Gerard Butler and Idris Elba in RocknRolla


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



06 September



Idris Elba born, 1972

On this day in 1972, Eve Elba gave birth to Idrissa Akuna Elba, who shortened his name to Idris after starting school in London’s Canning Town. A big kid at school, Idris had the status that went with it, was good at sport, interested in music, keen on acting, where he found he had the self-confidence to “disappear into the character”. At 14 he was a pirate DJ. At 16 he was a theatre stagehand and also did night shifts at Ford’s Dagenham factory. In his early 20s the acting took off and he went from playing the rogue in Crimewatch reconstructions, to picking up regular bit roles in long-running British TV series such as The Bill and The Ruth Rendell Mysteries before moving to New York. In 2002 he got cast in The Wire, as Stringer Bell, and his life changed. Since then he has played Luther in the BBC series – TV’s angriest cop – and has worked in film with directors such as Tyler Perry, Danny Boyle, Guillermo Del Toro and Ridley Scott. He is about to play Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom. With Elba, you suspect his best work is still to come.



RocknRolla (2008, dir: Guy Ritchie)

It’s not big, but it is clever, Guy Ritchie’s film about London gangsters and Russian mobsters getting in a lather about a painting is an exercise in straight-faced hard-boiled laughs. Not unlike his other films in fact. But this time out Ritchie has the confidence to more or less dispense with trivial detail such as believable plot or character. Rocknrolla is the sort of film where you know the cut of a man’s jib from the style of his syrup (that’s wig, in rhyming slang), or his dress sense, where the aforementioned painting is introduced as the most transparent of Macguffins, and has just enough presence to compress the many characters together into something resembling a story. This is an exercise in preposterous characterisation, with Idris Elba and fellow Brit contingent Tom Wilkinson, Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton and Tom Hardy doing the majority of the work. Meanwhile the US contingent – the likes of Jeremy Piven and Ludacris – are stapled in, the most obvious of “one morning’s work, honest” contributions which Ritchie, again, does nothing to hide. Can you make a coherent film like this? No, but you can make one that’s a lot of fun.



Why Watch?


  • Mark Strong’s ridiculous hair
  • Another great criminal mastermind role for Tom Wilkinson
  • Thandie Newton playing an accountant
  • Ritchie’s best cockney, mockney, whatever film since… possibly ever


© Steve Morrissey 2013



RocknRolla – at Amazon





Mission: Impossible II

Thandie Newton and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible II

Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is back, tasked with saving the world from a dastardly villain intent on unleashing a deadly virus – cackle, preen. The “this time it’s personal” angle comes from the fact that the villain is a former Impossible-ist himself, and also the former lover of the woman Mr Hunt is now in love with.

You’d have thought it a mission impossible to make a duff sequel to Brian De Palma’s all-action 1996 movie with the fine ingredients assembled here. For starters there’s the $125m budget and Cruise, still one of the biggest stars in the world (he earned $60m+ for this). Then there’s the damsel in distress, Thandie Newton, a woman so beautiful that she could make a pope cry. And Dougray Scott as a Bond-style uber-baddie, malevolent as a man can be in designer gear. But there’s something not quite right. Perhaps Anthony Hopkins is symptomatic. Why hire the boombastic Hopkins only to throw him away in a minor role as Cruise’s control? And what of the contribution of Chinatown writer Robert Towne, forced to write around John Woo’s spectacular set pieces? And by “write around” I mean “join the dots”. M:I2 is lean, it’s efficient, it zips about the globe in much the same way as Woo’s camera zips about Cruise – way above him, circling about, swooping, and that’s just the pre-titles sequence set on a spectacular rock face. Suspense isn’t Woo’s thing, spectacle is, which is why, between rock faces and the peeling off of latex masks and helicopters and explosions the film just kind of hangs there, inert. Plus there’s the love subplot with Newton to be factored in. If there is one thing to be learned from the Bond movies that Cruise is so clearly is setting out to surpass, it’s that the minute Bond falls in love, the films fall apart.

© Steve Morrissey 2001


Mission: Impossible II – at Amazon


Thandie Newton and the back of David Thewlis's head in Besieged



Bernardo Bertolucci was once famous you know. As a director of the brilliant political drama The Conformist, the controversial Last Tango in Paris, Bertolucci’s was one of the big names in cinema. Since that early 1970s heyday he’s stopped making headlines but continued making films. Often they have been marked out by the director’s keen eye both for a well composed shot and for women with strong, beautiful faces. Both figure centrally in this romantic drama from 1998, which in so many respects apart from its troubling message (is there one?) delivers few surprises.

It’s the story of an exiled African woman (Thandie Newton) skivvying for a Rome-based classical pianist (David Thewlis). Is Bertolucci really asking us to make the obvious reading as the European Thewlis embarks on the curious courtship of the African Newton – the “civilised” white man versus the “soulful” black woman? Is he really being that crass? And what of her husband, languishing in jail and unable to understand that his wife’s beauty and ravishingly photographed body have bought her a ticket to a different life. If she wants it. In its fetishisation of Newton, Besieged, like the later The Dreamers (which did similarly unforgettable things with Eva Green), veers uncomfortably towards the sticky fantasies of middle-aged males. But then Bertolucci’s camera is fetishising everything in this film – a glimpse of Thewlis’s apartment and you’ll be hooked; even Newton’s vacuum cleaner looks pretty damn sexy. If that’s what this is all about – the druglike shift in visual perception that love/lust/attraction causes – then Bertolucci’s masterly dancing camera, moving to the beat of Bach, Grieg or Salif Keita – is a minor poetic masterpiece. Or it could just be a film about a rich white guy nicking a jailed black guy’s missus, while another rich white guy photographs the whole thing.

© Steve Morrissey 2013


Besieged – at Amazon