Cinema: Secret In Their Eyes - not a patch on the original
Secret In Their Eyes, Cert: 15A
Reviewed this week are Secret In Their Eyes, The Propaganda Game, The Forest, Grimsby and The Truth Commissioner.
An OSCAR winner for Best Foreign Language film in 2010 and a triumph of vision and atmosphere, Juan Jose Campanella's dark thriller The Secret In Their Eyes was precisely the kind of gem from an overseas market - in this case, Argentina - you prayed Hollywood would never get its inspiration-starved claws on. Alas, in an era when even the most half-baked of film brands is compulsively rebooted or remade, it really shouldn't be any surprise that rights were secured for a star-fuelled US version.
The always excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave) anchors the entire film as Ray, a counter-terrorism investigator for the FBI in Los Angeles. He arrives back after a 13-year exile speaking of a new lead in a grisly murder-rape that was never closed. The victim was the teenage daughter of fellow investigator and close friend Jess (Julia Roberts). Efforts by Ray, Jess and district attorney ally Claire (Nicole Kidman) to convict the killer came to nothing as the culprit was protected from on high as an anti-terrorism intel source.
Like Campanella's film, the story toggles between Ray's new drive to bring the killer to justice and the events of 13 years previously. The yearning love story is as prominent here too, but Kidman and Ejiofor's chemistry is shaky. Wisely, writer-director Billy Ray doesn't dare try to reshoot Campanella's iconic stadium sequence but he does tinker with the ending, importing an all-too-cosy resolution that softens the story's key noir notes. Not a patch on the original, then, but it was never likely to be thus. 3 Stars
The Propaganda Game
Director Álvaro Longoria gets five stars for effort but just two for results - through no fault of his own - in this intriguing but unsatisfactory look at the mysterious world that is North Korea. Longoria was granted unprecedented, but very guarded, access into Pyongyang via the strange link that is his fellow Spaniard Alejandro Cao de Benós.
Disillusioned by the left in Spain, Cao de Benós became enchanted by what he saw in the DPRK. His enchantment became devotion and he was rewarded with a position in the government and a profile in the country where he is known as 'The Spanish Soldier'. A strong proponent of communism and the wonders of Kim Jong-Un, he is a powerful propaganda weapon for the regime. The crew were escorted round many beautiful but empty new facilities and allowed talk to locals, some of whom visibly sweated under the questioning.
Longoria asked about rumours of officials executed by dogs, religious persecution and tales of unicorns, and each was refuted as western propaganda. Journalists, Asia experts, Amnesty and UN officials are all interviewed to offer perspective and a huge amount of work is evident in an attempt to answer issues fairly. Longoria also wonders repeatedly how the regime is funded and although he gets no definitive answers, he does offer suggestions by showing in whose interest it is that the DPRK continues to exist.
It is an interesting glimpse into a secret world, and while there are few clear answers, Longoria does succeed in demonstrating that propaganda is a tool of all regimes and we need to be careful about what truth we accept. 2 Stars
Now Showing IFI
From the very get-go, The Forest lays down a marker for the kind of film it intends to be. The title is spelled out in large capitals in blood red on a black backdrop. Subtlety will not be a key concern for director and feature debutante Jason Zada, you feel.
The most regrettable thing about all this is that Natalie Dormer, pictured above, should be anyway involved. For a while now, the actress has been lazily typecast as saucy or calculating English roses. You'd have hoped her first front-and-centre lead role would be in slightly more lasting and worthy material. The Forest, sadly, does not qualify in this respect.
Dormer does her best all the same. She plays Sara, who sets off for the Far East after learning that her identical twin sister Jess has gone missing in Aokigahara, a forest by Japan's Mount Fuji famed for being a final destination for those contemplating suicide.
Sara touches down in Tokyo (where Zada makes sure to rip-off Sofia Coppola's neon taxi window motif from Lost In Translation) before heading out to the national park. Almost immediately she is being freaked out by Japanese people, what with their foreign expressions and basement-level morgues underneath their tourist information centres.
To her rescue comes cocky US journalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney) who, over a beer, listens to the story of her parents' murder-suicide. He decides to join her on her camping mission into the woods to find Jess. Sooner than you can say "rustles outside the tarpaulin", it's all gone very wrong indeed.
When I occasionally dismiss horror as a redundant cinematic genre, it is because of films like The Forest. It has nothing to say except that trees and nature and stuff are scary, weird things at night, made all the more hellish by depriving one of Wifi or a mobile signal. Its frights, cheap and tacky as you like, are built entirely on sound design, like 99pc of all horror films these days. Dormer gets no support from Kinney in their scenes together, and by the end is made scurry about dementedly like a schlocky B-movie slasher siren. Her agent should be ashamed. 1 Star
It is one of the strengths of Sacha Baron Cohen's comedy that it polarises people. Always based around a strong character played by Baron Cohen, who has undeniable acting skill and huge physicality and presence, the humour is in your face, crude but clever, political and boundary-pushing. Fans of one of his films don't necessarily like all of them, either, and Grimsby is perhaps the closest he has come to pleasing them all. There are lots of funny moments, some laugh- out-loud, but family fun this most certainly is not.
Nobby (Baron Cohen), Grimsby native and Engerland soccer devotee is everything Daily Mail readers have been taught to fear: welfare-dependent, hedonistic, unhealthy and fertile. Sebastian (Mark Strong), the younger brother from whom Nobby was separated in childhood, and with whom he has dreamed of being reunited, is a top secret agent. But, thanks to Nobby, Sebastian ends up on the run from his own people at MI6. Where better for a super suave secret agent to hide than in The Trawler pub in Grimsby? Lots of other places, as it turns out, but by then it's too late and Nobby becomes an impromptu accomplice in a world-saving endeavour.
The satire is much gentler than in previous SBC outings and the humour is hit-and-miss. Some of the jokes are crude but sharp, lots just crude and they don't really hit the target. But there is one scene in particular that is so out there in terms of concept that it deserves a medal. Oddly, there are lots of excellent cameos and almost all are squandered. Ricky Tomlinson, Johnny Vegas and Ian McShane have so little to do it looks like their scenes were rewritten in the editing suite. It's proving divisive amongst critics, and while it missed marks, it made me smile often and laugh more than once. 3 Stars
The Truth Commissioner
With a hangdog expression and an air of professional detachment, diplomat Henry Stanfield (Roger Allam) arrives in Belfast to oversee a Stormont Commission set up to bring closure to the families of victims of the Troubles. As soon as he hits the tarmac, a hive of political operators is tugging at his lapels.
At the core of the lobbying is the case of Conor Roche, a teenager whose IRA murderer was never brought to justice. Present that day was current Sinn Fein minister Francis Gilroy (Sean McGinley), who is nervous about Stanfield's arrival and that of an exiled witness (Barry Ward) from the US. Pulling the strings is slippery Sinn Fein spin doctor Johnny Rafferty (Game of Thrones' Conleth Hill), who, along with an MI5 spy (Tom Goodman-Hill), is leaning on the Truth Czar to put the Peace Process before this cold case.
Were I a Sinn Fein candidate knocking on doors last week, I'd be a bit taken aback by The Truth Commissioner and the light in which it paints modern Sinn Fein. That aside, this is a functional and unadorned drama that never breaks into a canter. Director Declan Recks has worked almost exclusively for the small screen, which may be why this has such a regrettable 'straight-to-TV' feel about it. Allam, a character actor of repute, strolls through the film without breaking a sweat, which is insufficient given his character's back story. 3 Stars
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