Saturday 15 December 2018

Hammer-wielding Joaquin a smash hit

  • You Were Never Really Here (18, 90mins) - 5stars
  • Gringo (15A, 110mins) - 2 stars
  • Sweet Country (15A, 113mins) - 5 stars
  • Wonder Wheel (No Cert, IFI, 101mins) - 2 stars
Hammer time: Joaquin Phoenix is superb in You Were Never Really Here
Hammer time: Joaquin Phoenix is superb in You Were Never Really Here
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Lynne Ramsay is one of the most astute and talented directors working today, and her latest film is something really special. You Were Never Really Here stars Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, a former soldier who now works in private security and specialises in rescuing forced prostitutes.

His methods are brutal, his weapon of choice a hammer, but he gets the job done, which is why a Senator contacts Joe and asks him to rescue his missing daughter, Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), who's working in a high-class brothel. He duly finds her, but soon Joe is up to his neck in a political conspiracy, his progress not helped by his own addictions and psychological frailty.

What's interesting about this film is not so much its story as the clammy, visceral way Ramsay tells it. It's breathless, bleary stuff, pure cinema, and Joaquin Phoenix is superb in the lead. I rewatched Gladiator recently and was struck by how good Phoenix is at playing people who have something wrong with them. There's certainly something wrong with Joe.

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One could, if one was being kind, assume that the makers of Gringo were aiming for that elusive jokey crime thriller tone so brilliantly achieved by Midnight Run. Whatever they were aiming for, they missed it by a mile, because Nash Edgerton's film is a wildly inconsistent mishmash.

Edgerton's brother, Joel, plays Richard Rusk, a swaggering pharmaceutical executive who's overseen the secret development of a potential goldmine - a licensed medical marijuana pill.

He and his mistress (Charlize Theron) are also about to sell the company to the highest bidder, throwing numerous colleagues under the bus. Chief among these is Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo), a gullible underling who's been sent to Mexico to strike a new deal with the company's drug suppliers, who are in thrall to a cartel boss.

In trouble, and out of his depth, Harold decides to stage his own kidnapping. Sharlto Copley turns up as a slick mercenary and Amanda Seyfried plays a passing tourist, but all are thrown to the wolves by a messy screenplay that never decides which tone to pick.

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Many great films have emerged from Australia, but few as good as Sweet Country. Warwick Thornton's beautifully photographed drama is a kind of western set on the baking plains of the Northern Territory in the early 1920s. Hamilton Morris is Sam Kelly, a quiet aboriginal labourer who has the good fortune to work for a kindly boss, Fred Smith (Sam Neill). But he's a glaring exception in a brutal world where white settlers treat natives like slaves.

When Fred is approached by a neighbour called Marsh (Ewen Leslie) for help with a new roof, he lets Sam go with him. But Marsh is a drunken, angry war veteran who seems to think his dog has more rights than Aboriginals and rapes Sam's wife. This will lead to sudden violence and a dogged manhunt. Sweet Country has the terse, unsentimental grandeur of a John Ford western and memorably evokes a time and attitude of which all Australians should be ashamed.

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Woody Allen's 48th feature arrives into a hostile and unreceptive environment thanks to the #MeToo movement and the resurrection of an abuse scandal. Meanwhile we must discuss Wonder Wheel, a drama set in Coney Island in the 1950s. Kate Winslet is Ginny Rannell, a tired woman who once dreamt of becoming an actress but now waits tables at a clam joint.

Her husband, Humpty (Jim Belushi) is an excitable drunk and Ginny has taken up with Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a lifeguard with literary aspirations. But when Humpty's estranged and shapely daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) turns up on the run from her mafia husband, all bets are off.

The film's look evokes the 50s flashbacks in Annie Hall, but it's joyless, clumsy stuff, pastiche Clifford Odets.

Irish Independent

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