THE SECRET SCRIPTURE (Ireland/12A/108mins) Directed by Jim Sheridan. Starring Rooney Mara, Jack Reynor, Theo James, Vanessa Redgrave, Eric Bana. THE PLOT: In the middle of World War II, Irish woman Rose (Rooney Mara) secretly marries an Irish fighter pilot working for the RAF. When he is chased away from their home by Irish Republicans, Rose learns she is pregnant, and spends the next 40 years in an institution; it is only when the facility is being closed and Rose has to be reassessed, that the true story of her tragic life comes to light. THE VERDICT: Based on the novel of the same name by Sebastian Barry, ‘The Secret Scripture’ is directed by Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan and boasts an impressive cast including Jack Reynor, Aidan Turner, Pauline McLynn, Susan Lynch, Theo James, Eric Bana, Vanessa Redgrave, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. Obviously inspired by the waves of scandal about the Catholic Church that continue to shock Ireland, ‘The Secret Scripture’ feels a little like an exploitative version of ‘The Notebook’.
Rooney Mara leads the cast as Rose – with Vanessa Redgrave playing the older version of the character – and Mara is charming enough, does well with the accent, but it is difficult to see just why all the men in this small Sligo town are falling all over her, since her sex appeal is virtually non-existent. That said, Mara does well enough with the role and it is good to see her smile from time to time. Vanessa Redgrave handles the older version of the character, a broken woman who still believes her truth, even after years of heartbreak and electroshock therapy, with grace and dignity. Redgrave is a powerhouse actress, and her performance brings gravitas and strength to the film. Jack Reynor and Aidan Turner have smaller roles, Susan Lynch makes her nursing character gentle and caring, and Eric Bana makes Dr Greene a passionate and engaged man.
Jim Sheridan and Johnny Ferguson’s screenplay is based on the novel by Sebastian Barry, and often feels strained and strange. The romantic elements at the start of the film work fine, but there are some plot points that feel more than a little convenient – although they may work on page better than they do on the screen – and there is a feel that the later half of the film is a little exploitative of real suffering undergone by Irish people. That said, the feeling that the Catholic Church in Ireland had a lot to answer for in terms of cruelty and suffering is strong throughout the film, and this is a message that Irish people should never forget.
As director Jim Sheridan seems as though he is trying to make a World War II romantic drama, so then the elements of Church abuse do not always sit well with the feel of the rest of the film. Little explanation is given for many of the characters’ motivations, and although it is clear who the good and the bad guys are, Ireland in the 1940s was more complicated than the film makes it appear. The cinematography makes the country look beautiful, but there are visual and scripted clichés that drag the film down.
In all, ‘The Secret Scripture’ is just about kept afloat by Vanessa Redgrave and the beautiful cinematography, but there are too many conveniences and clichés in the script for the story to ring true, and the whole thing just ends up feeling a little emotionless and trite. RATING: 2.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
LIFE (USA/15A/103mins) Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare. THE PLOT: When the crew of the International Space Station discover potential life in samples that come back from Mars, they are understandably excited, and when the single cell organism – nicknamed Calvin by an elementary school back on Earth – begins to grow, so does the crew’s excitement. When Calvin begins to get aggressive however, the crew realise they have to stop the creature making its way to Earth, even at the cost of their own lives. THE VERDICT: ‘Life’ sets out to be a standalone space horror thriller, but with obvious nods to ‘Alien’ and ‘Gravity’, the film ends up feeling like the love child of both, and not quite as good as either.The crew of the International Space Station is made up of Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada and Ariyon Bakare, a stellar cast that do well with what they are given. ‘Life’ is not a film about the characters aboard the space station – in fact, the more we learn about certain characters, the more we are sure they are not going to get out alive – but each of the cast get their moment, and they do well with the limited time they are given to develop their characters on screen. Gyllenhaal perhaps has the biggest opportunity of the entire cast, and milks it for everything that it is worth.
Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who previously collaborated on ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Zombieland’, ‘Life’ starts off as an atmospheric thriller, but the audience’s knowledge goes against their enjoyment of the film, as when Calvin begins to turn against the human life on the ISS, the audience already knows that things are going to go wrong. Add to this the feeling that ‘Life’ was heavily inspired by ‘Alien’, with a touch of ‘Gravity’, it is difficult to shake the feeling that we have seen all of this before, and we know where things are inevitably going to end up.
As director, Daniel Espinosa ramps up the unsettling and creepy feel of being alone in space right from the very beginning. There are times when Espinosa tries to show off his skill through long tracking shots, but these added to the zero gravity atmosphere of the ISS end up feeling dull and drawn out. The pacing of the film is strong enough, with the audience barely getting to chance to catch their breath between attacks from Calvin. That said, the familiar feeling of the film is hard to shake, even though many of the performances in the film are strong, and the twist at the end is easy to see coming from a mile away.
