Our weekly roundup of film reviews returns, courtesy of James Bryan…
No box-office devouring monsters this week but some quality produce that’s worth seeking out – mainly Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and the Romanian film, 4 months, 3 weeks & 2 days. We’ve also got Hanks and Roberts in Charlie Wilson’s War and Steve Carell in Dan in Real Life.
Let’s start with Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, a small-scale movie that could easily get lost in the crowd. However our critics are imploring you to see it. It is directed by 84-year old Sidney Lumet and stars the ever-reliable Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers planning on robbing a small time jewellery store. Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian, a man it is not easy to impress, gives the film 5-stars describing it as a “superb heist thriller” and:
surely a jewel in Lumet's long career: something to stand comparison with his 1975 classic Dog Day Afternoon and perhaps with Reservoir Dogs and Kubrick's The Killing.
Wendy Ide in the Times gives it 4-stars:
The film’s jagged, non-linear structure means that we learn early on that the robbery doesn’t go as planned. But this in no way relaxes the film’s stranglehold of tension. Lumet’s experience combined with the fresh eyes of first-time screenwriter Kelly Masterson makes for a powerful package.
Anthony Quinn in The Independent (3-stars) is also impressed, noting that the film deals with much bigger themes than many crime thrillers attempt:
What starts out as a commonplace thriller has, by its close, turned into a desolate account of failure – the failure of a family's love and, deeper, of our old friend the American Dream.
Hoffman crops up again in this weeks biggest release, Charlie Wilson’s War.
The film stars Tom Hanks and Julia ‘please put me in the trailer in a bikini to prove I’ve still got it’ Roberts. Peter Bradshaw (2-stars) describes the premise:
This is a fictionalised sentimental-comic tribute to the real-life congressman Charlie Wilson, an exuberant figure who in the 1980s, with considerable chutzpah, masterminded and funded the covert war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
He reckons the film “all adds up to something very unsatisfying, and less than honest” and describes Roberts’ performance as the “worst performance of her career: humourless and semi-intentionally grotesque”. While Tom Hanks may cavort with strippers and do coke, he obviously doesn’t want to deviate too far from his image. James Christopher in the Times gives the film 3-stars, noting:
Hanks has piled on the pounds to play the coke-snorting alcoholic. He deserves an award for his Method zeal, but he has no real talent for debauchery or sleaze.
Anthony Quinn in the Independent talks about the problems of getting the tone right:
The combination of political jockeying, romantic mischief and Cold War conflict means the tone can hardly settle from one scene to the next, and the spectacle of Charlie embarrassing himself in front of Pakistani generals next to a pull-away shot of a massive refugee crisis just feels shabby.
But we’ll leave it with Bradshaw for the final word:
Another deeply muddled, fence-sitting, obtuse Hollywood picture about American politics, excruciatingly unsure whether to crack wise satirically, or go into a glassy-eyed patriotic celebration
Therefore this is probably not going to be the awards hungry picture it was designed to be and there’s many better films around this week. However Dan in Real Life isn’t one of them, although the Independent does say:
It passes the time agreeably – 10 times more agreeably than Charlie Wilson's War.
The film stars Steve Carell, a brilliant comedian, who made his name in the 40-Year-Old-Virgin after his initial success on The Daily Show. Here he plays a man with three daughters, who falls in love with his brother’s girlfriend. The Times (2-stars) thinks the film is woefully miscast:
Carell just doesn’t cut it as a romantic lead – there’s something subliminally creepy about him.
The Guardian also goes with 2-stars:
It's amiable enough, but the ickiness levels are too high and Juliette Binoche always looks uncomfortable in this shallow-end material.
So it seems that after the horrible Evan Almighty that Steve Carell is still searching for a comedy worthy of his ability.
Finally the most worthwhile and best-reviewed film of the week, 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, a film the critics are united on (a very rare occurrence). It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and is the story of two women trying to arrange an abortion in 1980s Romania. James Christopher in the Times (4-stars) states it most clearly:
The premise might sound as bleak as a Soviet cement wall, but the film is brilliantly composed and riveting – please see it.
Peter Bradshaw in another 5-star review calls the film a masterpiece that is “grippingly horrible” and a “nightmare of social-realist suspense” before concluding that the director has:
created a masterpiece of intimate desperation with a succession of brilliantly created and controlled scenes.
Anthony Quinn in The Independent gives the film 4-stars calling it a “remarkable film” but acknowledging that it is a “gruelling experience”. So while it might not be a standard popcorn-munching night at the movies this film is definitely worth making time for.
Next week, the Coens’ latest, No Country for Old Men and Walk Hard the Dewey Cox Story as well as Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem – a film that will no doubt be hoovering up Oscars in a few weeks' time.
By James Bryan