The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Spencer, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet

Director: Robert Schwentke

Writers: Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, Mark Bomback


Marking the latest addition to the increasingly popular YA genre, Insurgent is the highly anticipated sequel to last year’s Divergent. Therefore I’m going to briefly share my feelings on the first film before diving into the second one. Simply put, I really did not like Divergent. I’m not against the YA genre (I do think The Hunger Games series is rather good); I just found this particular film to be boring and stupid. The main character is wholly uninteresting (despite being portrayed by an incredibly talented actress), the story is tedious and clichéd, and the universe that they inhabit with all of those rules about factions and Divergents and whatnot does not make any sense whatsoever. Defenders of the film claim that it all makes much more sense if you’ve read the books, but doesn’t that defeat the purpose of adapting it into a film? Anyway, to go into more detail than that would take up too much space, so suffice it to say that I was not looking forward to watching the sequel.

Insurgent picks up right where Divergent left off with Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James, who has yet to adopt a different facial expression), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Peter (Miles Teller) on the run from the Erudites. They find sanctuary at Amity, under the protection of Johanna (Octavia Spencer), and try to keep a low profile. The memories of her late parents and of Will, the friend she killed in the last film in order to save herself, are now haunting Tris’ dreams and are weighing heavily on her conscience (which apparently is as good a reason as any for Tris to give herself a stylish haircut). Meanwhile Jeanine (Kate Winslet) has uncovered a mysterious box that was found in the home of Tris’ parents which supposedly contains a message from the city’s founders and can only be opened by a Divergent. She thus orders her troops to lead a citywide manhunt to capture any and all Divergents. The fugitives are soon forced to leave Amity when Eric (Jai Courtney) shows up and is tipped off to their whereabouts by Peter.

As they make their escape Tris, Four and Caleb encounter the Factionless. One fight later Four ends it all by revealing his real name to them, Tobias Eaton. This revelation allows the party safe passage into the Factionless base where they are taken to meet Evelyn (Naomi Watts), the leader of the Factionless (who apparently have access to ample weapons and resources despite being declared outcasts by the rest of the factions) and also Tobias’ mother. She appeals to Tris and Four, declaring her intention to lead a revolution against Jeanine and how she needs their help to form an alliance with the Dauntless to aid her. Tris and Four do not want to go to war and are only interested in finding their friends. However as the hunt for the Divergents grows, as the unrest between the factions becomes greater, and as Tris’ presence becomes more dangerous to those around her, she comes to realise that she cannot escape who she is and that she cannot run away from this fight.

Although Insurgent suffers from many of the same weaknesses as Divergent, it is nevertheless a clear improvement. Tris, while still lacking in personality, is at least given a mildly interesting story-arc about overcoming the guilt of her parents’ deaths and Woodley manages to give quite a good performance despite sparse material. The film also has some visually stunning moments, particularly the dream sequence from the trailer in which Tris attempts to save her mother from a burning building, and also boasts of some excellent production design. Some actors from the previous film, particularly Kate Winslet and Miles Teller, were able to deliver notably better performances as they became more accustomed and more comfortable in the skin of their characters. Of all the new characters, Evelyn was a welcome addition through the virtue of having an actual personality (and the badass outfit certainly doesn’t hurt). There is however little else to praise about this film.

Insurgent, like its predecessor, suffers from a severe lack of reason and logic. This universe simply doesn’t make any sense and too many questions are left unanswered! What exactly are Divergents and why do they seem to possess special abilities that other people lack? Is it because they are more capable than everyone else or are they biologically different? Why are they considered to be inherently disruptive to the natural order of things? How is being Divergent any different from being Factionless? How does the revelation at the end explain anything or make any sense? The film never provides an adequate answer to any of these questions and ultimately builds up to a twist ending that only brings up even more questions. The film also suffers from an illogical plot, an overcomplicated setting, and bland characters with inconsistent motivations (seriously, what the hell is Caleb’s deal?). This film may not be as soulless as the first film was, but it was still trying and unsatisfying to sit through. The next film better damn well have some answers.