In all, ‘Life’ is a decent space thriller, but there is a familiar feel to the film that is hard to shake, as well as an inevitability that is obvious from the start and some very clunky foreshadowing. The performances in the film are fine, as is the pacing, but when it comes down to it, ‘Life’ is a film that we have seen before. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE LOST CITY OF Z (USA/15A/141mins) Directed by James Gray. Starring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen. THE PLOT: British Army Officer Percival Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) has never progressed as far has he would like within the army, but when he is assigned to an exploration mission with the Royal Geographical Society to map the uncharted jungles of Bolivia, he finds a passion for the uncharted lands and the mysteries they hold, that he never expected. Fawcett believes there is an ancient lost city waiting to be discovered in the jungle, but when he sets out on his third voyage into Bolivia with his son Jack (Tom Holland), the mystery deepens even further. THE VERDICT: Based on David Grann’s novel of the same name – which, in turn, is based on real events – ‘The Lost City of Z’ should be a thrilling adventure into the unknown, but even though the film comes in at 141 minutes, we never get to learn just what drives Fawcett to continue to risk his life in the jungle.
The cast is made up of Charlie Hunnan, Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Sienna Miller and Angus Macfadyen, and while each of them do well enough with their roles, none of them really get the chance to flesh out the characters to feel real or relatable. Tom Holland has a small chance to bring Jack Fawcett to life properly, as his character runs the gamut of emotions for the small time that he is on screen, and Robert Pattinson’s role is worth mentioning since it is a notably unshowy character for the actor.
The screenplay is adapted from David Grann’s novel by James Gray, and although the story may have worked well on the page, there does not seem to be a narrative arc for much of the film, as the characters simply bounce back and forth from Bolivia to the UK to Ireland to World War II and back to Bolivia. This leaves the film feeling scattered and messy, and given the fact that the audience is never truly given a chance to get to know the characters – especially Percival Fawcett’s motivations to keep walking away from his young family for years at a time – everything feels rather superficial throughout the film.
As director James Gray manages, surprisingly, to pace the 141 minute running time rather well, and even though there is a superficial feeling to the entire film, the story moves along at a decent pace. That said, the audience is often left hungry for more as Gray never fleshes out the characters properly, and even though we go on this adventure with these characters, we never truly engage with them and the discoveries they are making.
In all, ‘The Lost City of Z’ is a disappointment, the cast never get a chance to flesh out their characters properly, and as a result, the audience never gets the chance to understand the passions and drive that keeps pushing these men to put their lives in danger. RATING: 2/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
AQUARIUS (Brazil | France/18/146mins) Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho. Starring Sonia Braga, Maeve Jinkings, Irandhir Santos, Humberto Carrão, Zoraide Coleto THE PLOT: Clara (Sonia Braga) is the last resident of the ‘Aquarius’ apartment building, a space that developers want to tear down to make way for something new. Clara vows never to move out of her apartment until she makes her final journey, which leads to her engaging in a cold war with the developers, and Clara looking back over her life and the memories she has made in her home. THE VERDICT: It would be easy for Clara to be drawn as an older woman who is doddery and stubbornly refusing to move because she is weak, but writer/director Kleber Mendonça Filho carefully creates Clara’s world, making her a strong and defiant character who refuses to be forgotten.
Sonia Braga gives the performance of her career as the powerful and strong yet vulnerable Clara, and we see the film through her eyes. Braga never allows Clara to bow to pressure and bullying, but blends this carefully with a woman who is facing not only the loss of her home, but also the idea of being forgotten as a person, since Braga makes it clear that this is about more than just the place where Clara keeps her stuff. The rest of the cast features Maeve Jinkings, Irandhir Santos, Humberto Carrão and Carla Ribas.
Kleber Mendonça Filho’s screenplay carefully blends the past and the present throughout the film, while including a hint of the future. The script carefully makes Clara a strong woman who is not without her insecurities and vulnerabilities, which makes her a totally rounded character that it is easy for the audience to relate to. The dialogue is strong, and although there are times when the film feels as though it is rambling and overly long, but when everything comes together in the end, it is emotional and engaging.
As director, Kleber Mendonça Filho paces the film well enough; although it is overly long at 142 minutes the audience stays engaged for the running time. Filho has also coaxed wonderful performances from her cast, especially Sonia Braga, and created a feel of home, as well as nostalgia and a view to the future throughout the film.
In all, ‘Aquarius’ shows Sonia Braga off to be the powerful actress she is; Braga easily carries the film and makes the leading character one for the audiences to root for, as we are able to see her wonderful unique qualities through the script and direction. Of there were to be a complaint, it would be at 142 minutes, ‘Aquarius’ often feels overly long. RATING: 4.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes