Rebellion Four stars Netflix; no cert
When Brendan Behan quipped about the first item on the Republican agenda being the split, he might as well have been speaking about any group of impassioned zealots sparking off one another.
This warts-and-all documentary about the sharp ascent of climate movement Extinction Rebellion is an illustration of how, when a community assembles – especially one defined by a common belief or conviction – the path to progress will inevitably be laced with disputes and acrimony.
That these unglamorous things are charted in this film co-directed by Maia Kenworthy and Elena Sanchez Bellot is evidence of its documentarian credentials (there is also an executive production credit for Kevin Macdonald, one of the most lauded non-fiction filmmakers at work today). This is no hagiography. It is a portrait of the people that drove the locomotive, and it knows that it would be doing the environmental community a disservice by glossing over its internal disharmonies.
The massive – but evidently not massive enough – global movement “XR” became a brand that elicited as much admiration as scorn. This, we’re reminded, was due to its signature penchant for non-violent but hugely disruptive civil disobedience that could bring London to a standstill (“Awfully sorry to be a pain but we’re saving our planet,” one handheld placard reads).
The linchpins and timeline of increasing audacity they worked towards make for sound narrative building blocks to depict what it was like behind the scenes between 2018 and 2021. It was during this period that XR went from a small group of UK activists terrified about the political apathy towards climate and biodiversity collapse, to a proper global movement – one that could shut down a metropolis one day and be negotiating in the halls of power the next.
We meet Roger Hallam, an uncompromising organic farmer who initiated XR – something he jokes about with faux modesty – after seeing his yields decline. For him, only suffragette levels of arrests, all provoked through non-violent means in the tradition of Gandhi or Martin Luther King, will make the movement grow to the figures needed. But Hallam’s desire for a stunt begins to compromise the group’s growing validity, and when daughter Savannah becomes a youth leader in XR, the pair almost inevitably come to blows.
Providing urgently needed credibility early on was Farhana Yamin, an internationally recognised environmental lawyer who, tellingly, joins the movement after three decades of fruitless climate summits.
Yamin is the film’s heartbeat and endowed with a potent but somehow unassuming heroism. Supported by her husband and children, we see her mentally preparing to superglue her hand to the offices of Shell. She also leads the delegation invited to discuss demands with then-environment secretary Michael Gove after the noise and chaos of XR’s city-centre demonstrations becomes too deafening.
Desperation brought Yamin on board. Having been at the coalface of the climate fight for so long, she had seen first-hand not only the flimsy assurances of world leaders for the cameras but also the underhanded tactics of the fossil fuel lobby. And you can still see flecks of conflict in her as she rolls the dice with this literally radical new approach to something she has devoted her life to.
The soap opera is subtly underpinned by reminders that the over-arching cause is both high-stakes and against the clock. Rebellion never labours the facts about climate change to us, but it does allow the very real eco-anxiety of its subjects to come through now and then.
As activists are carried away by police or manhandled off a train roof by a mob of furious commuters, you find that this is ultimately a study in conviction, sacrifice, and youthful determination, even if the whole mission results in burnout for some of its players. The philosophy and politics of civil disobedience become another frame to the whole saga as we are told that the UK parliament is debating a bill to curtail non-violent protest. The fight for the planet is also one of justice.
It is hard to think of a social movement that has caused such a generational stir as XR has. This is a worthy document about how that fuse was lit.
In select cinemas; Cert 16
This should have been a hit. Taking its cue from a 2010 novel by Deborah Kay Davies, director Harry Wootliff’s earnest, enigmatic drama stars Ruth Wilson (fabulous as always) as Kate, a lonely benefits officer living in Kent. One day, an ex-con (Tom Burke, terrific) with dodgy highlights walks into her offices. We know him only by the moniker ‘Blond’. And yes, Kate should probably stay away from Blond, but that’s not going to happen.
She sorts his paperwork; he asks her out for lunch. In the end, they skip the sandwich, indulging instead in a spot of shenanigans in the car park. Thus begins a toxic relationship like every other, with Kate falling head over heels and struggling to see the truth: that he’s bad news and that a boyfriend isn’t supposed to steal his girlfriend’s car.
Wootliff’s film is finely performed, and Wilson is especially good as a woman who hasn’t yet figured out what this growing up business is all about. Trouble is, True Things goes nowhere and offers little surprise – and zero tension – in the storytelling department. Instead, it’s a frustratingly ordinary and annoyingly clunky display that spends most of its time running around in circles. All set-up and no pay-off.
Better Nate Than Ever
Disney+; Cert 9+
Newcomer Rueby Wood is Nate Foster, a wide-eyed, theatre-loving 13-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who dreams of seeing his name up in lights. After Nate misses out on the lead in the school musical, he and his best pal Libby (Aria Brooks) decide to take a trip to New York City.
Why? Because one of their favourite movies, Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, is getting the Broadway musical treatment, and our boy with the golden voice reckons he has a chance of making the cut at the open auditions. There is just one tiny problem: his parents will never allow it. Luckily for Nate, mam, dad and brother are away for the weekend – and you can totally see where this is going.
Based on his own semi-autobiographical novel, writer and director Tim Federle says he pitched Better Nate Than Ever to Disney as “Ferris Bueller meets Billy Elliot”. That’s a high bar, and his film boasts neither the comic timing of the former nor the low-key magic of the latter. It also seems confused about whether or not it’s a musical itself. Still, it’s an undeniably charming endeavour that boasts important themes, a promising young lead and a winning turn from Lisa Kudrow as Nate’s estranged actress aunt. Worth a watch.
The Bad Guys
In cinemas; Cert G
Based on the million-selling children’s books by Aaron Blabey, the latest effort from DreamWorks Animation starts well but eventually loses the run of itself.
In a world inhabited by humans and anthropomorphic animals, a group of criminals known as ‘The Bad Guys’ try to keep things exciting. Mr Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell) is their leader. Awkwafina is Ms Tarantula (the hacker); Anthony Ramos is Mr Piranha (the muscle), so on and so forth. After a major heist goes sideways, the lads are looking at some serious prison time. But they may have a way out if they agree to a social experiment that will involve – wait for it – being good guys for a change. Chaos ensues.
There’s a bang of Quentin Tarantino off the opening segment, a breathless and brilliantly orchestrated robbery sequence in which screenwriters Etan Cohen (no, not that one) and Hilary Winston use up all their best punchlines. Afterwards, The Bad Guys slips on a banana skin and ties itself up in one too many formulaic subplots. The jokes fizzle out, the fun dries up and the Ocean’s Eleven gags fall short. It’s a real shame, because that intro is dynamite. A crushing defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
By Chris Wasser