Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Bombshell (2019)

Image is property of Lionsgate and Annapurna Pictures

Bombshell  – Film Review

Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney

Director: Jay Roach

Synopsis: As the United States gears up towards the 2016 Presidential Election, one of the country’s most prominent TV networks, Fox News, is rocked by allegations of sexual harassment allegations against its chairman Roger Ailes…

Review: Back in 2017, the shocking details of the sexual behaviour of powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, and his appalling conduct of sexually harassing women became public. The disclosure of such appalling revelations gave life to such powerful and important campaigns like Time’s Up and the Me Too movement, which have started vital discourses about sexual harassment. Yet, one year earlier, thanks to the brave courage of women, an equally loathsome dynasty, deservedly fell from grace.

The attention of the entire United States, and the wider world alike, is focusing on the 2016 Presidential election, with controversial candidate Donald Trump emerging as the front runner for the Republican Party. But behind the scenes at the conservative leaning Fox News, the company’s chairman, Roger Ailes, is perpetrating a rampant scheme of sexual harassment against his employees. With employees so often powerless to do anything about it, it goes unchallenged for a significantly long period of time. Until some decide, that it’s time to drop an explosive bombshell on their employers.

Thanks to the work of the makeup team (lead by Darkest Hour‘s Oscar winner Kazu Hiro) Charlize Theron puts in an excellent, transformative performance as notorious Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. She’s one of network’s greatest assets, but in the wake of wake of some sexist comments that are fired her way by following one of the televised debates, she becomes the centre of attention of not just Ailes the Fox News audience, but of the country as a whole. Kelly initially seems willing to let the matter slide, in order to further her career. But as time goes on, amid the rampant nature of the abuse that is going on, means that she has to take a stand.

The film approaches the matter from three perspectives, that of Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson (Kidman), and fictionalised producer Kayla Pospisil (Robbie). The contrast between Carlson and Pospisil could not be more apparent. The former is starting to get extremely tired of the culture that she’s witnessing at the network, and is preparing herself for a possible legal showdown. Meanwhile the latter is determined to forge a career at this network, an approach that begins to waiver when Ailes himself (a brilliantly slimy John Lithgow) takes a liking to Kayla, and subjects her to the sort of demeaning treatment that he almost certainly subjected many women to. It’s a deeply uncomfortable moment that puts this whole scandal into perspective.

While it would have made quite the statement had this film been written and directed by women, writer Charles Randolph and director Jay Roach approach this tricky and emotional subject matter from an empathetic standpoint. Pitching this as a satire ran the risk of negating the heavy subject matter and making light of the abuse that these women suffered. The approach taken is at times, rather sensationalist and is scratching at the surface. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take lightly the awful abuse that these women endured. Regardless of political persuasion, it serves as a necessary reminder that there’s the bigger picture to focus on. Specifically, that women to this day experience this sort of harassment in workplaces across the world.

It could have been overtly gratuitous with some decisions it makes, but it chooses to keep the awful treatment that these women were subjected to front and centre, and never is that more apparent than in a heart-breaking scene between Kayla and a co-worker. Ailes and Weinstein have deservedly fallen from grace, but the bigger picture remains that predators like them almost certainly remain very much at large, in workplaces all across the world. Crucially, women must not be afraid to speak out, because when they do, it can shine a light on individuals  who perpetrate such loathsome schemes. Change won’t happen overnight, but we can kickstart efforts to stamp out this repugnant behaviour.

Combining such weighty subject matter with satire is always risky. However, with a broadly empathetic approach to its storytelling combined with three strong performances, it’s a timely reminder of the vital importance of initiatives like Time’s Up and the Me Too Movement.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Little Women (2019)

Image is property of Columbia Pictures, Regency Enterprises and Sony Pictures

Little Women – Film Review

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper

Director: Greta Gerwig

Synopsis: Telling the lives of the March sisters as they navigate the transition from adolescence to adulthood in a post Civil War USA…

Review: After the storming success of her unique and original debut film, that added her name to the select few women to have been nominated for an Oscar for directing, the world was the oyster for Greta Gerwig. For her sophomore feature, she would have likely had the green light to make anything that she so desired. Therefore, to give the beloved novel by Louisa May Alcott another adaptation seemed to be unnecessary. However, Gerwig has taken on this adaptation, and breathed new life into this beloved story, in magnificent style.

In a post Civil War United States, we meet the March sisters: Jo (Ronan), Meg (Watson), Amy (Pugh) and Beth (Scanlen). We see their lives from two different time periods, firstly in a post Civil War setting, mixed in with flashbacks to their time spent growing up together in Massachusetts. Jo is determined to make her own way in the world to pursue a career as a writer, Amy wishes to become an artist, Meg dreams of becoming an actress, and Beth aspires to be a musician. They assist their mother (Dern) in any way they can while their father is away fighting in the war. Growing up, the sisters spend a lot of their time together, supporting their mother any way they can as their lack of money means that luxuries are extremely hard to come by.

Straight away, the chemistry between the four sisters leaps off the screen. There is a warm feeling that comes off in the relationships that they have with each other. Their chemistry feels very sincere and genuine, which is a credit to the talent of the actresses playing them. As anyone who grew up with one or more siblings will tell you, they love and care for each other. Yet, at any given moment, that can flip on its head and that love can turn to loathing. Every member of this cast delivers delightful performances, from Meryl Streep’s hilarious turn as their snidey (but hilarious) Aunt, to Laura Dern as their steadfast and extremely patient mother, to Timothee Chalamet as their childhood friend, who becomes the man that they all would dream of marrying.

However, the stars of the show (as they should be), are the titular little women, the March sisters. Gerwig’s screenplay explores in great detail the pressures that women like the sisters would have faced during that time period. Finding themselves in a position where they would love nothing more than to follow their hearts, but they are frustrated due to the constraints that society placed on women at the time. The strength of the screenplay ensures that Gerwig gives each of her stars excellent material to work with. It enables each of their personalities to shine through and though each of them all give sincere performances, the performances by Saoirse Ronan’s Jo and Florence Pugh’s Amy shine the brightest.

The score by Alexandre Desplat is befitting of the warm and delightful ambience that the film generates. Similarly, Jacqueline Durran’s wonderful costumes perfectly illustrate the calibre of such an esteemed, Oscar winning costume designer. The film adopts a non-linear approach to its storytelling, which can perhaps be a little jarring at first to any viewers who may be unfamiliar with the source material. It’s a testament to the Alcott’s novel that it can still resonate with people over a century and a half after it was first published, proving it to be a timeless piece of storytelling. Furthermore, it has proved to be a springboard for a talent like Greta Gerwig to adapt it once again for the big screen so beautifully. She retains those powerful core messages that will especially resonate with everyone regardless, of their gender, but especially for women who grew up with sisters.

One might have argued that this beloved novel did not need yet another adaptation. However, a terrific ensemble cast led by Ronan and Pugh, combined with Gerwig’s excellent screenplay ensures that this latest adaptation will charm its way into your heart.

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

Just Mercy (2019)

Image is property of Warner Bros

Just Mercy – Film Review

Cast: Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson, Rob Morgan, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Rafe Spall

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Synopsis: After a man is convicted of murder of a young woman and sent to death row, a defence attorney begins to uncover some startling facts about the case….

Review: It’s not exactly news that in the USA right now, the country has had, and continues to have a major issue with racism. Such an issue, extends to many facets of life in the country, and one particular example being the the justice system and the rule of law. A system that has some very fundamental flaws and biases, that can see people arrested for the most trivial of things. Likewise one that can see potentially innocent people, be sent to prison in spite of some very iffy/suspicious witness statements or evidence.

Walter McMillian, known to his friends and family as Johnny D, is on death row after he was found guilty of murdering a young woman. When attorney Bryan Stevenson takes on his case, he starts to investigate the case in substantial detail. Through some extensive and thorough examination of all the evidence, with the support of Eva Ansley (Larson), all is not what it seems with this case. Stevenson, believing that McMillan may have been wrongfully convicted through some spurious evidence and witness statements, makes it his mission to leave no stone unturned in his investigation, and to do all he can to clear McMillan of this crime.

