Dallas Buyers Club Review – Southern Struggles


Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Writers: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack 

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn


Release date: February 13th, 2014

Distributor: Focus Features

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: McConaughey and Leto.

Worst part: The obvious symbolism.

Today, the first world looks to Hollywood for inspiration. Despite being an easy target, film and TV industries deliver symbols and heroic figures. Thanks to grand illusions, we forget that celebrities are people too. These awe-inspiring figures aren’t simply high profile people collecting giant paycheques while posing for photographs. It’d be easy for celebrities – bombarded with blissful opportunities, temptations, and fan-bases – to make simplistic choices. The late 1990s and early 00s housed laughing stock turned celebrated actor Matthew McConaughey’s extraordinary ascension. Falling into the leading man slot, he picked roles based on giant paycheques and mass marketing campaigns. However, he’s recently proven his worth within the ever-shrinking A-list club. 

Matthew McConaughey.

Fortunately, McConaughey’s slew of award-worthy movies – forming the aptly titled ‘McConaissance’ – has bolstered his once-declining filmography. With his star shining brighter then ever, low-key docudrama Dallas Buyers Club hurls this dynamic actor into serious Oscar contention. However, despite the praise, one mind-boggling performance doesn’t make for a wholly compelling docudrama. Continuing this Oscar season’s trend of fusing darkly eclectic docudramas with powerful performance pieces, the movie relies entirely on the courage of its convictions. The movie chronicles rebellious loner turned dilapidated pharmaceutical figure Ron Woodroof. We meet Woodroof during awkward yet eye-catching circumstances. Woodroof, a serial womaniser and irritable misanthrope, leads a repetitive and tiresome existence. Gambling over rodeo bull rides and card games, his insatiable lifestyle reaches critical and disastrous conditions. With his ‘enviable’ lifestyle delivering countless surprises, his identity shifts violently after an industrial accident. At his local hospital, he is diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Taken aback by his condition, his existence is turned upside down. With his friends’ prejudices pushing him away, Woodroof finds solace through drugs and alcohol. At this point, the movie becomes a familiar yet likeable drama aching for attention. Beyond McConaughey’s physical, mental, and emotional transformations (losing 18kg for the role), the movie’s sterling attention to detail and spiritual weight launches it into overdrive.

Jared Leto.

My praise for this significant actor can’t be undone. Over the past three years, McConaughey – gracefully embodying ruthless yet sympathetic criminals (Mud), middle-aged strippers (Magic Mike), honourable and vicious hitmen (Killer Joe), and straight-laced professionals (BernieThe Paperboy, The Lincoln Lawyer) – has become Hollywood’s most dexterous actor. Graciously, the Texan artist saved his best performance for this potent and Oscar-worthy docudrama. Though not quite reaching The Wolf of Wall Street and Killer Joe‘s standards, Dallas Buyers Club delivers heartwarming and confronting qualities. Based on this extraordinary true story, the movie blissfully and honourably explores American history’s most taboo subject. The AIDS epidemic, explored in major releases like Philadelphia, hits like an impactful gut-punch. Despite informative and controversial subject matter, the movie never asks for sympathy. Unlike similar medical dramas, the movie never looks down upon its morally driven characters. In fact, for the most part, the movie refuses to sit patiently in a hospital waiting room. Emphatically immersing us in Woodroof’s journey, this Erin Brockovich-like docudrama becomes a love letter to Middle America’s unique inhabitants. Thankfully, Woodroof and his enlightening journey are insatiably empathetic. Despite his brash personality, this character arc becomes a tangible and exhilarating thrill-ride. Driving through an entrancing time period, this movie’s 20-year production history, coming from a loving place, touches on this and last century’s most debilitating issues. Despite its obvious flaws, the movie’s immaculate relevance pushes it into Oscar territory. The story’s parallels chart Woodroof’s shocking transformations. In comparing Woodroof’s pre and post diagnosis lifestyles, the movie’s cliches stick out. In the first few scenes, Woodroof is the pinnacle of manliness. Snorting cocaine, throwing around dollar bills, and setting up saucy threesomes, certain traits telegraph Woodroof’s overt transformation. Pushing him into the country’s gay, lesbian, and transgender community, this homophobic and anger-fuelled man’s journey is eye-rollingly overt.

