Movie reviews: Demolition (2*), Son of Saul (5*), Atlantic (4*)
Paul Whitington reviews this week's other big releases - Demolition starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Son of Saul, and Atlantic.
There's a bookish, literary feel to Jean Marc Vallée's Demolition (2*, 15A, 101mins) that promises depths it never plumbs. In it, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a popular literary trope, the affluent but tragically disconnected American male. Davis Mitchell is a wealthy Manhattan investment banker who lives with his wife Julia (Heather Lind) in a plush but cold ultra-modern home. The house, of course, is a symbol of their unhappiness, and things are about to get worse.
In movies you always know there's going to be a crash because things get quiet and no one is looking at the road: Julia dies when their car is blind sided, leaving Davis widowed and miraculously unscathed. He seems untroubled as well, and returns to work as though nothing happened, to the fury of his father-in-law (Chris Cooper), who's also his boss.
But Davis's grief emerges in unlikely ways, and when he starts writing wistful letters of complaint to a vending company whose machine failed to cough up a bar of chocolate, he attracts the attention of an employee called Karen (Naomi Watts). They meet, and a tentative friendship offers hope of an emotional breakthrough.
And meanwhile Davis acts out, taking a lump hammer first to his domestic appliances, then his entire house. The symbolism of all this is appallingly obvious: Davis wishes to deconstruct his old life, and begin a new one. He does so slowly and unconvincingly in a film that takes itself extremely seriously but never manages to breathe earth and life into flimsy characters. Mr Gyllenhaal's performance has substance, however.
A lot of films have tried to recreate the lunacy of the Nazi death camps, but Son of Saul (5*, 15A, 107mins) is the only one I've seen that actually makes you feel like you're in one. Made for just €1.5million by first-time Hungarian director Lazlo Nemes, the film immerses you in the horror of Auschwitz from the get-go. Geza Rohrig is Saul, an ashen-faced inmate who's part of a special unit charged with disposing of gas chamber bodies.
Saul watches impassively as new, disposable inmates are herded towards the 'showers' with false promises and food, and betrays no emotion as their last despairing wails echo through the locked steel doors. He's a sonderkommando, a prisoner given extra food and temporary safety in return for his labour, and long months of this ghastly work has robbed Saul of his humanity. At least it has until he comes across a corpse he's convinced is his son's. Suppressing emotions, the display of which might be fatal, he sets out to find a rabbi who'll give his boy a decent burial. But it's late 1944, the Allies are closing in, and the Nazis' frantic work schedule is about to inspire a prisoner revolt.
Any cinematic depiction of the Holocaust can be fraught, and open to accusations of trivialising the greatest organised slaughter in human history, but Mr Nemes' film is surely above such reproach. It is relentless, horrifying, and skilfully implies the endless carnage going on in the background while driving forward a simple but powerful narrative which proves that, even in hell, you never stop being a parent.
In 2010, Risteard O'Domhnaill encapsulated the nasty war between Shell Oil and the people of Rossport in The Pipe. In Atlantic (4*, No Cert, IFI, 80mins), he broadens his focus to address the exponential damage being done to the North Atlantic, and Ireland's baffling disregard for its territorial waters. We're reminded of how easily our politicians were bribed and outmanoeuvred into giving away fishing and drilling rights, and join Irish fishermen to mournfully watch foreign super-trawlers hoovering up the seabed.
But we also visit Scandinavia and Newfoundland to find out how activists have taken on the multinational bullies and won. It's a fine, if rather depressing documentary.
- Also out this week: Captain America: Civil War movie review - business as usual in the neverending Marvel story
Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant); Knight of Cups (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett); Bad Neighbours 2 (Seth Rogen); Evolution (Roxanne Duran).