Saturday 16 December 2017

Over-egged contender for Oskar is a tear-jerker

Aine O'Connor, Padraic McKiernan and Hilary A White

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Cert: 12A

Jonathan Safran Foer's novel, on which this book is based, tells of nine-year-old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), who most likely has Asperger's Syndrome. He had a very close bond with his father Thomas (Tom Hanks) who was killed in the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers. But Oskar hid the answering machine with his dad's last messages, making it part of a shrine hidden from his mum (Sandra Bullock).

A year after 9/11 he finds a key in an envelope marked "Black" and assumes it to be part of a recon mission left for him by his father, so sets about visiting all 427 people in New York named Black. The only person in whom he confides his mission is his grandmother's renter (Max von Sydow) a European refugee who hasn't spoken for decades.

The basic idea of telling the story of a child's loss within a metropolis' loss is interesting. As is the story's broader subject of fathers and sons, the relationships as they are and how people wish they were. But on almost every level -- from the NY-as-happy-village vibe, to the soundtrack, to Oskar's special needs -- this cake is over-egged.

On-screen Oskar is 11 -- but (Asperger's Syndrome notwithstanding) he is simply unbelievable as a character. Horn's performance is great, but that makes no real odds when the character around whom the story hinges is so essentially off.

Director Stephen Daldry made The Hours and The Reader, two exceptions to the rule about novels not making good films. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, however, proves the rule. It's Oscar nominated for Best Film and it's not awful -- but it's not great either. Bring tissues.


Now showing

Safe House

Cert: 15A

YOU don't expect to find Oscar Wilde and WB Yeats references in your average action extravaganza. However, Daniel Espinosa-directed Safe House, starring Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds and Brendan Gleeson, is way above the average espionage thriller.

Not content with just delivering the type of bang-bang that will keep armaments aficionados on board, this slick and stylish affair seeks to stimulate the intellect as well as the senses and succeeds for the most part.

Reynolds stars as Matt Weston, an undercover CIA operative, tasked with operating the South African branch of a global network of "safe houses". The idea is to have an off-radar location ready for use when Uncle Sam needs to interrogate perceived threats. Enter Denzel Washington as ex-CIA operative and bona fide one-man weapon of mass destruction Tobin Frost. Frost defected from the CIA nearly a decade earlier, and his reappearance in Cape Town sees him being snatched and interrogated at Weston's safe house.

It doesn't last too long. A mysterious security breach involving a gang of well-armed goons leads to Frost and Weston having to abandon this safe house. Cue a pulsating on-the-run scenario.

Big-buck production values certainly enhance the spectacle but it's the quality of the performances that ensures Safe House delivers in terms of emotional impact. Gleeson is stellar as a CIA heavy-hitter, while Washington exudes gravitas as a character described as a "black Dorian Gray". He's not the only character with painting-in-the-attic issues.


Opens on Friday

The Woman In The Fifth

Cert: 15A

IT'S understandable why film and literature about writers looking for inspiration are not exactly rarities; creativity often begins with a look in the mirror. For Douglas Kennedy, the US novelist and former director of Dublin's Peacock theatre, The Woman In The Fifth was his comment on what happens when a lost writer finds a muse so pungent it could ruin him altogether.

This adaptation by Polish auteur Pawel Pawlikowski aptly conjures a perennial feeling of uncertainty for both protagonist and audience. Ethan Hawke is US lecturer and writer Tom Ricks, who arrives in Paris in the hope that his estranged wife will let him see his daughter. This meeting goes badly, and Tom is forced to flee when she calls the police to eject him from her flat. With his wallet stolen, Tom ends up accepting the offer of bed and board from an inn-owner. In return, he mans the security cameras at a mysterious subterranean vault. Meanwhile, he becomes consumed with an enigmatic widow (Kirstin Scott Thomas).

In the final quarter, the film turns the screw of intrigue a smidge too much, but otherwise, things are quite respectable; Hawke is ideally cast while Scott Thomas is noirish elegance itself. Ryszard Lenczewski's cinematography lends smoke and mirrors to the visual field in clever ways.


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