Wednesday 19 December 2018

Film of the week: Black 47

Cert: 15A; now showing

James Frecheville is Feeney
James Frecheville is Feeney
Marie Colvin was fearless

Under-represented in movieland, the Great Hunger is long overdue a harrowing celluloid depiction to tell the world what happened exactly. Black 47, perhaps one of the most hyped Irish films in recent memory, is not that depiction. Lance Daly's film has more to do with Sergio Leone than Cecil Woodham-Smith, and that might be its greatest strength.

In the spirit of all good revenge westerns, a grim, battle-scarred avenger rides in and discovers injustice. Australian actor James Frecheville is Feeney, a Connaught Ranger who, as the title alludes, arrives back to his Connemara home following duty in Afghanistan in a bleak 1847. There, he finds his family (including a sister-in-law played by Sarah Greene) ravaged by brutal tenant laws and his community starving in the ditch.

This does not go down at all well with Feeney, who sets forth to fix the wagons of landlords, bailiffs, constabulary and anyone else who has had a hand in these crimes.

Assigned to stop him is Feeney's former comrade Hannah (Hugo Weaving) who knows well how difficult a task this will be.

Shot with a deathly pallor to everything - part pyre smoke, part malnourishment - Black 47 is alive with atmosphere and dread. It warps us into a setting at once familiar and yet hellish to behold, caked in mud 'n' blood and devoid of any real humanity.

While rough around the edges, taken as a gothic-tinged swashbuckler that delights in its comicbook tendencies, it is fun and effective. It is also brings together a notable cast that numbers Jim Broadbent, Stephen Rea, Greene, Moe Dunford and man-of-the-moment, Barry Keoghan. ★★★★ Hilary A White

American Animals

Cert: 15A; Now showing

There's a point where things go from being an idea to becoming a plan, and it is this, and so much more, on which documentary maker Bart Layton's first feature film is built. And in it Barry Keoghan adds another great performance to his already impressive list.

The film sets its tone straight off - "This is not based on a true story," becomes "This is a true story," suggesting that to an extent truth is a matter of perspective.

In Kentucky in 2004, four university students decided to take a casually mentioned plan and run with it, for different reasons. Spencer Reinhard (Keoghan) was concerned that his life was too boring for him to become a great artist; Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) wanted to prove a vague something to a vague 'them'; Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) got drafted in for his logic; and Chas Allen (Blake Jenner) for his car. Then there was the money they might make from selling the priceless book, The Birds of America, which they planned to steal.

Like most people, their knowledge of heists was gleaned from the movies, and scenes from these movies float through the film.

There are interviews with the men now, and some of their parents, reflecting on what happened.

Technically it's almost show-offy which is appropriate to what four rather entitled men thought they could do. It does perhaps make the film a little soulless on occasion, but overall it makes for an original and entertaining tale. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Cert: Club; selected cinemas

The zeitgeist of gender politics and Margaret Atwood dramas on the TV is captured in very admirable style in this indie drama by Iranian-American director Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behaviour).

Cameron (Chloe Grace Moretz) is caught in the back of a car with her secret girlfriend on prom night. Her parents deceased, her guardians send her off to a "conversion camp" in order to have her "dysfunction" Bible-bashed out of her.

There, she meets other youngsters like her. Jane (Sasha Lane) is a dreadlocked amputee who's worked out how to survive the horror of scripture sessions and sing-alongs, while Adam (Forrest Goodluck) is a native American youth who grows weed in the woods. There's a tragic side too - young and confused "inmates" who are being brainwashed by camp leader Dr March (Jennifer Ehle) to essentially hate themselves.

While the politics is writ large, it manages to avoid turning into a lecture by focusing on the characters. Moretz gives a brave turn in a challenging role. ★★★★ Hilary a white

Puzzle

Cert: 15A;  Now showing

Blatant metaphor alert! The humble jigsaw puzzle has been emptied out all over this charming screenplay about a doormat mother and wife (Kelly Macdonald). She, you see, is looking for the missing piece in her life, one that fits just perfectly, so she starts with the edges, then fills in the middle, etc. You get the idea.

I'm doing Marc Turtletaub's latest a disservice, because while the concept of a lost soul finding her place in the world through the meticulous process of jigsaws might seem a little fey - and it is - Puzzle brims with too much wisdom and heart for it to be in any way a problem.

Macdonald is in award-courting form as Agnes, an apologetic and meek domestic goddess for unevolved blue-collar husband Louie (David Denman) and their two teenage sons. Tidying up after her own birthday party, she unwraps a jigsaw gifted to her, and finds she has quite a knack for putting the things together.

At a specialist jigsaw store in New York (how hipster), she sees an ad seeking a teammate for an upcoming tournament. The door is opened by an enigmatic and slightly mystifying gentleman (Irrfan Kahn) who lives in bare opulence and seems slightly untethered to the world. Changes occur in our heroine.

What a little jewel of a film this is. Sumptuous looking (thanks to DOP Chris Norr), excellently acted and scripted, light on its feet but filled with a sense of purpose, and, at its core, a sharply observed character study. Hard to fault. ★★★★★ Hilary A White

Under The Wire

Club Cert; Now showing IFI

2018-09-09_ent_43849569_I1.JPG
Marie Colvin was fearless
 

Exceptional people tend not to suffer fools gladly, and war reporter Marie Colvin was of that breed. Being fearless, determined, on a mission and unwilling to compromise could make it difficult to find a photographer with whom she could work.

But in Paul Conroy, The Sunday Times found the ideal colleague for its award-winning correspondent - and Christopher Martin's documentary about the last days of Colvin's life is based on Conroy's book. Together they went illegally into Syria, to the city of Homs to shine a light on what the regime was doing to civilians. Conroy was seriously injured, Colvin killed which might seem reckless but this doc gives real insight into the woman, her motivation, the mission and the murder she wanted to expose. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

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