Anomalisa

Cast: (voiced by) David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan

Directors: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson

Writer: Charlie Kaufman


Trust Charlie Kaufman to make an animated film unlike any other ever made. As a writer and director known for his visual creativity, surrealist narratives and dreamlike atmospheres, one could only have wondered what he could achieve within the realms of animation. However it is also interesting that a filmmaker known for exploring psychological themes and venturing into the depths of human emotion should choose a format that is by its very nature artificial. While Kaufman showed in Being John Malkovich just how expressive puppets could be, placing the whole story within the world of puppetry is a different thing entirely. However, after about five or ten minutes of watching this film, it became all too evident that Anomalisa could only have worked as an animation. While the story itself is surprisingly simple (given the strikingly complex narratives penned by Kaufman in the past), it is a story that thoroughly embraces the world it inhabits.

The film takes place across a 24-hour period and follows the character of Michael Stone (David Thewlis), a famed and successful author and expert in customer service going through a midlife crisis. He is unhappy with his work, his family and his station in life and exudes a melancholic air as he drifts aimlessly. He flies into Cincinnati where he is scheduled to deliver a conference and checks into his hotel. Every person to cross his path along the way such as his taxi driver and the bellboy is indistinguishable to him as they all speak with the same inexpressive, monosyllabic voice (Tom Noonan). It isn’t until he hears a voice out in the hallway, an entirely different voice from that possessed by every other character, that he is suddenly awakened from his lethargic state. He discovers that the voice belongs to Lisa Hesselman (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a shy, sheepish woman with low self-esteem who gets embarrassed when receiving any sort of attention. Michael is immediately infatuated and asks her to spend the night with him.

Initially I took this film to be Lost in Translation with puppets, but Anomalisa is actually a very different kind of beast. Although they tackle similar themes of dejection, alienation and romanticism, Kaufman’s is an altogether sadder and stranger film than Coppola’s is. Michael Stone seems at first to be a forlorn soul experiencing a state of estrangement as he traverses this impassive, artificial world. Yet, the more we see, the more one gets the feeling that Michael is the architect of his own misery. After checking into his room he calls up an old flame who lives in Cincinnati, hoping their reunion might lead to something. During their meeting however Michael seems utterly oblivious to the grief he inflicted upon this woman when he left her completely out of the blue eleven years ago. After later meeting Lisa and spending their romantic night together, he readily declares his intention to leave his wife and son for this woman whom he has idealised in his mind only for her to gradually transition into another blank face with that same Tom Noonan voice. Michael shows himself to be less of a crestfallen wanderer than he is a tragically flawed individual doomed to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. His behaviour would be utterly appalling if he weren’t so downright pathetic.

What’s startling about this animation is how it manages to maintain a balance between artificiality and reality. The characters of course look like puppets with their joints and rubber bodies (I should probably mention that there is some puppet nudity in this film that’s handled with a little more artistry than in Team America), but they move and behave like real people. This effect owes just as much to the three actors providing the voices as it does to the puppeteers. So much of the emotion in this film is deftly conveyed through the inflections heard in the dialogue that align perfectly with the carefully crafted facial expressions. The film fully embraces its format as an animation with the use of a collective face and voice being shared by every side character being just one example. There is one particularly great scene following Michael and Lisa’s night of passion that fully demonstrates the effectiveness of this medium in a way that only the mind of Charlie Kaufman could have envisioned.

Just like with any other Kaufman film, Anomalisa is a film that will have to be revisited in order to be fully appreciated. It is abstract in its approach, complex in its thematic discussion and ambiguous in its ending. What resonated most strongly with me however was the emotional weight of it all. This is a tragic film about the agony of mundanity, the strangeness of uniformity and the delusion of an idealised romance. There is a sad beauty to this film, the kind that Charlie Kaufman is so great at depicting. The artificial effect of the puppetry adds an extra dimension to this film that would simply have not been there had it been done in live-action. Anomalisa is just as strange and as fascinating as any one of Kaufman’s other films and is astoundingly unlike any other animated film that I’ve ever come across.

