We review this week’s new cinema releases, including GLASSLAND, A LITTLE CHAOS and THE SALVATION…
Directed by Gerard Barrett. Starring Jack Reynor, Toni Collette, Will Poulter, Michael Smiley, Joe Mullins, Harry Nagle, Gary O’Nuallain, Shashi Rami, Kian Murphy, Darine Ni Dhonnchadha.
THE PLOT: Young Dublin taxi driver John (Reynor) is having a hard time making ends meet. Living with an alcoholic mother (Collette) doesn’t help, of course, especially when the house often feels the brunt of her anger and desperation. Life isn’t all that much easier for his buddy, Shane (Poulter), who decides it’s time to head to greener shores. For John, leaving home isn’t quite so easy, and he takes on a few questionable passengers who have little choice in their fate too just to fund some much-needed rehab for his mum…
THE VERDICT: You have to admire the balls on Tralee filmmaker Gerard Barrett – he may look like the silent type, but every bit as ambitious and daring as his polar opposite, Terry McMahon. With films that are far more Dardenne than diddley-aye, Barrett shines a light into the darkest corner, revealing universal if ugly truths about loneliness, despair, loss, losing, and all that other good stuff that builds character.
That his no-budget 2013 feature debut PILGRIM HILL (shot on a wing and €4,500) should prove such a critical hit explains the giant leap in star power here (no offence, Joe Mullins, cameoing here as a taxi driver). And full credit to Barrett for not going full-on epic for that difficult second film either, Glassland repeating PILGRIM HILL’s trick of taking its sweet time in telling its tale. Barrett knows that more is often said in the silences.
Yep, there’s a lot of sitting in the dark here, as characters simmer in their own anger and disappointment. And that silence lets you hear every plate scrape, every munch, every goddamn breath. All that silent emoting is titanium to a thespian, of course, and Collette and Reynor carry that burden well. It’s Poulter who shines though, the English scamp having a habit of stealing whatever show he happens to be in. The swine.
Review by Paul Byrne
A LITTLE CHAOS (UK/15A/117mins)
Directed by Alan Rickman. Starring Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Stanley Tucci, Alan Rickman.
THE PLOT: Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet) is a landscape gardener with grand designs, designs which she submits to André Le Notre, the man who is designing the gardens at Versailles for King Louis XIV. When Sabine is awarded a project at Versailles, she finds herself not only dealing with jealous and spiteful competitors, but the demons from her past and some new friends.
THE VERDICT: Alan Rickman’s second film as director, when described in synopsis, sounds like an old-fashioned romantic bodice ripper, but in truth, it is an examination of grief, renewal and the role of women in 1680s France.
Kate Winslet is on fine form as Sabine de Barra; she is feisty and strong, while remaining gentle and kind. Winslet also conveys the idea that de Barra is a woman struggling to come to terms with tragedy, and this is carefully shown on screen. Matthias Shoenaerts brings strength and kindness to the role as lead gardener André Le Notre and Stanley Tucci is hilarious, marvellous and completely over the top as Duke Philippe d’Orleans, bringing colour and laughter to the screen. There are also plenty of giggles to be had in the initial scenes between Rickman – as Louis XIV – and Winslet. Rickman has a wonderful way of showing a wealth of emotion through the smallest of expressions, and this is what he excels at here. The rest of the cast is made up of Helen McCrory, Jennifer Ehle, Steve Waddington and Pauline Moran.
The story, written by Jeremy Brock, Alison Deegan and Alan Rickman fictionalises parts of the move of the French monarchy from the Louvre to Versailles, mainly by adding the character of Sabine de Barra. This allows the film to have an emotional centre, but it also opens it up to some melodrama, that doesn’t always work. There seems to be a heck of a lot going on with de Barra – she’s fighting for recognition for her work, she’s taking on a new love affair, trying to deal with being the flavour of the month at the Royal Court, and come to terms with her own personal tragedy – that something has to give in the film, and something eventually does. Trying to throw so much in de Barra’s way leads to the film feeling messy and, certainly in the final act, disjointed.
Rickman directs with an even hand, and allows the comedy and drama to weave together well. There are times where drama gives way to melodrama, and these are the moments at which the film suffers. For the most part, however, the feel of the film is gentle and light, with Ellan Kuras’ cinematography, James Merifield’s Production Design and Joan Bergin’s Costume Design making the film feel sumptuous and beautiful.
