A Most Wanted Man – An important film, not very good though

hoffman-wanted-manA Most Wanted Man (UK, 2014)

UK Release by Momentum Pictures – 12th September 2014

Directed by Anton Corbijn 

Brief Synopsis: A private detective and his team are located in Hamburg and concentrate their efforts on the international war on terror. When a Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg, all forces become caught up in a case of vast interest and importance. 

A Most Wanted Man is happy to plod along and cover every little detail resulting in a rather stodgy and belated middle act. Yet, we still wish to anticipate every movement with excitement even if a fulfilling reply isn’t lurking around the corner. I believe a sustainable interest is largely due to the relevance of this films nature; it is a powerful encapsulation of the international war on terror. But, for the rousing territory of film, it is a minor nutshell; it becomes a shallow grave with no soil; there is no shovel for each character; the chemistry vanishes. And, whilst the ending is somewhat refreshing for the big screen, it places them and us exactly where we left off.

I do not doubt Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s brilliance; he is the parcel, the entire package. His character Gunther offers a bundle of subtle feelings if we can be open to their interpretation. The problem is I feel as though Corbijn simply hasn’t given Hoffman enough to play with other than a cigarette that appears in every shot. His character is morose, monotone and clearly reaching the edge of a hopeless spindle. Yet, I could watch Hoffman on screen for hours on end, passion seeps through his performance and allows the character to continue picking away at his work. I would mention life in replace of work, but it appears his life simply is work; although, there is one domestic scene in which Hoffman plays the piano late one night, it is surprisingly powerful and suggests a buried artist underneath the tough, worn skin. Whatever else is buried certainly makes a much-needed appearance in the final scene of the film; no matter how stale parts of the film may be, we will never forgot this (his – Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s) very last scene.

I wish Daniel Bruhl was given more screen-time, he was magnificent in Rush yet here he is a pawn whose character gets to watch the CCTV and mutter a few lines. Rachel McAdams feels miscast as the social lawyer ‘in too deep’; she acts well, but frankly she is too beautiful for such a role, I don’t know, I just didn’t believe her. Willem Dafoe is always worthy, but the rest of the cast feels flat and partially idiotic at times. Lets just say, this team of private detectives would get busted in five seconds. Not to mention, the infuriating accents, it gets worse: in a couple of scenes they switch to German – one or the other please! Preferably, an all-German cast speaking German if the movie is set there and meant to be German civilians. I am reminded of the terrible accents in The Book Thief that could have been great; for me it ruins the authenticity in a picture.

The films pace and overall aesthetic feels uneven and without a clear direction. One shot might be handheld with a fast edit and the next an entirely rigged shot with a long take. This can work of course, but the complexion of this film either made things slower or overtly confusing when they should be simple. In other words, it doesn’t do anything to suggest or further the director’s vision. The narrative waves in and out, it thus keeps us on our toes, but it appears for all the wrong reasons. It is inevitable that watching Hoffman stagger across the screen is enough to fill the holes and happily get the viewer through the picture. It is a haunting feeling that when the credits roll, the realisation is goodbye.. a fine farewell for the man either way. An interesting point for me, the fact that his performance made me believe he was alive (in real life) as I was watching him is somehow a testament to what a great actor he is.

3/5

 

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Films of the Year 2013

After a slow start to the year with plenty of Hollywood drool, it’s turned out to be a truly impressive and diverse year for cinema. The summer had a couple of surprisingly good blockbusters (The Great Gatsby, Fast & Furious 6) alongside some nail-bitingly awful comedies (The Big Wedding, Movie 43, Identity Thief). Though, the fall has certainly been packed full of brilliant dramas (Prisoners, Captain Phillips, Blue Jasmine). There has also been plenty of indie flicks giving the industry a shove (always good news) – Fruitvale Station, The Selfish Giant. But, without further ado, here are my top 5 film picks from 2013 (bearing in mind there are still some eagerly awaiting titles on my watch-list):

Top 5 (in ranked order):

5. Blue Jasmine

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My number 5 spot goes to Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. It is a beautiful and entertaining film with a sterling performance from Cate Blanchet. It left me with earnest emotions for Blanchet’s character and wanting to revisit the remarkably well-told story. Woody Allen is showcasing his impeccable ability to tell relationship driven stories with true heartfelt prosperity. Read a full review here.

