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Saturday 3 December 2016

Film review: Allied - Pitt flounders in his efforts to emote convincingly

Cert: 15A. Now showing.

Published 28/11/2016 | 02:30

Acting class: Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour in Allied
Acting class: Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour in Allied

It's time to talk about Brad Pitt. We don't mean the recent split with Angelina Jolie and the tabloid sideshow that came with it. Nor do we mean the speculation of an affair with co-star Marion Cotillard on the set of this spy thriller. Far more pressing is how for so long this chiselled charlatan has persuaded the world that he is a capable character actor.

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In terms of Allied, Cotillard, one of the finest actors of her generation, only serves to show up Pitt for the varnished plank of teak that he is, to the point where you wonder if he is medicated. A gaping, chemistry-free chasm opens between them. Rumours of an off-screen tryst start to seem far-fetched.

Cotillard battles on. She plays Marianne Beausejour, a French resistance fighter stationed in Casablanca (where else) and assigned to rendezvous with Quebecois secret agent Max Vatan (Pitt). Once contact is made, the pair pose around the coffee houses frequented by Nazi goose-steppers as a society couple while plotting a high-profile assassination. Inevitably, love blooms between the courageous pair and they return to London following the mission, to start a family. The honeymoon comes to a halt when Marianne comes under suspicion as an imposter.

Hollywood titan Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump) plonks the pretty leads in period costumes against an array of hideous CGI backdrops that are fooling no one. Only at the end is there a sense of webs closing and knuckles whitening. The usual espionage charades - characters playing characters etc - is stymied from the get-go as Pitt flounders in his efforts to mine layers or emote convincingly. Just as he's done throughout his career. 2 Stars

Hilary A White

Bad Santa 2

Cert 16: Now showing

When Bad Santa arrived in cinemas in 2003, it was a wickedly acerbic marauding of Christmas aimed squarely at those for whom the festive season has more to do with drunken regret than carols and tinsel. It was foul-mouthed and lewd, and only snuck its what-really-matters sentiments in under the radar once the damage had been done.

But 13 years later, the landscape looks very different. We are now living in the Age of Trump. What was once shocking and disgraceful now passes as "locker-room talk".

Thus Bad Santa 2, a lacklustre sequel that smacks of barrel-scraping, tries too hard, and ultimately fails, to reach similar levels of bad behaviour in the name of comedic entertainment.

None of this is particularly the fault of Billy Bob Thornton who succeeds in looking like he was cryogenically frozen since his last outing as Willie. Still miserable, still potty-mouthed and still boozing hard, he crosses paths with diminutive sidekick Marcus (Tony Cox) and is convinced to come on board for a robbery. The target this time is a charity run by Christina Hendricks's humanitarian goddess whom the lupine Willie sets his sights on.

As the profanity, insults and bawdy carry-on escalate, what was once deliciously bold fun just comes to feel wearisome. Some laughs do manage to get airborne but the majority are given no space to breathe by Mark Waters' harried direction. 2 Stars

Hilary A White

Mum's List

Cert 12A; Now showing

Sometimes you can be too close to a story and perhaps this is what happened in the case of Mum's List. Niall Johnson directs his own adaptation of St John (Singe) Greene's book about the illness and death of his wife, Kate, who, knowing she was facing death, left a list of instructions for the parenting of her young sons after she has gone. It should be terribly affecting, I didn't experience it as such, and I cry at the end of a bar of chocolate.

The film opens as it means to continue, a sad Singe (Rafe Spall) picking his very young sons Reef (William Stagg) and Finn (Matthew Stagg) up from school and kissing them twice. When they ask why he explains it was what "Mummy" wanted and an instruction to "kiss the boys twice" appears on screen. The film then weaves back and forth between Kate's (Emilia Fox) diagnosis and illness and the couple's history as teenage sweethearts. That part doesn't add a lot to the film which overall just feels too long and remarkably, lacking in emotion.

The performances are good, Spall, in particular, plays it well. Kate Greene's story is deeply moving, but the adaptation is poor. Such was the absence of emotion that I found myself mostly wondering why someone would refer to themselves so relentlessly in the third person. Yet a lady behind me sniffled all the way through so clearly it does have emotional impact. 2 Stars

Aine O'Connor

Editor's choice: A United Kingdom

Cert 12A; Now showing

Imagine a world where interracial marriage was frowned upon, where people were intolerant, where large countries interfered in the politics of small ones in order to preserve the interests of big business. Oh, I know, it's hard to imagine but back in 1947, when African law student Seretse (David Oyelowo) and London office manager Ruth (Rosamund Pike) meet and fall in love, their romance is not popular. Public opinion is not the only problem, Seretse is no ordinary student, he is the heir to the throne of Bechuanaland where he must return. A white wife will not be a popular choice but their love is strong and they fight odds they know, and those they don't in what is a remarkable and remarkably unknown episode in recent history.

Amma Asante directs a good, solid, worthy and nice film. While these epithets are all potential insults they are truly not intended as such. It really does have good intentions and it delivers on them. It's neither fabulously exciting or sexy but the story and the performances lift it right up. 4 Stars

Aine O'Connor

South

Cert 15A: Now showing

If Tom (Darragh O'Toole) is wet behind the ears, it may be to do with his absent mother and over-protective father (Joe Rooney). When dad passes away suddenly, there's little for it but to don the sheepskin coat, grab the guitar and hitch to Dublin to find his mother. En route, he'll fall in and out of scrapes, meet Emily Lamey's manor-born hippy and find some new-found courage.

A winner at this year's Fingal Film Festival, Gerard Walsh's second feature (after 2014's A Day Like Today) is a gentle and uncomplicated coming-of-age saga that is let down by patchy performances orbiting O'Toole (Red Rock), who largely nails his character's doleful charm. South is also prone to stilted passages of kitchen-sink drama characterised by lots of sighing and Sean Riddick's plaintive guitar plucks. 2 Stars

Hilary A White

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