Writers: Graham Moore (screenplay), Andrew Hodges (book)
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong
Release date: November 14th, 2014
Distributors: StudioCanal, The Weinstein Company
Countries: UK, USA
Running time: 114 minutes
Best part: The charming performances.
Worst part: The last 15-20 minutes.
Mathematician, logician, computer scientist, cryptanalyst. Worthy of this Tony Stark-esque description, one aspiring man one undertook these phenomenal professions simultaneously. The man, subject of front-running Oscar contender The Imitation Game, is one of history’s bravest and most inspirational people. In fact, his momentous inventions and experiments have paved the way for some of modern civilisation’s most valuable technological advancements.
Benedict Cumberbatch & Charles Dance.
Beyond the positives, The Imitation Gamepresents key World War II figure Alan Turing’s life as a battle between arrogance and modesty. Early on, after his introduction into British Intelligence’s darkest depths, the game-changing scientist compares himself to Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. Refusing to promote his sterling accomplishments, the twenty-something compliments the aforementioned geniuses for making momentous strides at younger ages. From there, this spy-drama depicts his momentous journey. The movie, despite the premise, starts off in a different part of his life. In 1951, after examining a suspicious robbery at Turing(Benedict Cumberbatch)’s Manchester abode, the lead investigator, Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear), seeks to learn more about him. Unexpectedly, his mission kickstarts a baffling chain of events. During an interrogation, Turing relays his life story. Jumping back to WWII, the movie then kick-starts its central plot-line. Turing – transported to top-secret Government Code and Cypher School, Bletchley Park – butts heads with Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance). Adjusting to the experience, the aspirational yet anti-social brainiac grates against fellow academics including Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), John Carincross (Allen Leech), and Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard). Enlisting British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s support, our team sets out to crack Nazi Germany’s notorious Enigma Code with Turing’s £100,000 code-deciphering machine.
The Imitation Game‘s convoluted premise appears tiresome and confusing. Largely ignored by the public, average film-goers might skip it in favour of Channing Tatum’s latest psychological-thriller (Foxcatcher) or Tim Burton’s latest visual splendour (Big Eyes). With said big names vying for our attention, the movie may only resonate with a select few. However, the movie charts one of modern history’s greatest stories. The central plot-line – pitting Turing against colleagues, higher-ups, underrated newcomer Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), and MI6 representative Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) – clicks like Turing’s inventions. Inspired heavily by The Social Network and A Beautiful Mind, this plot-line delivers a fun assortment of pithy dialogue, intricate flourishes, and Oscar-calibre moments. As the clock ticks down, this story-thread simmers over the proverbial fires of war. Uncovering a web of conspiracy and degradation, this small-scale thriller discusses modern political and technological issues. With freedom at stake, this docudrama places us in Turing’s blockish shoes. As battles rage on across the channel, the ego-driven feuds become increasingly more interesting. Punctuated by dynamic turns from the enthralling cast, certain scenes summarise the story’s immense worth. Unfortunately, director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) and screenwriter Graham Moore don’t trust in this plot-line. Interested more so in politics than action, our filmmaker and writer craft a meaningful tale about code-breakers and desk jockeys. However, narrative’s gear-churning shifts distort the pacing and tension. Hindering the touching personal moments, its non-linear structure lessens the impact.
“Sometimes, it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” (Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), The Imitation Game).
Our code-cracking team.
