great, it should come as no surprise that you’re going to get a film that despite the best efforts of everyone involved, is really lacking the quality that made its predecessor such a riveting piece of cinema.

Retaining the dark and gritty nature of Sicario, Soldado tries to deliver a more complex story, but its messy screenplay severely lacks the spark and emotional punch that its predecessor delivered. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight and Film4

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Film Review

Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage

Director: Martin McDonagh

Synopsis: After a young woman’s murder goes unsolved, her mother rents out the use of three billboards just outside her town to try and force the authorities into action…

Review: As human beings, it would certainly be fair to say that we can be at our lowest ebbs whenever someone we love has passed away. Whether it be from natural causes, or if they’re cruelly and sometimes callously taken away from us. But what could anyone do in the case of the latter? Well there’s not a lot you could do except hope that killer was caught and swiftly faces justice for their actions. However, what if that doesn’t come to pass?  Do you have any other options?

Yes is the answer for one bereaved mother, as she chooses to take matters into her own hands. After her daughter Angela was brutally raped and murdered seven months prior, Mildred Hayes makes use of three large billboards just outside of her town, with  messages that are directed at the police whose investigation hasn’t yielded any clues. Though by doing this, it causes a stir among the population of the town (and not in a good way) that creates some problems on top of the problems that Mildred is already having in her life.

You would think that such a bleak scenario does not allow for comedy, but that’s exactly what writer/director Martin McDonagh provides. His superb screenplay manages fuses both the comedy and the tragedy of this family drama so effortlessly that one never negates the other. One scene can shift from a wonderfully humorous moment to a gut-wrenchingly sad moment in an instant. Furthermore, in a country that is facing some deeply testing times, the screenplay also goes beyond the personal grief of one family and examines some important issues facing American society today. It’s extremely powerful and hard-hitting.

Being the centrepiece of this story Mildred Hayes is a character who it is clear has had a lot of shit going on in her life besides the tragic fate that befell her daughter. Even though she isn’t exactly going things in the most acceptable or indeed correct manner, you understand her rage that she has for certain people and as such you do sympathise with her. Frances McDormand gives a terrific performance that has already won her a Golden Globe, with more nominations and potentially awards to follow, all of which would be well deserved. Equally terrific are Police Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) who’s encountering his own difficult personal problems and a bigoted policeman (Rockwell) who is absolutely not a friendly chap whatsoever. Yet there is a hint of a man who is a little bit vulnerable, though the same could be said for perhaps almost everyone in the town, with these events having clearly taken their toll on the town as a whole.

With each of the story-lines that these characters have and the ensuing journey that these three in particular go on makes for some hilarious, and in some cases, harrowing viewing. Yet  it handles its subject matter in such a delicate manner that the comedy and the tragedy do not cancel each other out. With McDonagh’s razor sharp screenplay and direction, combined with the electric performances from the ensemble cast ensures that the film is extremely thought-provoking. It packs so much more emotional weight that ensures it will leave a lasting impression, on both the viewer and indeed on this current awards season race.

 Funny, shocking and depressing, sometimes all in the same scene, but McDonagh’s razor sharp screenplay ensures it is all meshed together supremely well. This is bold, but quite brilliant film-making in equal measure.

 

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.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Molly’s Game (2017)

Image is property of STXfilms

Molly’s Game – Film Review

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera, Kevin Costner

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Synopsis: After her professional sports career lies in tatters, a young woman named Molly Bloom sets up and runs high stakes poker games, but it isn’t long before she finds herself at risk of running into trouble with the law…

Review: When it comes to a screenplay that is written by the one and only Aaron Sorkin, you’re going to get extremely well written and extremely engaging dialogue. In addition, the characters on screen will be talking in a fast pace that keeps you completely focused on the words that they are saying, whilst moving the plot forward in a timely manner. With Sorkin he can take almost any aspect such as the inner workings of baseball, or the lives behind the founders of Apple and Facebook and turn them into extremely entertaining, very character driven pieces that yield exceptional performances. Except this time, having for so long been the master of the screenplay, he makes his first venture in the world of directing.

His debut feature tells the story of Molly Bloom, a budding young athlete in her early life with dreams of going professional. This was until a horrendous incident ruined those dreams for good. Seeking a new venture, she finds herself working as for want of a better word, a secretary for a man who runs poker games. After acquiring the experience and developing the skills, she becomes extremely good at this, to the point where she decides to set up her own business running extremely high stakes poker games for some A list celebrities. However it isn’t long before she finds herself dealing with some much more scary sort of clientele that soon lands her in some hot water.

