TRIPLE 9 (USA/16/115mins) Directed by John Hillcoat. Starring Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Tersa Palmer, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Chiwetel Ejiofor. THE PLOT: After pulling off a bank heist for the Russian mafia, crooks Russell (Norman Reedus), Gabe (Aaron Paul) and corrupt cops Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.) are forced to do one more job for Irina (Kate Winslet), in order to pay off their debt to her. The trouble is that new cop Chris (Casey Affleck) has his suspicions, and this new job will take longer to pull off, so the crew decide to buy themselves some time by staging a Triple Nine – killing a police officer. THE VERDICT: ‘Triple 9’ is a change of pace of Lawless and The Road director John Hillcoat, as he takes on a police thriller that focuses on corrupt police officers using their power to break the law.
The ensemble cast, for the most part, are strong in their roles; it is really the story of Casey Affleck’s Chris and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Michael, and these are the performances that stand out. As well as these, Anthony Mackie is strong as Marcus, the cop who is partnered with Chris all of a sudden, and Woody Harrelson obviously has a lot of fun playing the eccentric investigating officer. Elsewhere, Kate Winslet, Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus have less to do. Winslet’s accent is a little all over the place, but Paul and Reedus do well with the little they are given.
Matt Cook’s screenplay feels familiar in that it can be easily compared to ‘Heat’ and any other police thriller you could care to mention… ‘Training Day’ perhaps!? The difference in the story occurs through the relationships in the film; the entire undercurrent of the film is of family as many of the characters struggle to hold on to what they have got and the people they love. The twists, such as they are, are not too shocking or even twisty, and there is a point in the middle when it is unclear who the audience should be rooting for to make it out of this tangle of right and wrong.As director, John Hillcoat obviously enjoyed himself in making this cop thriller, but there is so much story to fit into the 115 minute running time that the film feels as though it is dragging its heels for the first hour. The set pieces are slick and well made; the film comes into its own once the relationships come into play and John Hillcoat once again shows off his talent at making criminals and anti-heroes the ones the audience roots for, but also making sure that not many of them make it out of the film intact.
In all,’ Triple 9′ is a departure for director John Hillcoat, and there is a lot of fun to be had with this tangled police thriller, but there are times when the story becomes muddled, actors are underused and some accents are a little too chewy to forgive. RATING: 3.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
HOW TO BE SINGLE (USA/15A/110mins) Directed by Christian Ditter. Starring Dakota Johnson, Alison Brie, Leslie Mann, Rebel Wilson, Anders Holm. THE PLOT: Newly single after several years in a relationship and believing she wants to discover who she is while alone, Alice (Dakota Johnson) starts her new life in New York City. Although she quickly befriends Robin (Rebel Wilson), she quickly learns that the single life isn’t quite all that it is made out to be. Meanwhile, Lucy (Alison Brie) is so desperate to get married that she has created an algorithm to find the perfect guy, Tom (Anders Holm) goes from one one night stand to the next, and Meg (Leslie Mann) is trying convince herself that she is fine on her own and definitely doesn’t want kids. THE VERDICT: Dakota Johnson plays Alice as the wide eyed girl new to the city – Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” playing over her arrival into the city and everything – who sets out to have new life experiences. There is not a lot to Alice other than indecision and an annoying innocence, so Johnson manages the role fine since it is below the skill she displayed in ‘A Bigger Splash’. Rebel Wilson reprises her role as the loud mouthed slutty friend, Anders Holm plays a sleazy bartender, and Alison Brie plays the manic pixie girl obsessed with getting her white wedding, although not a hint is given that marriage is the start of something, rather than the end. Elsewhere, Leslie Mann does well enough with a role as a workaholic doctor who has convinced herself – rather badly – that a baby is not in her plan, Damon Wayans Jr plays David, a man unable to let go of the past, and Jake Lacy tries his best to buck the trend of stereotypes by playing a young man who has always dreamed of being a stay at home dad.
‘How to be Single’ takes its name from Liz Tuccillo’s novel, but other than a character named Alice, the film seems to have little to do with the story of the book. Instead of a character who travels the world looking for herself and finding a way to be happy on her own – cliché, but it could have been better than the finished result of the film –screenwriters Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein and Dana Fox have reduced the story into stereotypes; the slutty friend, the ingénue, the wedding crazy one, the commitment-phobe and the workaholic. The dialogue sounds as though it is taken straight from a self-help book or – even as it notably takes the mick from ‘Sex and the City’ – a column written by Carrie Bradshaw 15 years ago. In trying to create an aspirational message in the film, the story dissolves from women not needing to be in a relationship to be fulfilled into one about women somehow feeling the need to apologise for not being in a relationship by the time they leave college. Thankfully, we are all one read of a book by Cheryl Strayed and a magnet on a pulley to help us open our dress zippers away from being self-actualised The story jumps throughout the space of a year, with motivations disappearing in the wind as scenes need to be played out. Arguments happen seemingly because the script says they should, and slut-shaming, relationship shaming and women shaming abound.
