The Drop – There’s enough to play with

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The Drop (US/2014)

UK Release by 20th Century Fox – 14th November 2014

Directed by Michaël R. Roskam

Brief Synopsis: Everyone in the neighbourhood works together to make a living. The past can be haunting and the future must be sourced at any cost, law abiding or not. Bob Saginowski finds himself entangled right at the centre after a string of unfortunate events. 

There is an assuring sense of dread, morbid humour and a fine American setting for a simmering thriller: the deep of Brooklyn. This weighted tale from Dennis Lehane (we know the work must be formidable coming from the guy who wrote Mystic River and Gone, Baby Gone) is deliberately paced with a natural development of cause-effect. However, it can feel all too similar at times, and the plot can certainly dwindle depending on your viewpoint. I think the key to this film is that it is character driven, the dialogue is intriguing through its disparate layers of meaning, and that it has Tom Hardy approaching the material with absolute sensitivity and an extraordinarily convincing Brooklyn accent, especially for a born Londoner.

Although, it is not quite the memorable James Gandolfini performance I was hoping for, perhaps Hardy is too impressive; it is certainly exciting to see Hardy rise to similar heights as Gandolfini and even beyond. Whilst great actors pass, new generations continue to bring their organic insight to the field; there are more great stars in the making today (and certainly more actors lingering for the near future) than, I believe, there ever have been.

Directed by Michaël R. Roskam, in what is only his second feature, it is great to see more European sensibility come to the screen. The mood is tinged with uncooked sadness, but there is a contentment to be found in the Brooklyn low-life. Roskam directs with hope, he captures even the smallest acts and moments that give purpose to Hardy’s life. These moments creep up on us and draw to a riveting conclusion, but a conclusion that still has plenty of room left for reflection and doesn’t defy the depth of mystery under the veil of Hardy’s character, Bob.

3.5/5 stars

A Walk Among the Tombstones – It sounds far more enticing than it really is

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A Walk Among the Tombstones (US/2014)

UK Release by Momentum Pictures – 19th September 2014

Directed by Scott Frank

Unfortunately, this film leaves no room for curiosity or character insight. Yet, those elements are not entirely necessary for the film to play out in its own confidence as a systematic and noirish thriller.

Liam Neeson is hard at home with tough nails, fierce jujitsu skills and ex-cop attire. However, there is no explosive dynamite, but rather a late package that Neeson carries on his shoulders at a steady pace, marking off every checkpoint along his obstacle course. The obstacles are not thick and fast, but they are hollow and potholed. I may have been in a passive mood, but the two killers who Neeson is after appear pathetic on all fronts: they are not scary, they are whimsical in their approach to crime and there is not the slightest chance that they will get away. The victims and their relations, who act as the catalyst for Neeson’s seemingly unprompted involvement, also come across as ill informed and lacking the bite for what should be nail-biting thriller. The plot is straightforward and clear-cut for a no doubt exciting experience, but the elevating spine is missing.

To conclude, it appears that the lack of subtlety, the lack of reasoned time and place of the characters and intelligible events, left me stricken with a rather dry experience.

2/5 stars

Gone Girl – David Fincher is not afraid of failure or the atypical = extraordinary storytelling

Gone_Girl_Rosamund_PikeGone Girl (US/2014)

UK Release by 20th Century Fox – 2nd October 2014

Directed by David Fincher

Brief Synopsis: When a young marriage begins to loose the attention it deserves, conflict ensues in the most extraordinary of fashions. Guilt, innocence and the media all play their key role in the onset of twists and turns in this unflinching thriller.

I struggle to find a place to begin in expressing the inexplicable horrors that rein this piece of chilling and flawless cinema from David Fincher. The director is a mastermind at conveying complex storylines and ferocious characters with bloodcurdling subtlety. Gone Girl pushes the psychological thriller into a domestic space amongst a post-structuralist backdrop of American lifestyle. The unbelievable becomes the believable and deceit becomes a biological way of life.

Gillian Flynn does what most other authors wouldn’t dream of, she adapts her own novel and manages to pull off a compelling and Finchable screenplay. The two instigators weave together pieces of a story that never gets lost amongst its intricacies and manages to continually swallow the audience’s attention for the next bit of information. The silver screen is lit up with a formidable and haunting tone within which there is no escape, or rather a light at the end of the tunnel; one deserves to talk in metaphors to imagine the power of this story and the mental state of the characters. I even found myself short of breath at one point in the film, a sheer example of how character immersive Fincher’s films can become. He throws you down the well and teases you, if you like, think of Bruce Wayne trying to escape the walls of Bane’s prison in Gotham, except he fails (sorry for the spoiler)!

