Tuesday 24 April 2018

Corbijn's style trumps substance


The American

Cert 15A

ANTON Corbijn's second feature film, The American, is, as expected of a man with a history in music visuals, a beautiful film, and not just because it stars George Clooney. From the opening shots of a firelit couple who later stroll across snowy isolation to the rest of the film set in Castel del Monte in Italy's mountainous centre, it is at all times visually gorgeous. The American is also a very European movie, essentially about the moral conundrums of a hitman who wants out.

Jack/Edward (Clooney) is a hitman who, while preparing for retirement, is given the job of preparing a weapon for another hit person, Matilda (Thekla Reuten). He is warned against making friends -- it was this oversight that has some Swedish hitmen chasing him -- but manages nonetheless to befriend, or be befriended by, the local PP (Paolo Bonacelli) who is flawed but semi-psychic, and to strike up a relationship with prostitute Clara (Violante Placido). Despite these accidents, Jack/Edward is taciturn and near paranoia, constantly on edge and at home with solitude.

The visuals are meant to do the talking here, and to an extent it works. There is that great sense of no matter how beautiful the surroundings, being alone in a quiet foreign town can be loneliness at its most exactingly pure. However, it does become ponderous at times and is terribly self-aware. The pacing is uneven and more thought has gone into the characterisation aspect of Rowan Joffe's script than into the action.

Clooney underplays his famous charm so much as to leave the entire film a little lacking and the melodrama of the ending seems somewhat incongruous. It's certainly watchable but, despite the premise and the posters, this is no action film. It's George up a mountain doing a lot of pondering with some guns.


The American is now showing

Of Gods and Men

Cert: 15A

Michael Whyte's recent documentary No Ordinary Love captured the day-to-day existence of a secluded order of Carmelite nuns. That film availed of hushed beauty and a strong sense of inward contemplation. The same is true of this Xavier Beauvois drama that charts the 1996 demise of a group of Trappist monks caught in the crossfire of Islamist violence in Algeria's Atlas Mountains.

Beauvois's initial approach is to quietly observe everyday duties within the monastery -- caring for and treating the local village folk, seeing to the upkeep of vegetable plots and maintaining good relations with local Muslim clerics. Everything is calm and smooth for the opening half-hour before things start to fall apart.

The murders of a team of Croatian builders see blood graphically spilled and dread take residence. Our monks are subsequently accosted by mujahideen and are forced to question the worth of standing up to these extremists and balance faith with fear. Regularly, Beauvois returns us to the oratory, the story's sole constant, where the brothers find solace in haunting Gregorian chant (the actors all experienced life in a real monastery).

Like the monks themselves, the audience is provided with recesses to mull things over. Lambert Wilson takes a break from token French baddie roles as the monks' heroic leader, while Michael Lonsdale (Ronin, The Day of the Jackal) is a gently forceful presence as Frere Luc, knowing and wise but transmitting a bruised fatalism ("I'm not scared of death -- I am a free man"). The particulars of their executions are said to be murky, in which case the final scene showing the brothers and their captors fading into a blizzard is as delicate and respectful a coda as could be done for these brave men.


Of Gods and Men opens on Friday

The Pipe

Cert 15A

THE saga of the Shell pipeline off the west coast and the staunch opposition of the locals in Rossport rumbled on for five years. After a significant offshore gas find, Shell planned to transport it, via a high-pressure pipeline, to a refinery in Mayo. People whose homes the pipe would pass by felt that any accident would put them and their families in great danger. There was also concern for the environment, and that beaches from which farmers were not allowed take sand or seaweed would be dug up for this pipe. Thus began a momentous struggle between the locals and Shell.

Risteard O Domhnaill, amid sweeping shots of the affected areas, filmed the various actions and interviewed many of the personalities from the beginning of the fight. Shell did not take part and neither did the authorities who granted permission or enforced it, so it is really the story as told from the perspective of the local opposition. It makes it less objective, but interesting viewing nonetheless.


The Pipe opens on Friday,


Cert 12A

ANYONE who witnessed last year's underwhelming remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 will know that movies which threaten carnage of the train carriage variety can be hit-and-miss affairs, but this Tony Scott-directed feature succeeds brilliantly.Inspired by true events, Unstoppable takes rural Pennsylvania as its primary backdrop and reunites two of the main players in that aforementioned remake -- director Scott, and Denzel Washington. The ever-reliable Washington stars alongside Chris Pine as they play two railroad employees whose day is about to take a turn for the life-threatening.

A combination of "human error and bad luck" has resulted in a chain of events that sees an unmanned freight train, or, to give it its proper title, a "missile the size of the Chrysler Building" careering through the Pennsylvania countryside on a collision course with a densely populated town. The "missile" bit comes courtesy of the fact that the train is loaded with explosive material.

Big-buck production values, minimal amounts of CGI together with the director's wizardry (quick cuts, shaky cam, etc) ensure that a rendezvous with the edge of your seat is guaranteed. Unstoppable doesn't have to be just a boys' night out.


Unstoppable is now showing

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