Director Christian Ditter, who last brought us the clichéd and half-baked ‘Love, Rosie’, brings us another clichéd and half-baked film in How to be Single. The story jumps through time seemingly at will, characters disappear and reappear at their own discretion and although the film could have been seen as Ditter’s apology for the clichéd and insulting ‘Love, Rosie’, it somehow ends up more insulting to women who want careers, don’t want children or are perfectly fine without a man, thank you very much.
In all, ‘How to be Single’ is a film that, on the surface, seems to celebrate women and the choice to be single, but instead succeeds in women being shamed for their choices, slut-shamed and reduced to stereotypes, while men are allowed to be as promiscuous as they like without fear or repercussion. The laughs are few on the ground and, while New York City looks fantastic and there are some good songs on the soundtrack, by the end, who really cares? RATING: 1/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE FINEST HOURS (USA/12A/117mins) Directed by Craig Gillespie. Starring Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, Eric Bana, John Ortiz. THE PLOT: In February 1952, a blizzard hit the coast of Cape Cod. Two tankers split in half during the violent storm and Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) was part of a four-man crew sent out to try and rescue the crew of the stranded stern of the SS Pendleton. THE VERDICT: ‘The Finest Hours’ is based on a remarkable true story; what kind of rotten fate deals the coast guard two tankers that split in half in one night!? The story focuses on Chris Webber – played by Chris Pine – the man who took charge of a tiny vessel that ultimately performed the greatest small boat rescue in US history.
Chris Pine leads the cast here and, like many of the characters, Bernie Webber is drawn broad and thin so as to be heroic but not all that remarkable. Pine brings charm to the role however, removing him from the more arrogant and over the top roles we are used to seeing the actor in. Casey Affleck leads the cast on the doomed SS Pendleton, as Ray Sybert, an engineer who manages to keep the stern of the shop afloat for several hours after the ship breaks apart. Affleck makes Sybert the strong and silent type, and this again is a change of pace for the actor, although he doesn’t have a lot to do on an emotional level. The rest of the cast features Holliday Grainger, Eric Bana, Ben Foster, John Ortiz, and Rachel Brosnahan.
Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson’s screenplay is based on Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias’ book of the same name, but doesn’t seem to want to flesh the characters out, nor make them anything more than carriers for the story. Since it is fairly clear that this story is going to have a tense journey but a happy ending, this is not surprising, but it is a little disappointing to see the lead female role reduced to worrying about her man, and none of the coast guard or sailors given much to do. Also, having the sailor who consistently sings “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” (from ‘Guys and Dolls’) be the one that dies a horrific death is rather on the nose.
‘The Finest Hours’ is director Craig Gillespie’s third film for Disney after ‘Fright Night’ and ‘Million Dollar Arm’ – but doesn’t really make a mark on this film, instead it seems to be the waves and the CGI that direct the film, with Gillespie ramping up the tension now and again. Splitting the focus between the stricken ship and the coast guard seems like a good idea in terms of narrative, but it splits attention, and with another ship broken apart just miles away, it seems that this could have been included more in the film, although it has less of a happy ending.
In all, ‘The Finest Hours’ is a rather broad but serviceable disaster movie with a happy enough ending. The characters are less people than they are vessels to move the story forward, but there is some adventure to be had with the sea faring scenes. The scale of the rescue is what makes the film work, but more fleshed out characters would have made for a stronger film overall. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
BONE TOMAHAWK (USA/IFI/132mins)
Directed by S. Craig Zahler. Starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, Evan Jonigkeit, David Arquette, Fred Melamed.
THE PLOT: It’s a five-day journey in three days when Sheriff Hunt (Russell) leads a posse out of Bright Hope, out to rescue two men and the wife of the bed-ridden Arthur O’Dwyer (Wilson). The three were abducted by mysterious raiders in the middle of the night, and time is of the essence, given that the kidnappers are “something else entirely”, a tribal Indian breed like no other… THE VERDICT: This is the movie ‘I wish The Hateful 8’ had been. ‘Bone Tomahawk’ has a plot, a purpose, a feckin’ punch.
Not that Zahler is Peckinpah, or Ford, or even Hillcoat, but there’s a welcome sense of menace to ‘Bone Tomahawk’, its B-movie ballsiness offset nicely by deeper, darker rumblings.
And no better man for arthouse-meets-grindhouse shenanigans than Kurt Russell, rightfully taking his place as an elder statesman of cult classics and kitschy old hits that are actually, hey, very, very good.