Extraordinary credit is due to Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike who maintain an enticing and complex presence for every millisecond of their screentime. What are you thinking? We wonder this and so do they; it is a key theme that opens and closes the movie. More to the point, we might ask ourselves: “What on earth is going through the mind of Amy Dunne? What is she truly thinking?” Fincher hits a home run with one of the most exasperating and vexatious questions that dominate our day to day interactive conscience. To answer your question: there is no answer, only you can formulate one.

Pike’s performance is Oscar-worthy. It may not be the right material for the award, but the fact that she can be utterly believable in utterly unbelievable situations is remarkable on her part. Not to say, this situation wouldn’t happen in reality, but it certainly isn’t an easy one to disarmingly convey to a potentially critical audience. Pike is pitch perfect at expressing her unconceivable beauty cluttered with cunning body language, both of which wrap poor Nick Dunne’s mind into a fruity blender.

Affleck is passive in his portrayal of Nick and although we are thrown almost immediately into his concerned shoes, we continue to learn ways about Nick that test our own moral code and compassion. By the end of the film, the audience may not be able to comprehend a stance of empathy; they will most likely position themselves on the brewing sea of questions, answers and within the forthcoming storm. It is a storm of thoughts that will be swimming around in your mind as you leave the theatre; never have I wobbled down the aisle and almost tripped face-first down the escalator as when departing from Gone Girl.

5/5 stars

 

 

Before I go to Sleep – It deserves an audience, but not a place in the history books

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Before I go to Sleep (UK, 2014)

UK Release by StudioCanal – 5th September 2014

Directed by Rowan Joffe

Brief Synopsis: Christine Lucas wakes up feeling exactly the same every morning: confused as to her whereabouts and believing she is still in her twenties. She is only able to store information for a day, but soon begins to seek terrifying truths in her life when her psychiatrist gives her the upper hand. 

Credit is due for Nicole Kidman who continues to take on interesting and challenging roles (Grace of Monaco, The Railway Man, Stoker, The Paperboy), or rather she isn’t afraid of a bit of independent spirit. Admittedly, Grace of Monaco and The Railway Man are largely forgetful, but her elegance and depth as an actress is always current. Here we find her playing Christine who is battling with daily memory loss, a role that shows off Kidman’s effectual paranoid traits evident in The Others. It isn’t Memento and it isn’t Spellbound, but it isn’t entirely insensible either. The film leaks a steady rush of adrenaline in the viewer and will continue to trick them, even if the twist finale does come with a slight pinch of salt.

What I find most appraising is the achievement by Rowan Joffe to get this project off the ground (or quite literally the page) and boast British talent from Ben Davis’s noteworthy cinematography that plays on every axis to Melanie Oliver’s watertight editing. The project clearly had international backing with Sweden (Filmgate), France (StudioCanal) and Millennium Films in the US all packing their heat. Although, Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions involvement does a great deed to make this film British, or does it? Who knows, at least we get to see it over a month before the US! London is also on great show with wide-shots of the city from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. The British weather is also heralded with rain more often than not and a remote house in the woods, where most of the action takes place, provides the complimentary backdrop; this is a thriller after all.

Whilst the film doesn’t dig deep enough to obtain a meaningful psychological existence in the viewer, it does highlight the importance of keeping a healthy brain (or mind rather) and how intolerable it must be for one without so. The condition here labels Christine as an amnesiac, in fact, this is clearly reiterated throughout, though it induces efficacious reality in the viewer more than it does frustration. Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth’s chemistry rightly demonstrates the dedication and audacity needed to live such a banishing lifestyle. Here, Colin Firth as the sinister husband of Christine, Ben, is thankfully somewhat more infusing than usual; lets just say it is more daring and the emotion far more vivid and certainly less pretentious than his abominable portrayal of Eric in The Railway Man and even more so Harry Deane in Gambit. I nevertheless, highly anticipate Firth’s role in Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight, lets see if Allen can make good of him.

The plot in Before I go to Sleep thickens fast, yet one is always aware of where it will lead even if the ending is far more sentimental than I had expected; a sharper note would have brought the picture to a close with far more substance. Still, good performances on show (Mark Strong is also admirable as Doctor Nash) and a definite watch for psychological thriller fans, just don’t expect it to make any of your top ten lists.

3/5

 

Night Moves – An atmospheric gem

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Night Moves (US, 2013)

UK Release by Soda Pictures – 29th August 2014

Directed by Kelly Reichardt

Brief Synopsis: Three environmentalists turn radical in taking on the biggest protest of their lives; they battle their conscience and try to remain ethical in what becomes a very unsettling environment. 