Courtroom dramas such as these have definitely been adapted for the big screen before. However, while it doesn’t strive away from your typical courtroom drama, the sheer strength and emotional weight of the story are what bring the emotional levity to the situation. This film’s power and urgency lies in Andrew Lanham’s and director Destin Daniel Cretton’s script, which is not trying to be anything new in terms of courtroom dramas, and it doesn’t have to be in order to be extremely effective. Simply because it is trying to shine a light on an issue that is still prevalent in the US to this day. With people are being sent down for crimes they definitely didn’t commit, whilst simultaneously highlighting and the appalling institutional biases that still occur to this day in the US justice system, particularly for people of colour, it shows a fundamental problem that urgently needs addressing.

Michael B Jordan is nothing short of sensational as Bryan Stevenson, the attorney who bravely takes on McMillan’s case. Given the emotional magnitude surrounding the case, he would be forgiven for cracking under the intense pressure that comes along with taking what is to many people, an already closed case. While Larson’s screen time is limited, she is also excellent as the assistant to Jordan’s Stevenson. However, it’s Jamie Foxx’s heartbreaking performance that is by far and away, the most awards worthy. Giving his best performance since Django Unchained, you can see from his body language that the years on death row understandably have taken their toll on him. Yet through Stevenson’s relentless desire to uncover the truth, it brings him the faintest glimmer of hope in the darkest of situations for him and his family.

One of the many great aspects of film is its ability to shed light on such stories that people around the world may not know about. However, these hard-hitting stories need to be mandatory viewing for everyone. The whole point of a justice system, in any country the world over, is to hold a fair and unbiased trial that examines all the evidence without prejudice. Yet time after time in the US, the system is shown to be completely rigged to the extent that people, especially people of colour, are seemingly condemned before any trial has even begun. Changes will not happen but overnight, but with powerful pieces of storytelling like Just Mercy, one would hope that the tide eventually start to turn to prevent situations like this from happening again.

With a trio of fantastic performances at its centre, and an emotionally charged story packed with an urgent, powerful message that must be heard the world over. This is so much more than just your typical courtroom drama.

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

Waves (2019)

Image is property of A24

Waves – Film Review

Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sterling K. Brown, Lucas Hedges

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Synopsis: Focusing on an African-American family, and the lives of the two children as they navigate the testing period between their teenage years and adulthood…

Review: No matter who you are, or where you’re from, there’s a lot of pressure on you when you’re young. The period between your teenage years and the transition to adulthood are extremely tough to negotiate as you try to figure out your path in life, and certain decisions can define your trajectory for a long time to come. With only his third feature film, writer/director Trey Edward Shults presents an emotional look at one family’s journey through this testing time, with some immensely powerful results.

Right from the get go, there’s something about the way Shults writes and directs this powerful story feels so raw and honest, and this translates into flawless performances from every member of the Williams family. At the head of the family is loving, but tough father Ronald (Brown), stepmother Catherine (Goldsberry), and the two children Tyler (Harrison Jr) and Emily (Russell). Initially, we see things from the perspective of Tyler, and on first glance, things appear to be going well for him. He has his place on the wrestling team and a loving girlfriend in Alexis (Demie). Through relentless pushing by his father, he strives for excellence in every aspect of his life. However, a startling revelation threatens to turn his idyllic life completely upside down, with potentially long-lasting consequences for him and everyone he loves.

In a film with impeccable performances across the board, Kelvin Harrison Jr leads the way with a tremendous, wounded performance as Tyler. He imbues this young man who’s not short of confidence and self-belief. However, underneath that exterior is someone who faces severe pressure of the expectations that society places on the shoulders of a young man like him. The whole time, he has something eating away at him. Amid the constant pushing from his father, he runs the risk of making a severe lapse in judgement. The film illustrates how young men all over the world can be overwhelmed by the weight of expectations that society places on them, and that it’s imperative for them to have figures of support to help them navigate the tricky journey that we call life.

Opposite him, Taylor Russell delivers an equally sensational performance as Tyler’s sister Emily. Though Tyler gets the limelight in the early stages of the film, Emily very much represents that vital figure of support that her brother really needs, even though she too is facing pressure of her own. The film is very much told in two halves, first from Tyler’s perspective, and then from Emily’s perspective. The first half of the screenplay is the stronger of the two due because of the sheer strength of the emotion of the situation that builds between these characters. Though, there comes a point about half way through where that emotion builds to a crescendo, and hits you like a ton of bricks.

Like a wave itself that has its highs and then it comes crashing back down, the second half of the story very much represents the point after the wave has reached its crescendo. It’s not emotionally powerful as the preceding half, but it serves as a necessary after-effect for the events that precede it. There’s a very intimate and personal manner to the way Shults directs the film, which gives the story a authentic vibe to this touching, and emotional story. Bolstered by a superb score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the film serves as a reminder that growing up is far from an easy time, and that love and support can go a long way to building long-lasting relationships, with family and with friends in equal measure.

Flawless performances across the board, especially from Harrison Jr and Russell, bolstered by a well developed, and powerful story told with raw honesty. Be prepared for the extraordinary emotional journey that Waves will take you on.

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

The Report (2019)

Image is property of Amazon Studios

The Report – Film Review

Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, Maura Tierney, Jon Hamm

Director: Scott Z. Burns

Synopsis: In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, a United States Senate staffer is tasked with leading an enquiry into the use of torture by the CIA with some shocking discoveries…

Review: September 11, 2001 is one of those days that if you were alive, everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing on that terrible day. In the wake of such unimaginable devastation and loss of life, any government would be under pressure to bring the perpetrators of such a callous attack to justice. But as we know, the war that was waged in response to 9/11 had long lasting consequences, and not all of it has been widely available public knowledge.

Daniel Jones (Driver) is a Senate Staffer who’s recruited to work for Senator Dianne Feinstein (Benning). Tasked with investigating the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were used by the CIA to try and extract information from Al-Qaeda terrorists to give them intelligence. Spending many years of his life, trawling through thousands upon thousands of pages of rather chilling evidence, the details that are uncovered are startling. To further complicate matters, politicians clamour to prevent the full details of his report from being made public.

In this inescapable partisan nature of politics in this day and age, to craft a compelling balanced narrative out of such heavy and hard-hitting material is a tall order, but writer/director Scott Z. Burns does exactly that. In a drama that relies on people spending most of their time on screen either sitting at their desks researching on computers, or having conversations with politicians. It’s imperative that the script be well-written and on point to carry the film’s narrative throughout. Furthermore, to avoid getting bogged down in partisan politics, the film clearly illustrates that no side of the political spectrum is absolved of blame when it came to the attempts to block the report from being made public.

Given his status as one of the most prolific actors currently in the business, it should come as no surprise that Adam Driver once again gives an excellent performance. In the same vein that Official Secrets was resting on Keira Knightley’s shoulders, the onus is on Driver’s Daniel Jones to navigate the audience through this important period in modern US history and leave no stone unturned in what went on, and who was responsible for allowing this to happen. By his side through all of this is Annette Bening’s excellent turn as Dianne Feinstein. A politician who is resolute in her belief to do the right thing, whilst ensuring she is not too overtly biased towards her side of the political spectrum.

The torture scenes in the film make for, as you might expect, uncomfortable viewing. However, they are necessary to put the events, and the work that is carried out by Jones and his team, into context. The editing is a little uneven in the first act as the film between the investigative work being carried out, and the torture scenes. While these do serve their purpose, they can get a bit tiresome very quickly. Thankfully these are not focused on for too long. The report itself and the efforts to bring it to the attention of the public become the sole attention. There’s nothing remarkable about Burns’s direction, but the gripping subject matter and some excellent performances maintain the investment in the story.

The world, in particular the world of politics is a scary place right now. In a time when politics, and by consequence politicians are becoming increasingly fraught, bitterly divided on allegiances to an individual and or a particular party. Rather than be beholden to blind allegiances, it pays to be open-minded and to not let party politics cloud your judgement, especially when it comes to examples of blatant wrongdoing that should not be buried behind mountains of legal paperwork.

Hard-hitting and timely, The Report speaks volumes about this extremely divisive political era, reminding us value of integrity, and the importance of holding those in power to account.

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

Ford V Ferrari (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox

Ford V Ferrari (Le Mans ’66) – Film Review

Cast: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Jon Bernthal, Tracy Letts, Caitriona Balfe, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone

Director: James Mangold

Synopsis: Telling the true story of how a team of engineers, employed by Ford, set out to build a car capable of usurping Ferrarri’s dominance at the 24 hour race at Le Mans in 1966…

Review: When certain sports events come around every once in a while, it seems like the whole world just stops and watches with interest. For instance, events like the Olympics, the Football World Cup or the Superbowl capture the hearts and minds of viewers all across the world. Meanwhile, events though they might be just as compelling to some, events like the 24 Hour race at Le Mans do not nearly have the same level of global coverage. However, this is certainly no barrier for director James Mangold to craft an utterly captivating spectacle of one particular year’s version of this sporting showdown.

