Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2020

Mangrove (2020)

Image is property of BBC Studios, EMU Films and Turbine Studios

Mangrove – Film Review

Cast: Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr, Gary Beadle, Jack Lowden , Alex Jennings, Llewella Gideon, Nathaniel Martello-White, Richie Campbell, Jumayn Hunter, Sam Spruell, Joseph Quinn, Derek Griffiths

Director: Steve McQueen

Synopsis: Telling the true story of the Mangrove Nine who after protesting against a series of racially motivated Metropolitan Police raids, were put on trial at the Old Bailey…

Review: There’s no getting away from the fact that a watershed moment for the peaceful Black Lives Matter movement happened in 2020. A movement of people across the world demanding equality for black communities, garnered seismic momentum following a handful of appalling acts of blatant racial prejudice, amidst the backdrop of a society that is deeply entrenched in racism and segregation. In the same year that a fiercely powerful and furiously relevant piece of filmmaking from Spike Lee reminded the world of the challenges the black communities face in the USA. It’s important to remember, that it’s not just confined to the USA where black communities have, for far too long, been dealing with the ugly nature of racism. Steve McQueen continues that trend, as Mangrove, the first of his Small Axe anthology films, brings into sharp focus that like the USA, Britain has been dealing with institutionalised racism for decades.

Set in 1960s London, Frank Crichlow (Parkes) runs the Mangrove restaurant, serving the finest Caribbean cuisine for the Notting Hill community. Yet despite no wrongdoing whatsoever, the restaurant is constantly being watched, and raided by the Police who are supposedly searching the business for drugs. Having become utterly and justifiably fed up of the constant and deliberately racially charged assault on the business, the black community protest against the Metropolitan Police and their appalling prejudice and bigotry. However, after the peaceful protest escalates into violence (due to the heavy handling of the demonstration by the police), the leaders of this new resistance find themselves in legal peril. Incredulously, they, not the police, are facing hefty criminal charges that could lead to substantial prison sentences.

Within the first few minutes of the film, McQueen establishes the Mangrove restaurant as a vibrant place to experience some excellent cuisine and enjoy the wonderful culture. With a thriving black community living in the area, for many people, the Mangrove restaurant represents their home away from home. Yet McQueen makes it disturbingly clear that not everyone in the community shares the love for the restaurant, its manager or its patrons. The first half of the film is an unflinching look at the institutionalised racism that the Metropolitan police bring down on this community, using blatantly fictitious excuses to carry out raids and stopping people in this community for no justifiable reason, purely down to the colour of their skin.

When the second half and the much publicised trial begins, it’s at this point that the film gets even better, and becomes considerably more tense. Every single one of these performances shine, but special mention must go to Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright and Malachi Kirby. As the man who’s at the centre of this battleground, Parkes’s performance as Frank is initially quiet and reserved. He’s a man who just wants to run his business peacefully. Though understandably, when it comes under constant attack, he gets very animated when it comes to defending his business and his customers. Letitia Wright’s work with the Marvel Cinematic Universe has garnered her popularity across the world. However with this heart-breaking performance as Altheia Jones-LeCointe, the leader of the British Black Panther movement and a figurehead for those standing up against a system that is rigged against them, she gives the performance of her career. Likewise for Malachi Kirby’s Darcus Howe, a prominent Black Panther activist.

It’s hard to watch the trial unfold and and not be thoroughly disgusted at the blatant racism being depicted. From the treatment of the Mangrove restaurant to certain decisions made during the trial, as well the behaviour of some individuals during the trial. It’s indicative of the appalling nature of the crooked and corrupt system that they were up against. As events in 2020 have demonstrated, the issue of racism and equality for black and ethnic minority communities is one that feels more timely than ever. At one point a character utters the memorable line “Together we become stronger.” In this one of the most turbulent of years in living memory, this line of dialogue speaks volumes of the power of unity and togetherness, one that we as humanity, the single species that we are, must continuously unite behind.

Flawlessly acted, with a powerful and timely message at its heart, Mangrove shines an urgent spotlight on the deep rooted institutional racism that’s sadly still relevant in modern society.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Widows (2018)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Film4 Productions and Regency

Widows  – Film Review

Cast:  Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, Jon Bernthal, Liam Neeson

Director: Steve McQueen

Synopsis: After a bank heist goes horribly wrong leading to the deaths of all the crew, their widows step up to finish what their husbands started…

Review: When as a director, you make one of the most heart-wrenching but extremely impactful pieces of cinema to come out in this decade. A film that landed you the Best Picture Oscar no less, how do you follow that up? For Steve McQueen, following on from his success with the aforementioned 12 Years A Slave, the answer is simple. You team up with another recent Oscar winner and make another exhilarating, heart-pounding piece of cinema. Namely a heist film quite unlike anything the genre has concocted before.

After a team of criminals are caught up in a heist that gets all of them killed, their widows are left in a very desperate situation. Veronica Rawlings (Davis) is the widow of the leader of the crew, Harry (Neeson). Not long after her husband’s death, she receives a rather uncomfortable visit from crime boss Jamal Manning, (Brian Tyree Henry) the target of the botched heist. Demanding repayment of the stolen money, and given a rather tight window in order to do so, Veronica has the plans for what would have been her husband’s next job. Needing her own crew to pull it off, recruits the other widows who also lost their husbands in the same heist, for a new mission to score the money that their husbands stole. Conceptually, though this may sound like your average heist film, in execution, it is a very different beast.

