Friday 20 September 2019

Film of the week: The Informer

Cert: 16; Now showing

Joel Kinnaman plays an ex-con working undercover for the FBI in 'The Informer'
Joel Kinnaman plays an ex-con working undercover for the FBI in 'The Informer'

Pete Koslow (Joel Kinnaman) is a teak-tough Iraq war vet and ex-con working undercover for the FBI to bust a nasty Polish drug cartel.

When an encounter with a fellow undercover NYPD cop ends in a shooting, both crime kingpin The General (a superbly menacing Eugene Lipinski) and Pete's FBI handlers (Rosamund Pike, Clive Owen) see opportunities in pegging the man's death on him and sending him to prison to manage a flow of narcotics through the wards.

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Meanwhile, an NYPD cop (rapper-turned-actor Common) on the trail of his colleague's death is snooping around and following the evidence towards Pete, the drug empire, and the FBI bigwigs who are pulling the strings for their own interests.

For Pete, all that matters is surviving the lion's den of prison by keeping his head down and not getting rumbled. If he can do this, there's a chance he can make it out to his wife (Ana de Armas) and daughter safe and sound.

What perhaps is most striking about this second feature by Italian director Andrea Di Stefano are the committed performances he gets from his cast, his years as an actor clearly gifting him an ability to speak their language.

It's also great to see the excellent Belfast actor Martin McCann in the mix, albeit with precious few lines.

Funnily enough, it is Kinnaman himself at the centre of the whole thing who is the least charismatic element here, his role primarily to do the tough talk and frowning expressions. That said, you couldn't really say he isn't competent at the job in hand.

Based on Scandi-crime novel Three Seconds by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, the plot also has a reliable, rounded quality to it as it weds prison drama, cartel thriller and crooked-cop saga, so despite twists, turns and parallel lines, we land squarely at a conclusion.

The ratcheting tension is metered steadily as Pete is put through a three-way wringer.

Undeniably fit for its genre remit.

★★★★ Hilary A white


The Souvenir

Cert: 15A; Now showing

The filmmaking of Joanna Hogg can be characterised by spaciousness, naturalistic patience and a keen ear for subtle sonic ambience. These qualities are very much on show in this typically sensual fourth feature that centres unashamedly on the writer-director's autobiographical film school experience.

With a graduation project to work on, Julie (Honor Swinton-Byrne) is coming out of her shell as she explores her artistic voice. She meets Anthony (Tom Burke) at a party and slowly enters into a relationship with him. The suave, slightly louche man speaks in a plummy purr and seems to know exactly what to say at any given moment. But as they get closer, it gradually becomes clear that Anthony is not all he seems, and Julie is putting herself at risk.

As a biographical snapshot, The Souvenir is evocative, like flicking through musty Polaroids from romantic years gone by. Hogg weaves lots of artistry into her direction - dynamic framing, grainy stock, symbolism - that speaks to the academic setting. This sensibility and a lack of conventional pacing mean it won't suit everyone but cinephiles are strongly encouraged to investigate. Tilda Swinton (mother of the lead) offers sturdy support as the concerned mother.

★★★★ Hilary A White


A Million Little Pieces

Cert: 16; Now showing 

In an age when barefaced lying is so prevalent, the fuss made over James Frey's truth-tweaking in his book seems somewhat over the top. But it is the essence of the book that Sam Taylor-Johnson and her husband Aaron have taken in their adaptation which she directs and he stars in. Really it is a straight-up rehab drama with all the tropes of that genre, but as an empathetic view of addiction it works.

James (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is 23 and a crack addict when his brother (Charlie Hunnam) puts him in rehab. There he meets an array of characters from the glamorous Leonard (Billy Bob Thornton) to the sexually inappropriate John (Giovanni Ribisi), therapist Joanne (Juliette Lewis) and love interest Lilly (Odessa Young). It is more about addiction and rehab than a character study but this move towards a kinder view of addiction is important. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor


Asterix: Secret Of The Magic Potion

Cert: PG; Now showing

Although primarily a Gallic concern, the Asterix brand is a mighty one indeed - and one that shows no signs of wilting despite the changing whims of younger readers.

When film adaptations of the comic books by Rene Goscinny and illustrator Albert Uderzo underwent a change from live-action to computer-animation with 2014's The Mansions of the Gods, the marriage was a successful one.

The elasticated action and dunder-headed goofing are still rampant - meaning that it's an exhausting experience if you are over the age of 12. But there are brains on show too, as we follow Asterix and Obelix on a zany, tongue-in-cheek quest to find a young druid to fill the ageing Getafix's shoes.

As they do so, an evil rival from Getafix's past is intent on stealing the secret recipe for a magic potion that is the root of the Gauls' Roman-clobbering strength.

If you do get trapped at a screening of Alexandre Astier and Louis Clichy's film with your tribe of tykes, there will at least be a litany of pop-culture references and winking nods to smirk at between the flying shapes.

Just don't be surprised if you need a good lie-down afterwards. ★★★ Hilary A White

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