Wednesday 22 November 2017

Film review: The Infiltrator - serviceable but slightly forgettable

Cert: 15A. Now showing.

Bryan Cranston stars in 'The Infiltrator'
Bryan Cranston stars in 'The Infiltrator'

The Irish actor and writer Mark O'Halloran recently mused to me that Bryan Cranston came from the clowning tradition of acting, all exaggerated movements rather than seamless immersion into a role. Go back to Malcolm In The Middle and O'Halloran's logic is plain to see. While it suits such fare and even Breaking Bad's more camp moments, it has an adverse effect with more conventional outings such as this rather by-numbers biopic of undercover fed Robert Mazur's grapples with the Medellin Cartel. You look at Cranston playing the role and you don't see an inhabited depiction of Mr Mazur. You see Cranston playing the role.

Mazur was a US Customs Special Agent who in 1986 hatched a plan to follow the money trail of Pablo Escobar's drug empire. To do this, he went undercover, posing as a big-league money launderer called Bob Musella. The former IRS accountant had to cosy up to lethally dangerous cartel men, with help from fellow agent Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) posing as his wife, and record conversations via a rigged briefcase.

Like any such project, The Infiltrator shamelessly exploits the cheesy fashions of the era - the hair, the collars, the aviators - and liberally chucks in music that fits this narrative. It spends an hour saying "look at how different things were," before any real threat and danger are brought to the screenplay.

For these annoyances, it is hard to stay too mad at The Infiltrator. The adaptation by Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) of his mother Ellen's screenplay is a serviceable if slightly forgettable retread of the undercover genre. John Leguizamo makes a welcome outing as Mazur's more "street" partner and our own Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (Love/Hate) slips into the Hollywood dimension seamlessly as a fellow fed agent. 3 Stars

Hilary A White

Blair Witch (2016)

Cert: 16. Now showing

In 1999 the Blair Witch Project scared the bejoolies out of millions of people, with men more than women reporting levels of terror not felt since The Exorcist. It made a fortune and spawned the found footage genre. Current horror golden boys, director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett have been charged with revisiting Blair Witch and scaring a new generation, but arguably it was always going to be an impossible task.

James (James Allen McClune) was a four-year-old when his sister Heather went missing in the Burkittsville woods and her disappearance has shaped his life. Following some more found footage, Peter enlists three friends including one (Callie Hernandez) who is making a documentary and they trot off back to Burkittsville. They end up being railroaded into going camping in the creepy woods with weirdo Lane (Wes Robinson) and his girlfriend Talia (Valorie Curry.)

First Ashley (Corbin Reid) gets a nasty cut that slows them all down, then scary things start to happen. There is the standard horror mix of red herrings, genuine creepy event, panic and mishap and the filmmakers concentrate on using fear, rather than gore, to generate fear. There are some little jump moments but what works best in terms of evoking emotion is the creation and milking of the characters’ fear and a strong sense of being trapped. One scene in particular taps into everyone’s worst nightmare. Hernandez does a nice job of channelling real terror, but really this is a victim of its forerunner’s success. The found footage thing, no matter how updated the technology, is done to death and this sequel never really takes off.  2 Stars

Aine O’Connor

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Cert: 12A. Selected cinemas

Much like we Irish, the Kiwis see no problem with having a bit of a titter at themselves and their islander idiosyncrasies. For this reason, audiences here should get a hell of a kick out of this spunky comedy adventure from Taika Waititi (who gave us the top-notch 2014 mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows).

Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a pudgy inner city tearaway who has been in and out of orphanages. He is brought to a rundown farmstead in the wilds of Southern Island New Zealand and slowly settles into life with Bella and Hector (Sam Neill flexing his rarely used comedy muscle). Bella dies suddenly prompting welfare services to review Ricky’s placement, something he is not keen on. He makes a rubbish attempt to go it alone in the bush before Hector finds him. A mishap prevents the two from returning home and a state manhunt ensues when it is believed that Hector has kidnapped the boy. The truth is that, out in the wilderness, the gruff Hector is starting to warm to the soft urban brat. The duo dub themselves the Wilderpeople and set out to evade Rachel House’s mean social worker and the authorities.

A smash hit in its homeland, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a tidy little jewel of a film that mixes up the bellylaughs and the soft-centred charms effortlessly well. Every step of Ricky and Hector’s way reveals wonderful fringe characters, such as the hilarious priest at Bella’s funeral (played by the director himself) and Flight of the Chonchords regular Rhys Darby as a feral conspiracy nut (“The national rugby team? They’re not human”). 4 Stars

Hilary A White

The Siege of Jadotville

Cert: 15A. Opens tomorrow. 

The fate of the Irish UN Battalion who resisted a six-day attack in Jadotville in the Congo is one of the more shameful passages of modern Irish life. The 150 men of that company and their equally heroic leader, Commander Patrick Quinlan, were shunned on their return after a month in a prison camp following their surrender. It was only through pressure from their families that a 2004 enquiry was held into what actually happened in that 1961 incident and the men could shed the “Jadotville Jack” slur and have their bravery recognised.

Jamie Dornan ably steps into the role of Quinlan in this functional retelling of the events. After a brief intro prepping at home and an expository reminder that Ireland is a neutral country not prone to military conflicts, the action turns to sun-baked Congo where a secessionist government in Katanga is using French and Belgian mercenaries to protect its uranium mines. When a militia loyal to that government attacks the small outpost where the Irishmen are stationed, Quinlan, right-hand man Sgt Jack Prendergast (Jason O’Mara) and the troops bed down and inflict heavy causalities despite being hugely outnumbered, short on ammo and supplies, and largely left for dead by pawn-moving overseers back at headquarters.

This Netflix Original production does a commendable job in bringing the truth to a wider audience. Newcomer Richie Smyth’s film is light on frills, as it should be, the only indulgence being some persistent mood music. Dornan puts in a sterling turn alongside a solid cast that includes Michael McElhatton and Rob Strong (as “The Cruiser” himself, Conor Cruise O’Brien). 4 Stars

Hilary A White

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