“Let me give y’all a little news flash. There ain’t nothin’ out there can kill f*uckin’ Ron Woodroof  in 30 days.” (Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), Dallas Buyers Club).

Jennifer Garner.

Comparing Woodroof to animals and rodeo clowns, the movie’s heartening screenplay throws awkward moments into enthralling sections. Guided by his own middle finger, Woodroof’s abrasiveness and tenacity almost distort this otherwise heart-wrenching docudrama. Despite its overwhelming richness, Dallas Buyers Club‘s sappy moments and manipulative lines distract from profound narrative. With Woodroof’s transgender friend/business partner Rayon (Jared Leto) becoming a cognitive part of the Dallas Buyers Club, the movie’s touching relationships should’ve provided a well-rounded perspective. However, despite Woodroof’s commendable intentions, the movie delivers two dimensional discussions about major pharmaceutical companies, the American Medical Association, and the Food and Drug Administration. Depicted as insultingly villainous, the movie’s antagonists highlight its forceful agenda. Due to an ethically questionable screenplay, Dallas Buyers Club presents broad sub-plots and characterisations without delivering a textured viewpoint. Condemning experimental AIDS drug AZT, the movie hypocritically dishes out awkward side effects. However, director Jean-Marc Vallee(The Young Victoria)’s unique visual style elevates the questionable material. Hurling bleak colour patterns and practical effects across the screen, Vallee’s infatuation with this true story becomes evident. Thanks to the movie’s sickeningly dark turns, this mature and nuanced style amicably suits the material. Beyond Woodroof’s prowess, the performances bolster this conventional anti-hero character study. McConaughey’s turn is simply jaw-dropping. Adding confronting mannerisms to his sycophantic turn, MConaughey’s commitment is thesis worthy. In addition, Leto, known for Requiem for a Dream and Lord of War, fits comfortably into his bizarre and heartbreaking role. Leto’s first acting gig in six years places him in strong contention for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Unfortunately, the supporting characters are sorely underdeveloped. Jennifer Garner’s character, Dr Eve Saks, is a single minded and inconsistent plot device. Despite these gripes, Garner performs admirably in this middling role. Expanding her range, Garner’s inherent charm pushes her through the emotionally impactful final third.

Dallas Buyers Club, despite its niggling flaws, is an enjoyably manic docudrama. Thanks to his scintillating transformation, McConaughey shows that big-name actors aren’t just in it for the thrills. He, despite his peculiar reputation, is systematically changing the game. Like Woodroof’s work, McConaughey’s process expands our ever-growing universe. Along with Leto and Garner elevating mediocre characterisations, the movie’s intelligent messages, acute sense of humour, and shocking twists elevate it above Oscar-bait territory.

Verdict: A taut, thought-provoking, and touching docudrama.

American Hustle Review – ABSCAM Anarchy


Director: David O. Russell 

Writers: Eric Singer, David O. Russell 

Stars: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner


Release date: December 13th, 2013

Distributors: Columbia Pictures, Entertainment Film Distributors, Roadshow Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 138 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The entertaining performances. 

Worst part: The alienating plot turns.

In one of American Hustle‘s more pivotal scenes, Christian Bale’s Character Irving Rosenfeld asks Bradley Cooper’s character Richie DiMaso the movie’s most important question: “Who’s the master? The Painter? Or the forger?”. Despite being the trailer’s most valuable moment, the query still efficiently sums up this crime-drama’s raw edginess. American Hustle, safely landing into Academy-Award-contention territory, is one of 2013’s most puzzling yet entertaining movies. Its top-flight cast, enigmatic plot, and dizzying set pieces deliver multiple rewards.