★★

Run All Night

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Boyd Holbrook, Bruce McGill, Genesis Rodriguez, Vincent D’Onofrio, Common

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Writer: Brad Ingelsby


Marking his third collaboration with Jaume Collet-Serra, Run All Night marks the latest instalment in Liam Neeson’s career as an action star. At this stage the ‘Liam Neeson Action Film’ is starting to feel familiar and Neeson is certainly not getting any younger. Therefore Run All Night comes across as a little tired. It isn’t a bad film. The action is exciting enough and the characters are interesting enough, it just doesn’t have the same freshness and energy that other films like Taken had. To the film’s credit it does actually embrace this to a certain extent, portraying Neeson’s character as a tired old man at the end of his tether. Nevertheless the film still conveys a real sense of “been there, done that”.

Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) is an aging hit man who, after decades of working under the employ of the notorious mobster and his childhood friend Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), is now haunted by the memories of his crimes and of the lives he has taken. By living a life of crime Jimmy was forced to leave his family, an action for which his estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) has never forgiven him. Mike is now a limo driver who spends his spare time at the gym training young boxers. He is happily married with two kids and a third on the way and lives a contented life despite the clear shadow that his father’s dishonour has cast on him. Unfortunately Mike is dragged back into the criminal world when he ends up driving a client to see Shawn Maguire’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) only to witness their deaths at his hand. When Danny resolves to cover up his tracks by killing Mike, Jimmy intervenes and kills his best friend’s son.

Jimmy phones Shawn and informs him of what he has done out of honour and loyalty but declares that he fully intends to do everything in his power to keep his son safe. Their friendship comes to an end as Shawn employs his gangsters to hunt down Mike and avenge his son. He assures Jimmy that the hunt will not stop until he knows how it feels to lose his only child. The film takes place over the course as one night as Jimmy and Mike must work together to survive Shawn’s wrath, to escape the police who are now after them and to keep the rest of Mike’s family safe. Their differences come to the surface when Jimmy is forced to confront the wrongdoings that he has inflicted on his son as the crimes of his past start to catch up with him. When Detective Harding (Vincent D’Onofrio), an honest cop who has been after Conlon and Maguire for years, becomes aware of this case and starts actively pursuing them, Jimmy starts to wonder whether the time for him to repent and suffer the consequences for his crimes has arrived. Their scrape becomes all the more difficult when Shawn hires a professional contract killer (Common) to hunt the pair down.

The film hits the right notes as an action film. The action sequences are certainly thrilling enough. The characterisation, while not extensive, is still substantial enough for the audience to be invested. Liam Neeson can certainly still hold his own as an action star. However it is far from perfect. The film makes the mistake of opening with its climax which pretty much reveals to the audience everything they need to know about the film’s ending. While this was doubtless intended to function as a device in order to create an overlying sense of inevitability, it does, to me at least, take away from the film’s tension. The action is diminished by the awareness that these characters have to end up at a certain place and, when they do get there, the film builds up to quite a convoluted ending as it works its way through the climax. In addition the film makes a strong attempt to develop its characters by providing them with a detailed backstory, but does so in the absence of any resounding personalities. Therefore they are not particularly memorable and don’t make any sort of lasting impact.

Run All Night is not exactly a run-of-the-mill action film but it comes close. It is still an enjoyable and thrilling enough film in its own right. While the story isn’t exactly new or original, it isn’t formulaic or redundant either. While the characters are not dynamic or complex, they are not bland or lifeless. The action sequences, while not incredibly unique or innovative, are nevertheless gripping enough to be enjoyable. It is fine for what it is, which is a standard action film. This is the kind of action film that you watch if you aren’t looking for anything special and are just looking to kill a couple of hours.

