Saturday 24 March 2018

When violence serves a purpose

Cert 18

Padraic McKiernan, Hilary A White, Aine O'Connor

IS Savage the most viscerally violent Irish film ever made? I only ask because I can't be sure -- the disturbing nature of the visuals delivered as this engrossing thriller hurtles towards its conclusion had me looking away in horror. The good news is that I saw enough, however, to be able to declare this tale, starring Darren Healy and Nora-Jane Noone, a bona fide must-see.

Healy takes the role of Paul Graynor, a young Dublin-based press photographer who seems, on first impressions, a relatively gentle soul. He visits his ailing dad in hospital when others seem indifferent, while his actions, when out for a casual drink with his father's carer Michelle (Noone), suggest an unassuming, laid-back personality.

Everything changes for Graynor as a result of him being the victim of a vicious mugging perpetrated by a pair of chillingly realised skangers. The savage nature of the assault leaves Graynor both physically and psychologically ravaged, while his stuttering attempts at recuperation aren't helped by media intrusion, coupled with an incipient retribution impulse. The latter, mixed with steroids acquired in a local gym, results in Graynor enacting a revenge that can be described as bringing grisly to the ultimate level.

It's testament to the quality of what's gone before in this feature, directed by Brendan Muldowney, that this ending, though shocking, is both powerful and plausible.

Terrific performances abound and Savage displays none of the patchy production values that have blighted so many Irish films of recent vintage.


Savage is now showing

Winter's Bone

Cert: 15A

THE same backwoods dread that inhabits movies such as Deliverance and The Road and the plays of Sam Shepard is found in this Grand Jury prizewinner from this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Raising her younger brother and sister and minding her catatonic mother, 17-year-old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is stony-faced, tired and has a lot on her plate. Ree's woes are added to when she is told that her house has been put up as a bail bond by her absentee father. In order for her family to carry on living there, she must locate him, dead or alive. Ree, a fascinating heroine, hardened and brave beyond her years, shows tremendous resolve during her search, and is met by closed doors and clenched fists by many who are adhering to a mysterious vow of silence on the matter.

Playing opposite Lawrence is the hypnotically lupine John Hawkes as Teardrop, her feral uncle who veers from menacing to heroic and back again, all in the space of a scene.

The Ozark Plateau of Middle America is depicted in similar terms to Daniel Woodrell's source novel -- an overcast nightmare of skeletal trees and unkempt yards peopled by gnarled and ghoulish locals. This setting is key to Winter's Bone's ability to brew a sense of isolated foreboding, one where if nature doesn't get you, your kinsmen just might.

The result is one of the finest independent US releases for some time. Director Debra Granik quietly lifts the rug of the American dream to show what lurks underneath -- inbreeding, poverty, crystal meth abuse -- but also tells an utterly human story about courage and responsibility.


Winter's Bone is now showing

The Other Guys

Cert 12A

The title of America's king of comedy is not a moniker that lends itself to objective appraisal, much less longevity, but it's impossible to witness Will Ferrell in The Other Guys and not be struck by a sense that you're watching a performance worthy of the crown.

Ferrell stars as the New York detective Allen Gamble who, together with his partner Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), constitute a coupling that makes chalk and cheese seem compatible. Hoitz is a monument to machismo with anger-management issues while the Prius-driving, desk-bound, forensic accountant Gamble is emasculated to the point of being a virility vacuum.

When their precinct's hotshots, a kick-ass Samuel L Jackson and Dwayne Johnson, make a tragic but hilarious exit, this less than dynamic duo find themselves catapulted into their discomfort zone, courtesy of a plot that revolves around missing millions and a Brit villain played by Steve Coogan. Think Lethal Weapon meets The Naked Gun franchise, only a good deal funnier than either, and you're well on the way towards knowing what to expect.

The Other Guys reunites Ferrell with Adam McKay, the director he worked with on the likes of the hit-and-miss-by-a-mile Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, but this is a much more consistent affair that evokes good memories of the work they did on Anchorman. Wahlberg is a revelation in a supporting role and Eva Mendez also has some good moments as Gamble's long-suffering wife. Ferrell's is the star turn, however, in a performance that's bang-on-the-funny. All hail the king.


The Other Guys is now showing

Enter the Void

At the IFI

I confess to an unease with provocateurs. The notion that they have a vision the rest of us complacent fools do not is mildly irritating, and in a time when everything feels like it's already been done, their vision needs to be quite something. Gaspar Noe is known as a provocateur and describes his latest film, Enter the Void, as a "psychedelic melodrama". Gaspar isn't lying.

Enter the Void opens, Kubrick-ly, through the eyes of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) in his flat with his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta). We first see his face 10 minutes later when he looks stoned, in the mirror (the whole film is trippy). With his friend Alex (Cyril Roy) he walks out into Tokyo at night. A night which ends swiftly and badly for Oscar, who then, through watching and flashbacks, reviews his short life.

It has many of the ingredients of Noe's other films, the visual force, the flashing lights, the background churning noise and the scenes designed to shock. There's lots of nudity and sex and some violence, but an abortion scene was the worst. The symbolism and interlinking references are copious but clunky, and the sexualised relationships between Oscar and his female family members could mean anything. Noe has also said that his film is essentially about emptiness, there seems to be too much going on for a film about emptiness.

The performers certainly throw themselves into it, with varying degrees of success, and comprehension. At 135 minutes, the last hour got seriously tedious. However, others have enjoyed it rather a lot, so it is very much a question of taste.


Enter the Void opens at the IFI on September 24

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