Christian Bale & Bradley Cooper.

Despite presenting itself as a “For Your Consideration…” Oscar trap, American Hustle is an honest and adept crime-drama. Today, we rarely become witness to such ground-breaking yet kinetic movies. Despite facing stiff competition in this year’s Oscar race, American Hustle wouldn’t care if it won, lost, or drew. Acclaimed director David O. Russell (The FighterSilver Linings Playbook) is obviously his own man. Given his fiery on-set temper and inspiring talent, O. Russell achieves the near impossible – delivering a stylish, convoluted, and enlightening crime drama free from pretentiousness and overblown moments. Despite my glowing recommendation of American Hustle, I understand the movie’s already-discomforting-yet-minor backlash. It’s certainly not for everyone. At least, I can try to win people over by describing the movie’s terrific yet dicey plot. Rosenfeld (Bale) is a despicable businessman running several companies within New Jersey. With his dry-cleaning and glass-installation businesses in tip-top condition, he becomes a slimy yet clever small-town hero. However, Rosenfeld’s world is rocked by seductive beauty Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). With Prosser becoming Rosenfeld’s mistress/business partner, their greatest plans kick into gear. Embezzling large funds from gullible investors, the terrible twosome expand their vast riches. Thanks to Prosser’s alter ego ‘Lady Edith Greensly’, their schemes and romance blossom into something dreadfully beautiful (or beautifully dreadful, it’s difficult to tell). However, Rosenfeld is bewitched by his bi-polar wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and adrenaline-and-cocaine-fuelled FBI agent DiMaso (Cooper). Forced into the FBI’s clutches, Rosenfeld, Prosser, and DiMaso forcefully work together to take down corrupt yet well-meaning Camden Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner).

Amy Adams.

Amy Adams.

From there, allegiances, plans, and ideologies are warped, tortured, and eviscerated. It may seem diabolical, but the dramatic beats liven up this talky crime-drama. Depicting the late-70s’ ABSCAM scandal, American Hustle delves into the true story’s intricate webbing and most enigmatic elements. With its opening title card saying: “Some of this actually happened”, the movie pokes fun at Hollywood’s stranglehold over inspirational yet unbelievable true stories. After biting into ABSCAM’s saucy yet dangerous secrets, the movie sporadically delves into its own fantastical and larger-than-life adventure. I’ll admit, the convoluted plot-strands and alienating exposition become this cognitive structure’s most problematic elements. However, these inane moments hurriedly brush past the audience. Its most memorable moments are worth the admission cost. Here, ABSCAM’s most confusing aspects are insignificant titbits stuck in an increasingly formidable conflict. Before and after the scandal is brought up then brushed aside, the characters take control of the movie’s electrifying and alarming narrative. Within the first ten minutes, American Hustle takes us on a discomforting, sexually appealing, and comedic journey. Thanks to Rosenfeld and Prosser’s shared narration, these characters introduce and describe themselves. O. Russell, continually choosing controversy over convention, makes several brave choices within the first act. Beyond the schizophrenic narration, the narrative jumps from one influence to another. Despite the movie’s overt self-indulgence, O. Russell displays a glowing affection for such influential crime-drama directors as Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Sidney Lumet. The tonal shifts, ever-changing perspectives, and debilitating plot-turns are derived from Goodfellas and Casino. In fact, like those pulsating movies, American Hustle graciously explores the criminal mind’s most fascinating intricacies.

Jeremy Renner.