In all, A LITTLE CHAOS is beautiful, sweet and funny, but ends up being as chaotic as the title may suggest. The film starts off well but, in trying to spin too many plates, the film inevitably allows some to fall. Strong performances and some warmhearted laughs almost make up for this, but A LITTLE CHAOS is let down by its third act, and trying to do too much in too short a time. Still the road to the end is an enjoyable one.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE SALVATION (Denmark | UK | South Africa | Sweden | Belgium/15A/92mins)
Directed by Kristian Levring. Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Eric Cantona, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Mikael Persbrandt.
THE PLOT: In 1870s America, Danish settler Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) welcomes his wife Marie (Nanna Øland Fabricius) and son to the township where he has made them a home. On the way to their house, however, the family is set upon by violent and ruthless men who rape Marie and murder both her and her son. Overcome with grief, Jon takes his revenge, but soon realises he has incurred the wrath of vicious gang leader Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). When the townsfolk refuse to aid Jon, he is forced to take on the outlaws on his own.
THE VERDICT: THE SALVATION is a rather simple Western that doesn’t really add anything new to the genre, but it is also beautifully shot, and gleefully violent. Mads Mikkelsen is on wonderful form as Jon, a man of few words but strong loyalties. Mikkelsen’s cold stare is a joy to behold, and he is the lynchpin that holds the violent but entertaining film together.
Elsewhere, Eva Green cultivates a cold stare of her own as a woman whose tongue was cut out by Indians. Although she has no dialogue in the film, Green makes Madelaine a strong and powerful woman, whose emotion is conveyed through her gaze alone. Jonathan Pryce rounds out the former Bond baddies as the town’s mayor, Keane and is on strong form as the cowardly and weak man. The rest of the cast is made up of Eric Cantona, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Mikael Persbrandt in a role that was originally intended for Mikkelsen’s brother Lars.
Anders Thomas Jensen and Kristian Levring’s screenplay is not one that is filled with surprises; in fact, The Salvation feels rather familiar in its tone and story. There are nice touches here and there, but the film’s story is not what makes it strong.
As director, Kristian Levring allows tensions to ebb and flow throughout the film, bringing things to a head rather quickly, then allowing escape and recapture to punctuate the rest of the film. Levring has coaxed strong and powerful performances from his cast, and the final set piece, although supremely violent and rather silly, is incredibly well shot and is gleefully daft.
In all, THE SALVATION could be just another Western, but it is elevated by strong performances from Green and Mikkelsen. The film is beautifully shot, and the final set piece is a thing of violent joy, and if there is one lesson to be taken from the film, it’s never be smug while smoking a cigar. You’ll see what I mean.
Review by Brogen Hayes
CHILD 44 (USA | UK | Czech Republic | Romania/16/137mins)
Directed by Starring Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Joel Kinnaman, Noomi Rapace, Jason Clarke, Paddy Considine.
THE PLOT: In Soviet Russia, under the rule of Stalin, children are going missing, and turning up murdered. Since the government insists that Soviet Russia is paradise, and there can be no murder in paradise, disgraced military police officer Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of the murders.
THE VERDICT: On the surface, it seems like CHILD 44 has a decent plot for a thriller; and the cast made up of Hardy, Oldman, Kinnaman, Rapace and Considine only serves to further the idea that the film is not a silly film full of unnecessary plot and chewy accents. Sadly, this is not the case.
Hardy carries the film well enough but, like his turn as Bane in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, his accent is chewy and over the top, and often intelligible… which doesn’t help matters. Rapace is fine as Leo’s manipulative wife Raisa, Charles Dance has a small role towards the end of the film, and Gary Oldman is a delight as the imposing General Mikhail Nesterov… Mostly because he gets to shout at Tom Hardy a lot, and who doesn’t enjoy Gary Oldman shouting!? Paddy Considine is woefully miscast as Vladimir Malevich, since he looks more like a Northern English schoolteacher than a Russian factory worker.
Screenwriter Richard Price, who has written for THE WIRE and, oddly, the video for Michael Jackson’s Bad, adapts Tom Rob Smith’s novel for the screen. It seems there is a lot going on in the novel, and none of this was cut for the sake of making the movie version of the story. As such, subplots that have little bearing on the title of the film take over for much of the running time, leaving the murder plot to be ignored for over an hour of the film’s 137 minute running time, before having it solved in a matter of moments.