With Ferrari consistently bettering Ford in the 24 Hours of Le Mans over a number of years, Ford head honcho Henry Ford II is determined to usurp Ferrari’s dominance. To achieve that end, he commissions engineer Carroll Shelby (Damon) to use whatever resources he needs to build a car that would have the capabilities and the endurance to not only survive the 24 hour race, but to pip Ferrari to the post. Believing him to be the best in the business, Shelby recruits the extremely talented driver, and uber intense petrol-head Ken Miles (Bale) to be Ford’s driver for the race. A decision that, due to Miles’s brash personality, causes friction in the higher echelons of the company.

And the award for looking menacing in a pair of shades goes to….

As was with the case with Ron Howard’s Rush, you most assuredly do not need to be the most devout follower of the 24 hour race at Le Mans, or indeed any particular racing event for that matter, to be completely invested in this story. Whilst Rush‘s focal point was the rivalry between two legendary F1 drivers, Ford v Ferrari‘s central premise is on the friendship between Damon’s Shelby and Bales’s Miles, and the build up to this hugely important race. It’s this friendship, and the high stakes that both of them are facing in the build up to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966, that drives the film forwards.

Given that their friendship is at the centre of the film, Matt Damon and Christian Bale are absolutely outstanding in their roles. Their friendship might not be the most seamless, but there’s a solid respect for one another as they both appreciate the role that the other plays in this team. You can have the best car in the world, but the perfect car is just one half of the equation. This is because without the best driver, you do not stand a chance of winning a race that requires a multitude of factors to ensure that your car comes out on top. Tracy Letts leads the way in an effective ensemble cast as the commanding Henry Ford II, closely followed by Jon Bernthal’s polished Ford Executive, who contrasts quite brilliantly opposite Josh Lucas’s Ford Executive, the latter of whom is considerably more slimy, and openly distrustful of Shelby’s methods.

Having dabbled in the world of superheroes, and more specifically ones with claws, for his last two films, James Mangold switches from the superhero gear to this one effortlessly. With some excellent cinematography, camerawork, and the brilliant work of the sound team, the audience is put very firmly in the driver’s seat, as if they were the ones at the wheel of these remarkable machines. Whether you couldn’t care less about cars, or if you’re the biggest petrol-head going, there’s an intensity to the racing scenes that make them extremely exhilarating to watch. However, the foot is not on the accelerate pedal the entire time. The screenplay balances these high octane, adrenaline-fuelled scenes with some more personal moments.

Through Mangold’s excellent steering, he makes the two and a half hours fly by, in a similar vein to how a super-fast car would whizz by the audience in a flash. Though the ending is a little bit rushed, there’s never any severely problematic pacing issues that could have caused the entire film to crash and burn. With a stirring, emotional score from Marco Beltrami, the film roars past that finishing line with flying colours.

Magnificently crafted racing scenes, combined with a fascinating story about two men and their respective search for greatness. Ladies and Gentlemen, please fasten your seat-belts, you’re in for an adrenaline-fuelled, enthralling ride.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Official Secrets (2019)

Image is property of Entertainment One

Official Secrets – Film Review

Cast: Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Adam Bakri, Ralph Fiennes, Conleth Hill

Director: Gavin Hood

Synopsis: Telling the true story of a GCHQ employee who, in violation of the Official Secrets Act of 1998, leaked a top secret memo containing information relating to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq to the press.

Review: One of the many wonderful aspects about film is that it can shine a light on an event from decades ago, and reintroduce it into the public consciousness for a whole new generation to learn about. This can also be applicable for historic events set in more modern times, as certain stories can get buried in the sea of round-the-clock news that the world has become. Stories that deserve to be known to people across the globe. One such example is that of a Government employee and her courageous decision to go against her government, at the very real risk of prosecution is a very brave one, especially in this day and age of emotionally charged political discourse.

