Movie reviews: Eye in the Sky, The Brand New Testament, Our Little Sister
It's 4 stars across the board from Paul Whitington for this week's other big releases - Eye in the Sky, The Brand New Testament, Our Little Sister
Time and again in TV shows like Homeland and House of Cards, we've been presented with the same weary premise: a terrorist or terrorists have been definitively tracked to a remote location that can now be bombed by drone. There may be collateral damage but these are bad people, and someone important (usually the president) needs to make a call. This scenario has been played out so often since the early 2000s that it's become trite, clichéd and very hard to take seriously. So it's to this British thriller's great credit that it takes a similar set up and gives it urgency and relevance.
Eye in the Sky (4*, 12A, 102mins) stars Helen Mirren as Katherine Powell, a terse and flinty British intelligence colonel who's commanding officer at a military surveillance centre in Sussex when a golden opportunity presents itself. Through surveillance drones they've learned that a small group of high-ranking Al-Shabaab terrorists are meeting at a safe house in the Nairobi slums.
They're preparing for suicide bomb attacks, and to a soldier like Powell, it seems like an open-and-shut case. But before she can give the go-ahead for a missile strike, she has to get government clearance. Enter Lieutenant Colonel Frank Benson (played with withering impatience by the late Alan Rickman), who calls a hasty meeting at Whitehall with two government ministers and the attorney general.
While the politicians dither and obfuscate, the situation on the ground grows ever more complex when it becomes clear that civilians may be harmed. Gavin Hood's film cleverly explores the vexed ethics of remote warfare, and a fine ensemble cast help make this a clever, thought-provoking and deeply satisfying thriller.
The Brand New Testament (4*, No Cert, IFI, 113mins), Belgian film-maker Jaco Van Dormael pulls off an impressive balancing act. His premise, that God exists, lives in Brussels and is not very nice, could easily have grown irksome during a film that lasts the bones of two hours. But there's a playful streak to his clever satire, which is not merely a black comedy, and also a Christian parable, with heart.
God (Benoit Poelvoorde) lives in a gloomy apartment with his wife (Yolande Moreau) and teenage daughter, Ea (Pili Groyne). He's a grumpy, uncultured, beer-swilling sadist, who invented mankind merely to enjoy tormenting them. He does this via his personal computer, which he never allows anyone else to touch. But one day Ea decides she's had enough of him, sabotages his computer and escapes into the outside world. But before she does, she sends everyone in the world a test telling them their exact death date.
This, as you can imagine, causes much soul-searching and strange behaviour, and while her vengeful father pursues her, Ea assembles six unlikely apostles she hopes will help her change the world.
Mr Van Dormael's film is touching, wise, very funny at times, and winningly surreal: at one point we get to watch Catherine Deneuve make love to a gorilla, which alone is worth the price of entry.
There are shades of Yasujiro Ozu and Eric Rohmer to Our Little Sister (4*, PG, 127mins), Hirokazu Koreeda's thoughtful and pleasantly meandering drama set in the coastal resort town of Kamakura. Three young sisters live in a rambling house with their grandmother, led by the bossy but kindly Sachi (Haruka Ayase). Their father had a roving eye, left them years ago and started another family in the south.
After he dies they find out they have a 14-year-old half-sister, Suzu (Suzu Asano), and when Sachi discovers there's no one left to look after her, she invites Suzu to come and live with them. And while Suzu gains a new family, Sachi and her sisters find out that their father wasn't so bad after all.
It's a delightful film, excellently acted and charged with undercurrents of familial emotion.
Coming soon... Bastille Day (Idris Elba); Miles Ahead (Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor); Friend Request (Alycia Debham-Carey); Louder Than Bombs (Jesse Eisenberg).