★★★

Appropriate Behaviour

Cast: Desiree Akhavan, Scott Adsit, Rebecca Henderson, Halley Feiffer, Anh Duong, Hooman Majd, Arian Moayed, Aimee Mullins

Director: Desiree Akhavan

Writer: Desiree Akhavan


Ever since the release of her debut film writer/director/star Desiree Akhavan has often been compared by critics to Lena Dunham, the star and showrunner of HBO’s Girls (in which, interestingly, Akhavan has appeared), and it’s easy to understand why. Both of them have masterminded semi-autobiographical projects that have been praised for their honesty, explicitness and humour. They both tell stories about their everyday problems brought about by their insecurities and how they struggle to find any sort of direction or identity in life. They both tell tales about self-discovery as both protagonists attempt to discover who they are emotionally, creatively and sexually. Much like Lena Dunham, Desiree Akhavan possesses a singular mind with a unique outlook of life. Appropriate Behaviour is a story that only she could have told because it is her own story and it is told from her own distinctive perspective.

The story is that of Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) whose life starts falling apart following her break-up with her girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). She is forced to leave her apartment and move into a smaller place. To make ends meet she gets a job teaching filmmaking to a class of six-year-olds that she can’t control. She is constantly berated by her Iranian parents (Anh Duong and Hooman Majd) who, either clueless or insensitive about her sexuality, pester her about her personal life and when it is that she intends to finally settle down with a man. The pressure they place on her becomes all the more overbearing as she is expected to live up to the standard set by her perfect brother (Arian Moayed) with his perfect job, his perfect fiancé, and his perfect life. As Shirin struggles to try and rebuild her life the film depicts flashbacks of her relationship with Maxine, showing how they first fell in love and how they eventually grew apart.

The biggest and most difficult struggle that Shirin faces is that she doesn’t know who she is or where she fits in. She is bisexual but is unable to come out to her parents. She is ethnically Persian but feels no connection to her cultural or ancestral heritage. She wants acceptance but refuses to conform to the externally ordained standards that she is expected to meet. She wants to be successful but doesn’t have any hopes or ambitions that she cares enough about. She wants to be happy but doesn’t know how. Pained by the departure of her lover, Shirin embarks on a self-destructive path as she indulges herself in sexual escapades. At moments when she is by herself, she reflects on her relationship with Maxine and tries to pinpoint where it all went wrong. Perhaps Shirin hopes that, by finding the answer to that question, she will be able to retrieve the one part of her life that she actually loved and cared about and that everything will then be alright. However this film is not a romantic comedy and Shirin’s problems are not the kind that can be solved in the space of a two-hour film.

Desiree Akhavan makes an electrifying debut with Appropriate Behaviour. The film’s screenplay is smart, funny and unapologetically honest. Akhavan is both self-secure and confident enough that she is never afraid to show herself at her most vulnerable or her most uncomfortable. She invites the audience to watch Shirin in her most private, intimate moments in which she exposes herself, escapes herself, and, in some cases, embarrasses herself. These are the moments in which the audience is reminded of just how human this character is. One particularly memorable moment is the awkward threesome in which Shirin joins a sexually adventurous couple to indulge in their appetites only for the experience to prove unfulfilling when Shirin shows more interest in the wife than in the husband, much to his displeasure. Such moments prove humourous in how downright awkward and uncomfortable they are.

I enjoyed this film, but I can understand why some people would not. It is clearly a personal film that explores deeply intimate moments and feelings and some viewers might be put off by how far it goes. Others are (in some cases, justifiably) fed up with stories that portray and pander to the problems of privileged, educated people who can’t seem to just get over themselves. Although I personally disagree in this instance, some people have denounced this film as being shallow, superficial and self-indulgent. They find the main character to be unlikeable and her journey to be uninteresting. To me, however, this is a film of profound honesty and authenticity with a deeply flawed but relatable protagonist and a smart, shameless script. At times I did find Shirin’s inability to overcome her insecurities and vices despite her increasing self-awareness to be tiring, but it is still overall an incredibly strong first feature. I look forward to seeing what Akhavan does next.

