Thursday 21 September 2017

Movie reviews: Miss Sloane and Frantz

  • Miss Sloane (15A, 132mins) 3 Stars
  • Frantz (12A, 114mins), 5 Stars
Gun fight: Jessica Chastain in Miss Sloane
Gun fight: Jessica Chastain in Miss Sloane

Paul Whitington

The producers of Miss Sloane should thank their lucky stars they cast Jessica Chastain, because she alone saves this workaday political thriller from descending into farce. Directed by John Madden, it's set in Washington and rather turgidly explores the murky world of lobbyists. In DC, lobbying is a big business, with entire companies devoting their time to wooing politicians and getting tricky pieces of legislation passed.

Elizabeth Stone (Chastain) is a legendary operator, who power-dresses, takes no prisoners and has plenty of dirty tricks in her repertoire. But she's not without principle, and when her boss (Sam Waterston) tries to persuade her to help the gun lobby stifle a bill aimed at expanding background checks for firearms purchases, she refuses, and resigns. When she moves to a smaller lobbying firm that wants to ensure the gun bill is passed, Stone's tactics shock her effete colleagues, but her results are impressive.

So impressive, in fact, that the National Rifle Association and co decide to nobble her, and before you know it Elizabeth has wound up in front of a congressional committee, where she's accused of corruption. This is the stuff of John Grisham novels, and Jonathan Perera's script takes its daft storyline way too seriously. As a consequence, what was intended as a searing treatise on the rottenness of Washington comes across as a rickety thriller that might have been made in the 1980s (that's not a compliment).

A decent cast includes Mark Strong, John Lithgow, Michael Stuhlbarg and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, but only Chastain manages to rise majestically above the verbiage. Her character is underwritten, and dislikeable, and in other hands Elizabeth Stone would have remained a boring cardboard ice queen. But Chastain gives her a convincing inner life, and a melancholy edge that suggests silent sadness.

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Francois Ozon's Frantz is coming down with silent sadness. Based on a 1932 film by Ernst Lubitsch, it's set in deepest Saxony in 1919, as the inhabitants of a small town struggle to come to terms with the aftermath of war. Among the regular visitors to Quedlinburg cemetery is Anna, a downcast young woman who lovingly tends the grave of her fiancée, Frantz Hoffmeister, who died in action just months before the war's end. Anna, an orphan, still lives with Frantz's parents (Ernst Stötzner, Marie Gruber), who treat her like their own child and worry that she will never recover from her grief.

She's perplexed when she spots a gaunt young man hanging around Frantz's grave, and shocked when he then calls to the Hoffmeister residence. He's French - not a popular thing to be in Saxony in 1919 - and after much hesitation presents himself as a friend of Frantz's from his time in Paris before the war. Adrien (Pierre Niney) is haunted by his experiences in the trenches, but his presence in the town buoys up the Hoffmeisters no end, who love hearing his stories of Frantz's adventures in Paris.

They're not unhappy when Anna begins to fall for him, but their dream of a new life for her is shattered when Adrien leaves Germany abruptly. They encourage her to go to Paris in search of Adrien, but as she sets off she already knows that the Frenchman is not what he seems.

Ozon's film reminds us of the vitriolic hatred that once blighted Franco-German relations, and gives us hints of the disastrous direction postwar Germany would shortly take. But Frantz is really about guilt, redemption and the morality of white lies. Ozon and his cinematographer Pascal Marti shoot mainly in carefully composed black and white, but occasional bursts of colour accompany spikes in emotion, moments of tentative hope. And 22-year-old Paula Beer is exceptionally good in the pivotal role: never have I seen a face so entirely transformed by smiling.

Irish Independent

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