Part 3 of the my film review hits three further releases, two british and two american. Locke, Calvary, Blue Ruin and The Amazing Spiderman 2.
Moving on from the dystopian spiritual claustrophobia of The Double, came a drama altogether more literal in it’s expression of a tightly focused and contained human study, physically and mentally enclosed for the entirety of the narrative behind the wheel of a car. Locke , from director Stephen Knight, and starring Tom Hardy, provided an intelligently scripted and remarkably executed tale of a man whose life, professional and personal, is upturned during 90 minutes of phone calls with colleagues and families. It is far more compelling than that short synopsis implies, aided in no small part by a fantastic performance from Hardy, whose grasp of nuance and subtlety of expression is the chief hook that keeps you reeled in.
The film itself is replete with metaphors, some admittedly more clunkier than others: as a concrete supply Manager, there is a piece of dialogue that suggests that from just one error in the works, cracks will grow large enough to bring the building down – an unsubtle allusion to the plot that explains how Locke’s life unravels over the particular journey. Routine is central to Locke who has prided himself on a methodical and compartmentalizing approach to problem-solving, and creating a well organised life at work and domestically. The family motif resonates powerfully at the heart of this piece, with the father-son dynamic taking centre stage in many respects – it appears crucial to Locke’s identity and how he has defined his decision making. Through this we see what drives him (both literally and metaphorically of course ) to take the decisions he does. Beyond the central plot there are fine supporting voice-roles: Olivia Coleman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Bill Milner all provide the audio cues for Locke’s journey ( the metaphor is an obvious one, complete with arrival representing the cessation of the turbulence of one narrative).
I was surprised by how gripping it proved to be, and one can reflect on fine directorial subtleties, after the film has ended – including the opening scene which places Locke at traffic lights appearing to indicate he’s going left, at the last minute, he changes his mind and goes right, the final assertive act that propels him on a route that is destined to change his life quite radically. Whilst at the end, a final shot of all the cars circling on their journey home prompts the Everyman conceit, so many journeys, so many potentially life changing narratives lost in the crowds. For me the shot also briefly recalled the character Georges Gerfault from Patrick Manchette’s novel trois a battre who finds himself unable to escape a cyclical routine, and ends the novel driving aimlessly around a motorway, trapped in uncertainty. For Locke, he has escaped this cycle, but at what cost?
9/10 Strengths – simple conceit executed well, with a mesmerising lead performance from Hardy. Well paced, and full of enjoyable metaphor. Deserves more attention. Weakness’: a couple of over-wrought metaphors and a couple of weakish voice-overs, but not distracting.
From one of my films of the year to a more prosaic and formulaic affair: The Amazing Spiderman 2. Yes, rather different in character to previous films I’ve reviewed thus far, but I do enjoy comic book movie adaptations as much as the intrigue of Locke or Under the Skin. As they say, everything has its place.
It’s a genre that by now has become well worn, with no short supply of available superheroes to turn to if one’s in search of some enjoyable throw-away action. In the current climate then, there’s all the more reason to ensure new entries try and stand out: whether through tone, style, dialogue, plot – there are plenty of ways to create a memorable enough character. The genre, does of course allow for more extraordinary bending of conventions than regular human-filled films do, although with this character’s reboot still not long at all after the Toby Maguire series, impressing is always a challenge as it’s hard to avoid the question: is this really worth it?
Still, an open mind will always have more room to welcome familiar friends. Spiderman 2 is the first time I’ve seen the radioactive man-spider represented by Andrew Garfield. I’ve not seen the first, but it is hardly a requirement to accessing the sequel. In short, I enjoyed the slighter darker tone to this film, not to reveal the plot, but unfamiliar with the comic canon, I did not expect the ending to be as it was, even if the film did foreshadow its possibility. So that is to the film’s credit as too is Garfield, who is infinitely more watchable, and more comfortable in the Spiderman costume than Maguire was. (Against Maguire of course, also lies the memory sadly burned onto the retinas for time immemorial of the catastrophe that was Spiderman 3: that Emo-moment reducing the film to something of a joke. ) Emma Stone, is also fantastic as Peter Parker’s flame and those leads certainly carry the film to above average. The plot is pretty standard fare, with a couple of particularly silly elements – a baddie called Dr. Kafka raised a guffaw – but it nevertheless holds the attention without irritating too much.
6/10 Strengths: Garfield captures Spiderman better than Maguire, and Emma Stone helps add some charm to a film which whilst watchable is swiftly forgettable. Weakness’: plot is somewhat limited, and there a couple of naff cliches in there too.
Moving away from the comic-book world, I’m relocating focus to a world in need of an altogether different kind of superhero, and for whom the most likely candidate is struggling to to save his flock from altogether more grounded and serious concerns.