Jumping between this story-line, the ’51 investigation, and Turing’s childhood, screen-time is needlessly confiscated from vital moments. Adding little to The Imitation Game‘s narrative, two of said plot-lines merely lessen the impact. Delivering corny dialogue and heavy-handed symbolism, the boarding school sequences become major distractions. Despite the magnetic first-two thirds, the last act speeds through plot-points, historical moments, and revelations similarly to Turing code-breaking process. Skimming over thematically resonant moments, the movie relies too much on its last few scenes and closing inter-titles. The underlying conflict, concerning Turing’s sexual orientation, is scarcely commented on. Thanks to its simple-minded liberal message, it becomes a King’s Speech-esque Oscar-baiter. Despite the issues, it combines Britain’s brightest talents to achieve a commendable vision. Separating the movie’s three time periods, Maria Djurkovic’s production design paints a haunting picture of the era. Capturing Tyldum’s attention to detail, each shot houses a rich representation of WWII England. In addition, Alexandre Desplat’s score delivers emotional weight throughout. In addition, Cumberbatch’s performance and Turing’s arc are worth the admission cost. Being one of the movie’s many skinny, Lizard-like cast members, the British actor – in his first scene with Dance – establishes himself as one of cinema’s most alluring talents. Strong, Knightley, Goode, and Dance deliver nuanced turns in compelling roles.
Turing, whose public backlash and conviction for gross indecency led to his suicide at 41, proved one person, against all odds, can make a difference. Like our inquisitive and socially awkward subject, The Imitation Game cracks the vital codes and pushes the right buttons to achieve significant results. Despite the typical Weinstein Company production issues, this historical-drama places its circuit boards and wires together in an effective sequence.
Writer: Rowan Joffe (screenplay), S. J. Watson (novel)
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Anne-Marie Duff
Release date: September 5th, 2014
Distributors: Clarius Entertainment, Eagle Films
Running time: 92 minutes
Best part: Strong’s dynamic turn.
Worst part: Kidman and Firth.
Amnesia – in real-life and entertainment – is a cruel, remorseless, yet fascinating mistress. Despite lacking physical pain, the psychological effects – of all temporary and permanent memory disorders – yield major consequences. For the victims and those around them, this affliction can’t simply be shaken off. In many big and small screen cases, ranging from Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind to 50 First Dates, amnesia is primarily used as a valuable plot device. In Before I Go to Sleep‘s case, it guides each character’s fate from go to woe. Unfortunately, there’s much more of the latter.
Nicole Kidman hiding from the critics.
Before I Go to Sleep‘s crippling afflictions reside elsewhere. Born from one tiny idea, the original material turned its intricate premise into a 2011 Sunday Times and New York Times best-selling crime novel. Attracting three A-listers and an ambitious writer/director, the project could have delivered a worthwhile adaptation. However, like with several of 2014’s premise-driven productions, good concepts are met with poor results. Author S. J. Watson must be reeling from this wasted opportunity. His novel, known to book clubs around the globe, is worthy of careful analysis and lively debate. Before the conflict takes hold, the story kicks off from relatively modest beginnings. In the first shot, we see housewife Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) at her most vulnerable. After waking up, our main character wildly panics before darting around the house; looking for something to calm her down. Her insistent husband, Ben (Colin Firth), informs her of her situation through trust exercises and a romantic collage. Christine suffers from short-term memory loss (anterograde amnesia, to be precise), caused by a car crash 10 years earlier. Despite the efforts to absorb new information, her brain erases everything each night. Stuck at home, Christine yearns for determined psychologist Dr. Nash(Mark Strong)’s advice. Behind Ben’s back, she develops a video diary to piece her life together. Questioning her meaningless existence, she – after suffering horrific, contradictory nightmares/memories – demands answers about the accident, the aftermath, and everyone around her.
Colin Firth still reeling from Magic in the Moonlight.
Writing the book whilst working as an audiologist, Watson knew how to take charge of his narrative. Carrying a firm awareness of the genre and topic, Watson should have taken control over this production. Sadly, the studio gave it to writer/director Rowan Joffe (Brighton Rock). Despite Joffe’s stature in British film and TV, the ambitious filmmaker’s sophomore effort doesn’t do Watson justice. Infatuated by Before I Go to Sleep‘s third-act twists, Joffe seems entirely disinterested with everything else. Skulking towards the last third, Joffe’s execution – creating an awkward contrast between suburban drama and mystery-thriller – is as exhaustive and frustrating as Christine’s affliction. In particular, the first half-hour – instead of establishing the pros and cons of Christine’s life – plays out like a lifeless soap opera void of subtlety, tragedy, or development. Clinging onto underwhelming revelations and dull conversations, the movie never harnesses stakes, emotional resonance, or originality. Despite the premise’s allure, Joffe’s insecure direction overplays small moments and obscures important titbits. Clinging onto the original material, his direction spells out wholly predictable twists. Following a banal relationship-drama structure, the repetitive first half might cause viewers to sigh loudly and check their watches. Bafflingly so, the movie copies and pastes concepts and sequences from similar efforts. Dr. Nash’s story-line, coming off like a gritty detective thriller, distorts the trajectory of this ridiculous psychological-drama.
“I have to remember who did this to me.” (Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman), Before I Go to Sleep).
For once, Mark Strong isn’t playing a baddie!
Despite the 92-minute run-time, Before I Go to Sleep‘s inconsistent tone and sluggish pacing cause more yawns than gasps. However, blitzing the abysmal first half, the second half switches gears before capitalising on the material. Moving the chess pieces around, Joffe’s screenplay matches the novel’s reputation; making us ask: “Who’s really trying to help?”. Switching from American Beauty to Insomnia to Memento, the movie – forming a tug of war between Ben and Dr. Nash – delivers several thrilling set-pieces and twists. In fact, its biggest twist is almost makes the first half worthwhile. Aided by Hitchcockian plot threads, the move pays homage to a long, lost form of big-budget cinema. Aided by a blistering score, muted colour palette, and Ben Davis’ sumptuous cinematography, the tension and atmosphere bolster the dour story. However, despite the compelling psychological disorder/gimmick, the movie has little to say about anything. Alienating its characters, the narrative merely hints at disability care, identity issues, and domestic violence. Sadly, Kidman – despite channeling Alfred Hitchcock’s blonde bombshells – never successfully inhabits the topsy-turvy role. Filling most scenes with blank stares and hushed tones, her subdued turn hinders the character arc. Firth, having a rough year with this, Magic in the Moonlight, and Devil’s Knot, never overcomes his character’s preposterous transitions. Despite his immense talents, the British icon seems entirely out-of-place. Gracefully, Strong becomes the shining star. Despite his underdeveloped role, the thespian delivers enough verve and guile to bolster this underwhelming effort.
Whilst Before I Go to Sleep drifted from my consciousness, I reflected upon its many accomplishments and failures. Sadly, this process did little but remind me of much better psychological-thrillers. Influenced by major movies, directors, and writers, Joffe’s adaptation never lets us absorb the scintillating premise. Thanks to questionable logic, an inconsistent tone, and mind-numbing pace, this adaptation proves just how different movies and novels are.
Verdict: A mindless and dreary psychological-thriller.
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong
Release date: December 19th, 2012
Distributors: Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures, Icon Productions, GAGA
Running time: 157 minutes
Best part: Bigelow’s direction.
Worst part: Some slightly underdeveloped characters.
There has been a vast number of military procedurals since 9/11. Each with their own point to prove, they attain an understandable account of relations between the west and the Middle East. One director unafraid to discuss the War on Terror with a definitive and fiery passion is Kathryn Bigelow. Her latest film, Zero Dark Thirty, is arguably one of the best films of the past decade.