★★★★★

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Time Out of Mind

Cast: Richard Gere, Ben Vereen, Jena Malone, Kyra Sedgwick, Steve Buscemi

Director: Oren Moverman

Writer: Oren Moverman


It’s easy to view the homeless as little more than faces on the street. It’s easy to forget that they are real people who have led real lives and who have real stories to tell. It’s easy to underestimate how much they have to struggle to find the things that the rest of us take for granted such as food, clothes and shelter. This is why films like Time Out of Mind are important. Films that are based on an informed and empathetic understanding of a struggle such as this are able to bring those stories to a wider audience. They can give a voice to the voiceless and a face to the faceless. They can inform, enlighten and challenge audiences about issues that they have perhaps never really thought about or that they’ve even tried to ignore. Homelessness is not a pretty issue which is why Time Out of Mind is not a pretty picture. It is harsh, uncomfortable and forlorn, just like the world these men and women have to live in.

George (Richard Gere) is a homeless man in Manhattan. We don’t know who he is or what his story is, we only know that he spends his days not knowing where he’s going to sleep tonight or where his meals are going to come from. He applies for refuge at Bellevue Hospital where he is required to sit through endless interviews in order to be accepted. Once in he inadvertently becomes friends with another homeless man called Dixon (Ben Vereen), a man who is utterly incapable of shutting up even when the lights are out and everyone’s trying to sleep. As the film follows George going about his day he crosses paths with a variety of characters including Art (Steve Buscemi), an ambivalently unbending building manager, Karen (Kyra Sedgwick), an eccentric homeless woman, and Maggie (Jena Malone), George’s estranged and unsympathetic daughter.

While there is a story taking place in this film, Time Out of Mind is not a plot-driven film. The beginning is not really the beginning and the end is not really the end. It’s more about the kind of life that this man leads than it is about reaching some sort of narrative resolution. While the film does end on quite a definitive note, it is still inconclusive and open-ended. After all the struggles this man has had to endure in the film’s runtime, we aren’t given any real assurance that things are going to get better for him in the future. We only get a hint that things might get better. Even then it’s not going to be easy and it definitely isn’t going to be painless. And that’s the point. Homelessness is not a problem that can be solved overnight, not even on an individual level. It’s about more than finding a home and making a living, it’s about changing a person’s frame of mind and having them go through a delicate process of rehabilitation. Maybe George is up for that task or maybe he’s reached an age where he’s too old to change. Time Out of Mind is not interested in happy endings or in pathos, it is interested in honesty.

Richard Gere single-handedly carries this film, giving a modest, understated performance. It is interesting to see a famous Hollywood star inhabiting such an unpretentiously deglamourized role as this. There is one scene when the registrar at the homeless shelter conducts an interview with him and asks if he’s ever been married, commenting “a handsome man such as yourself”. George’s embarrassed reaction to this comment is certainly indicative of the past life he led that perhaps led him to where he is, but one wonders whether it’s also the film trying to sneakily address the elephant in the room. While George is poor, dejected and miserable, there’s no getting around the fact that he looks like Richard Gere. In any case Gere delivers an admirably authentic performance as he conveys the gloom, loneliness and degradation that has become this man’s life. That he was able to carry the entirety of the film on his shoulders with such a subdued performance is commendable.

Homelessness is a difficult issue to contend with which is perhaps why Time Out of Mind can be quite difficult to watch. It directly addresses an issue that many people are often uncomfortable with addressing. It’s easier to let the homeless people we see on the pavement just blend in with their surroundings, to view them in the same way we view the traffic and the rubbish on the streets. These are all things we can escape as soon as we enter our homes. The homeless however do not have that luxury. The sound in Time Out of Mind places special emphasis on the noises of the New York streets such as the running engines of the cars, the obtrusive beeping of mobile phones and the inane chatter of passing pedestrians. These are sounds that George cannot escape wherever he goes, so instead they are a part of the life that he lives. Time Out of Mind is a rough film for an infinitely rougher subject.

★★★★

Truth

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss, Dennis Quaid, Bruce Greenwood

Director: James Vanderbilt

Writer: James Vanderbilt


The questions of fact vs. fiction, honesty vs. bias, and journalistic integrity are very hot topics in today’s political and social climate. In an age where opinions are often mistaken for facts or facts are viewed as opinions, where unchecked citizen journalism continues to be problematic, and where people feel compelled to ignore evidence and undermine the reliability of stories they don’t agree with, it is enough to make you wonder whether the truth even matters anymore. I found the casting of Robert Redford to be an interesting choice due to his role in All the President’s Men, a film about the pursuit for truth led by two journalists that led to the downfall of Richard Nixon. It is a film that celebrates the honest and principled art of journalism as exemplified by Woodward and Bernstein, both of whom are contemporaries of Dan Rather. Although Truth is not nearly as strong a film as its predecessor, its message is clear. The age of noble journalism has long since departed.

