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 2000-2009, Film Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

Image is property of Walt Disney Pictures, Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Buena Vista Pictures

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – Film Review

Cast:  Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Stellan Skarsgård, Bill Nighy, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Tom Hollander, Kevin McNally

Director: Gore Verbinski

Synopsis: Captain Jack Sparrow and the crew of the Black Pearl set sail in search of a chest that contains an item belonging to the ominous Davy Jones, but this item is also sought after by several other people, all of whom want this item for their own ends…

Review: Pirates, there’s something about these scallywags that cinema audiences certainly seem to like, and enjoy watching, as was evident by the phenomenal critical and commercial success that the first film in this franchise enjoyed. A sequel (or two, or three) was always going to happen. Sequels, however can be the equivalent of cursed treasure, in that if you get them wrong, it can place upon the preceding film a terrible curse that’s hard to shake off. Or it can be like finding a glorious stash of treasure that makes everyone rich and happy. In the case of Dead Man’s Chest, this is perhaps somewhere in between it’s not a curse, but it’s not a perfect stash of treasure either.

We begin when the wedding of Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner is rudely interrupted by Lord Cutler Beckett (Hollander) who’s after one man, yes Captain Jack Sparrow of course! After the latter was allowed to escape by the hands of Will, Beckett condems the bride and groom to be to the hangman’s noose. Jack meanwhile is desperately seeking to avoid the debt that he owes Davy Jones (Nighy) and so begins a spiral of events that stretch out this film’s run time to an incredible two and a half hours, that really really could have been trimmed down in one or two places.

Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio do ensure that there is some fun to be had of course, but there’s quite a lot of meandering as this ship steers its way through some very exposition filled waters that threaten to run the film aground. A common path for sequels to sail, is to make the tone that bit more darker, and this is the route that this film chooses to take, and in doing so much of the wackiness and the fun that the first film brought is replaced by a more serious ominous tone, though the film doesn’t lack some very entertaining sequences that returning captain Gore Verbinski helms to a similar standard as he did with the first film.

The ominous is perhaps best exemplified by Davy Jones, though we don’t find out much about him and why he looks the way he does. Nighy brings a very menacing presence, that is aided by some truly excellent CGI. Being in this creature’s presence could cause even the bravest of souls to quiver in fear.  Though the CGI for some of his crew aboard The Flying Dutchman is very obvious, it is for the most part very well done and the recipient of the Oscar for Visual Effects. Despite the meandering script, there are some rather splendid action sequences to enjoy, and the acting across the board remains at a solid standard.

Not someone you want to mess with…

With Depp again on splendid form as Captain Jack, and Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley also in fine form reprising their roles as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Newcomers Stellan Skarsgård and Tom Hollander give the most memorable performances of the newcomers as Will’s father Bootstrap Bill and the pesky Cutler Beckett.  It’s not the swashbuckling adventure its predecessor was, but there’s more than enough rum on this ship to ensure it has the right amount of wind in its sails.

A choppy plot, coupled with some clunky dialogue could have resulted in an unpleasant shipwreck, but an ample amount of fun action ensures it’s steered home to a satisfying conclusion.

 

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

curse-of-the-black-pearl
Image is property of Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl – Film Review

Cast:  Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally

Director: Gore Verbinski

Synopsis: When a dastardly band of Pirates seeks a valuable piece of treasure to lift a curse, a blacksmith and a rogue Pirate must unite to help save the daughter of a Governor who happens to be in the possession of said treasure.

Review: Pirates, for a very long time now, these swashbuckling individuals have been almost an ever present in popular culture for about as long as anyone can remember. Some of the most notable being of course Captain Hook from Peter Pan and  of course there’s Steven Spielberg’s Hook, but perhaps no other franchise in Hollywood as left such a lasting impression on Pirates in pop culture than the franchise that began all the way back in 2003, this of course being Pirates of the Caribbean, based on the popular Disneyland attraction.

Enter Jack Sparrow (Depp) a pirate who arrives in the Jamaican town of Port Royal, in rather dramatic and amusing style, on a mission to commandeer a ship in order to exact revenge on his former pirate comrades. During this mission however, his path crosses with Elizabeth Swann, the daughter of a Governor, and the Blacksmith Will Turner and the three become entangled in a mission that involves treasure, swordplay, action, romance, scheming and the supernatural all in one go. If nothing else it’s stylish entertainment at its absolute best.

