Is there an actor better than Brendan Gleeson when it comes to evoking the strange, rare combination of exasperation and sadness? Look at his filmography and you’ll find funny, poignant performances throughout, from The General and The Tailor of Panama via 28 Days Later (he makes it out of the film before the shaky ending, though not before breaking our hearts) to Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, where he’s the perfect complement to Colin Farrell’s thick, tragicomic protagonist.
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.
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.
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?”