Friday 24 November 2017

The clinic where no one ever gets well

* A Cure for Wellness (16, 146mins), 3 Stars
* It's Only the End of the World (15A, 99mins) 3 Stars
* Best (12A, 92mins), 3 Stars

Look behind you: Dane DeHaan is perfectly cast as Lockhart in A Cure for Wellness
Look behind you: Dane DeHaan is perfectly cast as Lockhart in A Cure for Wellness

Paul Whitington

A whiff of underlying putrefaction haunts the edges of A Cure for Wellness, Gore Verbinski's neo-gothic chiller. It represents a change of pace for Verbinski, who normally wrestles $200m productions like Lone Ranger and Pirates of the Caribbean into submission, and this smaller scale work seems to suit him, because for long periods Wellness is stylish and effective. Dane DeHaan, who never looks well, is perfectly cast as Lockhart, a cocky Manhattan financial executive who's summoned by his superiors and given an important mission.

His company's boss, Pembroke, was dispatched to a clinic in the Swiss Alps to recuperate after suffering some sort of breakdown. Now the firm is in crisis, and Lockhart must travel to Europe and bring him back. Lockhart is rude and dismissive when he arrives at the mountaintop clinic, demanding to see Pembroke and refusing to engage with the staff. But when he's involved in a car crash he ends up a patient in the draughty, labyrinthine castle, tended to by the clinic's blandly smiling director Heinrich Volmer (Jason Issacs), who's too polite to be true.

The place has many secrets, and Lockhart reckons that a young female patient called Hannah (Mia Goth) may help unlock them. A Cure for Wellness is strongest in its early scenes, which beautifully establish a sense of hovering dread. The gothic overtones are pleasing, and Verbinski references everything from Hammer horror to Alfred Hitchcock. However, the film is a good half hour too long, and a melodramatic climax sits uneasily with what's gone before.

The fêted wunderkind of French-Canadian cinema, Xavier Dolan has never done quite enough in my opinion to justify his stellar reputation. In films like Heartbeats and Laurence Anyways, he has brought the bombastic and tinny aesthetic of pop videos to bear on slender stories of love and loss. In Dolan's films, style tends to overwhelm substance, but in fairness his last one, Mommy, was little short of excellent, and It's Only the End of the World has some pretty memorable moments too.

Dolan sets his story in Quebec but uses the cream of French acting talent to tell it. Gaspard Ulliel is Louis, a gay playwright who returns to his family home after a long and pointed absence. He has not seen his mother, Martine (Bathalie Baye), his elder brother, Antoine (Vincent Cassel), and his younger sister, Suzanne (Lea Seydoux), for over a decade, and when he turns up for Sunday lunch the greeting is understandably mixed.

His mother is effusive, but Suzanne's confused, Antoine is furious, and initially Louis' only useful ally is Catherine (Marion Cotillard), Antoine's diffident, kindly wife. It's she who builds bridges between Louis and his siblings, but Antoine won't be easy to win over, and Louis has some bad news to break about his health.

This being a Xavier Dolan film, the tone is mildly histrionic at times, and poor Vincent Cassel is forced to exist in a constant state of rage. But there's an intermittent lyricism to the drama, Natalie Baye and Lea Seydoux are very good, and it goes without saying that Cotillard is excellent.

George Best liked a drink, and was pretty good at football. This much we already know, and for all its meticulous research Best: All By Himself doesn't teach us all that much more. Director Daniel Gordon combines archive footage with Best's recorded recollections and the testimony of the friends, players and partners.

With depressing speed, we watch the charming and handsome Belfast boy transform into a temperamental mess once his talent with a ball has turned him into the game's first media superstar. There's lots of wailing, and gnashing of teeth, but too many boozy horror stories and not enough football for my liking.

Irish Independent

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