The Salvation

Mads Mikkelsen takes aim in the western The Salvation

Anyone for a Danish western, a great one? Made by one of the Dogme boys? If you look up Dogme in the Wikipedia, it will tell you that this particularly austere style (no music, no lights, no effects) was founded by two Danes, Von Trier and Vinterberg, who were soon joined by two others, Kragh-Jacobsen and Levring.

And it’s possible to read this film as an announcement, shout, by the least known of those directors, Kristian Levring, that he doesn’t do that Dogme thing any more. Because The Salvation contains every big movie trick in the book – a lush score, arresting sets, cinematography snatched at the golden hour, melodramatic camera movements, sudden close-ups, varying depth of focus, operatic composition, fabulous landscapes, digital backgrounds, post-production colour tweaks, heavy filtration… and on it goes.

If Dogme aimed for some sort of puritan truth and simplicity, Levring is now aiming at high artifice, maximum referentiality, the mega-meta. Every scene, every shot looks like it’s been borrowed from another film, another director – Sergio Leone’s theatrical scale (reinforced by Kasper Winding’s Morricone-esque soundtrack), John Ford’s monumental locations, Peckinpah’s slo-mo gunplay, Aldrich’s codes of masculinity and concern with ageing.

The same goes for the plot, which is a man’s-gotta-do revenger starring Mads Mikkelsen as a husband welcoming his Danish-speaking wife to the New World in the opening scene. Within minutes the thick-tongued locals are eyeing the wife (Nanna Øland Fabricius), and scant but brutally tense minutes after that Mikkelsen is a man with blood on his hands and a price on his head.

Perhaps it is Levring’s Dogme background – which relies heavily on performance, since there isn’t much else to fall back on – but there’s a just-rightness about the acting throughout, everyone seeming to get that this is homage not pastiche, a serious film not a joke. The always underrated and almost infinitely versatile Mikkelsen’s talents for scowling and suppressed rage are brilliantly deployed, but it’s around the edges that some of the most satisfying performances can be seen. Douglas Henshall (where has he been?) is particularly good as the shifty local sheriff who’s also a preacher, Jonathan Pryce also playing with a familiar type as the cowardly mayor who’s also the undertaker, everyone being in the pocket of local badman Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who periodically rides into town to menace the locals and kill someone because he doesn’t like the tilt of his hat.

This brings us to Eva Green, the wife of the man Mikkelsen has killed, and sister in law of Morgan, whose tongue has to be rolled back into his mouth so he can speak whenever she’s around. She, by contrast, has no tongue at all, it having been cut out by Injuns. The wordless Green, actress to the last, responds by using the equipment left in her armoury to deliver a role that proves you can wring more nuance than you might expect using flashing eyes and a heaving bosom.

These two wrong ’uns, with Mikkelsen skirting round the edge, will eventually meet up in the sort of ghost town that hasn’t been seen on film for decades, in the sort of big shoot-out that eclipses even the one in James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma.

Familiar people, familiar locations, familiar plotlines. If Jens Schlosser’s cinematography weren’t so jaw-dropping magnificent, if everything else weren’t so composed and primped and placed and sweated over, and if it weren’t so full of real stuf – dirt and sex and death – you’d be tempted to think someone was having a laugh. But Levring leaves one reveal for his final shot, which not only fully explains what’s been going on, but historically re-situates the entire film, you could say the entire genre. As the hero rides off into the sunset – hell yes – it’s a brilliant way to finish.

The Salvation – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

© Steve Morrissey 2014

Casino Royale

Eva Green and Daniel Craig in Casino Royale

 

 

You only live twice, or so they say. Casino Royale is the old Bond song incarnate. Because we have been here before. Not titularly – though we have, in the 1967 spoof made by a gaggle of writers and directors (John Huston, Billy Wilder, Woody Allen and Joseph Heller among them) who must have been high. Tonally, I mean. After A View to a Kill, Roger Moore’s last Bond and a bad performer at the box office, moves were made to zhuzh up the increasingly tired formula. In came Timothy Dalton, out went the eyebrow, and for a couple of films, which in retrospect, look better and better, there was a return to a badass Bond. But neither 1987’s The Living Daylights nor 1989’s License to Kill did very well at the box office either. Producer Cubby Broccoli panicked and out went not just Dalton but the grittier style. In came Brosnan and back came the eyebrow. Broccoli died shortly after, leaving his daughter and Michael G Wilson (who’d presided over the Dalton Bonds) to restart the process that Cubby had abandoned. By the mid-90s the time was right. Other directors were cannibalising 007 for their own big-budget actioners – James Cameron made True Lies, a Bond movie by any other name. While John Woo with Face/Off, Renny Harlin with The Long Kiss Goodnight, Tony Scott with Enemy of the State and Michael Bay with The Rock (starring Sean Connery) were clearly all at it too.

But though Brosnan’s Bond got dirtier during his four-film run – he grew a beard! – it’s taken till now to finally reboot properly. And so here we are, with the “blond Bond” – and what a gift to the publicity machine twittering fanboys are when someone takes their pacifier away. A reboot and a reset, Casino Royale puts Bond back in a tux and back at the gaming tables for a film that’s littered with slaughtered sacred cows – there is no pre-title stunt-filled breathtaker, instead a brutal, CCTV assassination by our new favourite Bond. There’s no sign of Q, and his “I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir”, or of many of the usual gang of pantomime regulars. There’s a distinct lack of rumpy-pumpy, though Bond does get a dalliance with Eva Green, as uber-Bond girl Vesper Lynd. And 007 even seems also to be completely indifferent to the making of the perfect martini – when the estimable Daniel Craig is asked whether he’d like it shaken or stirred, he replies “Do I look like I give a damn?” Unwilling financially to match Bay or Cameron and their legions of CG technicians, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson have decided instead to deliver a great spy thriller instead. The plot is bare-bones – on his very first mission, 007 must stop Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) from winning at cards in a casino in Montenegro, because if he does… no idea… something to do with funding all the terrorist outfits in the world. Does it matter? Not really. Because the film is in fact more interesting watched as an exercise in franchise renewal – Bond slo-mo walking out of the waves à la Ursula Andress, Bond actually washing blood off himself, Bond apparently dying. As an actual thriller… it gets about four-fifths there before losing its way towards the end, as some old Bond tropes (moving the action to Venice, in this case, for little reason) re-assert themselves and that familiar “are we nearly there yet” feeling takes hold. That apart, it’s a great Bond movie, and Daniel Craig, scowling when he’s not running (even free-running), is a great 007. Welcome back.

 

Casino Royale – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2006

 

Perfect Sense

Eva Green and Ewan McGregor in Perfect Sense

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

1 May

 

England and Scotland become the United Kingdom, 1707

On this day in 1707, the countries of England and Scotland officially became united in “one kingdom by the name of Great Britain” (according to the Acts of Union). By “England”, the acts included the country of Wales, which had become absorbed legally into England by the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542. Though in terms of monarchy, the English throne had been seized by a Welshman, when Henry Tudor (later Henry VII) defeated Richard III in battle in 1485. This Tudor line persisted in England until 1603, when the Scottish Stuarts took over, James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England. The two countries continued to be considered separate legal and constitutional entities, though this “personal union” clearly paved the way for the two countries to become united.

 

 

 

Perfect Sense (2011, dir: David Mackenzie)

This dour and unusual sci-fi movie set in Scotland internalises the disaster movie almost entirely. Many hands feature in the production, but one of them is Zentropa, Lars Von Trier’s outfit, so the unexpected is to be expected. It’s a love story, about two people who meet just as a very odd slo-mo apocalypse is robbing humanity of its senses – first smell, then taste, then hearing, finally sight. Ewan McGregor plays a chef, Eva Green is a research scientist working on a cure for the problem, so both are intimately connected with the progress of the disease. As the film progresses, and people lose first their sense of smell and then taste, the chef’s restaurant obviously hits something of a bump in the road. Undaunted, well, very daunted but continuing anyway, its owner and kitchen staff come up with new ways to surprise and delight diners, focusing on texture rather than flavour, and the business comes back to life. They even get a glowing review in the local paper, which continues to be published.

In fact life, in spite of unrest and violence in other parts of the world glimpsed on TV, seems to be going on in this eminently practical part of the world. Which appears to be the film’s theme – that life goes on. The chef continues to ride around on his bicycle, the scientist keeps bombing about in her hot hatchback. Not for ever, of course, because the final loss – sight – will effectively make everyone in the planet a prisoner in their own body. And yet director David Mackenzie and writer Kim Fupz Aakeson have come up with a way of making even that awful fate less gruesome than it might be.

It was still too gruesome for many critics, though, who gave this film a terrible panning, those who noticed the film at all. And yet it is worth seeking out, for its intimacy, its focus on the two lovers (its lo-fi sci-fi romance would make it a good fit in a double bill with Gareth Edwards’s Monsters), its attention to detail, its strange optimism, and for the way its premise is worked through logically – in Nordic-noir-meets-dour-Scot style. As for the acting, this is real showcase stuff, and McGregor has the edge over Eva Green, who has probably never looked so sultry – those big panda eyes. One final thing. The sense of touch they retain, which justifies the frequent nudity.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • A strange high concept sci-fi film
  • The support cast includes Stephen Dillane, Connie Nielsen and Ewen Bremner
  • Giles Nutgen’s intimate cinematography
  • That dark Danish attitude

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Perfect Sense – at Amazon