4. Big Bad Wolves

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This film from Israel has wowed the festival audiences this year with its reckless ability to tell a black comedy and leave your head hanging upside-down. There are scenes of sheer horror blended with whimsical and innovative storytelling. The film is beautifully crafted and an absolute bag of fun for all genre fans. Read a full review here.

3. Rush

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Rush was the biggest surprise of the year for me. I was dragged along to see it and was left dazzled by the cinematic virtuosity and desperate to discover more about this great rivalry between two formula one legends. Admitted, I still care little for formula one, but I do love a great story, which this is. Whether this film is entirely accurate or not is besides the point, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Read a full review here.

2. Django Unchained

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Though it came out before the awards season, I still count this film as a 2013 release (because it is).

As a die-hard Tarantino fan I’d never been more excited upon entering the cinema, but at the same time I was terrified of being let down. Django Unchained excelled. I’ve never been a great fan of Westerns, but boy do I love a Tarantino Western! One can blabber on about how he rips of all the great stylistic filmmakers (Woo, Leone, Melville etc), but Tarantino’s work is fresher than ever. All filmmakers blend film history, Tarantino just does so well that people are more perceptible to it. It is the stories that count though, and they are absolutely unique – Django is no exception. The Tarantino style, which we expect, is there in true spirit, but it doesn’t get in the way of telling a great story.

During the film I was grinning with delight at its splendour whilst my eyes were constantly bulging with excitement. I can’t wait for the next treat Tarantino puts on our plate! A close shave from my number one spot.

1. Blue is the Warmest Colour

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My controversial number one! We film folk have always had a sweet spot for controversial films. It’s affirmative, this years Cannes Palme D’or winner left me starstruck. Abdellatif Kechiche’s direction is unadulterated yet striking, the performances from Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulosare are simply astonishing, their relationship is beautiful and genuine and the film comes together as this year’s masterpiece. Voila! Read a full review here.

Films that nearly made a mark in my top 5:

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Captain Phillips – a championing true story of a captain’s cargo ship being hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. It’s a thrilling ride. Review.

Prisoners – this years chilling thriller of two girls who mysteriously go missing. Review.

About Time – my soft spot of the year. Richard Curtis sheds more screen delight. Review.

Saving Mr. Banks – a brilliantly told story of Miss Travis’s relationship with Walt Disney over the rights to producing Marry Poppins.

The Great Gatsby – a remarkable adaptation of Scott Fitzgerald’s novel that lives up to and adheres all previous attempts.

Stoker – despite criticism, it was chilling and full of the Park Chan-Wook aesthetic that we have come to love so dearly.

Les Miserables – it was just fantastic.

Lincoln – Spielberg’s ability to tell epic stories is just beside me.

Top 5 films to catch-up on (from preconception, they may well find a space in my top 5):

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The act of Killing – I’ve heard remarkably ruthless things about this documentary. I can’t wait.

Short Term 12 – I’m hoping for a little gem.

Nebraska – Alexander Payne is exceptional and his road movies are no exception. This should be a wonderful journey.

Inside Llewyn Davis – Lovingly prepared for another great Coen Brothers film.

Behind the Candelabra – Matt Damon falling in love with Michael Douglas simply cannot be missed.

Top 5 let downs:

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Oldboy – oh so sour…

Diana – rubbish, pointless, disgraceful…

Mama – it’s not been a good year for Guillermo del Toro…

After Earth – M. Night Shyamalan simply makes me want to cry…

Side Effects – I was pumped up for something far better from the Soderbergh…

There you have it. These lists may get updated over the next few months, but I can assure you, no matter how great people say it is, Gravity will not see the light of my top 5.

Now, for good measure, I wish to leave you with some wise words from the man of wonderfully cynical criticism; Mark Kermode reveals his worst 10 movies of 2013:

What a Rush!

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Riveting, thrilling, heart-wrenching, captivating, inspiring – these are all ways to describe Ron Howard’s Rush.

Before I dig deeper into this review, you must realize that I consider myself anything but a Formula One fan, plus, being born in 1994 really doesn’t contribute to my understanding of what really happened between these two great drivers in 1976. My principal point here is that despite my lack of knowledge and expectations, the film blew me away. It was so gratifying that I find myself sitting here writing a review of applause for a film that I nearly disregarded.

