Review: Shadow Dancer

Shadow Dancer

2012

Players: James Marsh (DIR), Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson, Domhnall Gleeson
 
 
Belfast 1973. Car-bombs, killings and riots are rife as the conflict between the British government and IRA intensifies. Witness to this conflating violence is young Colette McVeigh, who 20 years later finds herself in London, embroiled further in the hostility than her child-self could ever have imagined.

 
Directed by Man on Wire helmer James Marsh this character-driven spy drama oozes a bleak docudrama feel; all peeling wallpaper, greying skies and austere interiors. This tone extends to the actors themselves with Andrea Riseborough as reluctant MI5 informant Colette McVeigh and her case officer Mac (Clive Owen) exuding very little emotion and subsequently receiving very little empathy.

 
However the impossibility of Colette’s situation, caught between 25 years in prison for an attempted bombing or spying on her fervently Loyalist family, is one which renders the audience sympathetic nonetheless. As suspicions arise and fingers start pointing, the mystery wrapped in misery, will grip you tighter than the government do Colette.

 
Supporting performances from Gillian Anderson as Mac’s ruthless, secretive boss and Domhnall Gleeson as Collette’s protective IRA terrorist brother add to the restrained classiness of the film. Nobody gives anything away.

 
This is a gloomy slow-burner by any definition; Tinker Tailor-esque in its attention to detail and superb plotting. However, the tension, subtle as it is, builds to a crescendo worth waiting for.  You’ll leave the cinema with shivers.
 
 
A clinical, expertly-executed and intelligent political thriller with brilliantly understated performances from the entire cast.


Review: To Rome With Love

Not quite the reaction Allen should expect from this film.

To Rome With Love

2012


Players: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Greta Gerwig, Alison Pill

After a return to celebrated form with the romantically nostalgic Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen no doubt thought he was onto a good thing in using European cities as the focus of his cinematic yarns. But alas what was charming and clever in the former, is careless and derivative in To Rome With Love.

We flit randomly between four sets of stories. Woody Allen is a retired opera director who upon hearing his daughter’s father-in law to be singing in the shower is inspired to restart his career. Alec Baldwin is an aimless architect advising a fretful, younger version of himself (Jesse Eisenberg on truly indecisive, insufferable form) on choosing between two women; neither of whom I might add are particularly alluring. (Greta Gerwig as serious student Sally and Ellen Page as mischievous actress Monica – the stereotypes couldn’t be more painfully obvious). Two young newlyweds get separated and each discovers themselves sexually with the help of hooker Penelope Cruz. Oh, and regular working guy Roberto Benigni whom complains that no-one listens to him, one day wakes up as the most famous guy on the planet for absolutely no reason at all. It doesn’t feel as if Allen is scraping the barrel for material here at all.

To exacerbate matters it is utterly indulgent. As if Allen is resting on his laurels and fast-waning reputation to draw in audiences rather than offering a worthwhile plot or in fact any point to making the film whatsoever. Indeed that can be the only reason and perhaps the lure of a paid holiday to Italy that enticed such a star-studded cast.

Rome itself is the only saving grace, which is admittedly beautiful shot. But even then we see it as a tourist might, stopping by the Colloseum, the Trevi Fountain, a storm-surrounded Pantheon and ivy-lined cobbled streets. Rome is glorified but not discovered. Allen pans around the city as if flicking through a handful of postcards and the stories themselves have no real attachment to it.

Whereas Paris really was a muse for the writers such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald that featured in Midnight in Paris, you get the feeling this could have been set anywhere. There is no real narrative or interconnection between the four seemingly random vignettes. And what’s worse the characters in them are unlikeable, anxious, neurotic and morally vacuous. The complete lack of resolution or significance to the stories may be acceptable had they been enjoyable to engage with, but the characters talk too much, whine and actually have nothing much to say.

Whilst Baldwin and Cruz clearly have fun with their roles and Benigni playing the fool as he does best, everyone else are cookie-cutter caricatures for which there is little time or reason for sympathy or attachment.

Allen touches upon some more meaningful themes – the tenuousness and idiocy of celebrity, cross-cultural communication, the hardship of marriage and love and all that jazz, but by leaving ends untied and stories hurried, it has more holes in it than a perfectly baked focaccia bread.

And did I mention this was meant to be a comedy? You might be laughing at the sheer insanity of it all, but not at the jokes themselves let me assure you.

Under-written, uneven and un-enchanting.



 

Review: Anna Karenina (2012)

 Anna Karenina
 
Players: Joe Wright (DIR), Keira Knightley, Aaron Johnson, Jude Law, Matthew McFayden, Kelly McDonald
 
Having proven skilled at adapting Austen and McEwan it appears Joe Wright wanted to tackle more tragic, epic and quite frankly longer material. Cue Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

 A beast of the literary world and a popular choice for cinematic adaptation, questions undoubtedly appeared as to the necessity of another. Clearly unperturbed, Wright not only delivers a mature and visually stunning interpretation of the classic, but one with a truly novel twist – its all set in a theatre.

 Whilst this may divide viewers it operates on two levels; as a metaphor for how society is constructed and all its inhabitants performing roles, as well as a visually impressive narrative segway during set changes. Thus the ideologies behind Tolstoy’s 500+ page lament for Russian society resonate well within the theatrical setting.

 The cast too are as exquisite as the setting. Keira Knightley as the seduced and thus condemned heroine is at her period drama best in her third pairing with Wright. A coquettish socialite beguiled by the attention lavished upon her by the handsome Count Vronsky (Johnson), she breaks free from the glacial restrictions of Russian aristocracy in rip-roaring, piston-pumping, passionate style with believability and ease. Something Wright forcefully emphasises with consistent train references.

 Not short of talented male support, Jude Law as bald, po-faced and tediously duty bound Karenin is almost unrecognisable. Whilst the charming Aaron Johnson as Vronsky displays all the swagger, charisma and boldness first seen in Nowhere Boy. Matthew MacFayden is also worth a mention on scene-stealing form as Anna’s pompous and avaricious brother Oblonsky.

 And yet for all its attention to detail, intensity and beautifully elegiac tone, one can’t help but sigh at the sheer length of it. Wright’s motivic repetitions; close-ups of character’s faces and coat-changing vignettes become somewhat tiresome. And ultimately the characters aren’t particularly sympathetic leaving you under-whelmed and perhaps as cold as the Russian landscape itself.

 
Verdict: Sprawling, slow-paced and slightly indulgent. Sumptuous settings, clever editing and terrific performances can’t quite match the flawless magic of Tolstoy’s novel.