Joe Wright loves a period piece, and he returns back to World War Two here to focus on Winston Churchill (after Atonement in 2007). There seems to be a fascination with him recently, and he’s played wonderfully by John Lithgow in The Crown. Perhaps our fascination with him comes from the fact that in a more liberal society, we question his conservative values. Or maybe it’s because we begin to understand what strange habits he had, both socially and physically (drinking from the start of the day). Overall the events of WW2 appear so maddening to us today, that is quite interesting to look deeper into the legends of the time and see the human of them. This film is set just as Churchill becomes the Prime Minister, as he struggles through the early days of the war – including his attempts to solve the Dunkirk fiasco.
Gary Oldman is of course great in the leading role. To act with such intensity, and vulnerability, under a serious amount of prosthetics is a remarkable feat. He manages to lose himself behind all the make – up, and after his introductory scene Oldman himself is never present. It should be noted that this is a version of Churchill he is playing, that is often brash and clumsy but also very energetic (some of the better parts of the film are him ferociously walking down corridors). This is definitely Oldman’s film, though the rest of the cast are also convincing. Kristen Scott Thomas as his wife Clemmie is really lovely in the quieter scenes, and I think Ben Mendelsohn is back to his best as King George VI. Overall the smaller moments between these characters were nice, but the films issue is that there’s not much more than that.
It suffers from a saturation problem. By that I mean we’ve already had Churchill examined in The Crown and the evacuation of Dunkirk done excellently in Dunkirk, as well as Wright’s earlier film Atonement. We know exactly what’s going to happen and it’s all been shown recently, so to be interesting Wright has to delve into something different. He tries with his direction, and this is a beautifully shot film, with kinetic film-making throughout. However the film still relied too heavily on plot. It built the drama through dilemmas surrounding the war, and political backstabbing rather than anything too character based. This led to a very dull middle to climax period where you are just waiting for the acts to unfold. Then the only character resolution or turn comes in the form of a desperately contrived scene on the tube, which is almost painful to watch.
There is nothing that totally annoys me in this film, like there is in Three Billboards and All the Money in the World, but I can see it being pretty forgettable. It’s simply a solid Oldman performance, along with some really eye-catching direction, that is guiding you through an ordinary narrative.
Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?
No (only because we aren’t seeing anything new).
In Bruges is one of my favourite movies of all time, and unlike a lot of people I really liked Seven Psychopaths, so I was looking forwards to Martin Mcdonagh’s new project. With this film he has the backdrop of small town America, where middle-aged mother Mildred (Frances McDormand) reminds the local police about the murder of her daughter by renting out Billboards just outside of town. The signs are provocative and question the police on why there haven’t been any arrests in seven months. From here she engages in a conflict with the police department, and of course herself.
There are a couple of things to get out of the way before I discuss the major problems this film has. First of all, I found no problem in the films attitudes towards race and McDonagh does well at creating a dark character from this. Second of all, if you take this film for what it is, then it is absolutely fine. It is a decently structured movie that has some laugh out loud moments, and a few nice pieces of direction. The problems come from that structure however, and the way the story is told. Right from the very beginning the film is humorous – almost to a point where certain scenes are set up like full – on comedies (talking sitcom level). This means that when particular scenes are meant to me more dramatic, audience’s chuckle because they are in the comedy mind-set. In nearly every scene of the first half of the film it is played for laughs, so the second more interesting half loses a lot of its weight. Consequently there was a distance from myself and the narrative because of how comic the situations and characters were.
Frances McDormand as the central character does a good job, but because of the themes of the film her character wasn’t totally likeable. This is kind of the point though, about how crippling regret and grief can be so McDormand handles it all well. Sam Rockwell is terrific as ridiculous cop Dixon in the second half of the film, and just sort of funny in the first. It has an incredible supporting cast behind them, including a cute Woody Harrelson performance, though the choice to cast a younger woman from Australia as his wife didn’t make much sense? Peter Dinklage is under-utilised (considering he’s in the top 1% of dramatic actors) and his stature is overplayed. Overall the great cast keep the film watchable, but mostly their characters were cartoonish.
This is the first review of the year that I’m struggling to keep under 500 words so maybe I’ll write something else about it. I would describe it as a good film, but nowhere near as good as the praise it has been receiving. There were so many little moments that felt out of place in a grounded film about loss? I would like to ask McDonagh if he meant for it to be a sub-realistic parable, rather than a black drama slash comedy. Perhaps that would make the film work a bit better.
Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?
Yes. (Just close your eyes and put your fingers in your ears when the deer arrives).