Saturday 16 December 2017

Movie reviews: Glassland, The Salvation, The Decent One

Paul Whitington reviews this week's other big releases - Irish film Glassland, Danish Western The Salvation and documentary The Decent One.

Though I was less impressed with Gerard Barrett's début feature Pilgrim Hill than some of my colleagues, it was made with the kind of visual flair and psychological insight that suggested better things to come. That promise is fulfilled in Glassland (3*, 15A, 93mins), Barrett's beautifully made kitchen-sink drama that went down a storm at Sundance. Jack Reynor is John, a Dublin taxi driver and latter-day saint who spends most of his free time looking after his alcoholic mother.

Jean (Toni Colette) drinks big, says little and is not exactly house-proud: their terraced home is a bottle-strewn shambles, and she disappears for days on end leaving her poor son to cope with the aftermath.

When she's rushed to hospital a doctor tells John she's killing herself, and fast: he's determined to save her, but doing so will entail a long stay in a clinic, costing €8,000 he just doesn't have. A possible solution presents itself when John's dodgy boss offers him some extra work, and the young man faces a Hobson's choice when he realises that his 'overtime' entails criminality.

The best bits of Glassland come early, as Jean stumbles furiously around the house, and we wait impatiently for her to speak. Her relationship with her son is touching as well as depressing, and in one lovely scene they share a dance to the ghastly pop tunes of Jean's 1980s heyday. Though a trifle rural, Toni Collette's Irish accent is pretty good, and Will Poulter is wonderful as John's best friend. We know how good Jack Reynor is, and in Glassland it's evident he's getting better. This fine film mixes grit and sentiment exceedingly well, and only comes slightly unstuck when the characters decide to explain themselves.

Danish western, anyone? I suppose they have as much right as anyone to take on the genre, which long ago became ossified in cliché and endless symbolism. The Salvation (3*, 15A, 93mins) at least brings a certain exoticism to the party: it's directed by a Dane (Kristian Levring), stars a Dane (Mads Mikkelsen) and was shot in South Africa. Mr Mikkelsen is Jon, a Danish settler in the American west who when we first meet him is grinning excitedly at the prospect of seeing his wife and son for the first time in seven years. It's the last time he smiles, because on the stagecoach back to his settlement they're attacked, his son is killed and his wife raped and murdered.

That kind of life experience will just plain rile some folk, and Jon tracks the stage and kills everyone associated with the unfortunate incident. Only problem is, one of the culprits was the brother of Delarue, the local big cheese, who vows to make his sibling's killer pay.

You may recognise this as the basic plot of half the westerns you've ever seen, and a weak story has worn wafer thin before the film ends. But The Salvation looks wonderful, exults in its violence, and has the added attraction of Eva Green, playing a dusty femme fatale who had her tongue cut out by the Indians. That must have smarted.

The title of Vanessa Lapa's meticulously researched documentary  The Decent One (3*, No Cert, IFI, 96mins) must, I suppose, refers to the fact that Heinrich Himmler was a loving father and fairly devoted family man (he had a mistress but hey, nobody's perfect). However, in all other respects he was an odious human being, a deluded pinhead who should never have been entrusted with a moment's power or responsibility.

He did have a flair for organisation, though, and was the principal architect of the Holocaust, an achievement he remained proud of till his death. In Ms Lapa's film, archive footage both shocking and trite is accompanied by Himmler's correspondence with his wife, daughter and cronies. There's nothing original left to say about this subject, but what does emerge from the film is the baffling blandness of Himmler's personality, such as it was.

Irish Independent

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