The government employee in question here is GCHQ employee Katharine Gun (Knightley). On what appears to be a regular work day, an email comes through containing a memo with some top secret information relating to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, and whether certain countries were being coerced into voting for a resolution to go to war. Feeling that such information deserves to be shared with the wider world, and not buried behind legal barriers, she leaks the memo via a close confidante. Soon enough, the memo lands in the hands of the Press, who are left with their own risky decision as to whether they should invoke the fury of the government, and run the story.

Keira Knightely is an actor who certainly likes to pick roles in period dramas. However, here she comes back to modern(ish) times with a bang. She delivers a sensational performance as the woman who bravely takes a stand, when seemingly no one else would. Even though, such an action comes with the very severe risk of imprisonment. With each word, she displays her bravery and conviction in her belief that what she is doing is unequivocally the right thing to do. This is Knightley’s film and she carries it on her shoulders excellently, but she’s provided with a sea of strong supporting roles. Including the ever likeable Matt Smith as the leading journalist who first picks up the story, and a brief but effective performance from the consistently reliable Ralph Fiennes as the lawyer who represents Gun as she faces the threat of prosecution from the Government.

For a thriller that centres on espionage, especially one that doesn’t fire a single shot, there’s a necessity for a well written, sharp screenplay that keeps the audiences’s attention. There’s a risk that with this subject matter, that it could become perhaps a bit too dreary. However, with a script co-written by Gavin Hood, Gregory Bernstein and Sara Bernstein, the intrigue and the suspense is maintained throughout the film. Though there are one or two moments that feel somewhat overly dramatised, the film never fails to be gripping. As the top secret document passes from numerous parties, all while the very real threat of prosecution hangs over Katharine Gun’s shoulders.

For a film that depicts events that are relatively speaking, not actually that long ago, there’s a very important message in this film that needs to be seized upon and relayed the world over. Namely, that a time when governments the world over are under intense scrutiny, every day, people like Katharine Gun are standing up for what’s right and calling into account actions that must be brought into the public domain for everyone to know about. Furthermore, to ensure that in the future, damning information such as is not buried under mountains of government paperwork, only to be locked into a safe, never to be spoken about again.

With a magnificent lead performance from Knightley, Official Secrets brings to light a story of paramount importance, and one woman’s brave fight against her Government that feels extremely timely in this day and age of bitterly-divided, partisan politics.

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

The King (2019)

Image is property of Netflix

The King – Film Review

Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Lily-Rose Depp, Robert Pattinson, Ben Mendelsohn, Dean-Charles Chapman

Director: David Michôd

Synopsis: Following the death of his father, a young Prince succeeds his father as King, and immediately finds his rule under threat from internal politics, and the ever-present threat posed from across the English Channel…

Review: The world has undoubtedly changed in the several hundred years since the times of medieval politics. However, what hasn’t changed is the squabbling and backstabbing that goes on behind the scenes in politics and policy making in governments the world over. Though, it has to be said that considerably less swords are now involved. Though that hasn’t prevented this era from being dramatised quite a few times, most notably in recent times by Netflix. After 2018’s Outlaw King, with sword in hand, they are taking another swing at crafting a compelling medieval drama.

England has been at war for many years, and as such, a considerable proportion of the country’s resources are crippled. With the current king Henry IV (Mendelsohn) approaching the end of his life, he seeks to appoint his successor. Through not initially his first choice, his son Hal (Chalamet) is eventually crowned King, becoming Henry V. Having previously expressed little desire to assume the throne, the young King finds many obstacles in his path, from within his own circle to the prospect of invasion from foreign adversaries, all while finding out what kind of ruler he wishes to be. Shortly after being crowned, he is the recipient of a rather derogatory and insulting gift, which prompts the young King to have to decide if he wants to continue going to war.

Given that much of the film is on his personal struggle on his ascension to the throne, such a role would require an actor of immense stature to play such a Kingly figure. Chalamet is certainly a very capable actor, and while he gives it his all, but you can’t help but wonder if this was a role that was came too early on for him in his career. He certainly puts everything he’s got into the role but unfortunately for him, his performance is a bit too one dimensional and lacks that aforementioned stature and charisma that such a King should have in his armoury.

