Out This Week
Sicario (Lionsgate, cert 15)
With Incendies the disruption had its roots in the politics in the Middle East, with Prisoners in American paranoia and with Enemy it was something more internal still, a disrupted psyche. In Denis Villeneuve’s latest intelligent, genre-extending thriller his unsentimental gaze settles on the US government and how its agents actually go about their business (according to this film, at any rate). Working on the Mexico border, where drug cartels are mostly in charge, laconic badasses Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are joined by seconded cop and audience avatar Emily Blunt, who looks on with jaw at various distances from the floor as the two CIA operatives (or whatever these guys are) set about on a schedule of disruptive mayhem in an attempt to force a cartel cog to run for the safety of the big wheel. This they do via a series of what are in effect terrorist attacks designed not so much to impress as disorientate the enemy – to “fuck things up” – while Blunt, too naive, surely, to be credible, shouts “but this is illegal” at almost every turn. Villeneuve’s cast serve him well – Blunt may be faun-like but she’s physically believably tough (that change of direction for the Tom Cruise Edge of Tomorrow has really paid off), Brolin swaggers like almost no one else can and Del Toro brings a dead-eyed courtly charm to a film that becomes increasingly his. Sicario’s plot winds with what feels like inevitability towards its murky conclusion, and the 1940s noir atmosphere is augmented by snappily modern camerawork and editing that makes for a thrilling if often pitiless entertainment. In this film, everyone who deserves to die, does die, often horribly and often just at the moment when they think they’re about to get out alive – the finale is a grim mini-masterpiece in comeuppance. Is there a better maker of smart, eloquent thrillers working in Hollywood right now than Villeneuve? Fabulous.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Eureka, cert 15)
Peter Yates made this film in 1973 five years after Bullitt. Bullitt had a top-of-his-game Steve McQueen as its star. The Friends of Eddie Coyle has an on-the-slide 50-something Robert Mitchum. That difference betokens everything you need to know about the film. There are no victories, tough or otherwise, in this downbeat tale of a smalltime Boston crook (Mitchum) trying to wriggle free of a jail sentence by selling info to the cops, even as he’s selling guns and ammo to bad guys carrying out bank jobs. Barely ever seen, this now fabulously restored piece of Technicolor-hued cinematic archaeology retains Bullitt’s sense of seediness, and Yates is clearly still in love with the long shot and the boxy American motor vehicles of the era. He’s also watched a few Robert Bresson movies, and gets his stars to approximate the dead-flat acting style favoured by the French director – there isn’t a speck of interiority from anyone, just surface. And if there’s one thing we know about Mitchum, it’s that he can do roiling interior like no one – see The Night of the Hunter. It makes for a hellishly dislocated film, this flat acting style, coupled with a plot that is working the hardboiled “ripped from the headlines” shtick of the 1950s cop movie, right down to the use of words like “rat” and “fink”. If I’m being honest, much as I wanted to roll around in this like a dog all over a dead seagull, it didn’t quite get me gimballing, though the disjuncture did keep me watching, and Yates’s fondness for flavoursome locations – bowling alleys and banks and the Boston waterfront, as well as Dave Grusin’s jazzy, Lalo Schifrin-style score – brings the period back to life. Four months after this film’s release, Scorsese would debut Mean Streets. At which point, for films like this, it really was game over. A bizarre, deadpan treat.
Miss You Already (E One, cert 12)
Brilliantly working off each other, Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore play the lifelong friends discovering that one of them has cancer just as the other is getting pregnant. It’s a drama with the strong smell of the familiar about it, not to mention the hospital ward. Terminal-illness weepies in general are so emotionally manipulative that they seem to have been made for people who think concussion is part of a normal relationship. But Miss You Already works well because writer Morwenna Banks, director Catherine Hardwicke and stars Barrymore and Collette are all so alive to these dangers. Banks, a comedian by trade, keeps the script dry and earthy, while Hardwicke – having done Twilight, a seasoned hand at the abusive-relationship drama (unless you think a guy who’s over a hundred and a teenage girl is normal) – doesn’t sugar the pill, throwing in shots of big fat needles going into slender veins and vomit exiting the body as the chemo drugs are going in. It’s a funny and heartwarming film that doesn’t pretend that dying is all airy rooms and gentle evanescence. And there’s an extra gun in the armoury, in the shape of Jacqueline Bisset as Collette’s flighty actress mother. True, she is essentially playing Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous, but Bisset does it very well, getting a lot of the best laughs, while Dominic Cooper and Paddy Considine, as the ladies’ mostly supportive other halves, graciously do what a male supporting actor’s gotta do. Mostly, though, you watch for the Barrymore/Collette dynamic, so believable that some of those big eruptions of laughter must have been for real, yes?