Despite the engaging narrative, the plot occasionally gets away from O. Russell and co-writer Eric Singer. Highlighting the true story’s most baffling parts, the movie locks onto its comical and distasteful characters. Despite this, the movie’s sickening comedic touches quickly launch into overdrive. With the wild characters embracing this pressing situation’s absurdity, the biting and ironic humour comes thick and fast. Stuck between rocks and hard places, these dim-witted heroes and villains bumble, wine, and cuss through every dangerous conflict. With lives and reputations at risk, insults fly across each swanky setting. In particular, Rosalyn’s nasty insults and abrasive attitude hit with gut-punch-like effect. Credit, obviously, belongs to O. Russell for the movie’s pitch-black humour and cynical outlook. Despite the punchy tone and zippy pacing, O. Russell’s work hurriedly descends into darkness and chaos. With his filmography covering the gulf war, mental illness, and fallen sporting heroes, his misanthropic perspective casts a detailed shadow over each unique project. American Hustle, his most violent and zany effort yet, illuminates similarities between 70s, post-Vietnam USA and post-economic-crisis Earth. O. Russell, giving fraudulent miscreants second chances whist looking down upon important government agencies, develops several truthful yet misguided opinions. Like Catch Me if You Can and The InformantAmerican Hustle‘s criminal/lawman conflict supports the anti-hero and flips-off the villainous yet untouchable government fat-cats. At least, O. Russell’s work says what we are all thinking. Beyond that, O. Russell bravely pokes fun at the American Dream. Deliberating on race, gender, and class, the movie makes middle class, suburban living seem like a torturous adventure. Setting household appliances, inventive schemes, and aspirations alight, American Hustle is not for the faint-hearted or ignorant.

“Did you ever have to find a way to survive and you knew your choices were bad, *but* you had to survive?” (Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), American Hustle).

Jennifer Lawrence.

Jennifer Lawrence.

Thankfully, for less-opinionated viewers, the visuals develop a kinetic and entertaining sensory experience. Sporting elaborate costumes, hair-dos, and personalities, each character sustains exterior and interior quirks. With these characters’ schemes as outlandish as their skin-flashing outfits, the costume design lends American Hustle a pulsating and tangible sheen. In addition, each character – whether they be rich, poor, innocent or slimy – balances stupefying hair-dos atop their attractive facades. DiMaso’s perm, Rosalyn’s beehive, and Polito’s road-kill-like hairstyle are enlightening distractions. Opening with Rosenfeld pasting a bizarre toupee atop his bulbous scalp, American Hustle‘s characters are defined by styles and substance. The mis-en-scene, plastering ugly colours, swanky interior designs, and elaborate patterns across every frame, lends verisimilitude to this otherwise sketchy and kooky narrative. O. Russell, infatuated by overt 70s icons, pumps up the catchy soundtrack at opportune moments. Wings, Steely Dan, The Bee Gees, and Elton John elevate certain tension-inducing sequences. However, credit belongs to the A-list actors draped across every sizzling frame. Their determination and courageousness, tested by O. Russell’s punishing direction, pushes them through each discomforting scene. Like O. Russell’s previous efforts, the shouting matches develop each puzzle piece and flawed character. Swiftly increasing each interior setting’s temperature, the pithy dialogue and loud voices reveal each character’s ugliest qualities. Bale, carrying a belly and comb-over, transforms into a seedy, depraved, and quick-witted figure. Cooper steals his scenes as the incessant and manic agent. Adams, falling boob-first into every scene, is revelatory as the slinky yet tough mistress. Renner and Lawrence provide big laughs and immaculate performances. Meanwhile, Robert De Niro, Louis CK, Alessandro Nivola, Jack Huston, and Michael Pena contribute commendably.

With his energetic direction, elegant screenplay, and Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook alumni, O. Russell has pulled off a stunning hat-trick. Despite minor quarrels, American Hustle peels back several purposeful layers over its 2+ hour run-time. Unlike American Gangster, American Psycho, and American Pie, this crime-drama discovers that particular word’s immense ironic twang.

Verdict: A funny, scintillating, and engaging crime-drama. 