Though like any good King, he has some capable aides by his side, and its these performances that give Chalamet a run for his money. Most notably the jovial, and consistently entertaining John Fastolf (Edgerton). Similarly for William Gascoigne (Harris) who despite being a loyal adviser to the new King, has a personality and a demeanour of a man who you should keep a close eye on. Though on the opposite side of that coin, Robert Pattinson as the leader of the opposing French army really sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s certainly a capable actor, but unfortunately he provides some (perhaps inadvertently) comedic moments. His extremely dubious French accent leaves an awful lot to be desired, and one can perhaps question as to why a French actor was not hired for the part.

French actor or not, there’s clearly no expense spared on the production design, nor the costumes, and these help to bring an air of authenticity. From a technical perspective, the battle scenes are extremely well executed. With Michôd’s solid direction, and Adam Arkapaw’s impressive cinematography, they are by far, the highlights of the film. Yet, while the battle scenes are consistently entertaining, they are not nearly as enthralling when compared to the likes of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, what really lets the whole film down is a mixed bag of a script. Given that it’s a very loose adaption of the works of William Shakespeare, there was potential for greatness. While, it certainly has its moments, it ultimately falls short of providing a riveting narrative, that would make the audience bow down in wonder.

There’s some excellent technical aspects that deserve to be hailed. However due to a somewhat melodramatic leading performance and an indifferent script, The King does not earn the Crown it clearly covets.

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

The Irishman (2019)

Image is property of Netflix

The Irishman  – Film Review

Cast: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Ray Romano, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Jesse Plemons, Harvey Keitel

Director: Martin Scorsese

Synopsis: An account of the life of Frank Sheeran, charting how he rose through the ranks of the mob, eventually arriving at the top where he meets the charismatic Jimmy Hoffa, and the circumstances that surrounded Hoffa’s disappearance…

Review: There’s no two ways about it, Martin Scorsese is the Godfather of gangster movies. With six of them to his name, the ones he has made rank as some of the very best films of this genre. They sit alongside the many incredible films that he has made throughout his long and illustrious career as a director. Though with his latest gangster epic, one of the most expensive Netflix productions to date, he has incredibly managed to surpass himself, by making one of the best crime/gangster films of the decade.

Spanning multiple decades, the film is told from the perspective of Frank Sheeran (De Niro). It begins with a flashback look at his early life, and how as a young man how he went from a soldier to becoming a hitman for the mob. Eventually, as he rises up the ranks gradually becoming more powerful and gaining more influence in the higher echelons, he meets and becomes close with the charismatic Union Leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). Whilst simultaneously exploring how Frank became entwined in the circumstances that surrounded Hoffa’s disappearance.

It should come as no surprise given the stature of the three leading men, and the four Oscars between them, that each and every one of them give powerhouse performances. Marking his ninth collaboration with Scorsese, Robert De Niro gives his best performance in a long time as Frank Sheeran. He’s far from a good guy, yet with an actor of De Niro’s immense charisma, there are sympathetic elements to Sheeran’s character. Though he might have retired from acting in the late 1990s, Scorsese reunites with Joe Pesci, to wonderful effect as crime boss Russell Buffalino. Though, it is Al Pacino’s magnificent, arguably career best turn as Jimmy Hoffa that deserves the most plaudits. In a film with his fellow masters such as De Niro and Pesci, he steals the spotlight from just about every one of them.

With the three leading men, all on outstanding form, there’s an excellent group of supporting characters to give them capable support. Stephen Graham’s mobster underling, who is definitely not afraid to offer a piece of his mind during meetings. Likewise for Ray Romano’s hilarious turn as a Buffalino family lawyer. On the other hand, there are a number of supporting characters who are criminally underutlised. The is best exemplified by Anna Paquin, as one of Sheeran’s daughters, especially as there was scope to explore her character in considerably more detail.

Coming in at just under three and a half hours, there’s extra pressure for a film of that length to hold the audience’s attention and justify that run-time. With his trusted editor Thelma Schoonmaker once again by his side, she ensures that the film is riveting enough to hold the audience’s attention. Though it’s necessary to help set the latter parts of the film, the first act of the film does take its time to get into its stride. Though, once the years have gone by and the endgame gradually comes into view, the thrills never let up once we arrive at the second and, especially the third act. Given that this is the shady underworld of the mob, violence is almost certainly commonplace. However for the purposes of the story, Scorsese deploys a clever technique to let the audience know of the fate that befell some of these characters. Instead he utilises the on-screen violence sporadically, for maximum impact.

