Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Rory Kinnear
Used by the Nazis in the Second World War to obscure their communications, the Enigma Machine was the greatest encryption device in history. With 159,000,000,000,000,000,000 different combinations and a code that reset every evening, it appeared uncrackable. But a small group of British mathamaticians, linguists, chess champions and crossword enthusiasts did manage to achieve the impossible and their efforts are believed to have shortened the war by more than two years and saved up to 14 million lives. This amazing achievement was kept a military secret for 50 years, but now comes to the screen in The Imitation Game.
In 1939, MI6 brought together a small team of Britain’s best and brightest in Bletchley Park to try and decipher the Enigma Machine’s code. Among them was Professor Alan Turing. An infuriating character, Turing was brilliant but arrogant and horribly condescending. While the rest of the team immerse themselves in the futile work of trying to decipher the daily codes, Turing wants to invent a machine to crack Enigma. Continue reading
Director: John Carney
Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, James Corden, Mos Def, Catherine Keener
In 2006, Irish writer-director John Carney had an indie hit with his shoestring budget musical Once. The film, about a romance between a Dublin busker and a Czech flower seller who are brought together by their passion for music, won an Oscar for Best Original Song and spawned a Tony Award winning Broadway musical. Carney returns to familiar territory with Begin Again. Originally titled ‘Can a Song Save Your Life?’, the film explores the redemptive power of music and creative collaboration.
In a New York bar a young woman is invited up on stage to sing one of her songs and is almost completely ignored except for one man who stands transfixed. We rewind to approach the scene from two different perspectives; first his, then hers. He is Dan, a music producer who has hit rock bottom. His marriage has broken up, his daughter doesn’t respect him and he has just been fired from the record company he founded. She is Greta, recently broken up from her long-time boyfriend and song-writing partner after he hits the big time and is corrupted by fame. Dan hears something in Greta’s music that lights a fire in him and convinces her to record an album. Without access to a studio Dan and Greta decide they will make the album an ode to New York, and set about recording tracks live in different locations around the city, incorporating the ambient sounds of the town into their music.
While very derivative of Once, Begin Again is a glossier, more Hollywood movie with a bigger cast and bigger stars. Despite this, it manages to retain the sincerity of the earlier film thanks largely to strong performances from Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. The two share great chemistry, but Carney thankfully resisting the urge to slip into cliché and keeps their relationship platonic. While that these two can act should be no surprise, that Knightley can sing might be. She does all her own singing, and while she doesn’t have a big voice, it is an emotive one. These two are surrounded by a quality supporting cast including Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. It is James Corden though who steals the show as Greta’s old friend and the film’s chief comic relief.
While not a musical, music is obviously of central importance to the story. For these characters music is their life, and the film has some really clever ways of demonstrating the importance of music to them. There is one magical scene in which we see Greta’s initial bar performance from Dan’s perspective. As Dan’s imagination flies away arranging this song we see different instruments – a piano, drums, strings – start to play themselves accompanying the lone guitarist.
With music being so central to the story, it is supremely important that Carney and his team got the songs right. Fortunately, the film’s songs, primarily written by former New Radicals front man Gregg Alexander, are among its strongest attributes. However, there is a slight inauthenticity in the filmmakers’ unwillingness to back the premise of the album they are recording. We watch these live street recordings taking place but it is all too obvious that we are hearing studio mastered audio.
Begin Again is not as artistically aspirational as its characters are. It prefers to engage in some mainstream Hollywood feel-goodery. But the fact that this film remains upbeat, never wallowing even as the characters go through some low times, makes it a very hard film not to enjoy.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Begin Again? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh
It has been over a decade since Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, the hero of The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears and the man who is to financial analysts what Indiana Jones is to archaeologists, last appeared on our screen. So therefore it is time for a reboot and that is exactly what we get in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
As reboots are want to do, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit takes us back to the beginning for an origins story. After being badly injured in a helicopter attack while serving in Afghanistan, Jack Ryan is recruited by the CIA to work covertly as a financial analyst on Wall Street. There he uncovers a Russian plot to crash the US economy with a terrorist attack. So Ryan finds himself upgraded to operational status and on his way to Moscow to try and work out when and where this attack is going to occur before it’s too late.