Argo Review – Affleck’s Artwork


Director: Ben Affleck 

Writers: Chris Terrio (Screenplay), Antonio J. Mendez (book), Joshuah Bearman (article) 

Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin 


Release date: October 12th, 2012

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Affleck’s work as director and actor.

Worst part: The uneven tone.

Throughout the last decade, Ben Affleck was seen as nothing more than an acting and tabloid-media joke. Since 2007, however, he has carried out one of the biggest comebacks in modern Hollywood history. After his astonishing directing début with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone and 2010’s thrilling crime-drama The Town, his new film goes in a completely different direction. Argo is a tense and authentic docu-drama, based on one of the most emotionally powerful and influential events from the past 50 years.

Ben Affleck.

In 1979, Iranian protesters took over the US Embassy in Tehran and held 63 Americans hostage. During the start of the conflict, six US consulate officials escaped the embassy and took shelter in the Canadian ambassador’s house for over ten weeks. CIA hostage specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) creates an absurd yet clever idea for freeing the six escapees. He will create a fake Hollywood film production, alert the press and help the victims to escape as members of a film crew currently location scouting in Iran. With the help of CIA supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), Mendez enlists the aid of Oscar winning makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and revered producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). Mendez must pull off his plan however before the Iranian Militia finds the six hostages trying to escape the country.

Affleck & Bryan Cranston.

Affleck has now proven his worth in multiple elements of filmmaking, showing the sceptics that his Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting was no fluke. Affleck creates a nail-biting and affecting docu-drama in the vein of Munich and Good Night and Good Luck. Despite faltering under the direction of others, Affleck delivers a subdued yet charismatic performance, showing his determination in getting these prisoners out by any means necessary. The snappy dialogue, delivered by the plethora of underrated character actors here, is a rarity in modern cinema. Argo places the viewer in each heated and engaging dialogue sequence while showcasing Affleck’s talent for obtaining powerful performances. Bryan Cranston, finally proving his dramatic and comedic talents outside of AMC series Breaking Bad, is memorable in his small role as the embittered middle man between Mendez and the Jimmy Carter administration. John Goodman is dynamic as the sarcastic Hollywood heavyweight. While Alan Arkin impresses as the egomaniacal and foul mouthed producer unaware that his best days in the industry may be behind him. This story, known as ‘The Canadian Caper’, is still as relevant today as it was thirty years ago. With the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq being major events in the past decade, the film provides an honest and relevant account of our ongoing political strife with the Middle East. Based on information declassified by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and a Wired magazine article by Joshuah Bearman, Argo provides an objective yet enrapturing look at this harrowing true story.

“Argo F*ck yourself!” (Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), Argo).

John Goodman & Alan Arkin.

John Goodman & Alan Arkin.

Constantly on the lookout for danger, climactic scenes between the six hostages effectively create an intense and claustrophobic feel. As illustrated in his first two films, Affleck knows how to create tension in many of the film’s most terrifying sequences (similarly to the underrated thriller Spy Game). This is a situation where being seen means being killed, and the Iranian people’s anger towards american superiority provides a substantial threat for everyone involved. Affleck subtly increases the tension with each suspicious figure and militant roaming the streets. Meanwhile, the anticipation builds to an edge-of-your-seat final third. The film, however, loses the grit and danger of its opening kidnapping sequences, shifting focus to the absurdities of the major Hollywood system and its broad yet profound similarities with the US Government. Despite many humorous and satirical moments, the bold look of the 70’s era studio takes the urgency away from the situation on the other side of the globe. Affleck does, however, create an inventive and pulpy visual style in these sequences, in the vein of the 2007 political dramedy Charlie Wilson’s War. Constant references to classic film and TV icons such as Star Wars, James Bond, Star Trek and Planet of The Apes, along with the salty bite taken out of mainstream studio practices, are entertaining yet diffuse the importance of this particular situation. The film walks a fine line between patronising and complimentary. The film manages to succinctly touch upon various Hollywood and government systems.

