Home entertainment releases in the UK this week
Sleepless Night (Icon, cert 15)
A great French chase thriller set almost entirely inside a nightclub. All the cops are bent, there are a lot of bad guys, and they’re the boiled-in-piss sort (pockmarked Birol Ünel is one of them, if that means anything to you – it should). Tomer Sisley is lead cop – crooked as you like, though there’s far worse than him – and the action kicks off after he heists a big bag of cocaine off the bad guys and hides it in the false ceiling above the gents toilets. When he goes back to get it, a bad guy having by now kidnapped his son in return, it’s not there. Another cop (Lizzie Brocheré), possibly the only clean whistle we’ll see in the whole film, has re-heisted it, and it is now sitting in the false ceiling above the ladies toilets. Sisley, you might remember, played the lead in Largo Winch, which was a glam, slightly too insistent James Bond wannabe, and is great here as an urgent, empathetic point-and-shoot bad-guy detective. But what really sets Sleepless Night apart is the way it mixes beautifully choreographed action (the fight in the kitchen is epic) with breathless plot, while director Frédéric Jardin (of the excellent TV series Spiral aka Engrenages) works up the geography of this big club (dancefloor, bar, restaurant, kitchen, pool room, gaming tables and more) so we’re able to follow Sisley about as he tries to free his son, find the cocaine, kill the bad guys and avoid being killed himself. Think The 39 Steps in a confined space and you’re about there.
Night Moves (Soda, cert 15)
Kelly (Meek’s Cutoff) Reichardt’s film is actually two films in one, and she knows it. Film one follows a trio of organic lentil-munchers (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard) as they plan and carry out a nocturnal operation that will take them over the line from activism into terrorism. It is a superb piece of tick-tock procedural directing by Reichardt, who takes time to paint the locale (a bucolic farm and environs) and her characters – Eisenberg inscrutable but vulnerable, Fanning idealistic and possibly a bit dim, Sarsgaard hovering (as so often) on the edge of sleaze – before inserting them into their operation, which is buttock-clenchingly tense. But then there’s the aftermath, as each character absorbs the moral implications of what’s just gone down and the police spotlight sweeps ever closer. Having taken us to the heights in part one, Reichardt now has to construct and operate an entirely different machine in part two, from scratch. She makes this double-arc work, and even has the confidence to include a couple of set pieces that are clearly inspired by Hitchcock. Which is appropriate because if there’s anything Hitchcock understood as well as tension (which is what part one of this film is about), it’s paranoia (part two’s subject matter). And if you’re suspecting that this paints Fanning as some sort of vulnerable/exotic Hitchcock blonde, well there’s another little game that Reichardt is playing.
The Rover (E One, cert 15)
David Michôd’s follow-up to his amazing debut, Animal Kingdom, is pretty much Rain Man crossed with the 1971 Aussie classic Wake in Fright plus hints of Mad Max, in other words a road movie pitching a mismatched duo into a world of extreme masculinity in a post-apocalyptic Australian Outback. Robert Pattinson is in “something to prove” mode as the congenitally stupid partner to Guy Pearce, a tough guy chasing the bruisers who stole his car and are now haring off across the desert in it. What’s in the car? A big McGuffin, never quite established strongly enough up front to hold the film together, if truth be told. However, The Rover does consist of individually powerful scenes, and it’s fabulously lensed, pungently scored and viscerally acted (though Pattinson’s eyes look always like a thinking man’s), with that great “yeh, and?” attitude that marks out so many excellent Aussie thrillers – Chopper, Snowtown, Mystery Road. But Animal Kingdom it isn’t.
Wakolda (Peccadillo, cert 12)
Since every bit of publicity about this film (also known as The German Doctor) tells us that it is about escaped Nazi doctor Josef Mengele (aka the Angel of Death) befriending a hotel-owning Argentinian family in the early 1960s, I’m going to say it too. However, the film itself is terribly reticent about telling us this fact, though it’s obvious from the time, the place, the setting (the expat German community that flourished in Argentina even before Hitler’s rise, which is why so many Nazis sought refuge there), that this methodical man (played with tamped-down panache by Alex Brendemühl) with a keen interest in the development of twins (Mengele’s gruesome specialty) is someone with a shady past. The entire film is like this: not so much telling us the story as letting us glean it from a glimpsed fact here, a look there. It’s a fascinating exercise in supercool film-making which entirely matches the clean, almost alpine setting, and writer/director Lucía Puenzo clearly doesn’t want to let it become a stranger-danger thriller, even as the good doctor starts injecting the family’s stunted daughter with growth hormones. Or a detective thriller, as Nora (Elena Roger), the local school’s very Jewish-looking archivist starts raking over his past. It might be too oblique for some, and personally I’d have liked a bit more thriller. Or maybe one day Puenzo will do a cool mash-up of The Odessa File and The Boys from Brazil.
A Most Wanted Man (E One, cert 15)
Anton Corbijn directed The American, the meta-spy thriller starring George Clooney. A Wanted Man looks like his attempt at something far less cerebral, a Cold War spy caper, except that instead of Soviets and safe houses, it’s concerned with Islamists and the “charities” they use as fronts to finance terrorism. I also saw the film as Corbijn’s attempt to get right what 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy got wrong. And, proving he’s got just as much of an eye for great 1970s interior design as Tinker Tailor director Tomas Alfredson, Corbijn lays on the tasty G Plan visuals as he introduces his team – Philip Seymour Hoffman as the German spymaster, Willem Dafoe as a crepuscular banker, Robin Wright as the duplicitous CIA wonk, Grigoriy Dobrygin as the Islamist in a hurry and Rachel McAdams as the honeytrap he’s potentially going to get stuck in. The original story is by John Le Carre, and it’s full of typical Le Carre observations about the sheer plodding dullness and bureaucratic nightmarishness of spying. Sadly, it’s a second-rate Le Carre story which lacks the intriguing spark necessary to offset all that paperwork. And though all concerned are at the top of their game – this is Hoffman’s filmic swansong too – there’s really nothing that can be done about that.
Dinosaur 13 (Dogwoof, cert PG)
In 1990 a team of idealist fossil hunters found a remarkably well preserved Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in Dakota and set about constructing a local museum to exhibit it. But hang on, who actually owns the beast? Is it them, because they found it? The US government, because they own everything? The guy whose land it was found on, even though he sold the find to the palaeontologists? Or the Indian tribe of which he is a member? This documentary follows with admirable detail the wrangle over the bones, though it’s slightly disingenuous about the intrepid gang of diggers, ultimately a private outfit that’s got itself into the mother of all contractual snafus – though you wouldn’t doubt for a minute the members’ emotional commitment. As such it’s a more fascinating film about the legal process than it is about dinosaurs. Caveat emptor.
Before I Go to Sleep (StudioCanal, cert 15)
A woman (Nicole Kidman) with amnesia wakes up every day with her recent memories entirely missing. There are two men in her life – her husband (Colin Firth) and her doctor (Mark Strong). The former is a very caring man, though why someone this aware of her condition would kiss a woman who doesn’t recognise him so fulsomely first thing in the day is bewildering, to us and to her, while the doctor appears to be treating his patient without the knowledge of the woman’s husband. What, exactly, is going on? A Barbara Stanwyck “woman in peril” thriller is the answer, though director Rowan Joffe is convinced he’s not making a pacey and urgent B movie but a film of tone and prestige. This means Before I Go to Sleep moves slower than it should, and Joffe moves the camera about (as he did in Brighton Rock) in an unnecessary “filmic” way (there’s a Kubrickian wide-angle corridor shot at one point, for instance). He does this to show we’re in the hands of a man who knows his stuff, seemingly unaware that in making a point about himself he’s unmaking the mood of his film (see also Brighton Rock).
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© Steve Morrissey 2015