Film Review: A painful labor from Jason Reitman
Labor Day (12A, general release, 111 minutes) 2 Stars.
Published 21/03/2014 | 14:30
Halfway through the press screening of Labor Day I found myself surreptitiously looking up IMDB on my phone to see if it had been written by Nicholas Sparks or some other well-heeled purveyor of romantic slush.
But no, it's written and directed by Jason Reitman, the gifted and savvy filmmaker behind such comic gems as Thank You for Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air. A major departure for Reitman, and not in a good sense, Labor Day is a humourless and heavy-handed melodrama built around an extremely unlikely romance.
Set in smalltown America in 1987, it stars Gattlin Griffith as Henry Wheeler, a shy and thoughtful 13-year-old boy from a troubled background. His parents, Gerald (Clark Gregg) and Adele (Kate Winslet) have just split up and Henry lives with his mother in a clapboard house whose shambolic condition perfectly reflects Adele's moribund mental state.
She mopes around the house mourning the end of her marriage and a series of miscarriages, leaving Henry to fend for himself. She only goes out once a month to get groceries, and they are at the store when Henry is approached by a man called Frank (Josh Brolin), who's acting strangely and seems to be wounded.
It turns out that Frank has just escaped from jail: he's a convicted murderer and the subject of a statewide manhunt.
Frank befriends Henry and threatens Adele into bringing him back to their house.
There, over the course of a long and sultry Labor Day weekend, he hides out in Adele's home, and what at first seems like a kidnapping begins to look like something much more complicated. Frank may talk tough, but his actions are invariably gentle. He begins doing odd jobs around the house and even cooks and bakes for his reluctant hosts. Slowly Adele begins to fall for him, much to Henry's confusion.
Narrated in clunky voice over by a grown-up Henry (Tobey Maguire), Labor Day expounds its love story at a tortuously pedestrian pace, and Reitman's script is teeming with heavy-handed metaphors.
In one particularly absurd scene, Frank cooks a peach pie for Adele, pushing her hands into the pastry while breathing inane cooking tips into her ear. Their romance is quite unbelievable and Frank is a flimsy caricature reminiscent of Mills & Boon. Most bewilderingly of all, Labor Day lacks all trace of Jason Reitman's usual spark and wit.
Everyone's entitled to an off day, I suppose.
Director: Jason Reitman.
Stars: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Tobey Maguire, Gattlin Griffith.
True Grit in bleak prison drama
(16, general release, 106 minutes)
Director: David Mackenzie.
Stars: Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend, Sam Spruell. 4 Stars
Those considering a life of crime may think again after seeing Starred Up, a bleak, brutal and compelling thriller set in a singularly grim British prison. Skins actor Jack O'Connell is outstanding as Eric Love, a juvenile offender who's deemed sufficiently dangerous to be transferred to an adult's prison, where he quickly makes his mark. Disturbed and damaged, Jack exists on a hair trigger and lashes out at anyone who approaches him.
Things are further complicated by the fact that Eric's father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) is also an inmate: he's a much feared enforcer for the prison's Mr Big.
Eric seems caught in a spiral of self-destruction and his only hope lies with a soft-spoken counsellor called Oliver (Rupert Friend), who tries to persuade him that fighting is not the only way.
David Mackenzie's drama is unflinching in its depiction of violence and the daily indignities of prison life, but ticks along so seamlessly that only the very squeamish will fail to be compelled.
Mendelsohn dominates whenever he's onscreen, but Friend is excellent as the Christ-like counsellor and O'Connell delivers an extraordinarily portrayal of a very angry young man.
High fashion drama
Yves Saint Laurent
(15A, limited release, 105 minutes)
Director: Jalil Lespert.
Stars: Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Laura Smet, Marie de Villepin. 4 Stars.
The first of two big budget French biopics dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent, Jalil Lespert's colourful and engaging film takes a broad and almost soap-operaish approach to its subject, a tactic that seems appropriate given the great designer's rock 'n' roll lifestyle.
And if Lespert's movie doesn't quite succeed in giving us a sense of just how culturally significant Saint Laurent's work was, it's a sumptuous and consistently entertaining drama graced by some terrific performances.
Pierre Niney is outstanding as Saint Laurent, a shy young man from a French-Algerian background who arrived in Paris at the age of 20, and almost immediately landed a designing job at Christian Dior.
Lacking in character
(No Cert, Light House, 110 minutes)
Director: Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza.
Stars: Saleh Barki, Luigi Lo Cascio, Sara Serraiocco. 3 Stars.
A gutsy Mafia tale that owes a little to Matteo Garrone's Gomorra, and a lot to classic Euro gangster films like The Samurai, Salvo is high on style and ultimately low on substance, but is rather nice to look at.
In a quite brilliant opening sequence, a Sicilian hitman called Salvo (Saleh Bakri) is waiting in a car with his mobster boss when they're attacked by men with machine guns.
Salvo kills all of them except one, whom he chases to his home. There he finds a blind girl called Rita, who counts money for the mob but is otherwise an innocent. When she witnesses another killing, Salvo kidnaps Rita and stashes her in an abandoned mine. He should kill her but doesn't, a decision that will change his life.
Salvo is nicely put together, and told for the most part without recourse to words. But under the Sicilian swagger, there's not much substance or character to cling to.
Dull romantic slush
About Last Night
(16, general release, 100 minutes)
Director: Steve Pink.
Stars: Kevin Hart, Regina Hal, Michael Ealy, Joy Bryant. 2 Stars.
Steve Pink's harmless romcom is loosely based on a 1986 film of the same name.
Edward Zwick's About Last Night was a charming little comedy based on a David Mamet play that sparkled and fizzed and is a beloved cult classic for some.
This version neither fizzes nor sparkles, but may prove a painless enough experience – if you're unfamiliar with the original. Kevin Hart plays Bernie, a fast-talking Jack-the-lad who loves women but is terrified of commitment.
Bernie can't understand why his best friend Danny (Michael Ealy) is still moping about a recent break-up, and to cheer him up sets up a double date. Both boys are smitten by Joan (Regina Hall) and Debbie (Joy Bryant), but the course of true love will not be smooth.
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