Wheatley misfires with a shoot-em-up
- Free Fire (18, 90mins), 2 Stars
- The Boss Baby (G, 97mins), 3 Stars
- Graduation (15A, 128mins), 4 Stars
- The Autopsy of Jane Doe (16, 86mins), 4 Stars
For the last decade or so Ben Wheatley has been one of the most exciting voices in British cinema. In films like Sightseers, Kill List and A Field in England, he has brilliantly revitalised tired genres with tight scripts and non-existent budgets. But as his star has risen and the money has come, he seems to have lost focus somewhat.
Now comes Free Fire, another genre picture with a pared down premise. It's the 1970s, and a pair of IRA guys (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley) have come to America to buy guns. They're meeting with a gang of arms dealers led by a slick American (Armie Hammer) and a flashy South African (Sharlto Copley), when a dispute arises between two underlings and a run-down warehouse is transformed into the OK Corral.
This film is at its strongest early on, when the combatants-to-be exchange petty jibes like dinner guests in a Harold Pinter play. Nothing much wrong with the acting either: Jack Reynor has fun as a hot-headed goon, and Brie Larson plays a firearms expert who gets stuck in the middle. But once the shooting starts Free Fire loses its sparkle, and descends into sub-Tarantino territory.
The eternal theme of sibling rivalry is explored in very little detail by The Boss Baby, a brisk and breezy DreamWorks animation that never quite resolves its muddled concept but is genuinely amusing in parts. Tim has been basking in the affection of his devoted parts for seven glorious years when he gets bad news - he will shortly have to cope with a baby brother.
When Boss Baby arrives he's wearing a tiny suit, carries a briefcase and appears to be the head of some huge baby-making corporation. Tim hates him on sight but the brothers will eventually join forces to save their little family.
The tiny business baby thing is all in Tim's head of course, because what we're dealing with here is a simple case of baby envy. But the rivalry metaphor is clumsy, and it's Alec Baldwin's wonderful Boss Baby voice-over that almost saves the day.
Cristain Mungiu led a new wave of Romanian film-makers who, in the mid-2000s, began exploring the psychological legacy of the Ceausescu regime. Beyond the Hills and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days brilliantly dissected the dysfunction of corruption of Communist-era Romania, and though set in the present, Graduation is of a similar standard. Convinced that the future will be grim for his daughter if she remains at home, surgeon Romeo (Adrian Titieni) pushes his daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) to excel in her final school exams.
If she gets enough points she'll be able to study medicine in London, but on the morning of her first exam she's raped near her school. To make matters worse, Romeo had dropped her off a few blocks from school because he was in a rush to see his mistress. As the police investigate, his paternal authority begin to crumble, and Eliza starts questioning her entire life. In this wonderfully orchestrated film, Mungiu illustrates how the omnipresence of backhanders and corruption ruins all achievement and makes real advancement impossible.
And finally, a word about The Autopsy of Jane Doe, a low-budget horror that, bizarrely, is getting a one-night release before departing to the parallel universe of streaming. That's a pity, because it's a very nicely handled chiller set in a small-town morgue. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch play father-and-son morticians who are puzzled when they open up the pristine corpse of a young woman to find occult runes tattooed on the inside of her skin. If you have a morbid fear of death (and let's face it, who doesn't), this may not be the film for you.