The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland

Director: Francis Lawrence

Writers: Peter Craig, Danny Strong


Although I’ve never been a particularly big fan of the Hunger Games series I still had relatively high expectations going into this film. I think that it is a decent series overall (I particularly enjoyed Catching Fire), it just hasn’t really ever captivated me in the way it has with its most ardent fans. Despite the gripes that I have with the series though, I do nevertheless think that it has done a good job of establishing its universe, it has an interesting concept with some clever twists added in and there are some good characters in there as well. When I saw Mockingjay – Part 1 last year however I started to develop one major concern. While Part 1 was a solid enough film I wasn’t readily convinced that there was enough plot in there to justify splitting the finale into two. Therefore I wanted to reserve my judgement until I saw this film. Having now seen it I found Part 2 to be a solid and enjoyable film like its predecessor but I stand by my judgement that there wasn’t enough story to warrant a two part finale.

As the rebellion against the Capitol escalates, the Mockingjay Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) tries to help the brainwashed and traumatised Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in his recovery. Enraged by the brutality of this war and frustrated with being used by Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) as a poster child for the rebellion, Katniss takes matters into her own hands by undertaking a mission to assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Helping her in this endeavour are such allies as Gail (Liam Hemsworth), Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and Finnick (Sam Claflin). As they make their way to the Capitol they must combat foes and obstacles reminiscent of those they faced in the Hunger Games. The closer she gets to her goal the more must Katniss question what it is she is fighting for and how much she is willing to sacrifice to end this war once and for all.

I must confess that I am quite ambivalent about this film. On one hand I can’t deny being disappointed by the film’s conclusion. Based on how the film was advertised I was expecting something much more epic like The Deathly Hallows – Parts 2. I won’t give too much away but, simply put, that’s not what happens. The final showdown ends up being something altogether different that to me initially felt underwhelming. In the weeks since I’ve watched it though I’ve thought more about the film’s resolution and must admit that it is actually a fitting end to the series. I thought more about some of the themes that the series has touched upon in its prior films: the role of propaganda in war, the idea that things are not what they seem and the balance between control and freedom. In light of these themes the ending that the film opted for (I should probably note that I haven’t read the books) does make a lot of sense and is in keeping with the ideas raised. It was certainly a bold move to opt for a more challenging ending than the more traditional epic showdown and I must applaud this series for having that kind of tenacity.

Putting the ending aside though there were still a few issues I had with the film that still bother me now. My main issue is the very fact that this film is the second part of a story that I really don’t think needed to be split. The film that I think suffered more from this split was Part 1 since its sole purpose was essentially to set up this film, resulting in a lack of action and progression. Part 2 meanwhile has plenty of both so there was much more for me to enjoy. Some of the dangers that Katniss and her team encounter are certainly thrilling to watch (I wasn’t a fan of those sewer monsters though) and the threat of danger is very present throughout. Some members of the cast, most notably Lawrence, Hutcherson and Sutherland, do shine in this film while others are woefully underused. While the film was able to convey a sense of dread and finality I did think that many of the major character deaths were lacking in emotional weight.

I suppose this film is something of a mixed bag for me but I certainly don’t think it is a bad film by any means. I think the reason I didn’t enjoy it as much as many others have is simply because I wasn’t a huge fan of the series to begin with. This isn’t to say that I disliked it but rather that I wasn’t as invested in the fate of the characters or the outcome of the rebellion as others were. Therefore, while I didn’t find myself particularly excited or moved by this film, I have no doubt that those who are fans of the series will find much to enjoy. Those who want to see how the story ends and where the characters end up will I think be satisfied. It is a good enough film in its own right and is a fitting end to the series.