With a supporting cast that boasts the likes of Patrick Wilson and Richard Jenkins, you know from the opening credits that this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around. RATING: 4/5
Review by Paul Byrne
FREEHELD (USA/12A/103mins) Directed by Peter Sollett. Starring Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon, Steve Carell. THE PLOT: When New Jersey police detective Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) is diagnosed with terminal cancer she is determined for her pension to go to her partner Stacie (Ellen Page), so she can afford to stay in the home they shared together. The trouble is that while domestic partnership is legal, they have to campaign the Freeholders of their home county to grant Laurel’s dying wish, a wish they are none too keen to agree with.
THE VERDICT: It almost feels, in the wake of the Equality Referendum in Ireland in May 2015 and the US Supreme Court passing the same in June 2015, that ‘Freeheld’ has lost some of the impact it could have had if it was released a year ago. As it stands, the film is well acted and an important, if familiar story.
Julianne Moore takes on another uncomfortable and difficult role in ‘Freeheld’; Laurel is not only a woman diagnosed with cancer, but she is someone who has always kept her sexuality secret for fear of being discriminated against. Unsurprisingly, Moore manages the role with dignity and grace, but she is seriously sidelined in the second half of the film. By contrast, the second half of the film is where Ellen Page as Stacie comes into her own as once Laurel becomes unwell, Stacie stands up for her partner and the rights she is fighting for. Page is soft and vulnerable, and fierce and loyal by turn, but always utterly watchable. Michael Shannon is strong as Laurel’s long-time work colleague Dane, and Steve Carell has a weirdly over the top and camp role – that doesn’t always sit well with the rest of the film – as gay equality activist Steven.
Ron Nyswaner’s screenplay – based on the real battle that Laurel and Stacie went through – is well enough written for the audience to see just why these two women had such a fight to get what was legally theirs in the first place. As well as this, the central three characters are well fleshed out, it is when we get to Steve Carell as Steven that we begin to run into trouble. Steven is such an over the top and flamboyant character that it is clear he was added to bring some levity to the film, but it is precisely this that undermines the message of the film and turns it from feeling like an important story of love and equality into a slightly caricatured and uneven film.
‘Freeheld’ is director Peter Sollett’s first film since ‘Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist’ in 2008 and, while the story is an important one, and one that could be told anywhere in the world, it does end up feeling rather twee, laboured, and as though it was a made for TV movie since it lacks bite for much of the running time. That said, the film is well acted to give emotional punches, and the joy and grief is given a light touch.
‘Freeheld’ is an important story, the impact of which, in the wake of legal changes in Ireland and the US, has certainly been lessened. That said, Moore, Page and Shannon do their best with this twee and familiar script, while Steve Carell seems to have been brought in from a different movie entirely, so camp and over the top is his performance. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Michel Fanco. Starring Tim Roth, Bitsie Tulloch, Claire van der Boom, David Dastmalchian, Sarah Sutherland, Tate Ellington, Joe Santos, Michael Cristofer
THE PLOT: David (Tim Roth) is a home care nurse who works with terminally ill patients. Almost seamlessly inserting himself into their lives, David steals details of their worlds to tell strangers, and often becomes more relied upon and trusted than the patients’ families. THE VERDICT: Tim Roth stars as David. Roth allows the quiet and still nature of Franco’s filmmaking to infuse the character, making David a powerful presence on screen, but a mystery to both his patients and the audience. The rest of the cast is made up of Bitsie Tulloch, Claire van der Boom, David Dastmalchian, Sarah Sutherland, Tate Ellington, Joe Santos and Michael Cristofer who all orbit David in different ways, and all benefit from Franco’s still manner of filming.
Franco’s film does not have a traditional narrative arc or, some might say, a narrative arc at all; instead focusing on the day to day life of David, and the people he encounters as he cares for them. There is a subplot about David’s own family, but this feels inconsequential and shoehorned in. The film does the ‘day in the life’ aspect of the story well but, as with After Lucia, it seems that Franco had no idea how to end this rambling, meandering but engaging tale, and opting for a highly inappropriate car ex machina ending, which feels disingenuous and contrived.
As director, Franco allows the action to unfold in front of the camera, rather than adjusting camera angles to suit the action, which gives the film a feeling of voyeurism, with a hint of the idea that we are watching true moments from life, the still ones where the emotional action truly happens Franco does not pull any punches when it comes to depicting chronic and often terminal illness either; allowing the audience to see the fragility of the incredibly ill, and characters have their dignity robbed from them as they try to fight to stay alive. That said, almost all of this is undermined by a thoughtless and almost comedic final shot.
In all, ‘Chronic’ is an unflinching examination of illness and those who care for us when we can no longer care for ourselves. Roth is fantastic in the leading role, and ably carries the unflinching gaze of the camera. Shame he is so badly abandoned in the film’s contrived final moments. RATING: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes