The Review: For two actors who’ve got fairly similar résumés in terms of roles taken, you couldn’t really imagine two more different actors than Shia LaBoeuf and Tom Hardy. Both have mixed more serious roles with blockbuster fair, but LaBoeuf is from the Sam Worthington School Of Modern Acting, where major casting directors inexplicably keep putting him front and centre for major roles, despite his performances being eerily similar from Transformers to Wall Street. Hardy on the other hand is a cinematic chameleon, and comparing his performances in the likes of Warrior and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – and that’s just last year – it’s hard to imagine any role that he wouldn’t take a stab at. LaBoeuf had stardom thrust upon him, but at 26 still has the baby face of a young DiCaprio, another actor who had to earn his years before maturing as an actor, while Hardy at 34 has had a long, hard struggle, and his breakthrough in Star Trek: Nemesis ten years ago was a false start before directors such as Nicolas Winding Refn and Christopher Nolan began to find the best ways to tap his unique talents. So, of course, the next logical step for director John Hillcoat is to cast them as brothers.
They might seem like an uneasy partnership at first, but Hillcoat’s previous features, such as The Proposition and The Road, have done a good job of putting together eclectic casts and getting the best out of them. The Proposition was a Western-cum-road movie in the Outback, and The Road a very literal road movie with a post apocalyptic twist that gave it almost a siege mentality. That mindset is a common theme to the claustrophobic setting of the Western, and is pushed to the fore here, a tale of egos too big for the small town even before the outsiders roll up. The themes might be all Western but there’s a Chicago gangster polish, as if we’re on the set of a Sergio Leone epic, only to discover that The Untouchables is filming next door and they’re sharing props and extras. Throw in an Amish-like church community for good measure, and it’s a volatile melting pot just waiting to go off… the problem being that it never really does.
The fault doesn’t lie with (most of) the actors. There’s quality across the board here, from Guy Pearce’s satisfyingly creepy turn as a law enforcer to Gary Oldman’s all-too-brief turn as a high ranking mobster and even Dane De Haan, last seen in Chronicle, giving a measured performance as LaBoeuf’s willing sidekick. Women’s roles tend to be underwritten in these genres, but Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska both do more with what they’re given than we should have any right to expect. The core of the film rests on LaBoeuf and Hardy; Hardy’s stoicism and quiet mumbling resonate and he makes the acting look effortless, while LaBoeuf feels markedly out of his depth when everyone makes acting look so easy around him, and you can almost see the gears changing when he’s required to emote. However, the role does require him to be mainly the cocksure younger brother, which he does with reasonable success, even if likeable proves too much of a stretch at the same time. The performances that will stick with you when the lights come up are Hardy and Pearce, but both are likely to alienate as many as they are to please given their reliance on mannerisms. Taken as a whole, the ensemble works effectively enough.
The real let-downs come in the form of two previous Hillcoat collaborators, Nick Cave and Benoît Delhomme. Both contributed to The Proposition in the same roles, and while Cave’s music (along with Warren Ellis) has been top-notch on both, here Cave’s script is flat, never giving the actors the memorable lines to get their teeth into that would sear Lawless into your memory. Delhomme’s cinematography is also lacking the character that defined The Proposition, and helps to dissipate any tension that director Hillcoat tries to generate, only the odd scene carrying any sparkle or tautness when Lawless had the potential to carry this through from start to finish. Even the violence feels half-hearted, the occasional moment of brutality feeling oddly out of place with the mild mannerisms of most of the rest of the narrative. Lawless ends up an odd concoction, neither Western nor gangster pic and not able to stand up to the best of either genre, and is likely to be a footnote in the careers of both its leads in years to come, but hopefully if it achieves anything, it’ll be another step on the road to Shia LaBoeuf becoming a good actor, a road that Tom Hardy seems already much further down.
Why see it at the cinema: Hillcoat’s love of landscapes isn’t quite as in evidence here as in his previous works, but the framing works well and the inevitable confrontations should at least pack a bit more of a punch on the big screen.
The Score: 7/10
The Review: If ever there were two genres guilty of falling back on high concepts, then it’s the rom-com and the action movie. Die Hard On A… movies and Four Weddings knock-offs are two a penny, and This Means War is not the first time that the action movie and the rom-com have been made into strange bedfellows. But This Means War is also the melding of two high concepts into one vertigo-inducing idea: what if James Bond and Jason Bourne went head to head. Who would win? But what if they weren’t just competing in the field, but in the bedroom as well? It does require the two concepts to be merged in such a way that’s not only fair to both, but also allows room for each to breathe. Can you make a film that’s both a good rom-com and a good action movie?