Sorkin chooses to tell Molly’s story by focusing on her fraught meetings with her lawyer (Idris Elba) and then flashes back to her past and how she went from an athlete with shattered dreams to running high stakes poker games for some truly A list clients. Among these clients include some very high calibre Hollywood actors, though the real identities of these people have been deliberately obscured. The script is filled with Sorkin’s familiar sort of very fast paced dialogue, with extremely watchable characters who definitely have a story to tell, and in the case of Molly Bloom, hers is certainly one that will have your interest in from the word go.

As she so often is Chastain is fantastic in this role that has already bagged her a few award nominations. She displays dogged determination to succeed in spite of some people giving her some rough treatment, whilst crucially giving the character strong emotional weight when she’s tussling and arguing with her lawyer, and even more so when the effects of her glamourous lifestyle really begin to take their toll on her. Elba, as said lawyer is also excellent as he tries his best to determine the best course of action for Molly to take in this precarious situation.

Sorkin is undeniably a master when it comes to screenwriting, as a director he shows himself to be equally adept combining his signature dialogue and making the film cohesive and structurally on point. The weaving together of two timelines can lead to a messy outcome, but thankfully the film doesn’t collapse and fall apart like a poker player might if they had a terrible hand.  Even if you have no clue whatsoever when it comes to poker, the story is told in such a way that keeps you engaged and interested in this woman and her truly fascinating story from the depth of despair to a remarkable rise to riches, and back again.

Anchored by an electric performance from Chastain, with superb work from Elba, Molly’s Game ensures that Sorkin’s directorial debut has plenty of aces up its sleeve.

 

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 2010-2019, Film Review

Wind River (2017)

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Wind River – Film Review

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen

Director: Taylor Sheridan

Synopsis: In the depths of Wyoming, USA, a rookie FBI agent and a veteran hunter to solve the mystery of the death of a young woman…

Review: Winter, a season that can be extremely punishing and harsh if you venture out in the wilderness not fully prepared for the brutality that that particular time of year can deliver. And it’s in winter in Wyoming, USA that sets the stage for the second directorial effort of Taylor Sheridan, the scribe behind the quite brilliant Sicario and Hell or High Water. Much like both of those films, there’s some crime involved. But this time there are no drug cartels or bank robbers to be found, it’s the mystery surrounding the death of a young woman’s body that is found in the brutal wilderness and the job of law enforcement to investigate what happened.

Leading the investigation is  Jane Banner (Olsen) a rookie FBI agent who’s called to the scene of the crime after the discovery was made by Cory Lambert (Renner) Together, Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye  these two go on the hunt for the clues that they hope will lead to finding out those who are responsible for this young woman’s death. In the same way that The Revenant might have made you feel cold whilst you were watching, the use of practical sets makes the audience feel like they are in the deep wilderness of this harsh place which can send a cold shiver down your spine. Clearly choosing to shoot on practical locations gives the film a real authenticity and adds to the gritty nature of the story.

Avengers on a mission…

Sheridan showed his writing credentials with the aforementioned films he scribed, and once again his script though it does wobble in places is strong and is ably backed up by well developed, interesting characters. As a man who married into a Native American family, Cory is a man driven by his desire for justice due to the connections he has with the deceased woman in question and Renner’s performance is excellent. Though initially reluctant he joins Banner on her quest for justice, and in this frozen land where nearby help is not exactly forthcoming, the two of them must use their experience to help solve this case. Olsen is also on good form, if perhaps not as well developed as she maybe could be in the officer leading this investigation but nevertheless, the characters are well written to keep you engaged in the story.

The pacing is a bit slow to begin with as the investigation begins and the hunt for clues begins. However despite the slowish pace in the beginning, the story remains riveting to watch. Once the investigation has yielded some substantial results is when the film really picks up the pace and delivers some pulsating and tense scenes, particularly when you reach the third act and the key details of this investigation begin to emerge. Sheridan showed his skill when it comes to screenwriting, and he transfers those skills to directing tremendously well with great wide shots of the territory that really make you feel that this place is cold, vast and very unforgiving.

Though the crux of the movie focuses on the hunt for clues surrounding the deceased young woman, the film does have a bigger picture focus that while is an important part of the film isn’t explored perhaps as much as it ought to be, at least not until the end credits when it really hits you like a wrecking ball. The score composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis helps keep the tension up particularly in that mesmerising third act that will ensure you feel those cold chills in your body, almost as if you were the ones in this brutal environment that makes you realise, that in spite of whatever horrors humanity may commit, that Mother Nature is a merciless force you dare not mess with.

Tremendously well made, with two excellent performances at its core, and a story that will shock you and send a cold shiver down your spine.