★★★★

Chappie

Cast: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Watkin Tudor Jones, Yolandi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman

Director: Neill Blomkamp

Writers: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell


People seem really unsure about what to make of Neill Blomkamp these days. The South African writer/director has made two major films prior to this one. The first, District 9, was critically praised and the second, Elysium, was critically panned. Therefore, with the release of his third major film, critics and audiences are curious to see where it will fall. Personally I think this film is ok. Not great but not terrible either. I do think that Blomkamp has the potential to make great films, but there are certain fatal flaws that are holding him back. Chappie has the makings of a great, insightful film with big themes and ideas but it ends up falling flat due to the characters and the narrative.

Blomkamp introduces us to a future Johannesburg in which robots have been introduced into the police force. They prove highly successful due to their state-of-the-art armour plating and their semi-AI programs that make them highly effective in combat situations. These robots are the inventions of Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) who is lauded for providing the weapons manufacturer Tetravaal with his creation much to the derision of Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), a former soldier with his own alternative machine that was rejected. When Deon finishes compiling a program of what he claims will be the world’s first true artificial intelligence, he decides to test it on a damaged robot despite his request being disapproved by his boss Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver). As he attempts to smuggle the robot out of the facility he is kidnapped by a team of gangsters who demand that he provide them with a failsafe for his machines that they can use for a large heist. When Deon reasons that such a task is impossible he instead offers them an artificially intelligent robot that they may use as they please. Deon is therefore allowed to continue his experiment and thus we are introduced to Chappie (Sharlto Copley).

Chappie is effectively a child, mentally and emotionally, but possesses a highly advanced mind that can learn and adapt at an exponential level. He comes into the world completely innocent of its ways and it falls down to Deon and the gangsters Yolandi and Ninja (played quite unconvincingly by the members of Die Antwoord) to raise him by offering their three different perspectives. Deon encourages Chappie to embrace his full creativity and potential, insisting that he can do anything he sets his mind to. Yolandi nurtures Chappie and forms a motherly bond with him. Ninja wants to use Chappie for his heist and tries to raise him as a gangster, teaching him how to shoot, fight and swear. Through Chappie’s upbringing the film tries to explore such themes as love, growth, the virtue of innocence, the potential of technology, and the imperfection of man, but fails to offer anything particularly new or insightful on these topics.

The characters of this film are its greatest weakness. Many of the characters, particularly the film’s main villain Vincent Moore, are unimaginative clichés who prove to be inconsistent in their motivations. The Hugh Jackman character was a wildly erratic engineer who used to be a soldier (which I guess is why he’s allowed to carry a gun in his office?) who appears to possess some sort of fanatical religious devotion that is never really elaborated and who constantly changes at the flip of a coin. He really is as nonsensical as he sounds. In addition are the South African gangsters who are very one-dimensional and who are similarly inconsistent in their motivations. Inconstancy is fine with a character like Chappie who is constantly learning new things and constantly evolving, but is annoying coming from these other characters. The rest are simply bland one-note characters played by talented, under-used actors (this film was a complete waste of Sigourney Weaver’s time).

The film has plenty of good qualities. The special effects, much like District 9, are excellent and authentically unpolished. The action and the humour are decent. Chappie himself is an interesting enough character that I was invested in his journey. He possesses a charming innocence that allows the audience to empathise with him. It therefore becomes distressing (in a good way) for the audience to watch the other characters taking advantage of Chappie’s childish naivety and to watch him become all too aware of the harsh realities of the world he lives in. Blomkamp has proven to everyone that he does have good ideas; his problem is in their application. He is clearly making a bold attempt to tackle grand, complex themes but whatever insights he might have to offer end up getting lost in the muddled plot and the illogical characters. The ending, again like District 9, is left open with the story left somewhat unresolved, presumably because Blomkamp is setting the scene for a sequel. It is my hope that Blomkamp can learn to overcome his weaknesses and return to the heights of District 9.