I am no skeptic to the fact that this thriller is slow-paced, but it is more than calculated for by the intensely paranoid and highly energetic performance from Jesse Eisenberg as Josh, the radical environmentalist with a conscience too great for his own good. As the events unfold, and they do in great depth, the film promotes a totally immersive character study of Josh and reveals the true depth of his concern, guilt and all the other distressing facets that lay beneath the surface. This exploitation of subtext allows the viewer to fully engage their imagination on feeling his every emotion. Point of view shots chart Josh’s every move, we see exactly what he sees: ordinary lives passing by, and yet with every inch of movement there is the sense that something drastic may happen. And here’s the paradox, when there is a dramatic climax, it appears no different, life remains at the same pace and the nightmare continues. This is psychological depth.

Dakota Fanning and Peter Saasgard make up the team and give equally intriguing performances as wannabe radicals. Saasgard is particularly endangering and the conflict between the three is taut with absolute playwright precision. Driven by passion and nerve, or perhaps idiocy of the innocent, they set off on this weekend journey that will greatly alter their lives; the viewer will be side by side for every encounter and feel every nuance of angst and occasional fortitude felt by the characters/actors.

What appears so liberating about Reichardt’s direction is that she allows and clearly encourages the actors to appreciate and grasp an eclectic sense of their time and space, their surrounding environment (or set if you will). The actors are wholly aware of the world they are living in, and thus its components (for example, objects, space) to counterbalance their characters emotions and expression. Consequently, the actor truly becomes one with the world they are living. For example, Reichardt will show Josh working alongside others who are more productive, or she will counterbalance Josh’s silence and reflection with active participants going about their morning affairs; the contrast between Josh’s deep thought and everyone else’s peace of mind couldn’t be more powerful. This is no new discovery for directors, or audiences alike, and these are largely subtleties, but Reichardt has dissected a truly powerful film when it may have otherwise been quite simply a tedious tale. In other words, Josh/Jesse is complemented by factors allowing him to magnify his intricacy of emotion.

There is no sense of urgency in the script; a single event must be explored in great detail for the film to work the way it does. Yet, a paradox is that the visual analogy is one of great urgency and this is made possible by the magical chemistry between the cast. And further still, within this straight-lined exploration lie indefinite truths; each character has a dark shadow and at times it is up for the audience to decide for themselves (did that actually happen?). Cinema can show things, but rarely can it make up your mind for you; such is the truth of well-directed pictures.

It may not satisfy everyone’s attention for fast-cut action, but it will never suggest such a method and neither will it attempt to expand on any sub-plot. This is not a derogative, you could argue the film supersedes any need for it, the imagination can replace such need: it knows what action may avail, it can picture the prevailing action and it can design a feeling of compelling either way. The mind is key.

4.5/5

The Guest – A delicious guilty pleasure

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The Guest – US, 2014

UK Release by Icon Film Distribution – 5th September 2014

Directed by Adam Wingard

Brief Synopsis: In what is fundamentally a new spawn of Stoker, a hard-hitting solider fools a family into welcoming him into their home. The rather intense accidents that follow are no coincidence.. 

One may initially ponder why they bothered to make the effort, but Dan Stevens and the atypical character he plays called David will soon keep you entranced. David, at first, is presented as the lad prototype, the guy who gets all the girls and beats up the bullies, but he soon becomes far more than this, he is bound to a complexity and his presence becomes mysterious. He shows no purpose or desire; it appears that he even has to pretend to become excited when a beautiful young woman rides half-naked on top of him. Then, in an instance, the territory switches and the scales rise, although we are never quite sure what to believe and Wingard successfully lets us play with our imaginations throughout and beyond.

At times, the film reminds me of Quentin Tarantino’s work because we find ourselves connecting with an unlawful character that moves across the screen with sufficient pardon. Not to mention the outbursts of violence and borderline parody that is often adopted. The music is also explosive and dynamic in its use of sound effects that bridge the action effectively; the tone is close to becoming a pulp bonanza. There are inevitably loose areas in such a film that attempts to play its audience around, but plot holes are looped with bullets and captivating face expressions. There is a hint towards David’s real background, but it is largely bumped of as one of these experiments gone wrong; we are left to imagine and the realm of science fiction is certainly on the cards. The last shot of the film will let you decide for yourself on the latter.

Both Brendan Meyer, the awkward son of the family, and his sister, played by Maika Monroe (definitely one to watch as they say) are terrific and give the believable performances that are needed alongside the taut David. They are the necessary sounding board for the temptation and animosity that Stevens brings to David. He indulges in their affairs for better or worse and ignites in them quite a life experience to behold. It can get pretentious, but hold out as you will be entertained and this film will make you think, despite what its marketing campaign may suggest.

4.5/5