The film covers the real life story of Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), the producer of the CBS news programme 60 Minutes, and the scandal that destroyed her career during the 2004 presidential election. She enlists the help of the famed veteran news anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and her handpicked research team including Mike Smith (Topher Grace), Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss) and Colonel Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid) to report a story on President George W. Bush as he seeks re-election. The story they run accuses Bush of exploiting powerful connections and political advantages during his military service in order to avoid being drafted for Vietnam in the early 70s. Once they report the story however, their evidence is brought to question leading to an inquiry. As the procedures, intentions and principles of these journalists are condemned and their reputations are ruined, the larger issue at stake gets lost until the point when the entire purpose of their original story becomes irrelevant.

While watching this film I couldn’t help but compare it to a superior film about journalism that came out this year, Spotlight. This might be unfair since the two films are in a way telling two different kinds of stories. While Truth tells of an incident when the ideals of journalism were defeated by bullying tactics, misshapen public perception and the bottom line, Spotlight is an instance where it actually succeeded in spite of them. However when I compared the two as narratives some of the weaknesses in Truth became readily apparent to me. While Spotlight allowed each of its main characters to be fully realised as crucial members of the team in creating their story, many of the journalists in Truth amount to little more than talking heads. Grace’s character serves as a vessel for some of the impassioned speeches that seemed to be trying to hard while Moss’ character only exists to ask questions for the benefit of exposition. Those who follow this story can quite easily work out the major themes being explored but, unlike Spotlight, Truth feels the need to hammer the point in as hard as it can. It is an important and a relevant point but it isn’t one that needs to be preached in order to be conveyed.

The redeeming qualities of this film are Blanchett and Redford in the leading roles. While Mapes is clearly a smart and capable producer with clear principles and a passion for what she does, she is not portrayed as a paragon of truth. As the investigation into the story proceeds, the film acknowledges that mistakes were made and corners were cut because Mapes believed so strongly in the story’s importance. They even raise the question of whether her politics clouded her judgement as a producer. Blanchett is, as usual, stellar as her character is thrown under the bus by her superiors and is forced to defend her actions to a panel that doesn’t even care about the truth of the story. Redford meanwhile brings the right amount of gravitas and class to the role of an accomplished and beloved news anchor facing the regrettable end of a distinguished career.

While Truth is not a great film, it does raise important points. The subject of the inquiry is the mishandling of the allegedly fabricated documents proclaiming that Bush never actually served his time in the military. As the doubt over these documents is exploited to undermine the entire story as well as the journalists who led it and the concerns of the network’s parent company lead the top executives to adopt a policy of appeasement and scapegoating, the one question that is never brought up is whether the story is actually true. The film invites the audience to debate the very purpose of journalism and how far the pursuit of truth and the greater picture has been corrupted. That the film came out just in time for another election year is no coincidence.

★★★

Love & Friendship

Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Morfydd Clark, James Fleet, Jemma Redgrave, Tom Bennett, Justin Edwards, Stephen Fry

Director: Whit Stillman

Writer: Whit Stillman


In a year that has brought us Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Stillman’s new film offers an entirely different satirical take on Jane Austen. Love & Friendship meticulously replicates the Jane Austen style from the look to the tone to the dialogue. If Stillman had set out to simply make a straight adaptation of one of her novels I have no doubt that he would have succeeded. What sets Love & Friendship apart is that it treats its story, characters and setting with an acute self-awareness. There is a strong yet subtle degree of irony and parody as this film depicts the political nature of these Georgian relationships. As the scheming, duplicity and guile driving these loves and friendships are unfolded and portrayed, one cannot help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. This isn’t to say however that Love & Friendship is a mockery of Austen’s style but rather that it is a tribute.

The film’s star is the widowed Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) who has set out on a mission to find husbands for herself and her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark). She takes up residence at the Churchill estate where she stays with her brother-in-law Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) and his wife Catherine (Emma Greenwell). There she sets her sights on Catherine’s handsome and eligible younger brother Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel), whom she hopes to seduce for herself. Susan also invites the wealthy but utterly clueless Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) to stay with the intention of organising a union between him and Frederica. Susan partner in crime throughout this endeavour is Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny), an American lady with a thirst for gossip and deception to rival Susan’s.

Far from being a heroine in the vein of Elizabeth Bennett or Emma Woodhouse, Lady Susan Vernon is a deliciously manipulative and brazenly self-absorbed character who would be right at home in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s School for Scandal. She is incapable of looking at anything beyond her own interests and is positively shameless in her capacity for deceit. As she pursues Reginald, a man who isn’t nearly as smart or assertive as he thinks he is, she deftly wraps him around her little finger as she appeals to his vanity and turns the scandalous stories of her previous affairs into the cruel gossip of slanderers. Beckinsale plays the role with such sophistication, charm and wit that you cannot help but relish her delightfully duplicitous antics. The only other character who even comes close to Susan in terms of entertainment value is Bennett as the stupendously oblivious suitor to Frederica’s affections. As he stumbles, stutters and rambles his way through his musings on advanced agricultural methods or on the Twelve Commandments, he provides this film with its most hilarious highlights.

The film’s take on the Jane Austin mythos works well both as a celebration of the novelist and also as a satire. Love & Friendship looks and feels like classic Austen right down to the costumes, sets and music. There is a clear respect for the writer and her work as Stillman painstakingly recreates the look and feel of the period and adopts her refined style. The film still takes its jabs and includes certain winks to the audience such as the trope of introducing each character by pausing their scenes and allowing them to turn properly towards the camera and nod to the audience in greeting accompanied by a fitting character description. Another amusing scene is when Catherine’s parents set about the task of reading one of their daughter’s letters only to give up halfway through. Each character in this film, save the imbecilic Sir James Martin, is to some extent aware of how silly some of their practices and behaviours are. Part of the joy of this film is watching these characters engage in conversations and confrontations that are exquisitely artful in their ritualistic custom. Every word is methodically calculated to convey the exact form of persuasion, disagreement or deception required while staying true to what is considered proper. It is a practice that is as ridiculous as it is entertaining.

There are a few issues that I have with this film. Some characters such as Sevigny’s Mrs. Johnson are not particularly interesting or funny and the ending felt strangely anticlimactic to me. In terms of style and wit however Love & Friendship succeeds in spades. It is a comedy of manners that adeptly delivers on both the comedy and the manners. Its greatest strength is its dialogue which is sharp, droll and allows its actors to be as showy and elaborate as they please. There is perhaps even a social commentary to be taken away from this film through its depiction of gossip and scandal as an art form. Overall it is a clever and classy comedy that I enjoyed watching and that I believe will be especially pleasing to any fans of Jane Austen.

★★★★

Green Room

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawcat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Writer: Jeremy Saulnier


Boy, did this film make me feel queasy. In this day and age where we have movies by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and more horror-movie directors than I can possibly count, we’ve become pretty desensitised to the portrayal of violence and blood and gore on screen. Yet this film really shocked me with its content in a way that doesn’t often happen to me anymore. Green Room is not an overtly violent film. It isn’t over-the-top in its depiction of violence and certainly never ventures into the realm of torture porn. What made it so disturbing for me, rather, was how realistically graphic it chose to be at infrequent intervals. The film dedicated much of its time towards building an irrepressible atmosphere of dread to the point that you can hardly believe what is happening. Thus the selective use of authentically gruesome violence serves to bring the viewers back down to earth and remind them that this is not a bad dream. The danger these characters find themselves in is all too real and all too distressing. As a viewer I couldn’t help but feel trapped with them.

The film follows a punk rock band who agree to play a gig at a secluded venue in the Pacific Northwest. The band members are Pat (Anton Yelchin), the bassist, Sam (Alia Shawkat), the guitarist, Reece (Joe Cole), the drummer and Tiger (Callum Turner), the singer. They discover that the venue is in fact hosting a festival for white supremacists and so decide not to stay any longer than absolutely necessary. After the gig the band members return to the back room where they witness the stabbing of a young woman. Terrified and horrified, they lock themselves in the room along with the murder victim’s friend Amber (Imogen Poots) to try and work out an escape plan. Meanwhile the leader of the neo-Nazis Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart) intends to make sure that none of the witnesses leave the building alive.