A big statement for sure, but both her and this film heartily speak to the masses about the past decade’s hottest topic. Zero Dark Thirty dramatises the work of multiple US agencies, all of whom with the same goal. Between 2001 and 2011, Osama bin Laden was at the top of every most wanted list. CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) is brought in to witness the routine of Pakistan’s US Embassy. Aided by fellow CIA officer Dan (Jason Clarke), their brutal interrogations uncover several leads. While searching endlessly for Al-Qaeda members, in particular a courier by the name of ‘Abu Ahmed’, the CIA division overlooking the region must also contend with constant allegations and terrorist attacks. Heading up the operation, Maya launches an all-out assault on bin Laden and Al-Qaeda’s hold on the Middle East. Bigelow and writer Mark Boal have reunited after their best-picture winning effort, The Hurt Locker. Whereas that film centred on one Bomb disposal unit, their new feature examines every aspect of the war against bin Laden. Despite bin Laden’s death in 2011, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq may never satisfyingly end. Zero Dark Thirty has caused severe controversy since its conception. Clashes with CIA and Obama administration officials suggest that this story hits way too close to home. So-called ‘leaked’ information is combined with an in-depth analysis of the war on terror.
Kyle Chandler & Jason Clarke.
The 2 hour and 37 minute length is vital for this immense story. Boal’s script is a cinematic dramatisation of startling personal accounts. Like a journalist’s presentation of the Middle East, the film’s objectivity allows for many interpretations. Bigelow and Boal smartly recreate certain events without either propagandistic or anti-establishment messages. This expansive story covers 10 years of terrorist acts and events within a shattered bureaucracy. Attacks including 9/11 and the London Bombings are depicted but never sensationalised. The boardroom rules over the battlefield here. The film’s daring examination of pencil-pushers and investigators grounds this intense struggle. Intelligence and surveillance may be vital, but human intuition is even greater. However, the bombings, shoot-outs and assassination attempts will leave anyone sinking in their seats. The film’s best sequence is the night raid by Seal Team Six on Bin Laden’s Compound. Tight, tense and violent; it’s a stunning action set piece devoid of unnecessary ‘Hollywood’ flourishes. Zero Dark Thirty never reverts back to standard action-thriller tropes. It’s subtly divided between cat-and-mouse chase, military procedural and intense thriller. With many post-9/11 military dramas, action and simplistic exposition tell the story. The film’s level of political jargon is about as intensive as a CNN newsroom. Evidence, gathered and shared between Pakistan and Washington D.C., extensively details how technology can create freedom. Yes, it’s refreshing that a Hollywood post-9/11 drama can speak strictly to the current affair-centred viewer, but that concept may be excruciating for everyone else. Films such as The Insider, All the President’s Men, Munich and The Kingdom provide a similar outlook on international political affairs. Zero Dark Thirty has caused controversy due to its graphic torture sequences.
“Can I be honest with you? I am bad fucking news. I’m not your friend. I’m not gonna help you. I’m gonna break you. Any questions?” (Dan (Jason Clarke), Zero Dark Thirty).
The Seal Team Six sequence.
Bigelow, however, never pushes things too far. No one is having appendages chopped off. Instead, heavy metal music is blared for days on end and male prisoners are humiliated in front of female CIA operatives. Despite these atrocities, both the American and Middle Eastern characters are depicted delicately. Bigelow and Boal find, and comment on, the humanistic elements of both sides without sitting on left or right wings. Bigelow is clearly one of Hollywood’s best action-thriller directors. Her tight, kinetic style comes to the forefront of both The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Boal and Bigelow have expanded The Hurt Locker‘s Middle Eastern setting. The grit of the Middle Eastern desert is important to this harsh docudrama. The verisimilitude establishes a startling world that the American characters struggle to adjust to. Bigelow’s handling of Maya’s story is hauntingly personal. Maya is based on a real-life CIA operative whose name cannot be given for security purposes. Maya’s arc between naive operative and frustrated leader is chilling. She separates the men from the boys whilst living and working in a testosterone fuelled environment (much like Bigelow herself). Maya is courageously determined to capture bin Laden. Pushing papers and tempers around the office, her implausible hunches push her to continue on. The ubiquitous Chastain is remarkable here. Every emotion is etched painfully into her face. She presents her character’s exhaustive journey with a powerfully affecting turn. Charismatic character actors, including Mark Strong, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Kyle Chandler and James Gandolfini, deliver powerful performances in small roles.