Given the large amount of time that’s covered, the passage of time is illustrated through an excellent combination of hair and make up, and the de-aging technology that has been popularised by the likes of the of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though there’s one scene where it looks a bit iffy, it’s well done and effective to tell the ambitious nature of the story. For all those who may write off Netflix and its eligibility for the big prizes during award seasons, one thing is for sure, is that they aren’t afraid to spend the big money on their productions. Furthermore, when you’re bankrolling a high calibre director like Scorsese, you simply can’t put a price when it comes to telling riveting cinema, featuring stories that absolutely deserve to be seen on the largest screen possible.

With three impeccable leading performances at its core, under the masterful vision of the Godfather of the Gangster movie, The Irishman is an ambitious, enthralling, and poignant triumph for a legendary filmmaker still at the top of his game.

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

Marriage Story (2019)

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Marriage Story  – Film Review

Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta

Director: Noah Baumbach

Synopsis: As their marriage starts to fall apart, a couple living at opposite coasts of the United States go through a difficult divorce, that threatens to push the pair of them to breaking point…

Review: The day that two people tie the knot and agree to spend the rest of their lives together is usually a joyful, momentous occasion. However, through a plethora of circumstances, that romance and joy can regrettably diminish. Consequently, a couple begin to break apart and regrettably there comes a time when their marriage comes to an end, and they make the painful decision to divorce. Such circumstances would undoubtedly be extremely difficult. So it is to director Noah Baumbach’s immense credit, that he captures the pain and heartbreak of that process in such an emotionally powerful manner.

Charlie (Driver) and Nicole (Johansson) have spent many years happily married, and have a son together. Yet, their relationship has deteriorated and they have made the difficult decision to divorce. The matter is significantly complicated as Charlie is a theatre director, who has his theatre commitments in New York.  Meanwhile Nicole has moved to the West Coast of the USA to pursue her career in acting, leaving their son Henry in a far from ideal predicament. Though both Charlie and Nicole strive to ensure that the process be as amicable, and as complication free as possible, things start to go sour and the situation threatens to push them both to breaking point.

As the main couple in the film, both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are nothing short of phenomenal in their performances. As a couple, they have strong chemistry, their romance feels so raw and authentic that you no longer see the actors, but rather the characters that they are portraying.  The script firmly takes a neutral stance, in that it doesn’t paint one as the hero, and the other a villain. Like anything in life, there are two sides to every personal struggle, and Baumbach’s strong script and expert direction shifts perspectives to allow the audience to see where both of them are coming from.

Despite the divorce, it’s clear that both Charlie and Nicole have strong feelings for one another, and want to do what is best for their child. However, as the divorce process goes on, it threatens to turn them completely against each other. With sublime leading performances from Driver and Johansson, Laura Dern threatens to steal the show, with a scintillating performance as a lawyer who has been recruited to help deal with the proceedings. She’s a consummate professional, but when push comes to shove, is not afraid to be ruthless, especially when it comes to defending her clients.

The strength of Baumbach’s script lies in its ability to make you laugh one minute, and feel immense sorrow the next. There’s something so raw and powerful in, not just everyone of the performances, but how he handles the devastating drama beating at the heart of this story.  Irrespective of whether you’ve been through a divorce, or seen your parents go through a divorce, or you haven’t been in this situation at all, it will be next to impossible to not be emotionally impacted by the film in some capacity. But if you have, you’ll certainly be able to appreciate the film that much more. The mix between comedy and drama is for the most part well handled. There may be a happy and joyful scene, but at any given moment, it will flick that switch in a heartbeat.

Though occasionally, the shifts in tone don’t entirely work. With one moment in particular, the drama is offset by an out-of-the-blue musical performance. While this is undeniably touching, it does feel completely out of place in the context of the scene. Having said that, it doesn’t negate the emotional gravity of the story, and its ability to tear your heart into a million pieces by the time the credits have begun to roll.

Emotionally raw, with sublime leading performances, Marriage Story presents a sincere and heart-breaking look at the humanity of the people going through a divorce, and the devastating impact that this heavy situation can have on people’s lives.