The screenplay, co-written by McQueen and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn adds deep political subtext to this story that really gives the film a unique feel to it. Furthermore with such powerful women at the centre of this gripping story, in the era of the Me Too movement, it feels all the more powerful and relevant in modern times.  What McQueen and Flynn’s script does so excellently is give each woman involved in this daring heist a significant amount of development. Though they come from different backgrounds, each woman absolutely stands on her own two feet and all give excellent performances.

Leading the pack and fresh from her Oscar success, Viola Davis is once again superb in the role of Veronica. She is a woman who has been to hell and back again, both with events in her past and in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s demise. Yet her fiery spirit keeps her going through this turbulent time. Likewise for Alice (Debicki) and (Rodriguez), both of whom are also dealt with a torrid set of consequences in the wake of the heist that robbed them of their spouses. But with the resolute Veronica at the helm, there is no time to mope, they have some work to do.

Though the women have the spotlight absolutely deservedly on them, Daniel Kaluyya’s portrayal of Jamal’s brother, Jatamme is magnificent and absolutely terrifying in equal measure. A VERY different kind of role especially in comparison to his Oscar nominated performance in Get Out, but with every moment he has on screen, his cold demeanour and brutality is enough to send shivers down the spines of the audience. This is a man whose path you do not want to cross under any circumstances.

With the theme of powerful women front and centre, McQueen also brilliantly weaves political drama into the story. There is one moment in particular that really stands out in terms of how the scene is filmed. And by doing it this way, it really sends a startling message about modern day America and in particular modern American politics. It is another film released this year that feels very timely in terms of its themes, whilst also being not afraid to pull any punches, or to let the bullets fly.

A heist/thriller with a lot to say for itself, boosted an impeccable stellar ensemble cast and bold direction, another exhilarating addition to the filmography of Steve McQueen.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

12 Years A Slave (2013)

Image rights belong to Fox Searchlight Pictures, Entertainment One, Regency Enterprises, River Road Entertainment, Plan B, New Regency, Film4
Image is property of Fox Searchlight Pictures, Entertainment One, Regency Enterprises, River Road Entertainment, Plan B, New Regency, Film4

12 Years A Slave – Film Review

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulsen, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Dano, Paul Giamtatti, Brad Pitt

Director: Steve McQueen

Synopsis:  The extraordinary true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man in the United States who is one day deceived, abducted and sold into slavery, facing the remaining years of his life in captivity.

Review: The slave trade is a dark part of the history of the United States and rarely, if ever, has a film captured the sheer brutality and injustices that existed within this vile trade. Previous films have glossed over these details. However,  in this heartbreaking true story, it absolutely does not hold back in showing to the audience the horrific hardships and cruelty that people endured as a result of this barbaric business.

Director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) along with an adapted screenplay from Solomon Northup’s memoirs by John Ridley, gives us a moving and powerful telling of the story of one man’s struggles against slavery that went on for more than a decade. Solomon Northup, a talented violinist who when offered work in Washington DC, is tricked and sold into slavery.  McQueen does not deceive the audience by sugar-coating the situation. He shows the horrendous treatment that Northup received once he had been sold into slavery. Locked in a tiny cell, in chains, intense whippings, and made to work for long hours by malicious and evil people that took great pleasure in beating these people up. Furthermore, the terrible abuse and hardships that these people suffered at the hands of slave owners has rarely been put onto the big screen. There is no hiding from the situation, it is in your face and it reminds you from a very early point in the film that this trade was monstrous and brutal and even now, it still leaves its mark on the people of the USA in particular.

The acting on offer here is among the best acting to appear on the big screen in 2013. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a fantastic performance as Solomon Northup. In the early scenes, he is a man who is free to do as he pleases, but then he wrongly becomes a captive man. His body language once he has been captured breaks your heart as it displays a man who is broken, devastated by the fact that he has lost his freedom. From a mere  look in his eyes, he is a man who despairs  in the fact that he is more than likely to be a slave until his death. Michael Fassbender collaborated with McQueen in both of his previous films. He appears here as the malicious slave owner Edwin Epps. A man who believes it is his right to beat and torture his slaves as he believes they are his “property.”

There is no restraint on his part and he viciously takes it out on slaves who dare to defy him. Patsey, played by newcomer Lupita Nyong’o is one of those slaves who feels the full force of Epps’ cruelty. Everyone in the film was phenomenal but Fassbender, Ejiofor and Nyong’o were the stand-out performances and all three have landed Oscar nominations in the Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories, and all deservedly so.

When watching this film, some may draw comparisons between this and Django UnchainedWhile it can be argued that Epps is like Calvin Candie from Django Unchained, Epps is a far more realistic representation of a slave owner.  Django Unchained was undoubtedly a very enjoyable film. However, it used slavery as a backdrop to give a signature Tarantino style story about vengeance, filled with dramatic violence. It did really illustrate story of  the brutality of slavery, certainly not to the level that McQueen does.

On the other hand, 12 Years A Slave is a hard-hitting, disturbing story. It captures the awful situation that many black people found themselves in during this period, and really illustrates the brutal nature of this business. This film has a great chance of winning some Oscars this March, with a total of nine nominations and it deserves every one. It is being tipped by many to win this year’s coveted Best Picture Oscar.  It is a film that should be shown to every pupil learning about slavery in school and a film for everyone to remind them of the inhumane slave trade. It is by no means an easy watch and some scenes are particularly horrific in nature. Nevertheless, it is a very moving and very powerful film that will have you thinking about it for a long time once you have finished watching it.

The film is dark, and is not a pleasant watch for sure, but the brilliant acting and emotional story make it a must see.

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