March Variety Pack

Another month, another variety pack. I’m planning to write longer posts on Hugo and Breaking Bad – and possibly Being Human, depending on my mood – but in the meantime here are some shorter takes on a few of the films I’ve seen recently. Everything from teenage killing machines to Bostonian remakes of Heat and tragicomic Irish policemen – oh, the humanity!


Joe Wright’s film about a teenage assassin and her odyssey is an odd ‘un. It’s definitely strikingly different from what you might expect reading the blurb on the back of the DVD, and it’s got a lot going for it – but in the end I don’t think it works all that well. Hanna, starring the unpronounceable Saoirse Ronan, is basically three different films: a gender-swapped Bourne Identity, a modernised L’Enfant Sauvage and a stylised, symbolist-bordering-on-the-surreal fairytale. It pulls off the first two, but it is both most interesting and least successful in the latter: there are elements reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood, with the weirdest variation of the Big Bad Wolf ever (played by Tom Hollander as an artsy, flamingly camp psychopath, which should give you an idea), but these more stylised elements stand out like sore thumbs compared to the almost-realism of the more Bourne-inspired parts. It’s a shame – there’s a lot to admire about the film, from Ronan’s acting to the cinematography, but there are bits that feel half-baked or even outright ridiculous. And if Cate Blanchett’s accent even comes close to resembling the way any real human being talks, I’ll buy a 40-gallon hat and eat it.

The Guard

I am a big fan of Brendan Gleeson. I like black humour. Don Cheadle is one of the most criminally underused actors in Hollywood. And In Bruges was one of my favourite films the year it came out, making me laugh and cry in equal measure.

The Guard feels like like it’s trying to go for an In Bruges feeling in some ways, and Gleeson’s character has the same sort of laconic, melancholy humour going – but it doesn’t even come close to the earlier film’s… integrity, for want of a better word. The Guard is funny, undoubtedly, but its tentative attempts to be more than a pleasantly diverting, dark comedy don’t lead anywhere. Worse perhaps, The Guard is lazy in how it seems to think that it’s enough to have Gleeson play his usual part (or even a reduced version thereof) and have some jokes, and the rest will take care of itself. It isn’t, and especially if you’ve got Don Cheadle in the film it’s a massive waste to give him the most underwritten part in the film. If The Guard, whose author is the brother of In Bruges’ writer director Martin McDonagh, had come first, it might have been less of a disappointment – as it is, it’s difficult not to think that the time it takes to watch the film would be better spent on the earlier, better movie.

One thing, though: it’s great fun to watch the scenes shared by Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong. If there were ever a prequel spinoff focusing on their two characters, I’d watch it at the drop of a hat.

The Town

Talk about films that would play better if you hadn’t seen earlier film X… I’ve never been a big fan of Ben Affleck as an actor – I don’t dislike him, but I find him fairly bland, perhaps 0.47 McConaugheys – but I very much enjoyed his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone (starring his kid brother Casey). The Town shows the former wasn’t a fluke – Affleck definitely has a talent for directing, and I was surprised to enjoy his acting in the film more than in most other things I’ve seen him in, even though I’m usually suspicious of actor-directors who put themselves in the main part. The film is also well written, acted and filmed – but it is practically impossible to watch it without thinking Heat… and more specifically, that Heat does everything better than Affleck’s film. There are too many echoes in The Town to Mann’s masterpiece, so that halfway into the movie it was difficult to focus fully on what was happening and not sit there thinking, “Yeah, this is just like that scene with Ashley Judd, and that’s very much like that bit with Tom Sizemore…” I liked The Town quite a bit – and am definitely planning to keep my eyes open for Rebecca Hall – but it brings too little to the table compared to Heat not to suffer from the comparison. In a world without Mann’s movie it might be different, but as it is I have to wonder: was there ever a moment when someone on the crew, the Director of Photography or one of the producers, said, “Listen guys, great work’n’all… but I’ve seen this film before, it was called Heat, and why exactly are we doing a Boston-based reskin of that movie?”

Going… going… gone!

First of all, my apologies for not updating my blog for the last two days. Things at the office and at home have been very busy, but from now on I should be able to update (practically) every day for the next two weeks. Promise!

And there’s enough to blog about, mainly the last film I watched at the cinema. Who’d have thought that Ben Affleck is so good at dealing with actors, especially after he didn’t exactly prove himself to be his generation’s De Niro? (Shades of Sophia Coppola, mayhaps…?) Gone Baby Gone is an accomplished first movie, with a brilliant cast and a wonderful set of moral grey areas to ponder for days after leaving the cinema.

Nah… still gone

For the record, I disliked Mystic River (which is also an adaptation of a novel by Dennis Lehane, just like Gone Baby Gone) intensely. I felt that Eastwood’s film at best paid lip service to the fact that many of its protagonist did pretty horrible things, but secretly it felt like the movie was condoning especially Sean Penn’s actions: after all, Tim Robbins’ character has been permanently broken by what happened to him when he was a kid, so a bullet to the head is in effect a mercy killing, even if done for the wrong reasons, right? Several people disagree with me on that reading, but I can’t shake it.

Gone Baby Gone is clearly by the same writer, and it shares many of the same concerns, but it’s more honest in addressing the moral dilemmas its characters are in. Many of the people involved try to do the right thing – but there is no right thing, so they try as hard as they can to go for the lesser of several evils. And the film doesn’t judge, which is quite amazing considering the story that it tells and the environment it’s set in. The Bostonian “white trash” isn’t looked down at or pitied as much as it is simply observed, just like the main character Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) doesn’t judge but simply tries to do what is right himself.

Casey Affleck is almost as brilliant as he was in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I was a bit irritated at the voiceover he had at the beginning of the film, because his voice is very characteristic and very specific. Its scratchy, somewhat adolescent quality (“You want fries with that?” – yup, that sort of voice) fit Robert Ford brilliantly, but I associated it with the character, not the actor. As soon as we actually saw Affleck, I was okay with it, though. It’s fascinating to watch his fundamentally decent character trying to figure out what the right thing is. When late in the film he kills a reprehensible character who has done an utterly evil thing, he doesn’t feel good or righteous, as would usually be the case in Hollywood films.

The rest of the cast is as fascinating. Much of the time you forget that you’re watching actors, as there’s something almost documentary about the presentation of the characters. Michelle Monaghan, whom I’d never noticed as much of an actress, makes her character into more of a Girl Friday/girlfriend type; Amy Madigan is as real as always; Morgan Freeman is remarkably short on Morgan Freeman-ness (Freemanity?), his usual, very pleasant style of (non-)acting; and Ed Harris seems to have swallowed Dennis Hopper whole, which is very disconcerting.

However, Gone Baby Gone may be a riveting film, but it’s not the most enjoyable film you could imagine. It’s less ponderous and heavy than Mystic River, but it leaves you with a very ambivalent ending, where those guilty before the law may be punished – but what is legal and what is right in this film diverges quite frighteningly. And chances are that the film will gnaw at your mind for a long time.