★★★★

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Black Mass

Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Johnson

Director: Scott Cooper

Writers: Jez Butterworth, Mark Mallouk


Black Mass marks the latest addition to the gangster genre that is such a staple of American cinema. This film is very much in the vein of Scorsese’s Goodfellas and The Departed (which was actually inspired by Whitey’s story) as it depicts a real-life gangster’s rise and downfall. There is something so utterly fascinating about these types of films that make them so compelling to watch. At the heart of them there is a Macbethian journey taking place. The main characters are always fatally flawed figures who scale the heights of wealth, prestige and power but inevitably become the architects of their own destruction. This is a journey that has been undertaken by a wealth of iconic film characters from Tom Powers to Tony Montana. Black Mass depicts this same story through the eyes of Whitey Bulger, the infamous mobster who became one of America’s most notorious criminals and then went on the run for 16 years.

In 1975 Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), who holds a prominent position of power in the Boston crime scene, is approached by FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). Connolly, who is also a childhood friend of Whitey, requests him to become an informant for the FBI, a prospect that Whitey vehemently rejects until he realises the advantages to be gained with the FBI’s support and protection. Whitey, with the aid of his associates Steve Flemmi (Rory Cochrane) and Kevin Weeks (Jesse Plemons), begets a reign of violence and corruption as he consolidates his position as the most powerful mobster in Boston all the while exploiting his relationship with the FBI to serve his own ends. Whitey’s increasing irrationality soon causes endless trouble for the FBI as well as those closest to him, particularly his wife Lindsey Cyr (Dakota Johnson) and his political brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch). The more Whitey’s power grows, the more unstable he gets and it isn’t long until he becomes a problem too big for the FBI to ignore.

This type of story is one that has been done before and it has been done better. It is to its credit a well-told story that highlights such themes as corruption and the loss of humanity as it depicts Whitey’s descent. The character is initially a caring, if otherwise troubled, man as the film starts off but that side of him gets lost as he experiences both the corruption of power and the pains of loss. However what I felt this film lacked was a sense of purpose. I never felt there was any real fluidity in the narrative or any profound character development that ventured beneath the surface. What I saw instead was a series of violent episodes from Whitey Bulger’s life cobbled together without any real direction or flow. I think this kind of narrative is typical of the problems that come with telling the story of a particular subject rather than using that subject to tell a story. The story never feels like it is speaking of anything deeper or larger than itself even though I feel like it is trying to. The film certainly isn’t badly written or badly directed, it just doesn’t have that artistry or meaning behind it that made films like Goodfellas classics.

Perhaps the film’s biggest strength is Johnny Depp who is taking a refreshing break from being a parody of himself. As Whitey Depp displays his chameleonic ability to completely inhabit characters and delivers the type of deranged, vicious performance that we always knew he was capable of. The makeup does a good job of hiding the actor behind the performance and allows Depp to utilise some truly grotesque and intimidating expressions befitting the character. The other members of the cast are serviceable in their roles but I’m struggling to think of anyone who really came into their own like Depp did. The film for the most part is well shot and does evoke a tense and unsettling atmosphere but to me it just didn’t feel like there was much happening beneath it all.

I think that Black Mass is a good enough film to watch but I don’t see it becoming a classic of its genre. It has the makings of a good film but lacks the visionary insight that can be found in the best of these films. After watching it I didn’t feel like I had really learned anything about Whitey as a person or that his story had brought anything new to the genre as a whole. I found aspects of the film to be interesting but was never captivated by the overall story nor was I wholly invested in the main character’s journey. I instead found it be a typically standard film that didn’t take any risks or offer anything that is distinguishable from what has come before. It is a worthy attempt on the filmmakers’ parts, but I feel it ultimately falls short of the kind of film that it’s trying to be.

★★★

The Lady in the Van

Cast: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam, Deborah Findlay, Frances de la Tour, Jim Broadbent

Director: Nicholas Hytner

Writer: Alan Bennett


There is a fine line between film and theatre that can make adaptations tricky. Just because a story works well on stage does not mean it is guaranteed to work well on film (or vice versa). While there is some overlap between these two mediums, there are also vast differences between their formats that render them almost irreconcilable. Theatre has the advantage of being able to evolve through multiple performances and possesses the ability to interact with and even involve its audience. Film meanwhile is not limited by what it can physically reproduce in front of the audience (or the camera in its case) and allows for more subtlety in its performance. The successful adaptation of a play into a film requires a comprehensive understanding of how both mediums work. Alan Bennett and Nicholas Hytner fit the bill as both are theatrical legends who have produced marvellous works of film in the past together. Their adaptation of The Lady in the Van is a fine film in its own right and marks an especially successful transition from theatre to film.