ARR is it treasure ye be looking for????

Director Gore Verbinski is the captain of this vessel, and screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio are the first mates if you will, with the cast being their eccentric, and rather brilliant crew! In a role that has arguably become his most well known, Depp is absolutely electric as Captain Jack Sparrow, he’s humorous, witty and extremely charismatic and Depp’s fine work ensured he received a well deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Of course Depp is the shining light of a cast that is packed with excellent performances, Geoffrey Rush is excellent as the wicked and treacherous Captain Barbossa is the primary target of Jack’s vengeance, with Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley completing the cream of the crop in terms of fantastic performances, the latter two certainly boast some excellent chemistry.

Verbinski steers this ship like a captain who has been sailing the seas for all eternity. The action is enthralling to watch and the effects are equally terrific, the resulting outcome of the curse that is placed on these pirates  transforms them into utterly terrifying beings that at times really push the 12A rating of the film, it is entirely possible that one or two people might have had nightmares. Throw in an excellent score to boot, composed by Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer, with a fantastic theme that is guaranteed to make you hum along to it every time you hear it,  you’ll be entertained right from the get go and will not have any desire or need to go and walk the plank.

When pitching this film, it is entirely possible that studio execs might have just looked at each other in utter bemusement as to how this could possibly mesh and work together. Fortunately Verbinski and crew make it work, and the results are just an utter blast. As one character says near the beginning of the film, during a rather daring heist, “This is either madness, or brilliance,” to which the other character responds “it’s remarkable how often those two traits coincide.” Certainly applicable in the case of this film, though it is certainly more a case of brilliance, but a bit of madness is thrown in there for good measure, and all the better for it, savvy?

Here be treasure alright! It is quite appropriate for a film to be based on a theme park attraction to be one hell of an entertaining ride, as that is precisely what this film takes you on. 

a

Posted in Film Review

Everest (2015)

everest
Image rights belong to Cross Creek Pictures, Walden Media, Working Title Films and Universal Pictures

Everest – Film Review

Cast: Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Debicki, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley.

Director: Baltasar Kormákur

Synopsis: At the top of tallest mountain in the world, a group of climbers face a fight for survival as they run into trouble as a deadly snow storm

Review: Eight thousand, eight hundred and forty eight metres, the height of the tallest mountain in the world, a place where the temperature never rises above freezing, going as low as minus 36 degrees Celsius in the winter and rising to minus 19 degrees in the summer (on average.) The challenges and risks of climbing this beast is one that would probably make many people considering to ascend it running scared. Even the most experienced of mountaineers can encounter problems and make a fatal mistake, and after watching this drama come true story about a 1996 expedition to Everest’s summit, one may rethink any aspirations to take on this perilous quest, in a similar vein to 2013’s Gravity, that may have killed any desires to become an astronaut amongst audience members. The opening captions at the beginning only remind viewers of the sheer dangers that climbers face when taking on this challenge. The human body is simply not built to function at those altitudes.

The film focuses on several expeditions seeking to reach the top of the world, which just so happen to be led by rival companies. One of these led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and another by Scott Fischer. (Jake Gyllenhaal) During a fateful excursion to the summit, problem after problem begins to surface, and these snowball (pun intended) into a desperate fight for survival for our group of mountaineers. As was the case with Gravity, it could have been easier for them to shoot on green screen, however director Baltasar Kormákur puts the viewer right into the heart of the mountain with some majestic shots of the summit and surrounding areas, whilst cleverly using places such as the Ötztal Alps in Italy to double up as Everest. The use of practical shooting locations which also included Nepal gives the film definitive authenticity. The audience feels like they are climbing the mountain with the climbers, and feel the sense of peril that the group find themselves in when the storm closes in.

With quite an extensive cast, including some big Hollywood names, you would expect the acting to be top of the range, and well it is. The likes of Josh Brolin, and Jake Gyllenhaal do deliver some wounded and yet powerful performances, but the centre fold of the film is Jason Clarke’s Rob Hall and he is the star of the show as the leader of the main expedition featured. It is mainly through his perspective that we watch the events unfold as the expedition bids to reach the summit. Yet with many people in the film, there is a risk that the extensive cast get  shall we say, swallowed up by the mountain, and unfortunately this does come to pass. The film tries to flit from one expedition to another with multiple strands of the story, thus making it difficult for the audience to keep track of what is going on all the time.

