Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto
The last few years have seen a number of sequels to long dormant film series: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Creed, Jurassic World. Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is something quite different. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, was not a franchise movie. It was not even a box office success. Blade Runner is a cult classic which earned more mainstream recognition over a period of decades, thanks to various re-cuts and re-releases in the ancillary market (specifically the 1992 Director’s Cut and the 2004 Final Cut). While the film had a very cool neo-noir aesthetic and unique sound thanks to Vangelis’ score, the appeal of Blade Runner is largely the ideas it explores. All of this makes returning to the property 35 years down the track a far more interesting challenge than simply rebooting or reviving a proven franchise. Continue reading
Director: Anton Corbijn
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Willem Dafoe, Nina Hoss, Robin Wright, Daniel Brühl
It is a bitter sweet time to be a film lover as new films from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman continue to hit the screen. The latest of them is Anton Corbijn’s slow burning spy thriller A Most Wanted Man.
With the 9/11 attacks having been planned from Hamburg, the German port city has become a key counterterrorist hub in the years since. There we meet the rumpled and weary Gunter Bachmann, head of a German counterterrorism unit. Constantly butting heads with Hamburg intelligence head Dieter Mohr who want to see more arrests, Gunter is interested in playing a longer game. As he explains, it is about using the minnow to catch the barracuda, and using the barracuda to catch the shark. Both have their sights set on Issa Karpov, a mysterious Chechen refugee with past militant links, who has arrived in Hamburg seeking to claim a multi-million Euro inheritance. For Dieter, Karpov is a prize, for Gunter he is a minnow with which he can catch the barracuda he his team has been tailing for years.
Being based on a John le Carré novel, A Most Wanted Man obviously does not deliver a spy thriller in the James Bond mould. There is a distinct lack of explosions, chases and action set pieces of any kind. Rather, this is classic espionage in a post-9/11 context. Corbijn’s film takes us into the morally dubious world of intelligence gathering where nothing is straight forward, nothing is black and white. We encounter rival agencies with rival motives, working together when it is convenient, and behind each other’s backs when that is. The result for the viewer is that we are left not just wondering who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, but whether there are good guys and bad guys at all.
This uncertainty about who to side with is reinforced by a structure which sees us move between apparent protagonists for much of the first half of the film. It takes a while for the film to settle into a fixed point of view. The ensemble cast features a number of Americans playing Germans, while impressive German actors like Nina Hoss and Daniel Brühl are reduced to minor roles. Of the Americans, some (Hoffman) do a more convincing job with their accent than others (McAdams).
Anton Corbijn, who came to feature filmmaking from music videos, is a very precise filmmaker, and in serving le Carré’s densely layered plot, he delivers a meticulously crafted film. With cinematography from Frenchman Benoît Delhomme, A Most Wanted Man is also a sharp looking film.
A subdued film that is at times quite slow, A Most Wanted Man is interesting without being truly compelling.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen A Most Wanted Man? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Anne Fontaine
Starring: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville
Adoration is a French-Australian co-production, and the first English language film of French director Anne Fontaine, best known for Coco avant Chanel. Based on Doris Lessing’s play The Grandmothers, it tells the story of two life-long friends, Lil and Roz, who live in an idyllic northern NSW beach town. Lil is a widower and Roz’s husband is away a lot on work, so mostly they live an isolated life with just them and their two sons, Ian and Tom.
One evening, after a few too many drinks, Ian, Lil’s son, makes a move on Roz. When Tom sees his mother coming out of Tom’s room with her jeans in her hands his response is to go straight over to Lil’s house and sleep with her. After initial tensions, the two mothers and sons decide that they are actually quite happy with the arrangement so they continue merrily with this strange, insular existence. But eventually their situation is challenged as first Ian and then Tom pursue relationships with women their own age.
The plot for this film sounds like something from an American Pie style sex comedy, but Fontaine’s film is dead serious, possibly too serious for its own good. There are no (intentional) laughs here. Adoration desperately wants to be provocative, in a Lolita kind of way, but despite all its seriousness, it lacks emotional realism. The scenario should be one which creates incredible emotional stress and tension between these character. It is one thing to fall for your friend’s mother or son. It is another thing to watch your friend engage in a relationship with your son or mother. But for much of the film these murky waters seem to be navigated with unsatisfying ease by our quartet of characters.
This lack of realism extends to other elements of the story as well. The turning point comes when Ian moves to Sydney for a short period to take a position directing a Sydney University theatre production. This revelation that Ian has always wanted to be a theatre director seems completely inconsistent with a character who up to this point does not appear to have had an expressive or artistic bone in his body.
It is refreshing, however, to see a film which is built around two central, complicated female characters. Particularly two middle aged women. Naomi Watts and Robin Wright put in stronger performances than the material here may have warranted. As Roz, Wright carries the picture. She is the only character who understands the untenable nature of their arrangement and seeks to act responsibly. Wright also puts in a valiant effort at speaking with an Australian accent, with just a couple of tells which only an Australian ear would pick up to give her away.
Released in Australia under the title Adoration, the film was initially to be called The Grandmothers and has been released in different international markets under the titles Two Mothers, Perfect Mothers and Adore. This suggests indecision in how to present and market the film, which is not surprising given its tricky subject matter.
Rating – ★☆
Review by Duncan McLean