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)

Image is property of Netflix

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.

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, London Film Festival 2019

The Lighthouse (2019)

Image is property of A24, Focus Features and Regency Enterprises

The Lighthouse – Film Review

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe

Director: Robert Eggers

Synopsis: Tasked with the maintenance of a lighthouse on a remote island, two lighthouse keepers find themselves in an increasingly desolate existence, desperately striving to maintain their sanity…

Review: How would you cope with the unforgiving isolation of living and working on such a small patch of land? With day after day of heavy, exhausting work in the most brutal, relentless weather conditions? Granted, the wonder of modern technology would make that situation in today’s world much less depressing. However, for the two souls at the heart of this barmy tale from Robert Eggers, with no such technology at their disposal, it will be the ultimate psychological battle to keep their composure, and sanity in one piece.

Set on a remote and desolate New England island in the 1890s, after an introduction that establishes an extremely ominous and tense atmosphere. The two, initially nameless, lighthouse keepers (Pattinson and Dafoe) are tasked with the maintenance and upkeep of the lighthouse. As their assignment begins, the brutality and unforgiving nature of their living conditions begin to take an extremely heavy toll on both men. The longer that they spend on the island with no other company but each other’s, the more the two of them find themselves being driven slowly to the brink of madness.

After unsettling audiences with The Witch, Robert Eggers continues that streak with another deeply unnerving psychological drama. By shooting in a 4:3 ratio, in black and white, he enhances the feeling of dread and suspense that builds from the very first shot that continues to linger, like a pesky seagull that’s got its eyes on your food, and refuses to leave you alone. The extremely ominous score enhances that feeling of everlasting dread, as these two men are put through the most intense psychological test. With Jarin Blaschke’s portentous cinematography, Eggers’s direction is masterful. The way he chooses to position the camera, and with some of his directorial choices, there’s a foreboding, sinister atmosphere that is maintained right throughout the film.

Given their immense talent as actors, it should come as no surprise that Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe give hypnotically magnificent performances. The relationship between them starts off on good terms and there’s a mutual respect. However, this doesn’t last as with each passing day of their solitude, it all begins to unravel. As both of them appear to be hiding something from the other, they both try to maintain their composure and sanity, all the while the distrust threatens to erupt into violence. The film screams volumes about themes of isolationism, and loneliness, and conveys them in an extremely unique manner. The tension builds to such a frightening extent that you could probably cut it with the bluntest of knives. With a script co-written by Eggers and his brother Max, there’s certainly an idiosyncratic factor to the events that unfold. Though while these may provoke emotions ranging from awe to dread, the magnetic performances will keep your attention on the screen.

Some of the actions depicted on screen will likely make you laugh, or wince in horror, or maybe a combination of the two. Furthermore, with undertones of a not very subtle nature, this film is most assuredly not for everyone. While the dialogue can be quite tricky to understand in places, Eggers has crafted a film that’s wholly original and extremely unique in terms of its production.  With only his second feature film, along with the likes of Ari Aster and Jordan Peele, Eggers has firmly stamped his mark on the horror genre, whilst simultaneously ensuring that any job applications for a vacant lighthouse keeper position may potentially diminish as a result.

Brooding and uncompromising, with sublime direction from Eggers, and a pair magnetic performances from the Pattinson and Dafoe, The Lighthouse is a film you definitely won’t forget in a hurry.

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

Harriet (2019)

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Harriet – Film Review

Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Joe Alwyn, Leslie Odom Jr, Janelle Monáe, Clarke Peters

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Synopsis: A look at the life of Harriet Tubman, who after escaping the cruelty of slavery, becomes a leading figure in the fight against its abolition…

Review: There’s no getting away from the fact that slavery in the 1800s represents one of the darkest points in human history. While this period was full of appalling atrocities committed against human beings, even in such troubling times, such powerful and uplifting stories can be brought to light. Stories of amazing courage and perseverance, stories that deserve and, arguably need to be brought to a wider audience, and one such example of this, is the amazing inspirational story of Harriet Tubman.

Having spent her entire life in slavery, Harriet strives to breath the free air. When an attempt to secure her freedom, via legal methods, is vehemently rejected, she senses that she might face severe punishment for trying to secure her freedom. Fearing for her safety, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She bravely runs away in a desperate bid to secure her freedom, which proves to be successful. Upon gaining her freedom, she makes it her mission to liberate slaves from their masters, and becomes a leader in the abolitionist movement to end this cruel and barbaric practice.

Having burst onto the scene in 2018 with Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale, Cynthia Erivo demonstrated her considerable talents to audiences the world over. However with this role, she produces an astonishing, career best performance. She imbues Harriet with a strong willed fearlessness, and a resolute determination in her mission to win her freedom. This doesn’t waiver in her later exploits, as she uses this tenacity and bravery to go out and strive to position to free as many of the people that have fallen into slavery as she possibly can. It is her movie and she carries it magnificently. Outside of Erivo’s sublime performance, Leslie Odom Jr is solid as an abolitionist ally and Joe Alwyn as Harriet’s slave master, has the callous and nasty personality you’d expect from a slave master. On the other hand, though she’s also is on reliably good form, Janelle Monae’s character could definitely have done with more screen time.

The screenplay’s approach to its subject matter, written by Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard, doesn’t really break any new ground for the biopic genre. However, this doesn’t act as a hindrance to the film, simply because, the incredible circumstances that surround the story of this remarkable woman are more than enough to craft a compelling story on their own merit. With a story that consistently manages to be riveting throughout, the approach taken by Lemmons through the script and her direction, does Harriet Tubman’s remarkable story justice. When a story has this much power behind it, it doesn’t need to reinvent the biopic genre, but instead honours this remarkable woman whose exploits deserve to be well known across the world.

With films such as 12 Years A Slave and now Harriet, these powerful dramas serve to remind everyone about the painful nature of the horrors that this institution brought upon so many people. However, they also serve as a powerful reminder that through sheer perseverance, grit and determination, anyone, no matter who they are, can accomplish anything they set their mind to. Furthermore, truly remarkable feats that end up changing the course of human history will absolutely stand the test of time.

With a sublime lead performance from Cynthia Erivo at its core, Harriet is a compelling and rewarding drama that pays tribute to an influential figure in American history, and honours her extraordinary legacy.