Clancy wrote Jack Ryan as a Cold War hero, but Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – the first Ryan film not to be directly based on a Clancy novel – recreates him as a hero for the post-9/11 world. It is the attacks on the World Trade Center which compels the young Ryan to abandon his PhD study in London and join the Marines. While in keeping with Clancy’s novels the antagonists in the film are from Russia, it prefers to play off contemporary fears of terrorism and economic meltdown rather than old Cold War tensions.
Having previously been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, it is Chris Pine’s turn to step into the role. However, despite this being the fifth Ryan film, audiences don’t have the same clear expectations of the character as they do for someone like a James Bond, so the pressure on Pine stepping into the role is not as intense. That said, he does a good job. Unlike his brash, impulsive Captain Kirk, Pine imbues his intellectually brilliant Ryan with a certain vulnerability that is fitting of an agent at the beginning of his career who is not yet battle-hardened.
Pine is surrounded by an impressive supporting cast. Kevin Costner continues his recent career resurgence as a quality supporting actor in his role as the stoic William Harper, the CIA agent who recruits Ryan. As Ryan’s girlfriend, Keira Knightley gets slightly more to work with than the usual love interest character, with some of the scenes between the two of them being quite touching. Kenneth Branagh, who is also directing here, makes for a steely villain as the Russian Viktor Cherevin.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit largely follows the spy thriller playbook established by the James Bond and, more recently, Jason Bourne franchises. In this globetrotting film we move between London, New York and Moscow, and are given regular action sequences, whether helicopter attacks, hand-to-hand combat or car chases. However, the quick cutting shaky-cam used in the action scenes does take audience disorientation to a new level.
While Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a contemporary reboot engaging with contemporary concerns there is something wonderfully old-fashioned about it. It is a classic espionage film. It is still Americans against Russians, it still comes down a race against a ticking time bomb, and it is still quite a lot of fun.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: William Monahan
Starring: Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone
Having just been released after serving three years in Pentonville prison as a result of an “altercation,” Mitchell (Farrell) is determined to leave his gangster past behind him and go straight. A chance encounter results in an invitation to work as a part-time handyman, part-time bodyguard for the reclusive movie star Charlotte (Knightley) who hides away from the paparazzi in her Holland Park mansion. However, cutting ones ties with the underworld is easier said than done (you can’t help but hear Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III crying “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in”) and when prominent gangster Mr. Gant (Winstone) gets it in his mind that Mitchel would be a useful person to have around he sets about trying to ‘persuade’ him to accept the job.
While most people associate the gangster movie with Hollywood and the USA, Great Britain has an outstanding tradition in the gangster genre with the likes of Get Carter, The Long Good Friday, Sexy Beast and even Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. With London Boulevard, first time director William Monahan is definitely hooking into that tradition, it has that real ‘geezer’ quality to it, but it’s too thinly drawn to reach the lofty standard of the aforementioned titles. That said, Monahan, who has experience with the gangster genre having won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Departed, delivers a competent directorial debut and a pretty solid gangster film.
Farrell is strong as a man who is trapped by his past, not only in the sense that he struggles to break free from the underworld ties of his pre-Pentonville life, but also by his own violent past, which betrays itself even in those moments when we can see his motives are noble. Farrell succeeds in making you feel for this character who just wants out.
Unfortunately, the other main characters lack a bit of depth. Keira Knightley’s Charlotte initially makes for an intriguing character as this young, beautiful, Howard Hughes-esque shut in. But despite the revelations of how she got to this point, and an all too predictable romantic sub-plot, her character never really progresses to become anything more than she was when we first met her. Ray Winstone, one of those great actors whose presence in a supporting role can instantly elevate a film, is in this case severely underutilised, with Gant being not much more than a Big Bad Wolf who huffs and puffs his way through the film.
If you are a fan of the gangster genre, you will find enough in London Boulevard to satisfy you, even if it does miss some opportunities.
Rating – ★★★
Review by Duncan McLean