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

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox

Bad Times at the El Royale – Film Review

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth

Director: Drew Goddard

Synopsis: The once famous El Royale hotel in Lake Tahoe has become a shadow of its former self. However, when a bunch of mysterious individuals all check into the hotel on the same day, it promises to be an eventful evening…

Review: If a film pitches itself as a mystery/thriller, there has got to be an almost immediate moment in the first few minutes that grabs the audience’s attention and ensure they become subsequently absorbed into the ensuing suspense of the unfolding drama. Within the opening moments of writer/director Drew Goddard’s second directorial effort, you get just a taste of the drama and intrigue of what’s to come, with more than a few dashes of neo-noir thrown in for good measure.

It is 1960s America, and the titular El Royale hotel has, shall we say, seen better days. However things begin to take a turn for the interesting when an unusual collection of folks all rock up looking for some lodgings. It doesn’t however take long before things begin to unravel and our guests may not be who they appear to be. These guests consist of a Priest (Bridges) , a singer trying to catch her break (Erivo) , a smarmy salesman (Hamm) and a woman (Johnson), whose identity is initially withheld. There’s something immediately suspicious about each member of this cast, as to who they really are, and what secrets they’re hiding.

Every member of this cast is on their best form, and there is not one performance that feels out of place. However somewhat unsurprisingly, Jeff Bridges is leading the way, being his usual charismatic self in a role that (probably) was exclusively written with him in mind. A relative newcomer, Cynthia Erivo shines very brightly as a singer who really hits those notes both in terms of her incredible singing ability and her performance. Yet the scene stealer in all of this is Chris Hemsworth, once again not shy in showing the world his muscles. He gives an astonishing performance, the likes of which we haven’t really seen from him before, certainly a world away from his work in the realm of Norse mythology.

Welcome to the El Royale ab show….

A quick glance at Goddard’s resume shows some impressive projects, such as the scribe of The Martian, the show-runner of season 1 of Netflix’s Daredevil, and his directorial debut The Cabin in the Woods. It is a resume not to be sneezed at. For the remarkable array of acting talent he has assembled here, his screenplay is ambitious to say the least in the way it chooses to present itself to the audience. It seems apparent that Goddard was inspired by Quentin Tarantino, and the ways that the latter has used to tell some of his stories, to great effect.

It is smart and ambitious story-telling on Goddard’s part, but there are instances where the momentum that is being built in a certain scene is lost, as the perspective of the story changes. This can, and does have an extremely negative impact on the film’s pacing, which is just a tad problematic for a film that centres on a mystery. Nevertheless, despite that problematic pacing, the film really starts to click once we reach that all important third act and everything that these interwoven stories have been building towards comes to an exciting, and nerve-shredding climax.

When such original pieces of work like this come along, something that is increasingly rare these days, they must not be overlooked. However, for all of its originality with its premise, its eclectic array of characters and very colourful and stylish production design, that potential is never fully realised. Hence, those who check-in to the El Royale, may just check out with not as much satisfaction as they almost certainly would want to.

Goddard turns on the style with some lavish production design and a unique bunch of characters, but the screenplay just feels too ambitious for its own good, and is at certain points a case of style over substance.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Baby Driver (2017)

Image is property of Tristar Pictures, Working Title Films and Big Talk Productions

Baby Driver – Film Review

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González

Director: Edgar Wright

Synopsis: Whilst working for a ruthless crime boss, a young get away driver becomes one of the best in the business. When he meets a woman, he sees a chance to make his escape, but not before one last job…

Review: Whenever there’s a film that is released in the middle of the crowded summer movie season, that boasts a wholly original and extremely intriguing premise, that is always something to savour. Furthermore when you find out that said original film is from the man who gave the world the glorious Cornetto trilogy, that immediately is something to look forward to.

This is a project that Edgar Wright had in the works for well over two decades now. Yet it was only until after a messy exit from Marvel’s Ant-Man which he had been scheduled to direct, he turned his attentions back to his passion project, and hit the accelerator. Focusing on Baby (Elgort) a supremely talented get away driver who plays music via an iPod to drown out the tinnitus he suffered following a childhood accident. He’s one of the best in the business and Doc, the crime boss running the operations (Spacey), knows it. However when Baby falls head over heels for a waitress named Debora (James) he sees his chance to make his escape from the lifestyle. Unfortunately, Doc has other ideas, and one last heist beckons.

Leading the way in an impeccably acted cast, Elgort is immediately very likeable in the lead role as Baby. You have sympathy for him and his circumstances, and he has the charisma to carry the film on his shoulders. Likewise for Lily James as Debra, the two of them build a relationship and the chemistry between them is excellent. As the head honcho crime boss, Spacey too bosses every second of screen time he has, with the usual authority he brings to his roles, yet he can also show his more compassionate side. Jamie Foxx, for a man named Bats feels somewhat appropriate as he’s the most batshit crazy one of the group. Completing the core gang is Jon Hamm’s Buddy and Eiza González’s Darling, neither of whom have a great amount of backstory and character development, but are effortlessly watchable.

The coolest get away driver in the world…

Wright’s screenplay does occasionally meander, there are moments where you feel like it could be something of a dead end, but everything is eventually steered back on course. The Cornetto trilogy demonstrated great humour throughout and there’s just the right amount of humour to be found here. With a premise that focuses on heists and getaways, it’s a given that there’s going to be some rather high octane action scenes, and that is most certainly the case. Wright steers these scenes superbly, the editing is slick and the action is so fast paced, there’s a very good chance that the audience is going to be on the edge of their seats throughout. Sure we have had heist movies in the past with a great get away driver, but Wright pulls it off in a manner that makes it feel fresh. Furthermore, the accompanying soundtrack, is one of, if not the best we have had so far in 2017.

The first two acts keep things for the most part at a steady pace, yet the third act is when things really move into the fast lane. It’s something to to savour, and could also lay claim to the best third act we have seen so far this year. It is breathless stuff that hits top speed in no time at all and barely slows down until the final credits. This might be a movie almost twenty years in the making, and to see it come to fruition in such spectacular style, is extremely satisfying, especially when it’s a movie that takes a very familiar concept, and makes it feel so unique and original, that has to be applauded.

Stylish, with slickly made action scenes that are pulsating to watch accompanied by a stellar soundtrack, fasten your seat-belts ladies and gentlemen, you’re in for one hell of a ride!