Month: April 2014

Locke

Released 2014. Written and directed by Steven Knight. Starring Tom Hardy.

There are plot spoilers here, although they are locked behind the first paragraph. Get it? Locked. Locke-d. Locke is the name of the film. Forget it.

There’s a breed of film that likes to restrict itself. It uses a single very concise location, or one main one with very few excursions elsewhere; it tells its story in real time, or near-real time; it features very few actors (often only one), who appear throughout. Of this breed, there are two flavours. There are the interesting ones, such as Buried and Rope; then there are the extraordinarily silly ones, such as Phone Booth and Devil. (Sometimes, I admit, you will come across a film that straddles this distinction, and that film is Carnage.) No matter what their variations on the theme, these films all have one thing in common, which is that I love them unconditionally. Imposing limits on oneself is a reliable recipe for something fun or intriguing – these films are laboratory experiments designed to discover what is possible to achieve despite confinement, and they’re always playful. Locke, set entirely within a car driven by Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) from Birmingham to London, is a member of the interesting group: it’s slow, careful, visually rich and utterly engrossing.

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Under the Skin

Under the Skin

Released 2014. Directed by Jonathan Glazer. Screenplay by Walter Campbell, based on “Under the Skin” by Michel Faber. Starring Scarlett Johansson.

Under the Skin is film of a type that is predictably disappointing. It’s beautiful, methodical and curious, and absolutely impenetrable. It’s of a type that is legitimised by people who express distaste for tentpole releases, saying that films shouldn’t tell simply tell the audience everything they have to offer; that as a viewer, I need to be putting in the work to extract meaning. Indeed, I agree with this. It’s the intensity with which that opinion is held that I find problematic, because it ends up allowing wilfully opaque films to evade criticism – it’s as though they’re so difficult to understand, they must be saying something meaningful, even though you haven’t a clue what it is. This is the case with Under the Skin, a film that is utterly unyielding to interpretation. The overall experience is frustrating, though enticing.

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The Fifth Estate

The Fifth Estate Assange and Daniel

Released 2013. Directed by Bill Condon. Screenplay by Josh Singer, based on “Inside Wikileaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website” by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and “Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” by David Leigh and Like Harding. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl.

Sadly I couldn’t help myself from leaking a plot spoiler or two.

I love impersonations. A good one is witty and charming; a great one can be transformative. Benedict Cumberbatch’s depiction of Julian Assange, the controversial founder of whistleblowing epicentre Wikileaks, is utterly remarkable, and undoubtedly the biggest virtue of The Fifth Estate. Thanks to his white hair, he bears a certain physical resemblance to the Australian troublemaker (although he remains unmistakeably Cumberbatch), he crucially nails the lilt peculiar to Assange’s voice, and has a decent go of translating a trait particular to those who are elusive, shadowy and unknowable: elusive, shadowy unknowability. His Assange is always slightly unpredictable, his actions not characterised by deceit but never far away from it. It’s probably the only sensible way to access the character, and therefore might be an obvious choice, but Cumberbatch’s portrayal is of such quality that one is forced to look elsewhere for the reason his performance has (perhaps aptly) slipped under the radar of cultural impact and awards consideration. That reason is director Bill Condon, who is doing an impersonation of his own.

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