Bigelow and Boal have crafted a heart-thumping and intelligent thriller. Crafting the line between bureaucracy, democracy, and chaos, Zero Dark Thirty is an objective and affecting look at the greatest manhunt in history. Thanks to this immaculate cast and crew, this military flick transcends the genre and studio system.
Verdict: An intelligent and captivating military thriller.
Writers: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon (screenplay), Edgar Rice Burroughs (novels)
Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong
Release date: March 9th, 2012
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 132 minutes
Best part: The Tharks.
Worst part: The cliched narrative.
The perfect way to describe this adaptation of the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs is by comparing it to every classic action adventure film of its type. Charming yet tedious, John Carter is a sci-fi fantasy flick that will leave you underwhelmed, as great actors and a beautiful visual style are dragged through a slow pace and unoriginal script.
The clichés begin with a young Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) reading from the memoirs of civil war veteran and all around badass John Carter (Taylor Kitsch). Suddenly we are taken back to the end of the civil war, with Carter looking for lost treasure while trying to avoid both the cruel american forces and savage native american indians. Carter’s dangerous discoveries and run ins with the law of the land lead to his transportation from Earth (Jarsoom) to Mars (Barsoom). With the realisation of his new home comprising of warring factions not resembling any nationality on earth and a spiritual alien tribe, its up to Carter and feisty princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) to save the dying planet from the forces of evil, with their hearts skipping a beat for each other along the way.
Lynn Collins & Ciaran Hinds.
John Carter is Avatar, Star Wars and Dances with Wolves all rolled into one. The film wears its cliches and influences on its sleeve, without displaying an even vaguely imaginative sci-fi action fairytale simultaneously. Despite this series of books being written in the early 20th century, this film was clearly the result of box office successes such as Avatar and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Carter’s exploration of Mars is surprisingly dull due to the very simple quest our characters are placed in. Unlike Avatar, the film quickly loses focus and spends little time with its most unique characters. Whereas Avatar saw to the detailed exploration of a planet’s native inhabitants, The ‘Tharks’ in John Carter stand only for plot devices and comic relief. Unfortunately, the film focuses almost entirely on the warring Romanesque factions. Despite several clever moments of comedy, the human characters throughout are two dimensional at best while bland performances from British actors Ciaran Hinds and Dominic West prove costly for this already unenterprising adventure. Mark Strong is charismatic as the snarling, shape shifting Thern but suffers from a one dimensional character used specifically as a plot contrivance. This film proves that Hollywood’s fresh crop of young lead actors aren’t up to the task of carrying major Hollywood blockbusters.
“When I saw you, I believed it was a sign… that something new can come into this world.” (Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), John Carter).
Kitsch and Collins are completely dull. Their thick accents and lack of expressions add to the tedium as they soon become uninteresting to watch. Their developing relationship also feels forced upon finding out Carter’s recently troubled past. This largely predictable quest and tale of love among the stars is not without its share of enjoyable moments. The technical aspects of the film reign supreme, especially when dealing with the alien characters. The Tharks are depicted as war ravaged and spiritually guided praying mantises. Their tusks, four arms and slender figures create a wonderful interpretation of the ancient Earth bound tribes from Africa to North America. While their strange body movements and reactions to John Carter himself create many fascinating character interactions. Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton and Thomas Haden Church provide their usual screen prowess in their motion capture turns as tribe members Tars Tarkis, Sola and Tal Hajus respectively. The setting of Mars is also used to full effect. The idea of undiscovered worlds carved into the bright red planet is expressed through giant mechanised cities, flying machines, scary creatures, gigantic battles and alien inhabitants sticking to the old ways; brought to life through impeccable special effects and sickeningly harsh desert landscapes.
