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

Red Sparrow (2018)

Image is property of TSG Entertainment, Chernin Entertainment and 20th Century Fox

Red Sparrow  – Film Review

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling

Director: Francis Lawrence

Synopsis: A Russian ballerina is enrolled into a top secret programme that trains its recruits to become highly skilled agent known as Sparrows. Her primary target quickly becomes a CIA agent who is in possession of some top secret information.

Review: The United States of America and Russia,  two countries with an extremely murky history. A history that teased the terrifying prospect of nuclear conflict that lasted the best part of the 20th century. As such, it opens the door for filmmakers and storytellers to tap into this relationship of sorts between these two countries and how that may develop in the years to come. Mix that in with elements of espionage and seduction, and you have the materials to make a dark and unsettling espionage thriller.

Yet despite ticking all these boxes, there is something about Red Sparrow that just never  hits the mark. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Jason Matthews, it’s intriguing premise offers much, but the hope that this intriguing premise would deliver a compelling story feels really misguided. Marking his first project since completing the Hunger Games franchise, Francis Lawrence has reunited with his Hunger Games collaborator Jennifer Lawrence (no relation) to tell this story of Dominika. A gifted Russian ballerina who suffers a devastating accident which destroys her career as a ballerina. Unsure as to what she should do next, she is pushed into the direction of the Sparrow programme, and it’s from this moment, her life will never be the same again.

The trailers certainly made the movie look as though it was going to be an intriguing espionage thriller, yet sadly it really is not all that thrilling. The screenplay by Justin Hythe certainly offers up an intriguing first act, including some very dark scenes that could have taken the story in a very interesting direction. However, it all quickly fizzles away into insignificance before long. A story with this premise should not be this mediocre, but several scenes just meander and it all becomes just not very interesting to watch. The actual plot itself is extremely convoluted, and it all just gets a little bit messy.  There’s some impressive camerawork involving the moment her ballerina prospects go up in flames, but there’s not much else to shout about, which is frustrating given some of the work we have seen from Lawrence as a director (see Catching Fire).

Lawrence has shown that since she hung up her bow as Katniss that she can take on a variety of different roles and make them her own. Her performance is admirable as she tries to hold the film on her shoulders, but the extremely lacklustre material she has been given to work with prevents her from doing so. Though her accent does slip on occasions, she gives comfortably the strongest performance. The rest of this very talented cast are by and large either extremely under-utilised or not given enough development to really make the audience care for them. Edgerton is perhaps the only exception, but even then the development he gets is thin, at best. Meanwhile, other actors such as Jeremy Irons seem really miscast in their roles.

The chemistry between Lawrence and Edgerton is serviceable, but it could and really should have been so much stronger given the talent of the actors. The plot is so convoluted that by the time the credits begin to play, you’ll be wondering if it was worth it, and the answer sadly, is probably not.

An intriguing premise, thrown away on an extremely convoluted and messy plot, combined with very bland and forgettable characters, all of which results in an extremely disappointing finished product.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Midnight Special (2016)

midnight-special
Image rights belong to Faliro House Productions, Tri-State Pictures and Warner Bros Studios

Midnight Special – Film Review

Cast: Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Joel Edgerton, Jaeden Lieberher

Director: Jeff Nichols

Synopsis: A father, whose son holds special, not-from-earth powers, goes on the run in a bid to protect his son from various people who want to use his powers for their own ends.

Review: Imagine if you found out one day that your child possessed special and mysterious powers and that a range of different people, ranging from the government to a religious sect, wanted to take them away for their own means, be this saving the world from what is perceived as a potential extraterrestrial threat. Well chances are you’d be pretty scared and would find yourself on the run in a bid to protect your child from harm. This is precisely the situation that Roy (Michael Shannon) finds himself in as he bids to protect his son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher)  and with the help of Lucas, (Joel Edgerton) they must outrun all those that are coming after them.

Right from the get go, it is clear that director Jeff Nichols has been inspired by the likes of Steven Spielberg, with some very possible nods to some of Spielberg’s masterpieces such as ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Not just Spielberg, but 80s sci-fi in general. Yet despite these influences, it does not feel in the slightest like a copy or a rip off, the film definitely has its own style. The intrigue is established from the opening shot, it’s not immediately apparent why these two men are moving this child across the country during the night, the news clearly has an agenda of its own though, perceiving this boy as a very dangerous alien threat with powers that could have dire consequences for the world. Nichols’s screenplay is not afraid to go to some uncomfortable places, such as religion, whilst at the same time going very deep with this and asking some very probing questions about faith. Science and religion are two things that don’t usually go together, but Nichols manages to fuse them both into the story very effectively.

The cinematography by Adam Stone is tremendous as visually the film is remarkable. With many scenes taking place at night, the camera-work involved is superb as it actually looks like the characters are in the dead of night. What’s more these night scenes have an eerie feel about them. This eerie feel and tone is something that does run throughout the whole movie as there’s an eternal mystery of his powers. Jaeden Liberher’s performance is haunting and very powerful in equal measure. The chemistry he shares with his father is very believable and Shannon shows what a tremendous actor he is with another fine performance that shine the brightest in this movie.

For all of its mystery and intrigue, the film does suffer from pacing issues, there are some moments where the plot slows down to a frustratingly slow pace, which means a little bit of the initial intrigue is lost. Furthermore, the screenplay fails to touch upon certain plot points that would have made the story a lot more enjoyable. Specifically the lack of a back story surrounding Alton and where and or why he got his powers. However, the intrigue and excitement levels increase massively with a very exciting conclusion, that exemplifies the  significant power of parenthood and how a bond between parent and child can be very deep indeed. A very ambitious and original premise, but not as rewarding as you’d like it to be.

An intriguing concept and premise, with some top powerful acting and wonderful cinematography, but the expansion of certain plot points wouldn’t have gone astray.

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