Calvary directed by John Michael McDonagh who in 2013 gave us the terrific The Guard returns to the silver screen mercifully bringing the magnetic personality of Brendon Gleeson with him for this much darker satire. Examining a post-recession, post priest paedophile scandal Ireland, McDonagh adds caustic observation to the dry wit of The Guard, as we follow Gleeson’s Priest tending to his flock, albeit one which ran out of faith long ago. He is an embattled tired man, not without his own past, as seen through his relationship with his daughter (Kelly Reilly) . The tension at the core of the drama is established immediately as we hear a conversation between the priest and a citizen in a confessional booth, which ends with the violent assertion that Father James will be shot the following Sunday, with the would-be-assassin giving his target time to put his affairs in order.
Subsequently we are presented with an assorted array of cynical characters, all inhabiting this small, bleak community as McDonagh challenges us to consider who the perpetrator could be, whilst also highlighting a broken social unit, in need of a saviour in a time when the institutions previously responsible for those cares ( welfare provision and spiritual comforts) have been undermined, leading to a self-serving survivalist mentality that has eschewn moral and communal codes. There are fine supporting roles too – Dylan Moran as the epitome of the crass banker class elite and Chris O’Dowd the wife-beating butcher amidst many more. Each inhabitant provides a story or window into a bleak outlook, and though the script is hewn through with some wonderfully witty dialogue, to mark the film down as a black-comedy would be to dramatically downplay the film’s savagery as a social critique.
Father James ambulates round the community, caught between despair at the vacuum facing the community and struggling to articulate an effective response, often settling to just simply providing some basic comfort; some words of general advice removed from any biblical references ( aware of the toxic reputation afflicting that association ), or a set of ears to listen to the difficulties besetting the people. He is a magnificently tragic character, an ironically decent priest in a world that is losing it’s sense of place.
Tackling social, political, religious concerns with black humour and an understated compassion, the film became one of my most memorable films the instant I had seen it, and revisiting it now for this review is reminding me how much I wish to see it again. It is intense, but captivating and the matured writing of McDonagh here is fantastic.
10/10 Strengths: flawless script rich with political and social drama, hewn with delicious dialogue is brought to a brooding light by a toweringly delicate performance from Brendon Gleeson, and supported by a brilliant cast, my runaway film of the year. Weakness’: none spring to mind.
The spirit of vengeance becomes a more direct subject matter in the next film – though altogether more directly violent and clear-cut. Blue Ruin brought to us by director Jeremy Saulnier and with the impressive Macon Blair in the lead role, is a taut suspense thriller that deploys an effective and mood driven realist approach to the genre. Blair plays a drifter who has clearly struggled and failed to overcome a traumatic past, one which leads him to seek out a physical confrontation with those whom he considers responsible, involving an act which sparks a bloody attack-counter-attack cycle of violence. It is a powerful a well executed tale of fated blood-shed, invoking the spirit of the classical Shakespearean style tragedy.
If by the end the climactic violence seems heavily foreshadowed and expected, it is to the film’s credit that this is no great weakness. It’s strength is in the performance and narrative of the build up. The film does not throw up needless exposition, nor seek to fill the silences with musical interludes, instead drawing the viewer in through a slow release of understanding, with an atmosphere heightened by that lack of music to provide some form of aesthetic release. From the opening scene, which subverts our immediate presumption about the victim/perpetrator status of the man taking a bath, the narrative plays out at a pace of it’s choosing, allowing the audience to speculate for quite some time as to what has driven our lead protagonist Dwight ( Blair).
Dwight’s character is complex, and whilst clearly a victim of a troubling past, the presence of a sister who has managed to overcome the same trauma and make a normal life for herself, implicitly suggests that, merely having a difficult past does not mean one’s future has to be set upon a particular path. Indeed the ancillary characters provide hopeful outlets to offshoot the darkness at the films centre – Ben Gaffney as Dwight’s old school friend, the sister Sam, and most notably through William the young boy at the end who escapes the face off, and demonstrates a rejection of brutality indicating that not all cycles need go round and round forever.
The theme of family is also pervasive in many of these films, in tangentially similar fashion to both Locke and Calvary, which extends beyond the typically nuclear boundaries. Dwight is driven partly be a sense of duty to protect his sister and her children, Locke, feels compelled to not repeat the mistakes he ascribed to his own father, and Father James acts in a patriarchal role to the community as best he can. Even in Spiderman we see this as the comic book character whose identity is tied up as Arch Protector.
8/10 Strengths: As a murky revenge-noir it is suitably darkly shot, with great build of suspense, and narrative minimalism which allows events to be released through implication. Macon Blair is wonderful in the lead role as the troubled Dwight. Weakness:’ act 3 had some (minor) issues with execution.