John Carter, for all the bravado and good-will of its typical summer blockbuster vibe, can’t help but trip over its own two alien feet. Despite the epic scope and fine cast, the movie comes off like a slap-dash studio decision. Sadly, Avatar‘s shadow is still too big!
Verdict: A perfunctory and uninspired sci-fi blockbuster.
Writers: Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan (screenplay), John le Carre (novel)
Stars: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth
Release date: September 16th, 2012
Distributor: StudioCanal UK
Country: UK, France, Germany
Running time: 127 minutes
Best part: The engaging visuals.
Worst part: The egregious pace.
Those expecting Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to be a fun, retro, fast paced spy flick will be sorely disappointed. The film, based on infamous crime novelist John Le Carre’s book of the same name, is actually a tense yet confusing tale of betrayal, regret and corruption within the head of British Intelligence. It buries its head in the sand for the longest time as it becomes increasingly difficult to detect either the pivotal antagonist or any sense of an emotional connection.
Right from the beginning, The shooting of Jim Pridieux (Mark Strong) sparks a chain reaction in the life of senior spy George smiley (Gary Oldman) as he is forced to retire due to the outrage surrounding Pridieux’s failure. Too soon, however, is Smiley forced back into the field, as an out of touch informant gives up information leading to the assumption of a mole high up in ‘the circus’. Smiley, feeling shame and regret for the death of his boss ‘Control’ (John Hurt) and the separation between him and his wife, narrows the list of suspects down to four. They comprise of ‘Tinker’; ambitious new head of the organisation Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), ‘Tailor’; arrogant womaniser Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), ‘Poorman’; Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) and ’Sailor’; Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds). His investigation soon turns into a game of cat and mouse as everyone involved is suddenly forced to look over their shoulders at both each other and the reluctant Smiley.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is filled with stellar yet stoic performances from everyone in its A-list cast. The chemistry between some of Britain’s elite actors is constantly engaging. Hanging evidence on each other in many of sound proof meetings is fascinating as the snappy dialogue continually bounces off them. Gary Oldman delivers in his very repressed role; conveying a very quiet, damaged representation of a professional constantly on the edge. Subtle touches in both his actions and facial expressions deliver traits of a character who is forced into a life he will never be comfortable with. Another stand out is Tom Hardy as the disgraced rogue spy turned informant Ricki Tarr. Hardy gives yet another captivating and sensitive turn as the gritty secret agent who broke the first rule of being a spy. Unfortunately, many of the supporting characters lack depth or emotional attachment. Firth, Jones, and Hinds are barely focused on, taking all the intensity out of the reveal in the third act. This tale of corruption within British intelligence soon becomes tangled in its own web of conspiracy and espionage. The large list of characters together with the intertwining story lines and lack of clear exposition make the film difficult to deduce.
“He’s a fanatic. And the fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt.” (George Smiley (Gary Oldman), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy).
The pacing also suffers due to the complex story. Despite building a strong sense of tension throughout the film, culminating in a brutal and satisfying conclusion, many scenes carry out longer than required, constantly losing focus and quickly becoming dull. The direction by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) is used to terrific effect in creating the world surrounding high class 70’s agents living in a gritty urban landscape. The graphic violence and realistic sex scenes create an authentic and disturbing depiction of their high flying lifestyles and blood soaked situations. The mis en scene is Drenched in bold and contrasting colours and settings, representing the 70’s retro era of exaggerated costume and interior designs. The film has a smooth, straight edged style that perfectly displays Alfredson’s creation of atmosphere and intriguing experiments with cinematography. The use of soft lighting, experiments with depth of field and framing with patterns, and tight camera work deliver a unique pallet that distinguishes Alfredson’s subtle and stylish direction from other European arthouse directors.
Boiling over well beyond necessity, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a meticulously studious spy-thriller adaptation. Despite the overwhelming flaws, this mesmerising narrative is bolstered by its stellar cast and unique visuals. Next time, hire a editor.