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Review: Life During Wartime

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The Pitch: It’s Happiness Jim, but not as we know it.

The Review: Todd Solondz is not a filmmaker afraid to tackle the more uncomfortable moral debates in life, or to ask his audience to consider challenging material. You might ask why people would want to watch doom, gloom and despair for two hours, but then why do people watch an Eastenders omnibus?

And actually, the similarities don’t stop there. As that soap has gotten expert at the two-hander over the years, here we are again presented with a small set of characters who interact most of the time onscreen in pairings, apart from dinner party scene.

This is a semi-sequel to Solondz’ earlier film Happiness, but the same characters have now been completely recast, presumably as a metaphor to show the way in which we change and move on. The struggle here is that many of the characters admit their inability to accomplish this, so it’s only really in the last act that we get any forward momentum.

Standouts in the acting department are Alison Janney as a proud Jewish mother and Charlotte Rampling in a small but powerfully bitter scene, although everyone else manages to look and sound suitably disaffected with life. At the end, the film feels like a snapshot in the lives of the characters, almost inviting itself to see where they’ve gotten in another ten years – you can only hope they’ve changed by then, for their sake.

Why see it at the cinema: The day-glo visuals really do work well on the cinema screen, and the drama is surprisingly intimate, even on a large screen.

The Score: 7/10

Review: A Single Man

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The Pitch: Colin Firth is an English professor dealing with life after death (not his own, of course).

The Review: Long have I been haunted by the memory of my mother and her infatuation with a dripping wet Mr Darcy emerging from a lake in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It felt that Colin Firth would forever be stuck in Bridget Jones and St Trinians sequels in an attempt to remove that memory, but here is finally something for him to get his teeth into.

In a career best performance, Firth conveys huge amounts of emotion with the most subtle of facial gestures. He runs the full gamut of emotions over the course of an eventful day, although it is the flashbacks which most truly allow him to flex his acting muscles.

Support is stong from Julianne Moore and Nicholas Hoult, but the other main focus is first time director Tom Ford, whose fashion background shows through clearly in the attention to shot construction and composition, and in the subtle and effective use of colour and contrast to illustrate the changes in Firth’s character’s moods. A memorable experience, if not the most lasting of impressions.

Why see it in the cinema: To experience up close the full subtleties and nuances of Firth’s compelling performance.

The Score: 8/10