This story is about globalisation saving people’s lives whilst, at the same time, condemning them to be targets of the Iranian people. Argo, thanks to Affleck’s momentous will to succeed, pulls its audience in, shakes the viewer around, and sends them packing!

Verdict: An intelligent and nail-biting political thriller.

Moonrise Kingdom Review – Young Lover’s Yonder


Director: Wes Anderson

Writers: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola

Stars: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis


Release Date: May 25th, 2012

Distributor: Focus Features

Country: USA

Running time: 94 minutes

4/5

Best part: The engaging performances.

Worst part: The irritable supporting characters.

Bravely holding up the peace sign in protest against modernity and establishment, Moonrise Kingdom could be seen as this generation’s Easy Rider. A big statement to make for sure, but its quirky tone and important discussion of free love and youth are held onto with a fond emotional resonance and artistic beauty.

Jared Gilman & Kara Hayward.

Jared Gilman & Kara Hayward.

Its 1965, America is a transitional state and its youth are easily impressionable to the evolving tapestries of temptation and rebellion. Violent and socially awkward Suzy (Kara Hayward) finds her soul mate with the equally strange and detested Sam (Jared Gilman). They run away from home to the island of New Penzance, isolated from the throes of a bland American life. The parents and local authorities are made aware of their indiscretions and become determined to keep them apart, but a physical and emotional escape from their confines has forever drawn them into the realm of forbidden desires. Along the way, our heroes  run into several peculiar townsfolk and obstacles as their relationship reaches new peaks and troughs. In addition, with the town looking high and low for our cute couple, we look on as people from all different walks of life become bitten by the same bug that recently struck our two leads.  Guided by Sam’s boy scout savvy, the forest-dwelling existences may just pull their friends and well-wishers out of their tedious existences.

Edward Norton.

Edward Norton.

Forbidden desires, love and loss bring this anti-American prophecy to life through the vision of acclaimed director Wes Anderson. Anderson, known for his niche fan base and strange dramedies such as The Royal Tenenbaums and  Rushmore, has created his most concentrated work yet with Moonrise Kingdom. Everything on-screen glows as every frame is a reminder of this acclaimed auteur and his peculiar vision in a modern filmmaking era. The Anderson tropes are all in full effect; precocious children, dysfunctional families, a 70’s aesthetic and uncomfortable themes provide just the tip of the knife, piercing the heart of any viewer taking in this touching and cheerful dramedy. Based in a storybook like setting, his messages are surely based on his childhood in an era of free love and inhibitions dancing in the wind. The film speaks to the modern and adult viewer about valuable contrasting issues. Society, family, age and politics are all questioned as the film breaks down more than just the fourth wall. Looking into the camera at characters off screen, tracking and panning across settings through limited angles, abstract imagery, spit screen dialogue sequences and cutesy geographical narration from Bob Balaban’s gnome-like character question the comfort, voyeurism and staged representations of modernity and order. Moonrise Kingdom is one of art house sensibility, constantly creating delicate cutesy moments out of the darker side of life.

“I always wished I was an orphan. Most of my favorite characters are. I think your lives are more special.” (Suzy (Kara Hayward), Moonrise Kingdom).

Norton, Bruce Willis & Tilda Swinton.

Norton, Bruce Willis & Tilda Swinton.

The child characters are a part of us in one way or another. We go through their strange yet spiritually enlightening journey, knowing how and when their changing bodies and personalities will soon affect each other. First experiences, with concerning issues such as sex and violence, may catastrophically destroy their innocence. We witness however the pair shuffling through the bases, in the hope they find their own slice of Valhalla in an era of war and hatred. The adult characters sadly add little more than thematic representations and roadblocks to this hippie-era love story. With the boy scouts representing the army at the height of the Vietnam War, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel as scout leaders are suitably charming yet lack moral depth. The film is delightfully based on children learning by doing, displaying not that parents are wrong for their treatment of children, but should give them a chance to grow by themselves. Despite both child character’s anti-social and even masochistic tendencies, including piercing ears with fish hooks and brutally attacking boy scouts, delectable performances from Hayward and Gilman illustrate the joys of living discovered through adventure.

