THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (UK/Ireland / 16 / 120 mins)
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sonny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone.
THE PLOT: Eminent heart surgeon Steven (Colin Farrell) seems to have it all – a beautiful wife in Anna (Nicole Kidman), two happy if somewhat precocious kids in Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sonny Suljic) and a peaceful house to live in. What he hasn’t told his family about is his friendship with intense teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan), the son of a patient of his who died on the operating table. Steven takes Martin under his wing, acting as a father figure for him. However, that turns to latent obsession when Martin’s behaviour becomes increasingly focused on Steven’s family…
THE VERDICT: Are you sitting uncomfortably? Good. That’s where offbeat Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos wants you to be. For ‘The Killing Of A Sacred Deer’ is a tightly wound psychological drama that invokes dread and an impending sense of familial disaster. With a title taken from the ending of a Greek tragedy by Euripedes, playing happy families isn’t going to be on the cards here. But if you’ve been following Lanthimos’ work so far, from his homegrown films like the disturbing Dogtooth to his eccentric English language debut, ‘The Lobster’, then you’ll know what to expect here.
If anything, ‘The Killing Of A Sacred Deer’ is his most accessible film yet. Though, accessible is a confined definition here. It’s accessible in the sense that it’s slightly more palatable and more direct in approach than his earlier films. It’s not quite mainstream, but not that far off from it. Re-uniting with Farrell and Irish production outfit Element Pictures once again, Lanthimos has set his story in America this time but maintained Farrell’s native accent. The story is a slow-burner, but that time is well spent. The strange relationship between Steven and Martin is delineated clearly early on, with Martin even encouraging his mother (Alicia Silverstone) to make a pass at Steven. Destroying Steven’s home life hadn’t even entered his mind. Martin has other plans, insinuating himself into Steven’s family.
There’s an undercurrent of tension running throughout the film, as if everyone was one bad day away from a breakdown. That is, everyone except the calmly cool Martin. Young Irish actor Keoghan has been working steadily for a few years now, but his solid screen presence and ability to invoke both sympathy and uncertainty here, and in Dunkirk recently, has marked him out as a name to watch. He’s clearly been studying the older Irish actors he’s been working with and there’s a touch of both Cillian Murphy and Farrell in him. Speaking of which, Farrell dials down his performance here, skilfully portraying a man about to snap.
It doesn’t entirely work though. Lanthimos’ detached style of filmmaking – indifferently observing the characters from a slight remove rather than up close – can be offputting at times (is everyone except Martin in a vague coma?). He also encourages his actors to mechanically deliver line readings at times, which only adds to the icy atmosphere. He doesn’t quite manage to turn the screws fully on his characters either, at least not in the same way that Michael Haneke does. ‘The Killing Of A Sacred Deer’ is still worth seeking out though for being unsettling viewing and for a star-making turn from Keoghan.
RATING: 3.5 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
CONDEMNED TO REMEMBER (15A/Ireland/94mins)
Directed by Gerry Gregg. Starring Tomi Reichental.
THE PLOT: Filmmaker Gerry Gregg focuses on Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental as he celebrates his 80th birthday in a Dublin mosque, and travels the world drawing parallels between the past and present. The past that he survived, and the present that threatens all of us.
THE VERDICT: Reichental was born and spent his childhood in Slovakia, before being taken to a Nazi concentration camp. When he escaped, 35 members of his family had been killed, and he subsequently settled in Ireland to live his life in quietude. It was not until later in his life that Reichental realised the power he had as a survivor, and the obligation he felt to speak out about the terrible parallels he saw between his past and what is happening in the world today, as well as his quest to help to bring SS War Criminal Hilde Michnia to justice.
Tomi Reichental is a fascinating subject for a documentary, a man who mourns the past that so terrible affected him and millions like him, while trying to raise awareness about equality, acceptance and reminding us not to allow what happened to him and his family to happen again. Reichental is both subject and interviewer throughout the film, and although it would be easy for ‘Condemned to Remember’ to be a historical documentary, which only looks backward, it is clear that Tomi Reichental believes there is a lot more to why he feels the need to speak out publicly. The Slovakian genocide of Jewish people is a truth that is not often explored on film, and there are some truly striking and engaging moments as Reichental speaks with people of different nationalities and religions about his experiences. However it is when Tomi turns his eye to the present that the film takes on a passionate and far reaching feel, as Reichental makes clear that the Syrian refugee crisis and the treatment of ‘outsiders’ feels to him, like a repetition of the horrors he survived in his life.