The Last Saint (Soda, cert 15)
Minka is a naive Polynesian teenager – so we’re told, though the beard rash says 24 to me – living with his drug-addled, schizophrenic mother, estranged from his gangster, club-owning dad. And this is his coming-of-age story, one about a kid trying to escape his origins, though constantly falling back, whether it’s by accident of birth (Tongan mafia are everywhere) or by design (falling for the pale waif Zoey who lives in his block). The tension comes from the simple will he/won’t he of this set-up. This no-budget New Zealand movie wobbles a bit here and there at the technical level, and occasionally the acting goes out for an extended lunch, but for all that it’s a fine drama that grabs hold early on and keeps hanging on. Many of the elements are familiar, and it features a couple too many scenes in which our guy Minka is confronted by a crack-happy loquacious bad guy babbling on his high. But there are also moments so fresh and horrible – the Tongan gangsters who indulge in close-harmony singing before getting out the power tools to torture someone; the dislocated happy family scene in which Minka, mum and dad have a night out, and mum and dad sing a soul duet before things all kick off in a mightily bloody way – that you have to applaud. The cinematography is a dark and dirty as Minka’s prospects, while the final reveal, which comes just at the point where you’re wondering if it shouldn’t actually have finished 20 minutes earlier, will make you glad it hadn’t. I’m using the word glad in a very special way there.
Regression (EV, cert 15)
There’s a good film somewhere in here, possibly on the cutting room floor. But it’s possible to make out the bones of it in what’s left of Alejandro Amenábar’s spooky thriller about a girl who accuses her father of satanic sexual abuse. Emma Watson is the girl doing the accusing, and has clearly been hired for that slightly stinky hauteur she specialises in – this young Bette Davis demeanour suiting her rather well, though let’s hope the wind doesn’t change one day when she’s at full lemon. Back to the film, and a distraught dad who can’t remember what he did, a frazzled cop on the case in the shape of botoxed (or more) Ethan Hawke, and David Thewlis along for the ride as a shrink who specialises in the regression therapy that’s meant to unlock the whole case. Well it would if the whole damn thing weren’t so confused and this entire “regression” strand didn’t just feel like a bolt-on – either daddy did or did not interfere with his nubile daughter, either satanists were or were not involved, so I’m not sure what the therapist is doing there at all. Oh, hang on, yes, to get a purchase on the truth from the amnesiac dad, or is it the schtumm mum, or the frightened-to-silence daughter or, another digression, the wayward prodigal son, also not given to saying much? As with The Others, Amenábar drenches it all in a 1940s atmosphere, as if Humphrey Bogart rather than Ethan Hawke were the cop on the case, possibly because you’d have to go back that far to find a time when satanists actually were frightening. Thewlis and Hawke make a nice double act, though, like something from the first half of The Exorcist, and Watson is also rather excellent at conveying the coiled defensiveness of the off-beam sex kitten.
Zarafa (Soda, cert PG)
This old-school French animation (revoiced rather than subtitled) tells with Lion King cutes the story of a slave Sudanese boy befriended by a Bedouin Arab, who travel together by hot air balloon from Egypt to the court of King Charles X of France, taking a giraffe (“zarafa” in Arabic) as a gift. In the background there is a bit of historical detail – Egypt is being besieged by the Turks and the local Pasha is hoping to get France in on his side – and the whole thing is apparently a true story, so the end credits tell us. It’s nice enough, informative enough, well animated enough and the multicultural, religiously tolerant point of view is also timely enough, since people out in the real world seem to be drawing up the ethnic battle lines. But I was never sure who it was for. Adults will find it a bit slow and gentle, and the lively nine-year-old it appears to be aimed at might not buy into the realpolitik (though, to be fair, there isn’t that much of it).
The House on Pine Street (Second Sight, cert 18)
A haunted house. A pregnant wife. A husband concerned that his darling Jennifer (Emily Goss) is going to have another of her breakdowns, which seems to be the case when she suddenly starts seeing, you know, stuff. From this point it’s just a matter of time, with the “why won’t you believe me?” complaints and the rolling eyes in response. Emily Goss and Taylor Bottles are the young-marrieds, and Goss in particular comes good later on as the hysteria mounts. But it’s a very familiar trudge, only made slightly more enjoyable by the decision of the writer/director Keeling brothers to introduce Rosemary’s Baby as an idea – is lovely Jennifer going to be Satan’s brood mare? The Keelings also appropriate Polanski’s shooting MO at crucial moments – up close, handheld, wide angle, and chaotic. It does make for some effective moments of horror, though on this showing I’d hire the Keelings (or one of them maybe – why overspend?) as cinematographer – they’re great on mood and look, less so on originality and actual, you know scariness.
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© Steve Morrissey 2016