Reviews – New movies opening February 24th 2017

PATRIOT’S DAY (USA/15A/133mins)
Directed by Peter Berg. Starring Mark Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Melissa Benoist.
THE PLOT: On April 15th 2013, two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others. In the immediate aftermath, as families are separated and chaos reigns, the manhunt for those responsible – Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) began.
THE VERDICT: Based on the true story of the Boston Marathon bombings, and released less than four years after the actual event, Patriot’s Day is a film that is sometimes skilful, often muddled, and unsure of who its target audience is.
Mark Wahlberg leads the cast as Boston PD officer Tommy Saunders, and carries on his career making turn as playing the down to earth every man, whose shoulders carry the story. Wahlberg is fine in the role, but we have seen him do this before. Wahlberg is joined by J.K. Simmons as Sgt Jeffrey Pugliese – who makes easy work of the only comedic moments in the film – Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, Rachel Brosnahan, Christopher O’Shea, Jimmy O. Yang, Melissa Benoist – who almost manages to shake off her most famous role as Supergirl – Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze. Some of the cast of the film have more to do than others, and some do better than others, but as a whole, this is an impressive cast, which is sometimes held back by the messy way in which the story is told.
Peter Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer’s screenplay is an amalgamation of two scripts, and although the joins are not clearly on show here, there is often too much going on for this incredible true story to flow properly. As well as the police story as the massive manhunt for the suspects gets under way, the film has to contend with the story from the Tsarnaev brothers’ point of view as well as from the perspectives of families separated at the bombing site, a long back story for the man whose car the Tsarnaevs hijacked, the MIT officer killed and the personal story of Tommy Saunders. Of course this is a far reaching story, with many thousands of people affected, but it feels as though Berg, Cook and Zetumer were apprehensive about not telling every inch of the story – perhaps because the film was made too soon? – and so left all story strands in, making Patriot’s Day a messy and meandering tale, which should have been tense and gripping.
As director, Peter Berg excels in ramping up tension and keeping the audience on the edge of their seats, but precious little of this talent is on display here. There are two sequences which show off the director’s skills, but these soon fizzle out, leaving Patriot’s Day feeling long and drawn out. As well as this, the cast of the film is an impressive one, but many great actors are underused, including J.K. Simmons, John Goodman and Melissa Benoist.
In all, ‘Patriot’s Day ‘is a film that has been made far too soon after the events that inspired it, and although the blatant flag waving can be forgiven, there is little excuse for a meandering and messy film that is less tense than living through the time when the bombings and subsequent manhunt took place. As well as this, it is unclear who ‘Patriot’s Day’ was made for, and there is a feeling throughout the film that all of this was too soon, to the detriment of any potential future storytelling. A documentary on the subject could have been a lot more satisfactory, and a lot less drawn out.
Review by Brogen Hayes

BEST (UK/12A/90mins)
Directed by Daniel Gordon
THE PLOT: Daniel Gordon’s documentary chronicles legendary footballer George Best’s rise to fame, from being a homesick teenager who skipped out on his trial for Manchester United, through to his move to the US to play for teams such as the LA Aztecs. Best also looks at the obsessions that defined Best’s life; football and excess.
THE VERDICT: There have been many films about the life and times of football’s most legendary and tragic player, George Best, but Daniel Gordon’s new documentary tells the story not only through the eyes of George Best himself, but those around him, from former teammates and agents to friends, lovers and wives.
The film opens with Angie Best, George’s first wife, telling the story of driving to the doctor for a check up on her newborn son – Calum. Angie saw a man walking down the centre of the road in the rain, and took pity on the person she believed to be homeless and destitute. It was only as the car passed him that Angie realised the man she saw was her husband, George Best. She kept driving. This story bookends the film, and is a touchstone in the tale of fame and tragedy that was the life of George Best.
Director Daniel Gordon has tracked down friends and family for this new documentary, including Angie Best, Alex Best – George’s second wife – Ani Rinchen Khandro (formerly Jackie Glass), former Manchester United Manager Sir Matt Busby, Man City player Mike Summerbee, journalist Hugh McIlvanney, Man United player Harry Gregg, agent Bill Mc Murdo and Roy Hudson from the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, to name but a few. The film is made up of a combination of archive footage that allows the late George Best to speak for himself, as well as new interviews with those who knew him. What emerges is a story of a talented – some might say genius – player, who tragically did not have the staying power and strength to avoid the obsession with alcohol that brought him down.
The interviews in the film bring it to life, and it is clear that Best touched everyone he knew to varying degrees. Although almost the entire world knows what befell the talented football player from Northern Ireland, but as the story unfolds on screen it becomes clear that Best struggled to come to terms with being the first true celebrity footballer, as well as inner demons he never managed to shake.
Daniel Gordon focuses squarely on the football career of George Best, but obviously has to address the issue of his descent into alcoholism. There are mentions of “demons” plaguing Best, but this is not the film to try to uncover just what those demons were. This is a Shakespearean tragedy played out on screen and, for those of us too young to remember George Best as anything but someone who used to be someone, seeing the footage of Best playing the game he loved is exhilarating.
In all, ‘Best’ is a strong documentary and tries to be an honest look at the career of George Best. There are many questions left unanswered throughout the film, and although it seems clear that this is because there are simply no answers to be had, the impulse to show Best at his um… best and skip the sensationalism that came after his career as a player ended leaves the film feeling slightly unfinished. That said, there is a lot to learn and love in ‘Best’, and it is as fitting a tribute to the player as possible.
Review by Brogen Hayes

IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD (Canada | France/1%A/97mins)
Directed by Xavier Dolan. Starring Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel, Gaspard Ulliel, Lea Seydoux.
THE PLOT: Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) returns home after an absence of 12 years because he wants to tell his family the terrible truth; he is dying. When he gets there however, old tensions reawaken almost as soon as he crosses the threshold, and the return of the prodigal son leads to bickering and fighting among the family. Louis is then faced with a choice; to tell his family the truth or protect them.
THE VERDICT: Based on the stage play ‘Juste La Fin du Monde’ by Jean-Luc Lagarce, ‘It’s Only the End of the World’ not only feels familiar and slightly derivative, but is undermined by some distracting music choices and, for the first time, makes it all to obvious that Dolan is a very young director.
Gaspard Ulliel leads an incredible cast as Louis, the son returning home, and makes the character a quiet person whose mere presence is a catalyst, so words seem unnecessary. This monosyllabic nature of the character is also an insight into his behaviour at home; Louis is a successful playwright, but always seems unable to come up with the right words to say to his family. Marion Cotillard plays Louis’ sister in law Catherine, and this is a change of pace for the actor, as Catherine is a shy and beaten down woman who often struggles to express herself, and lives in the shadow of her husband. Cotillard makes the character sympathetic and watchable, but she never really gets a chance to be as great as we know she can be. Vincent Cassel plays Catherine’s husband Antoine, and the actor obviously enjoys his large and showy role; Antoine is the antagonist, the one who always stirs up emotion then shuts it down, and Cassel is great in this horrible role. Léa Seydoux plays Louis’ younger sister Suzanne, a woman who was just a child when she last saw her brother, and only knows him through the memories of others. Seydoux does well enough in this smaller role, but other than rise to Antoine’s bait, she doesn’t have a lot to do. Finally, Nathalie Baye plays the mother of the brood; always trying to shut down confrontation, Baye is strong in the role, but like much of the cast family members, doesn’t truly get a chance to shine, other than in one pivotal scene.
Xavier Dolan’s screenplay feels rather derivative, almost as though ‘It’s Only the End of the World’ is a rehash of ‘August: Osage County’; both films have incredibly similar storylines, tons of bickering among family members and secrets being kept. There are some great lines of dialogue, but Dolan either never wants to, or is never able to shake the feel of ‘It’s Only the End of the World’ being a stage play, and although the film has a twist, this is obvious from the moment Louis walks into the house, so the film has very few surprises and little new to offer to a family drama.
As director, Dolan makes sure that each of the characters is fleshed out with enough quirks to feel almost real, and to give each family member something to argue about. Most of the performances, however, are underwhelming, with the bickering and talk of dessert taking centre stage. As well as this, Dolan makes some strange music choices – ‘I Miss You’ by Blink-182, ‘Natural Blues’ by Moby and ‘Dragostea din tei’ by O-Zone are all in there – and these not only seems jarring and out of place, but are so overwhelming on the soundtrack that they block out any emotion being conveyed in the scene they are played over. Dolan makes use of flashback throughout the film, a device to convey nostalgia and memories of home and childhood, these are mostly silent – other than booming soundtrack – but are not used as carefully as they should have been and end up feeling like music videos.
In all, ‘It’s Only the End of the World’ is not the first play that Xavier Dolan has adapted for the screen, but it is the first time that this Cannes darling’s youth and inexperience is obvious on screen. The cast do what they can, but are stifled by the script; and booming music and consistent bickering leave the film drained and draining.
Review by Brogen Hayes