This film is the (mostly) true story of Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) and his encounters with the titular lady in the van Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith). She parks her van within his neighbourhood one fateful day and goes on to stay there for fifteen years. Miss Shepherd, infamous for her eccentricities, discourteous manner and severe lack of hygiene, refuses to be moved or reasoned with and becomes something of a sore spot for the neighbourhood. Nevertheless Alan forms an unlikely bond with her as he finds himself both intrigued and repulsed by her. He seeks to learn more about this woman and perhaps to understand why she lives the life that she does.

Maggie Smith reprises her Olivier Award winning role from the original West End production and gives an outstanding performance that only she could deliver. This character is abrasive, stubborn, eccentric, disingenuous and sad, all qualities that she plays to perfection. One thing I’ve always loved about Smith as an actress is that she has perfected the ‘what the fuck are you talking about’ expression and readily employs it as the disoriented Miss Shepherd. Just like in Downton Abbey she displays an extraordinary ability to make an unpleasant character irresistible as she employs her character’s brusqueness and rudeness to comedic and dramatic effect. One particular scene that I enjoyed was when Miss Shepherd is desperate to park her van in Bennett’s driveway to escape persecution but is too proud to ask for his help. Therefore she tries to entice him into offering her his driveway in a way that she probably considers to be subtle but is actually hilariously and even tragically transparent. The film shows that it can be touching at times as it allows us glimpses of the vulnerability and fear that Miss Shepherd so adamantly keeps hidden. It is this masterful performance by this masterful actress that makes the film work as well as it does.

The film is about more than Maggie Smith and her character though. It is based upon the play and the book of the same name written by Alan Bennett and I think the film comes across as something of a tribute to the man and his work. The film delves into the psyche of Bennett both as a man and as a playwright by making him the film’s protagonist and narrator and also by splitting him into two separate parts: The Writer and The Liver. These two sides of Bennett constantly bicker with one another as they try to keep their occupations as far from each other as possible. Their shared curiosity and vacillation for Miss Shepherd fuels their most interesting and amusing conversations as they try to decide how involved they should get in her life. Bennett is portrayed very well by Alex Jennings who gets the look, the Leeds accent and the mannerisms spot on. The rest of the cast from the main ensemble right down to the bit players is a Who’s Who of actors who have previously appeared in Bennett’s productions and have come together to celebrate the famed writer’s works.

The Lady in the Van has all of the intellect and wit that Alan Bennett is famous for and is a showcase for Maggie Smith’s incredible talents. The humour is a terrific blend of absurdity and irony that delivers a laugh a minute. Bennett’s writing, which has consistently possessed a sharp perception and a distinct self-awareness, allows for some highly intelligent discussions as Bennett contemplates the nature of this character and the bond that they share as he also provides an insight into his process as a writer. The story I think could have been better executed as the explorations of Miss Shepherd’s past could be confusing at times. Overall however this is a film that I enjoyed watching a great deal. It is smart, funny and witty and is a celebration of one of Britain’s greatest writers and also one of its greatest actresses.

★★★★

Steve Jobs

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston

Director: Danny Boyle

Writer: Aaron Sorkin


In my review of Burnt I wrote about the concept of the tortured genius and how that particular film had demonstrated a generic example of the idea. Steve Jobs on the other hand demonstrates a tortured genius done right. The Steve Jobs of this film is clearly a brilliant man with a singular mind. His ideas are radical and revolutionary, his thought process is dynamic and rapid, and he is always always always on. His exceptional mind is matched only by his colossal ego. Jobs is arrogant, narcissistic and disdainful. He resents anyone and everyone who cannot keep up with his ideas or doesn’t recognise his brilliance. He demands perfection from his subordinates and anything less is unacceptable and unforgivable. He is a man who simultaneously provokes an exponential amount of admiration and resentment from those around him and will alienate just as quickly as he will inspire. I have absolutely no idea whether this portrait is indeed an accurate reflection of the real Steve Jobs but, even if it isn’t, the subject of this film is nevertheless an endlessly fascinating figure and I very much enjoyed watching the film’s exploration of his psyche.

The film is set backstage at the launches of three products developed by Jobs at different points in his life: the Apple Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT in 1988 and the iMac in 1998. All three acts take place in real time as Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) coordinates these events while dealing with the key figures of his life. Amongst them are his assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), his loyal confidant whose position compels her to stand up to Jobs when no one else can; Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan), the co-founder of Apple and perhaps the only person Jobs considers to be his friend; and John Scully (Jeff Daniels), the CEO of Apple who throws Jobs under the bus and then pays for it. The issues Jobs has to deal with extend to his personal life as well as he must also deal with his ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), the mother of his daughter. Each of these figures brings out a different side of Jobs and allow for a comprehensive exploration of the complex figure that has had such a resounding effect on them all.

This film is not so much a biopic as it is a character study. Instead of taking us through the life of Jobs from beginning to end, the film favours a format that allows us to understand him as a character. Watching him at work in real time provides an insight into how he thinks, how he acts and how he interacts with others. He is presented as a man who is incessantly thinking about a million different things as once and who is always on the move and always focused on the task at hand. Anyone who isn’t an asset to him is either an obstacle or is irrelevant, and Jobs doesn’t have any time for either of those things. However, by setting the film in three different time periods, we do see an evolution take place. Each period marks a different point in Jobs’ life as he experiences his optimistic inauguration, his greatest failure and his eventual triumph. Through it all I think it might be a bit too far to say that Jobs changes as a person, but he does learn a few things about himself. His perception does go through a change as he starts to find value in other things besides his ideas, particularly in his daughter. It isn’t a substantial change but it is a significant one.

The real star of this film is Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue. The rapid back-and-forths, the intelligent discourses and the impassioned monologues provide the perfect engine for telling a story of this kind. Through the quick and witty dialogue Jobs is able to establish himself as an exceptionally intelligent and charismatic man who can speak faster than most people can even think. What struck me about this film was how balanced it was in its portrayal of Jobs. While it depicts him as a wholly remarkable genius, it doesn’t let him off the hook for his antagonistic tendencies. Many of the characters resent Jobs and for good reason. The way Sorkin is able to praise Jobs’ greatest qualities while also challenging his worst allows for an intelligent and thoroughly absorbing analysis of a complicated man with a complex mind.

One of the things that makes Steve Jobs such an enjoyable film is that, much like Jobs himself, it never stops moving. It is always going somewhere, it is always saying something and it always doing something interesting. What essentially amounts to 90 minutes of people talking is able to be stimulating, creative and exciting through excellent writing, subtle directing and great acting. Fassbender may not look anything like the real Steve Jobs but his on-screen presence and portrayal of the man’s ingenuity and tyranny is not to be doubted. While the rest of the ensemble is superb, Fassbender nevertheless deserves to be singled out for his stellar performance. Through him Steve Jobs was able to deliver a stunning picture of an extraordinary man whose keen intellect and artistic vision revolutionised computer technology as we know it.

★★★★★

Burnt

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Omar Sy, Daniel Brühl, Riccardo Scarmacio, Sam Keeley, Matthew Rhys, Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson

Director: John Wells

Writer: Steven Knight


The tortured genius is a subject that often gets tackled in films from Amadeus to Good Will Hunting right up to Steve Jobs (the film I intend to write about in my next review). The idea of a deeply flawed individual who possesses an extraordinary capacity for brilliance provides so much room for tension and conflict that the drama practically writes itself. It has proved to be such a fascinating topic that four of last year’s eight Oscar nominees for Best Picture, including the winner, featured stories of tortured geniuses and artists. However, just like with any other subject, it is all too easy to produce a generic take on this idea. There are films that often present their protagonists as ‘tortured geniuses’ without providing any profound insight into the ‘torture’ or the ‘genius’. They want to allow these protagonists to achieve some form of redemption in spite of themselves and rely on tired clichés and convenient developments in order to do so. The result is a bland, predictable story of a tortured genius that isn’t compelling and a redemption that isn’t earned.

The tortured genius in this case is Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper), a gifted chef with self-destructive tendencies who returns from his self-imposed exile to run a restaurant in London. He assumes the post of Head Chef in a restaurant owned by his former colleague Tony (Daniel Brühl) and sets out to recruit his other former colleagues to join his culinary dream team. This proves difficult as many of these chefs still resent Adam for crimes that he committed back in the day. Amongst them is Reece (Matthew Rhys), a three-star Michelin chef (compared to Adam’s two) who antagonistically refuses to ever work with him again. Adam also recruits as his number two Helene (Sienna Miller), a sous-chef of unrealised talent. With a talented team and an advanced kitchen at his disposal, Adam plans to introduce a nonconformist menu of radical methods and unblemished taste in order to earn his third Michelin star.

The problem I had with this film is that it knows what kind of story it wants to tell but doesn’t have the commitment to follow it all the way through or the ambition to dig beneath the surface. We get that Adam is a talented chef with a volatile temper and a weakness for drugs, alcohol and women, but his characterisation beyond that is underwritten and underdeveloped. We are never given a deeper understanding of the motives driving his action or of who he is beneath his abilities and weaknesses. The film’s tendency to manipulate the circumstances around him undermines the evolution he undergoes as a character. I wasn’t at all compelled by his journey because he was never required to make any real risks or sacrifices. He makes a decision not to indulge in any of his vices in order to live a healthier life but is still allowed to get with the love interest anyway. The film throws in a generic moral about how he doesn’t need to succeed in his goals in order to live a fulfilling life but then allows him to succeed in his goals anyway. The film even allows him to succeed in spite of himself since his failures are consistently saved my some lucky twist of fate. Therefore the redemption he receives at the end of this film simply isn’t earned because it doesn’t come at any real cost to him.

Although I did not find myself drawn to the story or the characters, I did think the cast as a whole did a fine job with what they were given. Bradley Cooper is allowed to be loud and explosive in a Gordon-Ramsay-like way in this role and proves himself equal to the task. Sienna Miller continues to be woefully underused in her films and delivers a commendable performance as a generic love interest. Daniel Brühl, Omar Sy and Matthew Rhys also provide notable performances as their respective characters with Brühl in particular clearly enjoying himself. The film even features minor roles for Uma Thurman and Emma Thompson, both of whom deliver far more than the material provided for them. I must also say that the food in this film does look nice and I imagine would be very appealing to any foodies watching the film.

This film is simply uninspired, lacklustre and dull. It offers a familiar story with familiar characters that have been done a hundred times before and doesn’t bring anything new. The most enjoyable part for me was watching the food being cooked because at least then there was something interesting for me to look at. Beyond that and maybe a few laughs here and there was nothing in this film that captivated me or caught my interest. There was some great talent behind the making of this film, not only with the actors but also with the director and screenwriter. John Wells is a formidable director who has done good work on TV and Steven Knight is a marvellous writer. While the talent involved was enough to prevent this film from being downright terrible, everyone who worked on it is capable of producing something better.

★★

Brooklyn

Cast: Saorise Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters

Director: John Crowley

Writer: Nick Hornby


The journey of an immigrant is an arduous one. The prospect of traversing a great distance over the ocean to a new land in pursuit of a better life is a daunting one that requires a profound amount of resolve and will to follow through. To embark upon this journey means to leave their homes and even loved ones behind and to place their faith into the hope a better future. The journey doesn’t even end when the boat pulls into the harbour as the immigrants must then adapt to this new world and overcome the cultural, linguistic and even prejudicial barriers in place. This is the journey that Brooklyn attempts to portray through the eyes of a 23-year-old girl in the 1950s seeking a new life for herself in New York. It is a story that embodies such feelings as fear, loneliness, diffidence, uncertainty and isolation. It is a tale that is effective in its simplicity and empathy as it depicts this character in her search for a place where she can belong.

Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is a smart and capable girl living in an Irish town where her prospects are very limited. She is given the opportunity by Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) to move to New York where she will be given a job and a whole new life. She takes this chance even though it means leaving her family and home behind. Whilst living in America with the fiercely Catholic Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) she suffers from a severe case of depression and homesickness as she finds herself in a world completely alien to her own. Everything changes when she meets and falls in love with Tony (Emory Cohen), a confident and charming Italian boy who helps Eilis to find joy and comfort in her new home and a sense of belonging. However a personal tragedy occurs that brings her back to Ireland and, while there, she finds her old, familiar life waiting for her along with a new job and a kind, handsome Irish boy called Jim (Domhnall Gleeson). Eilis becomes conflicted by the choice she must now make between her life in America and her life in Ireland.

Saoirse Ronan, one of the best young actresses working today, makes this film. In her previous roles she has displayed an uncanny gift for accents but this role gives her the chance to perform with her native Irish voice and it is a treat to see. As Eilis she conveys an effective sense of vulnerability as she struggles to adjust to her new life and a wilful spiritedness as she grows and matures as a person. This film shows her character at a tough point in her life where she is faced with a difficult choice between two vastly different lives. On one hand is her life in America where everything is new and exciting and where she has built a life for herself that makes her happy. On the other hand is her life in Ireland where everything is comforting and familiar to her and where she can be with her loved ones. Ronan does a stellar job of portraying this character’s fear and ambivalence as she struggles with the conflicting agonies of her choice.

Equally worthy of praise is Nick Hornby’s screenplay which provides a beautifully sensitive portrayal of Eilis’ journey and growth as a character. The film does not shy away from depicting the grief and anguish that comes with leaving one’s home to make this kind of journey or the despairing depths of her isolation as Eilis becomes torn between her two homes. The story allows Ronan to really flourish as an actress as her character undergoes a great transformation from a meek and delicate girl to a vigorous and self-assured woman. Her experiences with love and loss are handled with such humanity and compassion that her journey becomes all the more heartrendering and affective to behold.

Brooklyn is a moving and emotional portrait of a woman’s search for love, happiness and a home. The journey she undertakes is as turbulent and tempestuous as the waters of the Atlantic and she suffers much grief and sorrow along the way. Her heart belongs to two different lives that threaten to tear her apart as she struggles to reconcile her American values with her Irish heritage. The film allows the audience to understand the pains and heartaches of Eilis’ choice, making her ambivalence all the more empathic and relatable. Even if we are fairly certain what choice she will make in the end, it doesn’t make the struggle any less difficult. When she finally makes her decision at the end, she does so with a heavy heart knowing fully well what her choice means and what it is she’s giving up. The result is a touching and heartwarming film that is as captivating as it is moving.

★★★★★

He Named Me Malala

Director: Davis Guggenheim


I was first introduced to Malala’s incredible story two years ago when she appeared on The Daily Show. Like everyone else I was struck by how gracious and compassionate she was given what she had to endure, especially at such a young age. Despite having undergone an unimaginable trauma and being exiled from her home she showed no sign of hate or anger, but instead displayed exceptional benevolence and wilful determination. She talked about the virtues of education with such insight and wisdom beyond her years that I was overcome with astonishment and humility. Her resolve to not give way to fear and violence but instead to stand up for peace, knowledge and harmony serves as a truly inspiring example to us all. The story of this extraordinary young woman is one that deserves to be documented and shared with people all over the world. The film that Davis Guggenheim has directed does just that and is as enthralling as it is educational.

Over the past couple of years Malala Yousafzai has become such a strong symbol and figurehead for peace and education that it’s easy to forget she is at her core an ordinary teenage girl. She bickers with her brothers, struggles with her homework and looks at pictures of celebrities. She is smart, strong-willed and brave but she is also modest, mild-mannered and bashful. She may be one of the most influential and inspirational people in the free world but she is also a young girl adjusting to a new life in a foreign country. Although she lives in a secure house with her family and goes to a good school with other girls her own age, she still dreams of one day returning to Pakistan and seeing her old house and friends again. It is a difficult and a frightening trial for any person to go through but she has not allowed it to dampen her spirits. Throughout this film Malala smiles and laughs, remains cheerful and upbeat and maintains a translucent optimism that never wavers.

The origin of Malala’s name is provided in this film by the story of Malalai of Maiwand, an Afghani folk-hero. According to legend Malalai was a teenage girl who entreated the Pashtun army not to give up hope in the wake of the Second Anglo-Afghan War in the late 19th century. She inspired these soldiers to make their stand against the British troops at the Battle of Maiwand in 1880. Although Malalai was shot and killed in this battle, the Afghans were in the end victorious and venerated her as a martyr and a hero. The name today means ‘sad’ or ‘grieved’ in Pashto but Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala’s father, relates that to him the name has a different meaning: ‘bravery’. When he bestowed this name upon his daughter it is as if he knew she was destined for greatness. Yet Malala maintains that although her father gave her the name, it was not he who made her Malala. Her father taught her and inspired her to become the person she is today, but the decision to stand up and to speak out on a girl’s right for education was hers and hers alone.

This film is about more than Malala though. It is about her mother and two younger brothers who continue to be valuable sources of love and support in her life. It is about her father who became a public speaker for those less fortunate than himself, as his own father had been before him, and who continues to inspire Malala in her global campaign. It is about the millions of children around the world who don’t have access to education and who need a champion like Malala to be their voice and to speak on their behalf. Malala herself said it best when she proclaimed, “I am not a lone voice, I am many. And our voices are our most powerful weapons”. This film gets to the heart of not only who Malala is but also of what she represents. On one level she is a young girl who gets nervous about her GCSEs and who blushes at the prospect of asking a boy out, but on another level she is a shining symbol of hope and power, just like her namesake.

The story of Malalai, as well as other stories and memories of the Yousafzais, are depicted in this film through stunning animated sequences. These animations are expressive and lyrical in their depictions of the Pakistani landscape and its people and contribute a profound sense of artistry and poetry to Malala’s story. The best documentaries are the ones that contribute more than talking heads and conventional footage to discuss points of interest. They utilise journalistic styles and artistic techniques to communicate truths and convey stories in ways that other artistic mediums cannot. They explore universal themes that broaden our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. They provoke emotional responses from us and allow us to form personal connections with the subjects. Guggenheim understands this and provides a profoundly effective portrayal of a wholly extraordinary young woman and the cause that she stands for.

He Named Me Malala is not the most artistic, groundbreaking or insightful documentary ever made, but its subject matter is so special and so important that this film demands to be seen by everyone. Malala asserts that the best way to overcome war, terrorism and violence and build a bright and peaceful future is through education. Only by imparting the lessons of science, mathematics, the humanities, art and language onto the children of the world can they learn how to inspire progress and change towards a better future, a prospect that belongs just as much to girls as it does to boys. I was delighted to find that half of the audience I was with was made up of schoolchildren, all of them girls, because Malala is an outstanding role-model for young girls to look up to. She is a symbol of the limitless possibilities that can be at their disposal through the gift of education and she embodies the qualities of kindness, resilience, courage, wisdom and compassion. It is a thoroughly moving film that I hope will be able to reach and inspire children everywhere.

★★★★