No; at least, not if This Means War is anything to go by. There are three main elements to This Means War, and considering each in tone it’s the com of rom-com that comes off by far the best. Reese Witherspoon is an old hand at this kind of thing, and has a light touch for the material, even if the film does it’s best to make her look as if she’s an international-class trollop. It’s her lightness of touch that makes long sequences watchable, but also her pairing with Chelsea Handler makes much of the film more tolerable. Handler gets the majority of the best lines, and isn’t in the slightest hindered by the fact that she plainly can’t act (early scenes have the feeling of her reading from an autocue – bady – before she hits her stride later on), but her spunky energy keeps the film afloat during the com elements. Hardy and Pine get lots of banter, but only the occasional opportunity for out and out comedy, and it’s a shame there’s not more scenes allowing them to riff.
The rom, however, is where things start to go pear-shaped. This Means War wants to have its cake, eat it and have sex with it, so we’re left with two competing rom-coms as Tom and Chris both attempt to woo Reese for themselves. Sadly, the way that the competing romances are structured, neither comes off as even remotely believable, full of people reading lines from a script that would just about pass for drama students in an improv but would never be said by real people (or even characters in a good rom-com). Consequently it’s impossible to root for either protagonist; the shouting and recriminations that normally sit in the second act of the rom-com are so predicable, you could set your watch by them. Worse than that, though, is that the set-up of the first fifteen minutes means that there’s only one way this is ever going to play out, and despite rumours of multiple endings, the one which panders to all of the lowest common denominators is the one you’ll get to see.
Then there’s the action element, which is nothing short of disastrous. Just three action sequences, at beginning, middle and end; the first is so badly shot it’s impossible to discern anything that’s happening, the second is edited so choppily that any excitement is drained out of it, and the last actually shamelessly rips off other, better action movies before simply giving up and resolving all of the obvious plot threads from earlier on. Put simply, This Means War is an insult to your intelligence on a number of levels, presenting a film where two characters need to get together that has such a random view of basic morality that the inevitable and predictable outcome is actually the last one you’ll want, but also spoonfeeding you action scenes so utterly unwatchable and lacking in originality that if being asked to sit through them doesn’t make you angry, I might politely suggest that you need higher standards. Director McG and writers such as Simon Kinberg have all worked in these genres before, and everything from the hyper-kinetic Charlie’s Angels films to the disturbingly similar in concept and execution Mr and Mrs Smith make this feel nothing more than a sequel subject to the law of diminishing returns. Hardy and Pine are both on an upward career trajectory after years of hard graft in the business, but let’s hope this is a blip and nothing more.
Why see it at the cinema: Not for the action sequences, which are a shameful affront to at least two of your senses, but for the comedy; at least if other people are laughing, there’s a chance you might feel like joining in.
The Score: 4/10
If ever you wanted proof that democracy is an inherently flawed concept and that we should all move to a glorious dictatorship, then the announcement of today’s Orange Rising Star Award is a case in point, a catalogue of idiocy that reflects poorly on you, me and everyone we know. Most awards ceremonies are content with allowing 40-50% of their decisions to look bad at the time and worse on reflection, but the BAFTA film awards seem to have come in for a particular level of stick, as the recent announcement of the longlist seemed to please precisely no-one.
But the Orange Rising Star award, the one publicly nominated award at the BAFTA ceremony next month, has taken the cake, the biscuit and various other types of confectionery for levels of general stupidity, and no-one is free from judgement here.
1. The Orange Rising Star award is stupid
I don’t disagree as such with the idea of a rising star award, as if you’re going to hand out glittery baubles to people for being in films, you might as well reward newcomers. But in the six years it’s been handed out so far, the Rising Star award has largely been given to people who’ve somewhat, er, risen. Over the last three years, it’s gone firstly to Noel Clarke, who’d been on screens in Doctor Who for four years, and was nominated on the strength writing and directing a sequel to a film that he’d also written, two years earlier. Two years ago, Kristen Stewart was hardly fresh faced when she won on the strength of several Twilight films, and last year was Tom Hardy.