Gerry Gregg’s film feels personal, political and an important reminder to audiences that the past is part of the present. Tomi Reichental feels he is condemned to remember the past that so greatly damaged him and millions of others, and the film makes sure to tell audiences that we are all responsible for protecting vulnerable people, and not turning a blind eye. That said, however, there are times when ‘Condemned to Remember’ feels a little disjointed, and not always cohesive in the story, and the comparison it is trying to make. That said, there are plenty of emotional moments throughout the film, and it is difficult not to come out of the cinema thinking about the state of the world today.
In all, ‘Condemned to Remember’ is a little messy and incoherent at times, but Tomi Reichental and his experiences are not only emotionally engaging, but the paralells he draws between that has happened in the world and what is happening today is a powerful message. A clearer vision for the film, however, could have led to a more coherent and cohesive feel.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Murder On The Orient Express (Malta / USA / 12A / 114 mins)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh.
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe.
The Plot: The great Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is on his way back to London via the Orient Express from Istanbul. Having just solved a case, he’s in need of a holiday. He’s not going to get one though. While onboard, he’s approached by businessman Ratchett (Johnny Depp) to protect him, but Poirot refuses. He doesn’t like Ratchett’s face – and with good reason. The next morning Ratchett is found dead, having been stabbed multiple times. Suspicion is immediately cast on the immediate passengers – among whom include Ratchett’s secretary MacQueen (Josh Gad), governess Mary (Daisy Ridley), glamourous Mrs Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), German professor Hardmann (Willem Dafoe) and the dour Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench). With the train caught in a snowdrift, time is running out for Poirot to solve the crime. That is, if he can…
The Verdict: There have been several film and TV versions of Agatha Christie’s 1934 Poirot book Murder On The Orient Express, most notably Sidney Lumet’s star-studded 1974 film. Kenneth Branagh is the latest to add his voice and considerable talent to the list, taking on both directorial duties and the role of the Poirot himself. Good stories are worth re-telling and this particular one is one of Christie’s best. It’s a complex story with a moral quandary at its heart. Even if you already know the outcome, it’s still thrilling to watch it play out again with a new cast and a different interpretation.
Screenwriter Michael Green takes his time to introduce this version of Poirot in the opening scene in Jersualem. From his fussiness and extreme attention to detail, to his love of pastries and that enormous, decadent moustache – true to Christie’s own description of her most beloved character. He also adds some brief action elements, to spice up the plot a bit and ensure that it’s not too stagebound / snowbound. With a more modern, ethnically diverse cast, he also injects an undercurrent of racism into the story too.
Branagh responds likewise here, using his 65mm camera to move the story outdoors at times and create a more confined but still threatening environment. This is particularly evident in Poirot’s summation, which takes place in a cave and with the suspects sitting at one long table. The parallels with The Last Supper are all too evident, for this is a key moment for Poirot to decide the potential fate of these suspects. Although he doesn’t physically resemble prior screen versions of Poirot, Branagh does an excellent job of portraying him. Less fussy and more perceptive than Albert Finney’s performance, this is a Poirot who isn’t all-knowing. He exudes confidence, yet even this case confounds him – kudos to Branagh for showing Poirot in a rare moment of private weakness, along with the weight of his final solution.
Some elements don’t work though. Despite having his own all-star cast, Branagh struggles slightly to keep all his characters / suspects in check. Some get more screentime than others, while those others are so thinly sketched as to barely be there (the Count and Countess Andrenyi). With his scars and armoured demeanour, Depp’s Ratchett is too obviously a villain as well. However, there’s a lot to admire in this new production of Murder On The Orient Express. Branagh certainly captures the opulence of the time period and the cinematography is striking (one can only imagine it looking amazing on a 70mm print). Branagh keeps it firmly on track and delivers an entertaining, occasionally thought-provoking journey into darkness and back into the light.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor