The Next Three Days
ANYONE familiar with writer/ director Paul Haggis' 2005 Oscar-sweeping triumph Crash will know that credibility is often the first casualty of his admirable facility for forging suspense-laden set-ups and moments of stirring dramatic intensity. A similar failing afflicts his latest offering, The Next Three Days, but just like the aforementioned, not to the extent that it takes away from the visceral impact of this accomplished thriller starring Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks.
Crowe and Banks feature as John and Lara Brennan, a Pittsburgh-based married couple for whom the term domestic bliss could have been invented. It doesn't last. A bizarre chain of events involving the murder of her boss sees Lara getting jailed for life in a maximum-security prison for a crime she claims she didn't commit. A flashback to the crime casts an incriminating but inconclusive light on her protestations but her husband's faith in her innocence is of the bedrock variety.
Three years on, with judicial appeal routes exhausted, savings depleted and Lara showing symptoms of terminal despair, Crowe resorts to the DIY-jailbreak option in the hope of reuniting his wife with him and their three-year-old child. An audience with a jailbreaker extraordinaire played by Liam Neeson kick-starts a process that requires this mild-mannered, Prius-driving English lecturer to adopt the modus operandi of an assassin. On the edge of your seat yet?
Nah, I wasn't either. At least not initially. Convincing performances from the central players don't disguise the fact that a slow opening has given way to a slower mid-section. Just when you sense proceedings are teetering on the brink of tedium, however, a transformation occurs. The pedestrian has taken a turn for the pulsating and you're suddenly rooting for these guys as this relentless thrillathon hurtles towards its surprisingly touching conclusion.
The King's Speech
BOOKENDED by more famous monarchs, namely his brother and daughter, Britain's King George VI has slipped through popular history without much notice. He was, however, the reluctant but dutiful king who ruled during a time of great turbulence, the Second World War and the partial dissolution of the British Empire, after his older brother Edward abdicated to marry Mrs Simpson.
Much of his reluctance to speak in public was born of a severe stammer he had had since childhood. He consulted many physicians who tried, unsuccessfully, various methods to cure him. His wife Elizabeth, however, found Lionel Logue and The King's Speech essentially revolves around these two men: the prince (Colin Firth), a slightly conflicted product of antique protocol, and Logue (Geoffrey Rushe) the Australian who so disliked protocol. It's the story of their professional relationship, the times, a clash of cultures and beliefs and, mostly, their friendship.
Cleverly directed by Tom Hooper, and cleverly shot with both tight facial close-ups and sweeping panoramas, it is the cast who make it great. The two central performances by unstarry but really appealing actors are wonderful. They totally take on their roles of doubt and belief.
The supporting cast -- with Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth and Guy Pearce as Prince Edward -- are excellent. The script is very good and there are nice touches of humour that keep it fresh and the characters warm. It's two hours long but evenly paced and there is little, if any, slack.
EARLY on in Blue Valentine, Dean says he believes men to be inherently more romantic than women, that while women spend their lives dreaming of white knights they marry for more pragmatic reasons, whereas men date for pragmatic reasons and marry for love.
In many ways, this encapsulates Blue Valentine, the story of a collapsing marriage between Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) united in their love for their daughter but baffled about their love for each other.
The story unfolds in their present, then switches back and forth between the present and flashbacks, subtly signalled by changes to film stock and colour and to Dean's hairline. The time between the flashbacks diminishes as the contrast grows between what they had and what they have. Cindy not only mourns her own lost dream, but resents that Dean seems to be so happy with himself when she is happy with neither of them. Dean is likeable and passionate, a possible alcoholic who is lost by what he is faced with.
Each has their faults, but neither is blamed. There is no major event, just a slow spiral out of happiness.
The award-winning screenplay was 12 years in the making and finally scheduled to shoot in early 2008. It was delayed following Heath Ledger's death, out of respect for Williams, who had a child with Ledger. She and Gosling give excellent if very different performances, born both of their skill and director/co-writer Derek Cianfrance's Mike Leigh/John Cassavetes-like technique of moving in with the two leads for a month before shooting took place.
It's not flawless; it feels a little long, though there is nothing superfluous in it. The weakest element is in the couple's unfeasible pursuit and rose-tinted coming together. Their disintegration is believable, that they got together less so. But it's a powerful film -- for instance, the sex scenes that upset the US censor would have done so more through their rawness than anything else. Lovers starting out won't believe it; lovers coming to an end will weep.
Opens on Friday
Sunday Indo Living