Movie Reviews: Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Good Kill and Force Majeure
The Independent film critic Paul Whitington reviews Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Good Kill, and Force Majeure.
"It happened fast, it's over quick," sang R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe some years back, and his lyric could easily have been written to describe the career and life of his friend Kurt Cobain. In 1990, Nirvana were just one of a host of noisy garage bands competing for space in Seattle's crowded grunge scene: a year later they released Nevermind and became the biggest band in the world; and by 1994 Cobain had shot himself dead. Ever since, he's been the patron saint of misunderstood teenagers everywhere, a species not exactly thin on the ground, but the person behind the myth has remained curiously evasive.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (4*, 16, 132mins), an uneven but engrossing documentary film by Brett Morgan, gamely attempts to redress that balance, and was made with the cooperation of Cobain's parents, his sister, widow Courtney Love and daughter Frances Bean, who served as an executive producer. Cobain: Montage of Heck's secret weapon is a treasure trove of home videos from his troubled childhood, as well as writings, drawings and never-before-seen footage of his life as an international superstar.
Touching home movies show Kurt as a blonde, angelic, happy-looking though worryingly hyperactive child. But his little world collapsed when he was nine, and his parents separated, the source no doubt of the angst, alienation and self-loathing that oozes from Cobain's most famous songs.
His parents are interviewed, and do their best to blame each other, but there are no insights from the showbiz friends Cobain would make after being thrust so suddenly and drastically into the spotlight. Krist Novoselic sheds some light on how hard Nirvana's stratospheric success was on Kurt, but Dave Grohl is excluded from this story entirely. The director says he interviewed him too late to make his final cut, but it's a baffling omission. There's plenty of Courtney Love, however: her curiously charmless, bombastic presence dominates the film's final third, much to its detriment.
Writer/director Andrew Nichol's Good Kill (3*, 15A, 103mins) is a war film without a war: it begins with an intriguing premise before proceeding to make a hash of it, but is not entirely without interest or merit. Ethan Hawke is Tom Egan, a distinguished USAF fighter pilot who now reports to a base on the outskirts of Las Vegas where he remotely operates drones. His work involves monitoring and bombing enemy targets in Afghanistan, but he feels like a coward, and the cumulative effect of all these remote killings is beginning to get to him.
A decent cast includes Bruce Greenwood, who plays Tom's boss, and most of Good Kill's finest moments involve moral debates around impending attacks and consequent collateral damage. But a tacked on domestic involving suppressed rage, alcohol and an unhappy wife (January Jones) feels hackneyed, and undermines the film's weightier ambitions.
One of the stand-out films at this year's Dublin Film Festival, Ruben Ostlund's Force Majeure (4*, 15A, 119mins) hinges around a split second decision that transforms a man's view of himself forever. Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) is on a skiing holiday with his wife and two young children when their balcony breakfast is rudely interrupted by a sudden avalanche on the slopes. Without thinking, he saves himself instead of his wife and children.
But he remembers to grab his smart phone, a detail that seems to particularly disgust his wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli). Struggling to cope with the implications of his actions, Ebba tries to persuade Tomas to at least admit that he fled. But he won't, and the ensuing battle threatens to overwhelm the entire family. Force Majeure is a clever, ruthless film that pulls no punches and shows little faith in the veneer of civilisation.