With Rush, Ron Howard and his implausible crew have reached out to a far wider audience then the petrol heads that I presume are Formula One fans. Lets hope their not annoyed by this! To be honest, if I was around in the 70s I might have actually been a fan if the rush of the sport was anything like depicted here (the mind-blowing British documentary Senna does justice to this notion also). Rush is alive with a profound and moving story. It is ultimately a film about two charismatic heroes; it playfully allows the viewer to either commiserate with the eccentric playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) or the critical hermit Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), or both. It is this interpersonal freedom that truly spellbound me to the picture.

On the track, the relationship between the two drivers is always explosive as they battle it out for the 1976 World Championships. These race scenes may be cinematically astounding and hold their own prodigious narrative, but it is the contrasting lives and philosophies off these two characters which really act as a significant counterpart to driving this story. The film winds itself into an epic, possibly overpitched, biopic drama of these two notorious drivers.

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What’s more, the casting of these two characters plays out to perfection. Chris Hemsworth is effortless and uncanny in his portrayal of James Hunt, capturing Hunt’s wide smile, frivolous hair and amiable behaviors. However, you could argue that Hemsworth is never entirely called upon to examine the obvious inner demons of a man who constantly chases thrill and pleasure would have. Hunt, seemingly never allows himself actual happiness. Consequently Olivia Wilde’s role as Hunt’s first wife Suzy Miller is unexploited, the great accumulation and subsequent breakdown of this relationship is never explored in any fulfilling detail. On the other hand, Lauda, engrossingly played by Buhr has more depth added into his romantic subplot. Lauda’s eventual wife Marlene Knaus (Alexandra Maria Lara) even has the power to subdue his almost maliciously, stubbornly cold exterior (“If I’m going to do this with anyone,” he tells her on their wedding day, “it might as well be you.”) Yet at the same time she brings natural love upon a man who believes “happiness is an enemy.” Hunt may have attracted more attention from the media (had sex with more women, taken more drugs, drank more alcohol), but it is Lauda who comes off as the ominously more fascinating and complex figure.

This complexity of Lauda’s character is a “European perspective” says Ron Howard during an interview on the Film 4 Programme. Whereas he implies the Americans prefer Hunt – he fits the American hero driven creed far better than Lauda who is just an intellectual dud. Though, Europeans could argue that Lauda is the hero for tolerating defeat in a tranquil fashion. That would be my argument. The societal divide couldn’t be clearer between the two. Lets look at the realities: The Germans undoubtedly make the best cars!

Howard goes on to say he was drawn by the “cinematic opportunities” and the “fantastic characters” offered by the story. His outlooks were remarkably achieved. These ‘fantastic characters’ offered Howard the chance to explore deeper into psychological aspects, hence Lauda’s complexity and Hunts irate state of mind. Hunts “shagalicious” tendencies were actually toned down in the process of making the film said Howard; even though there were clear scenes of Hunt malevolently partaking in the act on a plane and in a hospital ward. I can’t help but wonder how voluptuous this man really was?

There were moments that I actually found myself actually frightened by this film (not the sex scenes – the race scenes). The atmosphere of the race scenes were incredibly vivid and intense; Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography is spectacular, weaving his camera, what appears effortlessly, in and out of close-up action, putting us up alongside the wheels, under the steering and even inside the drivers helmet. This stunning cinematography, alongside astonishing sound design (that will relentlessly bombard your ears) and Hans Zimmer’s electrifying score would be transfixing enough to get even a snail recoiling on the edge of its seat. Never has watching Formula One been so exciting – I felt like I was actually smelling the petrol fumes coming off those Formula One cars of the late 70s, which are somehow made to look admirable under Mantle’s lens.

Although the film is packed with American talent – Ron Howard for a start – the film is technically a British independent film. Producer, Andrew Eaton, claims the film was independently financed outside of the studio system – half private investors and half pre-sales of which were sourced within the UK (the film was also shot in the UK). This is a great achievement for British cinema (if you can count it that when the director is American), but let it be known! Our industry is too subtle with our achievement and always has been. Eaton says himself that the “British lack faith in our history,” and claims our “richer culture” is a reason why British cinema is so often surpassed. Indeed this is the European way and has been ever since that night in Paris on December 28th 1895. The situation is elucidated perfectly in David Puttnam’s book ‘The Undeclared War’, but I digress…

Rush might just be the best movie out so far this year. It’s definitely a nice surprise and a breath of fresh air for mainstream contemporary cinema, or rather British cinema!

4 whopping stars for Rush.