★★★

Selma

Cast: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Andre Holland, Tessa Thompson, Wendell Pierce, Common, Giovanni Ribisi, Lorraine Toussaint, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Sheen

Director: Ava DurVernay

Writer: Paul Webb, Ava DuVernay


It is always tough for a film to capture the spirit of a person or an event. It is even tougher for a film to capture an idea. This is what Selma sets out to do as it tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Selma marches of 1965 and, on a greater level, of the struggle against racism in America. The campaign for equal rights has been a long and difficult fight and it is one that still rages on even today. It is astonishing to see how a film about an event that took place fifty years ago can deliver a message that still rings true and is still relevant. It takes a powerful film to deliver a powerful message and Selma delivers all of the passion, all of the vivacity and all of the resoluteness that Dr. King showed on the day that he walked into Montgomery.

The film opens with Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) being presented with the Nobel Peace Prize. Despite the recognition and the prestige that this accolade brings, the Human Rights Campaign is still far from over. Over in Alabama we see four African-American girls get killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church explosion and we see Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) applying for voting registration only to be unjustly rejected. King resolves to start actively pushing for the African-American right to vote and appeals to President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to pass a law that would enforce this right. Johnson however insists that he has other important issues to deal with and cannot give King what he wants at this time. One of the main controversies of this film is its portrayal of Johnson as being hesitant to help King, a portrayal that has been deemed historically inaccurate. However, to me at least, it seems both reasonable and believable that Johnson would have reservations and other concerns on his mind. Whether it was historically accurate or not, I think that it does a good job of highlighting and explaining the ambivalence exhibited by many well-intentioned people at this time. Subsequently, without the President’s backing, King travels to Selma, Alabama, and leads the charge for equal voting rights.

The fight proves difficult as King and his comrades come in opposition against the Alabama Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth), a man who personifies the most hateful aspects of racism and prejudice. As Wallace adopts a policy of violence and brutality to combat King and the black Selma residents, King remains steadfast on maintaining a stance of non-violence. He is adamant that the only way the struggle of the African-Americans can be overcome is if they do not allow themselves to give in to aggression or hate. He instead insists that the people must place their faith and their trust into peace, love and God. This becomes more arduous and, in King’s view, all the more fundamental as the violence rages on and the death toll continues to rise. He then announces his intention to lead a 50-mile march from Selma to Montgomery in the name of African-American suffrage. He hopes that by raising enough awareness of their plight and by casting a spotlight onto the crimes and the atrocities being committed upon them, he might be able to force the President into action. This leads many of King’s followers to question whether he truly has their best interest at heart.

The portrayal of Martin Luther King is undoubtedly the film’s driving force. Oyelowo delivers a layered performance as he portrays King both as an icon and as a man. He perfectly captures the voice and the mannerisms of Dr. King as he stands on the podium delivering those rousing speeches but he is also able to deliver a subtle and affective performance as he portrays King’s human side. Martin Luther King was undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary men of the 20th century, but he was a man nonetheless; a man with doubts, a man with fears, and a man with weaknesses. The film never tries to eulogise him but instead shows him as the man he was, warts and all. It never strays away from showing the more ignoble aspects of his life as we see in one particularly striking scene when King’s wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) confronts him on his infidelity. However they also show King as a man capable of extraordinary love and empathy, as shown when comes to the hospital to weep for a young victim of a hate crime and to comfort a grieving grandfather.

Ava DuVernay was not a name I was familiar with until I saw this film. She does an admirable job of depicting this monumental event and of the sufferings of the African-American people. She does not pull any punches as she shows just how cruel and how brutal these tribulations could become. She is also able to maintain a fair-minded approach to the story as she is careful not to idolise King. DuVernay provides balance by showing that there were those in Selma who disagreed with King’s methods and questioned his intentions. Even King has his moments of doubt when he starts wondering whether their cause is worth all of the suffering and casualties that it brings. DuVernay has been criticised for taking historical liberties and for portraying real life figures unfairly. However to criticise the film for its historicity is to miss the point. It’s not about capturing what happened, it’s about capturing the spirit of what happened. At the end of the day this is a film about the fight against prejudice and racism. This is a film about the centuries long struggle that is still ongoing today. It is about showing a single moment in time when a group of people came together and showed the world that they were not going to take it anymore, when they faced the obstacles and adversities that opposed them and triumphed.