I have a heterosexual man crush on Tom Hardy almost as big as the one I have for Ryan Gosling – i.e. huge – but he was the bad guy in a Star Trek film ten years earlier, had won an Evening Standard Theatre award in 2003, and even his turn in Bronson was the year before his smallish part in Inception finally got nominated for the award. Tom Hardy, Rising Star in 2011, was 33 at the time he picked up the award. Whoever thinks these people are rising stars are idiots.
2. The voting process for the Orange Rising Star award is stupid
The announcement today was of the final shortlist. This is a shortlist of five that’s been selected from a longlist of eight. It’s difficult to consider this to be anything other than a shameless marketing exercise on the part of Orange, as if you’re going to ask a panel of experts to pick a list of eight people, then eliminate only three of them in the first public vote, why not just get the experts to pick five in the first place? Or cut from eight to three? Asking the public to vote twice, for something with little return for their second vote, just feels overly cynical. Whoever put together this process is an idiot.
3. The five choices out of the eight nominees are idiotic
Jessica Chastain. Remember her? My top ginger of 2011, she went from relative obscurity to worldwide stardom in 2011, having been in… (deep breath) The Tree Of Life, The Debt, The Help, Texas Killing Fields, Take Shelter and Coriolanus in the last twelve months. Surely the textbook definition of someone whose star is rising. If the Queen of Gingers isn’t to your liking, though, then consider Jennifer Lawrence. Unbelievably powerful in Winter’s Bone, she followed it up with a scene-stealing turn in the X-Men prequel this year, and has nabbed the starring role in the next big Harry Potter / Twilight type thing, The Hunger Games.
Sadly, both of these up and coming talents (and Felicity Jones) have missed out on the final five, at the expense of the people in the picture at the top. If you know numbers one and four in that line up on sight, then you’re doing very well. Any award ceremony that puts them in (and they are Adam Deacon and Eddie Redmayne) above Chastain and Lawrence has committed a fail of the most epic variety. And whose half-brained decision was that, exactly? Ours, of course. The public failed to vote in big enough numbers to keep the right people in, or indeed to have the sense of taste to work out who the right people were. People are idiots.
4. Anyone who didn’t vote and who allowed this injustice to happen is an idiot
I didn’t vote. I’m an idiot.
I’ve always been a fan of action movies, but as I’ve gotten older my tastes have broadened out. I can’t imagine the 14 year old me being interested in Mike Leigh or Michael Haneke, but the 14 year old me didn’t like broccoli or chicken either, and thankfully I’m now able to watch more mature movies and eat Nando’s. But the action movies of my teen years were missing one thing that today’s explosionfests have, and that’s proper actors.
The likes of Schwarzenegger, Van Damme and Stallone might have all become icons to a generation, but (possibly Stallone excepted) they’ve never been renowned for their thespian skills. So the idea that we can live in an enlightened 21st century where people renowned for their talent as well as their ability to look good rolling around on the floor while firing two guns fills me with joy. The idea of a film where Tom Hardy and Chris Pine, the soon-to-be-Bane and the hopefully-will-be-again-Captain-Kirk in an action film, even an action comedy, makes me feel like we’re living in a more enlightened time, where films can be the best of both worlds. Eat your heart out, The Renaissance.
But while it sounded great in concept, the trailer that was released this week seemed to be lacking something. Actually, the poster on iTunes that accompanied the trailer wasn’t great – Pine and Hardy look like they’re auditioning for a Twilight remake and Hardy not only looks like he’s sporting a failed comb-over but has the dead-eyed look normally associated with bad motion capture, possibly because the photo was taken after he signed his contract. Things were looking up in the trailer – for at least the first thirty seconds or so, which looks to have all the requisite explosions, moody looks and men and cars diving off high places. But then…
Two minutes of mirth-free, cringe-enducing mugging follow. Jokes fall so flat you imagine that the CGI budget’s been spent on removing the tumbleweeds and the kind of embarrassing set-ups that make even Jennifer Lopez rom-coms look the height of sophistication. Yes, at one point, the dastardly Tom Hardy shoots Chris Pine with a tranquilliser to cause him to fall asleep mid-date. Oh, the hilarity. If you’ve recently had any kind of surgery in which you had to have your side split in order to reach internal organs, rest assured that nothing in this trailer will leave you in any danger of your wounds re-opening or those stitches coming out.