Moonrise Kingdom, marking Anderson’s spectacular return to form, is a rich, hearty dramedy with something to say. Talking about life, love, and inhibition, the movie comes from a significant place close to Anderson’s heart.

Verdict: A sweet and quirky coming of age tale.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Review – Specific Spywork


Director: Thomas Alfredson

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


 

3/5

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.

Gary Oldman.

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.

Benedict Cumberbatch.

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).

Mark Strong.

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.

Verdict: A cloying and overlong spy-thriller.

Midnight in Paris Review – Moonage Daydream


Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Stars: Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Corey Stoll


Release date: May 20th, 2011

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Countries: USA, Spain

Running time: 94 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The kinetic visuals.

Worst part: McAdams’ annoying character.

Woody Allen has found his home away from home with Midnight in Paris, a film about finding your imagination hiding in the city of love. Reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie, Allen illuminates the historical and famous locales of Paris, turning the city into a charming and expressive work of art. Allowing us to view both the past and present through his eyes illustrates his love of Paris, and is reminiscent of his representations of his native Manhattan.

Owen Wilson & Marion Cotillard.

The story centres around Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a thirty-something writer struggling to find a worthwhile ending for his first novel. Unable to fit into the life his obnoxious fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) has picked out for him, including expensive belongings and pedantic friends, Gil feels a special connection to Paris that no one around him understands. One night while walking through the streets of Paris, he stumbles across an antique 1920’s car. After accompanying the people inside, he travels back in time and meets his literary and artistic idols, including Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. His love for their work, and new-found friendship with Picasso’s mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard), creates a desire to continually return to this world at the stroke of midnight.

Wilson, Corey Stoll & Kathy Bates.

Allen’s direction and screenplay make Midnight in Paris a smart, witty and charming adventure. The beginning of the film, featuring continuous wide shots of the city, details 24 hours in Paris and develops the feeling of a wonderful fantasy. A bold visual style featuring elaborate 1920’s era fashion and nightclub settings, and a smooth guitar and jazz based score, delivers a quaint and comfortable representation of the past. Both artistic and literary references and discussions, based on the work of his role models, spark delightful scenes of dialogue that Allen is known for. The chemistry between every character is electric and the desire to learn more about, but not spending too much time on, each icon leaves a surprise around every turn and keeps the film consistently exciting. Despite the historical and literary discourses becoming alienating at points,  the appearance of every icon keeps the viewer interested in both their work and their reactions and connections to a fan like Gil. Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali, Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald respectively, and Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway deliver standout performances in their small but dignified roles.

“No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.” (Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Midnight in Paris).

Adrien Brody.

Owen Wilson’s standout performance becomes the most beguiling aspect of Midnight in Paris. Not only does Wilson portray a representation of Allen perfectly but he also becomes the avatar for the audience. Gil’s writer’s block and desperate search for creativity post screenwriting are defined by his entrapment of simple ideas. His inability to fit into Inez’s life of material things, and his increasingly different views to others around him on the art life of Paris, make him a likeable, funny and dynamic character. He feels a true sense of belonging when confronted with his heroes in the same place and when entwined with their overarching stories. Gil’s feeling towards his situation contains many signs of Allen’s theories of film-making and creating a true piece of art. Allen’s ode to a “Golden Age” of creativity is both a homage to the art and literature history of Paris and a representation of his struggle to fit into the present Hollywood system.

Allen, from Annie Hall to Match Point, has gone out of his way to boost Hollywood cinema above the norm. Midnight in Paris, tapping into his long-lost optimism and light-heartedness, is a fun and frivolous romantic comedy.

Verdict: A witty and sumptuous dramedy.