Reviewed this week: Out of the Furnace; Lone Survivor;That Awkward Moment; Journal de France
Out of the Furnace
(15A, general release, 117 minutes) ***
Director: Scott Cooper.
Stars: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana.
It's all the rage these days to make elegiac dramas about the collapse of blue-collar America, and in this respect Scott Cooper's Out of the Furnace is right on the money. But though it's set in the near present, Cooper's film feels more like something from the 1970s and it deliberately evokes the moody desolation of films like The Deer Hunter and Badlands. It also treads too slowly and trades in clichés. However, there are times when Out of the Furnace springs suddenly to life and it is the cast that can take most of the credit for that.
Christian Bale gives a restrained performance as Russell Baze, a steelworker from Braddock, Pennsylvania whose life is slowly falling apart. His father is dying, his steel plant may be on the verge of closing and his younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) is heading ineluctably for trouble.
A handy bareknuckle fighter, Rodney signs up for an illegal bout with a boxer from New Jersey, from there things go horribly wrong.
Woody Harrelson has fun playing Harlan DeGroat, a ludicrously un-nuanced villain, and Zoe Saldana plays Russell's doe-eyed ex-girlfriend. Cooper uses the rusting mills of mid-Pennsylvania as a sombre backdrop, but overdoes it a bit with the moody soundtrack and low lighting. It's as if he doesn't quite trust his own story – and he's right.
Out of the Furnace trundles along with no apparent purpose and at several key points makes no sense. Cooper's actors do him credit – Bale and Affleck are terrific in their scenes together, while Harrelson effortlessly bosses every scene he is in.
Afghan war thriller packs a real punch
Peter Berg's brisk and entertaining war thriller is set in Afghanistan in 2005 and is based on the true story of a US Navy SEAL mission that went disastrously wrong.
In June of that year, four SEALs were dropped by helicopter on the side of a mountain in Kunar Province with a simple but dangerous task. A local warlord with Taliban allegiances called Ahmad Shah had been causing trouble and the SEALs were to assassinate him, thus smoothing the way for September elections.
A team led by lieutenant Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) hits the mountainside in high spirits. Murphy and his comrades Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster) are itching to have a crack at the enemy. But almost immediately they hit a snag when a local shepherd and two boys spot them. Murphy and co quickly catch them, but face a dilemma: if they let them go they're sure to alert someone, but killing unarmed non-combatants seems unthinkable. They release them but soon have cause to regret it when they're surrounded by 20 or 30 armed insurgents.
Lone Survivor sticks pretty closely to the facts, has real momentum and a series of impressive action sequences. It's a decent thriller too, but vaguely jingoistic underneath it all and it's almost an achievement to make a two-hour film about Afghanistan that gives you absolutely no idea of the region's geopolitical complexities.
Too cocky by half
That Awkward Moment
(15A, general release, 94 minutes) ***
Director: Tom Gormican.
Stars: Zac Efron, Imogen Poots, Miles Teller, Mackenzie Davis.
Most modern romantic comedies fall flat on their arses because they attempt to incorporate two mutually toxic elements. Love stories and dick jokes just don't mix, but erogenous references are now obligatory thanks to the malign influence of Judd Apatow and friends. And so writer/director Tom Gormican almost chokes the sweetness of this, his debut feature, by resorting to cock-talk whenever there's a lull in the proceedings. He just about gets away with it, however, thanks to his Manhattan backdrop and decent performances from his young actors.
Zac Efron has done a less successful job of deconstructing his revoltingly wholesome High School Musical persona than Vanessa Hudgens, but is a decent actor and passes muster here as Jason, a 20-something New Yorker with commitment issues. Jason plays the field and has a high old time for himself, but as soon as a girl starts getting serious he heads for the hills. He's even made a pact with his two best friends, Daniel and Mikey, to stay single till they're a lot older. But all of that changes when Jason meets Ellie (Imogen Poots), a pretty young writer from the Midwest. In fact all three men fall in love, and scheme desperately to keep their new relationships from each other.
It's a half decent idea, and That Awkward Moment's young cast work hard to paper over the cracks in an occasionally funny script. Efron and Poots don't quite work together, but Mackenzie Davis is very good as the privileged, but secretly passionate, Chelsea.
Not picture perfect
Journal de France
(No Cert, IFI, 100 minutes) ***
Director: Claudine Nougaret, Raymond Depardon.
Stars: Raymond Depardon, Claudine Nougaret.
Raymond Depardon is something of an institution in his native France: since rising to prominence as a globetrotting photojournalist in the 1960s, he's founded the prestigious Gamma agency, branched out into film-making and reported on conflicts all over the world. This intimate documentary by his longtime partner Claudine Nougaret mixes snippets of the footage he's taken over the years with shots of Depardon at work today.
As he travels around France taking typically esoteric landscapes with a beautiful old Leica, Ms Nougaret shows us remarkable clips taken during various wars, conflicts and disasters. There's also the odd politician. At one point we watch Nelson Mandela pause for a magisterial minute's silence, and later witness the not quite so dignified sight of Valery Giscard d'Estaing mistaking himself for a Bourbon king during the 1974 Presidential elections. These clips are fascinating, but Journal de France would have been a stronger documentary if Monsieur Depardon had provided narrations for some of them.