Movie reviews: Bridge of Spies, Black Mass, The Good Dinosaur, Being AP
Paul Whitington reviews this week's other big releases - Bridge of Spies, Black Mass, The Good Dinosaur, and Being AP.
It's been said before that Steven Spielberg is a master storyteller, and in Bridge of Spies (4*, 12A, 141mins) he manages to weave a bewilderingly complex chain of historical events into a rich, multi-layered and deeply satisfying feature film. Its style and pacing reminded me of Munich, which wasn't too shabby either.
Mark Rylance plays Rudolf Abel, a Brooklyn-based Russian spy who gets arrested by the FBI. He faces the death penalty, and this being 1957, and the height of the McCarthy witch-hunts, no lawyer wants to risk his reputation by representing him. Into the breach steps insurance lawyer James B. Donovan, one of those old-fashioned Americans who believe that everyone deserves a fair trial.
As Donovan defends Abel the two men develop an understanding, and a few years later an opportunity presents itself and the action shifts to Berlin. An American pilot on a spying mission has been captured by the Soviets, and Donovan is soon at the centre of a tense cat-and-mouse game that precedes a possible prisoner exchange.
Spielberg handles this tortuous tale with seamless skill, helped by excellent performances from Rylance and Hanks, who share several wonderful scenes and help make this fine film a running battle between humanity and ideology.
A heavy shadow hangs over Scott Cooper's Black Mass (3*, 15A, 122mins), and it's the daunting legacy of the American gangster movie. In taking on the racy tale of Boston-Irish mobster James 'Whitey' Bulger, Mr Cooper was always going to struggle to avoid comparisons with Francis Coppola and Martin Scorsese, all the more so because in The Departed, Mr Scorsese gave us a thinly fictionalised account of Bulger's life. And while Black Mass is sincerely made and very competently directed, it ends up in a kind of no-man's land.
Johnny Depp, sporting shaved head and ice blue contact lenses, is Bulger, a sly South Boston tear-away who works his way to the top of the underworld pile by playing his enemies off against each other. After he's approached by ambitious FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), Whitey becomes a secret informant but even turns that situation to his advantage, and meanwhile his brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) is rapidly ascending the greasy political pole.
Cooper tells this remarkable story dourly, and without apparent pleasure. He seems to have been determined not to glamorise Bulger or his ghastly crimes: in this he succeeds, but at the expense of dramatic tension, and entertainment. It's not bad exactly, just dull.
Nothing dull about The Good Dinosaur (4*, PG, 101mins), a bright and breezy Pixar animation that starts slowly, even unsteadily, before reaching a brisk and bracing gallop. It's set in an imaginary past where dinosaurs did not become extinct but evolved, and ended up sharing the unspoiled American west with primitive humans.
Cleverly evoking American settlement myths and classic westerns like Shane, The Good Dinosaur tells the story of Arlo, the undersized youngest child of a family of Apatosaurus, gentle vegetarian farmers. When Arlo gets stranded in the wilderness, he's befriended by a feral cave boy and comes of age during a series of adventures.
The Good Dinosaur is so gorgeously and painstakingly animated that at times you squint at the screen and wonder if the landscapes you're seeing aren't real. It's a lot of fun.
And finally, a word about Being AP (4*, 12A, 103mins), a new documentary following legendary jockey AP McCoy's last competitive season.
You would walk a long time before you met anyone less interested in horse racing than me, but I must say I was very engaged by Anthony Wonke's documentary, in which McCoy emerges as a terrifyingly focused and driven competitor who's more afraid of retiring than breaking his neck.
Coming soon... Victor Frankenstein (Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy); Krampus (Adam Scott, Toni Collette); The Night Before (Seth Rogen); Sunset Song (Agyness Deyn).