Selma is a marvellous and a powerful film. It does an incredible job of capturing the inspirational and significant crusade of a people against an inveterate evil and of the extraordinary man who led them. It delivers an importantly relevant message as it shows us just how far we’ve all come but also how much further there still is to go. On top of that it also finishes on that kick-ass Oscar-winning song ‘Glory’ by John Legend and Common. On the whole it is an excellent and an important film that everyone should see.

★★★★★

The Boy Next Door

Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, John Corbett, Ian Nelson, Kristen Chenoweth

Director: Rob Cohen

Writer: Barbara Curry


How do films like this even get made anymore? I know that Hollywood has a tendency to reuse old ideas and milk them for all that they’re worth, but surely even they know better than to make films like this. The Boy Next Door is the same generic film with the same tired story, the same dull characters, and the same overused clichés that we’ve all seen before. It has been done a million times before and it has been done better. Not only is this a bad film, it’s not even an entertainingly bad film. Recounting the story and analysing the film seems pretty redundant since it doesn’t offer anything new, interesting or entertaining to talk about. However I’ve already wasted 90 minutes of life sitting through this film so I might as well see it through.

The story is that of Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez), a smart, independent woman who has always had bad luck with men. The disjointed and sloppily edited opening scene reveals the troubled state of her marriage following her husband’s infidelity. Her husband (John Corbett) eventually walked out and left Claire with their son Kevin (Ian Nelson). A few months later, when Claire and Kevin have managed to get things back to normal and are starting to make ends meet, Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman) enters the scene. Noah is the handsome, muscular, well-read nephew of the kindly old man next door who has come to look after him as he undergoes an operation. Claire is immediately infatuated with Noah and the two of them bond while discussing Homer’s The Iliad during which Noah reveals his fascination for the character of Achilles, a fiery, hot-tempered man who is driven to action by his rage and passion (and also an infinitely more interesting character than Noah despite the obvious parallel they’re trying to draw here).

The attraction between them intensifies as Noah starts spending more time at Claire’s house and awkwardly flirts with her. After her best friend Vicky Lansing (Kristen Chenoweth) sets her up on a blind date that goes badly, Claire goes over to see Noah. There she and Noah give in to their desires and they share a moment of passion that enforces the gross misconception that “no” means “yes” and that smart, independent women are easily overcome by their emotions. The next day Claire regrets her actions and tells Noah that what they did was a mistake. She tries to avoid him from then on but doing so proves difficult when Noah befriends her son and becomes a student in her class. Noah immediately starts exhibiting stalkerish, psychopathic behaviour (despite not showing any prior signs of emotional unbalance whatsoever) such as alluding to the affair in front of her family, hacking her e-mail, and using her son in order to get to her. As his actions become more aggressive Claire becomes increasingly concerned and afraid (although never enough to get the police involved, not even when Noah sends a student to the hospital!).

I suppose that Claire is the film’s attempt at depicting a relatable fully rounded female protagonist, and fair play to the film for trying, but it really doesn’t work. While the film tries to establish her as this intelligent, cultured and self-reliant woman who hides a passionate nature deep within, she instead comes across as this feeble, weak-willed person who the film effectively slut-shames. Lopez’s performance is not terrible (there’s only so much that any actress can do with such poor material) but she does not really bring anything to the role. Noah is supposed to be this passionate, fervent, enflamed figure in the vein of Achilles who loses control when he is overcome by a raging obsession, as if that alone is supposed to explain everything. Instead we are given an uninteresting character with good looks and muscles who changes at the flip of the coin when the plot tells him to. Perhaps there is some sort of feminist statement trying to be made in this film about the victimisation of this woman at the hands of a psychopathic borderline-rapist would-be murderer, but whatever message there may have been gets completely lost in this mess of a film.