The cinematography and the score are both tremendous, with the latter adding much to the film’s tension filled scenes. In addition, the nature of the story is extremely impactful. “Because it’s there,” a line that is often said in the film. Yet it serves as a reminder for the viewer that just because something as wondrous as Everest is there, the challenges and risks of climbing it are extensive, and a quest to summit the top of the world is one that should not be taken lightly.

Visually mesmerising, with some great individual performances crammed into the somewhat overcrowded cast, the downer is that many of these performances end up being lost in the vast white slopes of Everest itself.

b

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Imitation Game (2014)

imitation game
Images is property of Black Bear Pictures, FilmNation Entertainment Bristol Automotive, StudioCanal and The Weinstein Company

The Imitation Game – Film Review 

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Matthew Goode, Allan Leech, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance,

Director: Morten Tyldum

Synopsis:  An account of how mathematician Alan Turing and a team of analysts helped to crack the Enigma code to help the Allies in their efforts to win the Second World War.

Review: When images of World War II come to mind, you tend to think of aspects such as the air raids or the Normandy landings, and the heroes are those who took part in those Normandy raids. Yet the the breaking of the German enigma code was a vital part of the war effort that almost flew under the radar of history and behind this incredible feat lies the story of one particular war hero. A torn and brave man whose story is one that is not widely known among the general public, but a very important one that needs to be known by everyone, for the work he accomplished and for the gross injustice he suffered in the years following the war, this is the life of Alan Mathison Turing.

The film documents the vast majority of Alan Turing’s life, from his school years which included suffering from bullies, discovering cryptography and of course his vital work in the Second World War playing a key role in the breaking of the enigma code, through to his persecution as a homosexual, due to the fact it was a criminal offence at the time.  A script that was on 2011’s Black List, and sold for a seven figure sum, a poignant and hard hitting story about a true war hero has been wonderfully brought to life thanks to the brilliant screenplay by Graham Moore and the wonderful direction of Norwegian director Morten Tyldum. He captures the period of late 1930s early 1940s England perfectly.

In a role that has landed him his first Oscar nomination, Benedict Cumberbatch is on stellar form as Alan Turing. Interestingly Leo Di Caprio was intended to play Turing, but it arrived on the busy shoulders of Cumberbatch, and although Di Caprio would have been an interesting choice, Cumberbatch was perfect in this role. The man, the genius, the outcast who was hated by his colleagues and superiors initially for his stubbornness and refusal to co-operate with his co-workers. Yet through all this his brilliance and incredible intelligence shone through. In equally outstanding form is Keira Knightley playing fellow code breaker Joan Clarke. The chemistry between her and Cumberbatch is wonderful. The rest of the cast also are outstanding, Matthew Goode as fellow code breaker Hugh Alexander and Charles Dance, channelling his inner Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones, are the key stand out performances in an excellently acted movie.

With a movie set in the heart of the Second World War, not a single shot is fired, yet the film packs riveting  scenes, that can get you off your seat as easily as an intense action scene, with some heartbreaking moments on top of that. The cracking of enigma was a major factor in the success of the Allies, and although the part the Polish played in the breaking of enigma is glossed over, the story triumphantly delivers . It is horrific to watch as we see Turing go through what he does after the war is over and what the brutal treatment of people, like Turing who were homosexual endured. It was something people incredulously at the time believed to be a curable condition and also was a crime on top of that.

The story does do a Tarantino and jumps back in time to his days as a schoolboy and back to his days at Bletchley and forward to his persecution, yet it all flows superbly and comes to a head incredibly well with an emotional punch with a heartbreaking closing scene. The work that Turing did was vital not only to the success of the Allies but for the future as through his work he is widely believed to be the father of computer science. An achievement like that cannot be ignored, and this film honours Turing in the best way possible.

Wonderfully acted, brilliant dialogue, directed beautifully with a gripping story that everyone the world over should know about, this is a film that gives one of Britain’s true war heroes the credit he strongly deserves. 

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