James Dean film is evocative but lacks a little soul
Life - Cert 15A
Reviewed this week are Life, Captive, A Girl At My Door, Pursuit and Older Than Ireland.
For posterity James Dean was packaged as a beautiful rebel, with or without a cause. In real life it seems he was much more than that, a free spirit who was uncomfortable with fame. That discomfort caused him to rebel against the demands of the studio system and got him into plenty of trouble.
Anton Corbijn's film looks at the months in 1955 just as Dean's star was rising. He had made East of Eden and was waiting to hear if he would be cast in Rebel Without a Cause.
At a party, Dean (Dane DeHaan) meets photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) and the two strike up a friendship. Scott, his marriage over and bored of his career photographing premieres, sees in Dean the 'next big thing'.
He talks his boss (Joel Edgerton) into getting Life magazine to commission a photo story and while Dean is amenable, he is also elusive.
He gets Scott to follow him to New York, then again to rural Indiana. Within the year Dean will be dead and these will become some of the most iconic images of him.
As befitting a film by a photographer, Corbijn's movie looks good, cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen does some great work, and DeHaan is certainly reminiscent of Dean, managing not to cross the line into imitation.
Pattinson's Scott is a hard-to-like character, another interesting post-Twilight choice for him, and Ben Kingsley relishes his cameo as Jack Warner.
However, while it is certainly evocative, it is a little slow and lacks a bit of soul.
A Girl At My Door
Young-nam (Bae Doona) arrives in a remote coastal community to take up the role of police chief, having been transferred from Seoul following an unspecified scandal. She is something of a fish out of water at the start, and her officiousness clashes with the various perversions of the town.
Among these are the blind eye turned to Yong-ha (Song Sae-byeok), a local oyster-farming boss who drinks heavily and beats his 14-year-old stepdaughter Do-hee (Kim Sae-ron).
The whole town seems to have little regard for Do-hee and after Yong-ha’s mother is found dead, Young-nam takes her in under her care and away from him.
This, and Young-nam’s outing as a lesbian, ruffles feathers, particularly when her young charge’s behaviour drifts into strange territory – as she copies Young-nam’s hairdo and exhibits mental scarring from years of abuse.
It begins to feel to Young-nam that she may have got too involved, while having her own demons to contend with.
Korean writer-director July Jung’s feature debut is a meaty and involving drama that is transmitted with the skill and clarity of a seasoned master.
Layers are folded on to Young-nam’s character that amplify tensions and throw up all kinds of predicaments without it ever feeling forced, the way good storytelling should. Both leads are magnificent to boot; Bae a study in inner conflict, Kim a murky and original femme fatale. Recommended.
Now showing in IFI
Kate Mara is having a moment. After a steady body of work since Brokeback Mountain she is getting much bigger roles. Not all of her films are working out as intended; Fantastic Four meant well but didn’t deliver, but The Martian should make up for that blockbusting flop.
Here, in a small film, she plays Ashley, a young mother and recovering addict who is struggling to get her life back on track so that she can regain custody of her small daughter (Elle Graham).
At an addiction meeting she is given the inspirational spiritual book The Purpose Driven Life. Ashley has a new home and a new start, but finds it hard to stay clean.
While she unpacks she watches a live news story unfold on TV, as Brian Nichols (David Oyelowo), a young manwho is awaiting trial for rape, cracks when he hears he has fathered a child. He attacks a guard and kills three people, including a judge, and goes on the run.
Detective John Chestnut (Michael K. Williams) is in charge of hunting Nichols down. His team locate the area, but not the precise location, where Nichols has taken Ashley prisoner in her home.
As she tries to gain Nichols’ trust, the book takes on an important role. Based on a true story from 2005, it is arguably not quite big enough for feature length. Director Jerry Jameson, from Brian Bird’s script, does not overplay the faith element, even though faith-based movies are big business in the US.
It’s the performances that lift the film, as Mara and Oyelowo create layered characters who show depth of feeling in roles often relegated to stereotype. It doesn’t generate enough steam as a thriller, but works as a two-hander.
It is testament to Paul Mercier’s long standing in the world of Irish theatre with his company Passion Machine that this, only his second feature film, contains the kind of cast that surely must have made the
Irish Film Board sit up like meerkats.
Liam Cunningham (Hunger, Game of Thrones) is gang leader Fionn, who decides on a peace-brokering marriage with Grainne (Ruth Bradley), the famously beautiful young daughter of rival crimelord Mr King (Owen Roe). At Fionn’s side is top henchman and driver Diarmuid (Barry Ward), who escorts the couple during courtship, only to be on the receiving end of gunpoint when Grainne cunningly gives Fionn the slip and forces Diarmuid to run away with her.
Terrified of the retribution he is thus inviting upon himself, and through no intention of his own, he buckles and agrees to flee to Spain to establish a new life with Grainne under assumed identities. Love naturally blossoms en route.
Help at their destination is provided thanks to the Searbhan, another kingpin-type (played by Brendan Gleeson, no less). Slick-haired gunmen from different factions are never far from the mix.
Sound vaguely familiar? Writer-director Mercier is of course basing this hot-footed caper on the ancient Celtic legend of Fionn mac Cumhaill and The Pursuit of Diarmiud and Grainne. Cynics might roll their eyes at such a premise, but Pursuit is built upon sounder foundations than just being a gangster update of a Jim FitzPatrick poster.
Crude though they
can sometimes seem, the production values, especially during the Spanish chapter, are solidly constructed, while there is an exuberance to the breakneck pace that is fitting. The main treasury of Pursuit, however, is located in its cast, who are a roundly committed ensemble.
Bradley and Ward, sparring well off one another, are worthy leads to get behind. Cunningham, Roe, Gleeson, and Don Wycherley as a beleaguered cat burgler, are as dependable as ever. Watch out for David Pearse, reuniting here with fellow Grabbers cast member Bradley, who gives off refined menace as the diminutive mob lawyer.
In selected cinemas
Older Than Ireland
Ever hear the one about the granny who smoked 20 fags a day until she was 100? Well, it turns out she exists. Her name is Bessie Nolan and she still enjoys a Superking at the ripe old age of 103.
Proof is to be found in this charming and beautifully crafted Galway Film Fleadh winner from Snackbox Films that sits down with 30 of the country’s centenarians for a cozy chat.
Like The Irish Pub (filmmaker Alex Fegan’s previous big-screen outing) or Ken Wardrop’s sweet and sassy His & Hers, Older Than Ireland has the luxury of shooting otherwise everyday subjects in an extraordinary light, listening to their tales and providing space in which to peer into their hearts and minds. And if there is anyone we should probably be hearing out in times like these, surely it is the elderly, something tells you.
We should be eternally grateful to Fegan for doing so, for the result is also one of the most unique and insightful historical documents ever committed to film in this country.
All born before 1916, these subjects are a joy to behold, a heart-warming broth of hard-earned wisdom, bad wallpaper and inspiring resilience. They share details of childhoods that seem unimaginable today, along with recollections of the War of Independence, the birth of the State, and the many perplexing changes that the nation has seen in their lifetimes.
Family, romance and the great armchair in the sky are also dealt with via nostalgic grins, raised eyebrows and soft chuckles. There’s plenty of ‘in my day’ patter, but the sheer personality on offer makes it hard to dismiss.
There is, of course, a deep poignancy to it all, a glimpse of an Ireland that is slipping away from us. When this is considered, it only confirms Older Than Ireland as being a precious future artefact.
In selected cinemas
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