There really isn’t much more to say about this film. The Boy Next Door is riddled with endless clichés that will induce a plethora of groaning and eye rolling. It is an extremely badly written film that defies any sort of sense or reason and which gives way to some incredible examples of absurdities and stupidity (a first edition copy of The Iliad? Seriously??). The characters are so bland and their dialogue is so cringeworthy that the film completely lacks any sort of campiness or ridiculousness that might have otherwise made this an enjoyable film. There really is nothing worthwhile about watching this film. My recommendation for anyone interested in seeing it is don’t. Go watch Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct instead.

Force Majeure

Cast: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Vincent Wettergren, Clara Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius

Director: Ruben Östlund

Writer: Ruben Östlund


How would you respond in a crisis? From time to time we all wonder how we would behave if we ever found ourselves in a life-threatening situation and allowed our instincts to take over. We would all like to think that we’d be able to keep our heads and prove ourselves to be heroic in the face of such danger but the truth is that no one can really know for sure how they would react. Some of us might not be as brave as we think we are and could find ourselves unable to cope with the stress of the situation. Some of us might be instinctively overcome by a strong desire to preserve ourselves and forget about our loved ones. It is a daunting question and some people are actually afraid of what they might do if they ever found themselves in peril. People reveal their true natures when faced with danger and not all of us are the people that we want to be. Such is the subject of Force Majeure when a wife finds out that her husband is not the man that she though he was.

The story is that of Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) who have taken their two children on a skiing holiday in the Alps. At first glance they appear to be a perfect photogenic family enjoying some quality time together, but there are a few cracks in the seams. There is the hint of a strained relationship between the husband and wife as Ebba casually mentions using this vacation as a means of getting her husband away from the office and spending some time together as a family. The holiday seems to be doing them a lot of good as they unanimously enjoy themselves and escape their worries and bothers. Their carefree joy only lasts for a single day.

On the second day of their holiday the family enjoy their lunch on a terrace with a magnificent view of the mountains. From there they hear a loud bang followed by the appearance of an avalanche. Taking it for a controlled avalanche, the inhabitants of the restaurant stand in awe and bring out their phones and cameras. Seconds later, when it becomes clear that the avalanche is heading straight for the building, panic ensues. In that moment Ebba takes a hold of her children in order to protect them while Tomas grabs his gloves and phone and makes a run for it. The terrace becomes engulfed in a fog and, for what feels like an eternity, there is nothing but silence and complete whiteness. The fog eventually clears and everyone is unharmed. Tomas returns to his family and makes a glib remark about the avalanche, seemingly unaware of what he just did. However Ebba saw what happened. He ran. He left his family behind and ran.

Ebba is unable to look at her husband in the same way as before. She is deeply disappointed in him and is unsure whether or not she can even forgive him. Before long she confronts Tomas on what he did, only for him to deny that it happened. He insists that he remembers the day differently and believes that he had actually stayed with his family. The conflict and tension between them increases as Tomas flat out refuses to admit what he did. Ebba finds herself wondering whether her husband is someone she can even trust anymore. She isn’t even sure which is worse, the fact that he ran away or the fact that he is lying about it. Tomas however does understand what he has done and is deeply ashamed of himself. He hopes that he can just forget about it and pretend that it never happened, but he comes to realise that he cannot run away from himself. He has come to realise that he is not the man he wants to be, that there is a deep part of himself that he has always resented which has made itself known. As they hash out their differences, their children become afraid as this conflict threatens to destroy their marriage.

Force Majeure is a film that dares to ask a difficult question. It is a confrontational and an uncomfortable question but it is also an important one. It invites the viewers to consider who they are and what they might do if they ever found themselves in that kind of situation. As the characters contemplate their actions and what they say about them, the film never resorts to easy answers or cop-outs. While Tomas’ actions may have been cowardly, do they necessarily make him a bad person? Can anyone really be blamed for making an instinctive split-second decision, even if it was the wrong one? Can anyone in the audience honestly know for sure whether or not they’d have done the same thing? This film does not criticise nor does it judge. It merely holds a mirror to the audience and it asks them to look into it.

★★★★