So what could possibly have gone so wrong? I watched the trailer again, in the forlorn hope that actually I was in a bad mood, and that this was a quality action comedy which I had just misjudged, but no, it unfortunately looks so toe-curlingly desperate that it could set the careers of both its stars back five years. But on re-watching the trailer, I noticed one very small name in the end credits.
If you still don’t believe me, watch here, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The Review: Ten years ago, Gary Oldman was a different man. One of the best actors of his generation, but famed for disappearing into his roles and for not making easy choices, he had a certain familiarity to popcorn audiences for the likes of Leon and The Fifth Element, but may not have been a household name. Big roles in the Harry Potter and Batman franchises have sorted that out, but he’s always been able to retain the varied qualities that helped him to stand out in his less familiar roles. But it’s those qualities that undoubtedly caused the producers at Working Title to conclude a six month search by landing on his name, and also realising that they couldn’t make the film without him. The most successful remakes are able to make you forget that there was ever a previous incarnation, and Alec Guinness’ boots are some big ones to hide.
The Seventies Smiley story was rightly lauded for the strong cast and the faithfulness of its adaptation, so once the challenge of finding a lead has been overcome the next is to find a way of condensing the material that fed a six hour TV series into a reasonable length. The first surprise is that Tomas Alfredson and his editor have somehow condensed this into two hours; the second is the leisurely pace at which the film seems to start, almost as if it’s not concerned with getting through the material in the prescribed running time. But it’s actually more measured than leisurely, the tone able to shift seamlessly and deliver drama and tension from even the most underplayed scenes.
Having one of the best casts in, frankly, ever also manages to keep your attention through every twist and turn of the plot. There’s a lot of names on the poster, but everyone steps up and delivers top-notch performances. Worthy of particular mention are those outside the Circus’ top tier, and Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch continue what should be upward trends in their career paths. Mark Strong, Toby Jones, John Hurt and Colin Firth also don’t disappoint, and the likes of Stephen Graham and Kathy Burke also shine enough in smaller roles that they should probably be disappointed not to get their names on the poster. Oldman, of course, glides through the middle of it all, giving a masterfully subtle performance that deserves attention when awards start to be handed out.
The actors having set the bar, pretty much every other department steps up to meet it. From the costume and production design to the photography and editing, quality oozes out of every frame, and Alfredson succeeds in glueing your eyes to the screen for every second, and manages to throw in as many indelible images as he did in his stellar vampire effort, Let The Right One In. There’s a surprising sprinkling of humour and a definite helping of passion thrown into the mix, which help to leaven the more serious and studious moments. The music is also well worth a mention, regular Almodovar composer Alberto Iglesias turning in a score which evokes just the right mood and has enough echoes of previous spy scores without feeling too referential or reverential, and the use of music itself not only drives key plot points but also adds dramatic weight to key scenes, especially near the climax.
Ultimately, your overall enjoyment of Tinker… will depend on how much you feel you’re actually following the plot. There are two potentially deciding factors in this: one is the use of flashback to expand on the inital set-up, and while the subtitles are happy to draw the distinction between Russian and Hungarian, for example, the point in the time line of the film isn’t always as obvious. However, the fate of two key characters is laid out early on, and using them as a compass point should allow you to easily work out where the plot’s up to. The other is the use of the characters’ emotions to imply their motivations – sideways glances and background detail are often preferred to dialogue, and this feels more natural but does demand your full and undivided attention for the entire running time. If you’re paying close attention to those emotional beats, the final reveal shouldn’t come as a surprise, even if you haven’t read the book or seen previous adaptations. If you can keep these two things in mind, then this is an outstanding piece of cinema which should leave you needing a second viewing almost immediately.
Why see it at the cinema: The production design and cinematography are as outstanding as everything else, and the close up view and attention to detail demand you see this in a cinema. Also, the post-screening mumbling as you exit will allow you to determine how many people actually followed it.
The Score: 10/10
Here’s a pitch for you: two spies wage special-ops war on each other when they fall for the same lady. Sound OK? That lady is Reece Witherspoon. Sounding better? Chris Pine is one of the two spies. Still on board? McG is the director. No, wait, come back…
Seems that McG has been playing spot the difference with the above two actors, who were the options for the remaining spy role. If you want to play McG’s Spot The Difference at home, the answer is after the jump below.