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Clooney smooths over the cracks

Up In the Air

Cert 15A

Who was it who said no man is an island? It certainly wasn't Ryan Bingham, the central character in director Jason Reitman's latest comedy, Up In the Air. Played brilliantly by sultan of suave George Clooney, Bingham is the commitment-phobe's commitment-phobe. His sideline as a motivational speaker at seminars designed to champion the virtues of non-attachment tell us what we need to about his worldview. "We're sharks not swans," he tells his audience. In short, Bingham is to personal attachment what Wall Street's Gordon Gekko was to lunch.

It's a mindset perfectly suited to his day-job as a jet-setting corporate enforcer. When big business decides it's "you're fired time", Bingham is a favoured hitman and his highly polished patter is rarely found wanting when it comes to defusing any potential unpleasantness. For Bingham, it's the ultimate dream job as it allows him to indulge in his passion for air miles and a lifestyle loaded with frequent-flier perks.

Bingham's membership of this veritable smile-high club is threatened on two fronts. Emotional entanglement evolves from a one-night stand with the smart and sassy Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) while professional upheaval comes courtesy of ambitious Young Turk Natalie Keener (played by impressive newbie Anna Kendrick). The latter's idea for virtual sackings threatens to confer "dinosaur" status on Bingham. Is the Terminator about to find himself terminated?

Anyone familiar with the director's previous work, Thank you for Smoking, Juno etc, will know of his reliability when it comes to delivering quality work and he doesn't disappoint with this smart and stylish spectacle. Up In the Air is not without its flaws but top-notch performances and a script peppered with high-watt witticisms help deflect attention from the discordant strains of hokey sentimentality.


Up in the Air is now showing

A Prophet

Cert 16

THE backdrop to acclaimed French director Jacques Audiard's A Prophet reminded me of a passage from Anthony Cronin's compelling Samuel Beckett biography, The Last Modernist. The window of Beckett's Montparnasse apartment overlooked the French capital's notorious La Sante prison and Cronin has written of how a fascinated Beckett used to be inspired by the snapshots of prison life he was able to glimpse. It's true to say that the fly-on-the-prison wall footage delivered by this absorbing crime thriller, starring Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup, brings such scenes to the next level.

Rahim plays the central role as Malik El Djebena, a Muslim prisoner incarcerated in one of France's most intimidating jails for a six-year stretch. Vulnerable and alone, he finds himself catapulted into a kill-or-be-killed scenario courtesy of an encounter with the Corsican mafia led by their lifer don, the appropriately titled Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup). True to cliche, if not to type, they make him an offer he can't refuse, and in return for services rendered, Malik comes under their protection within the prison confines.

It's a dubious privilege but having crossed the line, Malik sets about moving up in the underworld, as it were. Exploiting his contacts with the Corsicans, and Luciani in particular, he soon finds himself controlling his very own crime network on the outside. Dramatic shoot-outs and scenes of casual slaughter ensue.

The title suggests intimations of an elevated artistic vision, and while there are discernible echoes of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment they're not really developed, with the result that A Prophet doesn't quite deliver on its early promise. Even so, A Prophet richly deserved its recent Golden Globe nomination (Best Foreign Language Film). Towering performances by the central players and the poetic sensibility Audiard brings to the visuals ensure that those in the market for a superior crime thriller won't be disappointed.


A Prophet opens on Friday

All About Steve

Cert 12A

MARY Horowitz (Sandra Bullock) is devotedly peculiar, of an unspecified age (although Bullock looks fabulous, we know she isn't 22) she has moved back in with her parents where she works on her dream job, writing the crosswords she just adores. The parents have set her up on a blind date with TV cameraman Steve (Bradley Cooper), whose unexpected physical appeal inspires her to leap on him. Discombobulated by such enthusiasm in her parents' driveway, he fakes a reason to leave, lamenting, as he exits with unseemly haste, that she can't come too.

Smitten Mary composes a crossword all about Steve which is incomprehensible to anyone else, and as a result, loses her job. She sees this as a clue that she should indeed follow him and his hapless TV crew. Egged on by egomaniac failure Hartman Hughes (Thomas Haden Church) she refuses to take no for an answer, Steve thinks she's a nutter and so on and so forth.This is intended as a comedy and you can see where the funny bits were meant to be, only they're not. Mary is too clever to be a Will Ferrell/ Ben Stiller/Judd Apatow character, so she comes across as unhinged rather than hapless, although Bullock does manage to make her relatively likeable. The film, however, is all over the place, achieving neither hilarity nor commentary, and indulging in some shocking cliches along the way. First-time feature director Phil Traill doesn't seem to know what he's doing and writer Kim Barker wrote License to Wed so...

It's no surprise that this was made nearly two years ago and is only now released on the coattails of Bullock and Cooper's summer comedy successes (The Proposal and The Hangover). It's so daft it needs to be funny to work, and it isn't, so it doesn't.


All About Steve is now showing

Sunday Independent