Sunday 23 October 2016

Movie reviews: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Youth, The 33

Paul Whitington

Published 29/01/2016 | 07:00

Old timers: Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in Youth
Old timers: Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in Youth

Paul Whitington reviews this week's other big releases - 13: Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Youth, and The 33.

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Though watching it feels a bit like playing one of those military computer games, Michael Bay's 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2*, 15A, 144mins) is based on a true story. In 2012, as chaos reigned in Libya, an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi where the US Ambassador was temporarily stationed was overwhelmed by Islamic militants, who then moved on to attack a nearby secret CIA outpost. Their assault was bravely countered by a small group of security contractors who are the heroes of this shamelessly jingoistic film.

John Krasinski is Jack Da Silva, a former Navy SEAL who arrives in Libya to join the private security detail run by his old comrade Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale). The CIA bosses look down on these mercenaries, but will alter their opinions when their compound is attacked. There are some decent action scenes in 13 Hours, but this being a Michael Bay film, it's too long and too loud, and its politics are deeply suspect.

This skirmish is, by implication, placed above all the tragedy and slaughter that befell ordinary Libyans by virtue of the fact that some of the lives lost were American. And in an election year, Republican hearts will be stirred by the sight of US warriors gunning down advancing ranks of clueless jihadi.

In films like Il Divo and The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino has established himself as one of contemporary Italian cinema's most important directors. His forays into English, however, have been less successful: I hated This Must Be the Place, his overworked 2011 drama that starred Sean Penn as a Bono-esque rock star who wandered Dublin like a post-punk Hamlet. Youth (3*, 15A, 124mins) is also in English, and while nothing like as bad as This Must Be the Place, is similarly arch and mannered.

Michael Caine is the best thing in it, and gives a thoughtful and melancholic portrayal of Fred Ballinger, a retired classical composer who's on holiday at a luxury spa in the Swiss Alps. His daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) is his personal assistant, and his oldest friend, Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), is in the area rehearsing a film.

While Mick and Fred recall old times and ponder the cruel process of ageing, Lena endures a personal crisis. She is married to Mick's son, who has just announced that he's leaving her for the singer Paloma Faith, who not unreasonably appears as herself. Meanwhile, Fred is unbalanced entirely by a request from Buckingham Palace to perform for Prince Philip's birthday.

There are lots of nice moments in Youth, and Mr Sorrentino uses the spa backdrop to ponder the grim business of ageing. But the whole set-up feels stagy and artificial, and a melodramatic climax jars with what went earlier.

In the autumn of 2010, the world became transfixed by the plight of 33 Chilean miners who were trapped 700 metres underground when their copper mine collapsed. For two months they were cut off from the world and their families, who had no idea whether they were alive or dead. The 33 (3* 12A, 127mins) tells their story competently but unremarkably: it's a watchable but very formulaic disaster movie.

Antonio Banderas is great value for money playing 'Super' Mario Sepulveda, the miners' unofficial leader and the one person with the vision required to keep them all alive. It's he who divides up their meagre supplies of water and canned tuna, and keeps his comrades' spirits up in their hot and airless dungeon.

Above ground, Rodrigo Santoro plays the government minister who's determined to get them out, and Juliette Binoche is a miner's sister, and the families' agitator-in-chief. She throws the kitchen sink at it and is hard to take seriously, but the film's ending will move you.

Coming soon... Trumbo (Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane); Dad's Army (Bill Nighy, Toby Jones); Goosebumps (Jack Black); Strangerland (Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving).

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