Director Daniel Espinosa, whose 2010 film EASY MONEY is a terrific thriller, fails to keep CHILD 44 moving or interesting, leaving the film to get caught up in its own tangled subplots, subplots which it never fully escapes. This in turn means that actors like Oldman, Kinnaman and Considine are never truly given their moment in the spotlight, and end up feeling miscast or underused.
In all, CHILD 44 is a silly film about a silly story. All too easily, the film gets caught up in subplots that don’t actually matter, leaving the main story to fall by the wayside. Some of the accents in the film are utterly chewy and great actors are never given a chance to shine on screen. A missed opportunity indeed.
Review by Brogen Hayes
DARK HORSE: THE INCREDIBLE TRUE STORY OF DREAM ALLIANCE (UK/Lighthouse/85mins)
Directed by Louise Osmond.
THE PLOT: A true rags to riches story; a group of friends and neighbours in a small Welsh town pooled their resources in the early ‘00s to breed and race a thoroughbred horse. The result was a horse named Dream Alliance, who did more than anyone could have expected of him.
THE VERDICT: Louise Osmond’s documentary focuses on a group of people who decide to take on the sport most associated with the landed gentry, and find themselves a seat at the table. There is genuine affection and warmth in this tale, told through the eyes of the woman whose idea the whole thing was; barmaid Jan Vokes. Jan Vokes’s affection and love for Dream Alliance comes through every time she speaks about the horse, giving the audience the feel that she saw this animal as part of her family.
The film is assembled through talking heads, dramatic recreations and footage from Dream Alliance’s races, all put together by director Louise Osmond, to not only create a true underdog story, but show how the community was lifted by their unlikely champion. The subjects of the film come across warm and genuine in their interviews, and it is through their passion and affection that the audience begins to care about the spindly underdog (under horse!?) Dream Alliance.
The dramatic recreations, however, do not always work, and the quality of some of the archive footage is questionable at best, but the warmth and heart shine through the film, giving it a feel-good quality. Perhaps some more footage of the horse himself – he is almost always talked about but rarely seen on screen – would have lent the film some more weight, but as it stands, DARK HORSE is a sweet and warm film about coming from nothing to surprise the world.
In all, DARK HORSE is a sweet and engaging little film. There is warmth and heart here, as well as enough highs and lows to keep the audience interested. The path that Dream Alliance takes may be somewhat predictable, but Louise Osmond’s documentary is well crafted and well paced enough to keep the audience rooting for the little horse that could, and did.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE DECENT ONE (Austria | Israel/IFI/94mins)
Directed by Vanessa Lapa.
THE PLOT: Based on letters and documents found in Nazi Party member Heinrich Himmler’s home, The Decent One shows the private side of one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany.
THE VERDICT: THE DECENT ONE is an interesting concept for a film, and one that has the ability to show the personal life of a powerful and dangerous man, at one of the most violent periods of recent history. Director Vanessa Lapa dramatises readings from Himmler’s letters and journals, and those of his family and the people around him. What emerges is a man filled with hatred and racism, who seems to genuinely believe that his actions are just and moral. The letters from Himmler’s daughter Gudrun are perhaps as disturbing as those of her father, as she seems indoctrinated into the views of the Nazi Party from a young age, perhaps due to her worship of her father.
Lapa sets the dramatised readings against clips and footage from World War II, which is seemingly intended to give power and weight to the proceedings on screen, but rather muddies the tone of the film. As well as this, adding sound effects and music to silent footage makes the film feel preachy and heavy handed, and distracts from the letters being read on screen. As well as this, while the film gives an insight into the life of Himmler and his family – and while it is interesting to begin with – the novelty of hearing a familiar story through the eyes of one of its perpetrators soon wears off, as the letters, and film, become bogged down in trivialities and fruit cakes.
In all, THE DECENT ONE is a portrait of Himmler through his own eyes. There are times when the film is engrossing and rewarding, but the novelty soon wears off as the letters and journals become humdrum and trivial. Himmler’s racism and hatred are often shocking, but set against stock footage with imposed music, the tone and message of the film become muddied and vague.
Review by Brogen Hayes