I think the kind of tone this film is going for is that of a B-movie, which is a style choice and not a criticism. It has that sort of farfetchedness in its set up and execution coupled with a stark grittiness with no holds barred. However, through the use of its higher-value production, a well-known cast and skilled direction, Green Room offers a more intense and chilling experience than the typical B-movie. The film thrives on claustrophobia as these characters are trapped in a room with no means of escape. It is relentless in its brutality as each plan they attempt only makes their desperate situation even worse. Typically in these kinds of films you can usually tell which characters will end up making it out alright but here it is all up in the air. The film’s refusal to allow these characters any pleasure had me wondering whether any of them would even survive, let alone make it out safely. Any further elaboration on this point risks spoiling the capricious viewing experience so I’ll move on now.

Although the musicians trapped in the back room are the movie’s protagonists, Patrick Stewart is the headliner. As the ruthless leader of the vicious neo-Nazi skinheads he provides the film with an intriguing and menacing villain. Being the class act that he is, Stewart brings some dignity to the role of a cruel and powerful man trying to command a situation that is getting more and more out of his control. His screen-time is limited but Stewart commands every second in which he appears. The young musicians also deliver formidable performances as they are overcome with fear, anxiety and desperation. With only a locked metal door standing between them and a brutal death, it is all these characters can do to not give in to despair or panic. As their situation grows more hopeless with each passing second they try to use what few resources they have at their disposal to escape, only for everything to keep getting worse.

Many people are not going to like this film, that is a simple reality. Having seen it, I’m not sure if I could ever bring myself to watch it a second time. Green Room is one of the most gruelling and distressing experiences I’ve ever had in a cinema. It does such an impressive job of creating a desolate and petrifying atmosphere that watching it all the way through to the end feels like a feat of survival. It is so unflinching and convincing in its brutality that I think many viewers will find it difficult to detach themselves. With that said though, I certainly cannot say that it wasn’t thrilling or enthralling. It is a harrowing film but it was still fun to watch in a twisted and macabre way. Those who believe they might be able to endure such a film should go and see it and I wish them the best of luck.

★★★★

Demolition

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis

Director: Jean-Paul Vallée

Writer: Bryan Sipe


Sometimes when I watch a film that is clearly trying to say something profound and I find that I don’t understand it, I’ll often wonder whether the fault is with me or with the film. Is the film really saying nothing of value or am I just missing it because I haven’t thought enough about it? Other times however I know straight away that there is no need to ask myself that question. Either it possesses a genius that is self-evident or it has failed spectacularly. Demolition is one of the latter. It tries so hard to be deep and thoughtful that it completely misses the target and fails to reach any sort of a meaningful resolution. Through its attempts at providing social commentary, its blatantly obvious metaphors and its moments of forced emotion the film tries to present itself as being intelligent and insightful. Instead it achieves the exact opposite.

When his wife dies in a car crash Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is rendered into a kind of stupor where he feels detached from everything around him. He finds himself unable to mourn for his wife and alarms everyone, especially his boss and father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper), with his seeming aloofness and indifference. He is no longer focused on his work, he lies in his bed wide awake for hours on end and he speaks to everyone he comes across glibly and apathetically. When the vending machine at the hospital fails to produce a packet of M&Ms for him, he decides to complain to the machine’s company in a series of letters that detail the entire history of his relationship with his late-wife for context. The company’s head of customer services Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts) is moved by these letters and reaches out to Davis. With her help and that of her teenage son Chris (Judah Lewis) Davis attempts to build a new life for himself by destroying (or demolishing if you prefer) his old life.

It is clear that Demolition wants to say something deep and insightful about life and loss, new beginnings, the pursuit of happiness and the nature of change. However Sipe’s script tries far too hard at this and ends up becoming almost a parody of the kind of film it’s trying to be. The film wants to be quirkily unbelievable, in that it depicts two unlikely characters finding each other in an unlikely way, but ends up being wildly implausible. Davis speaks and writes as if every statement he makes is intended to be profoundly contemplative, almost as if he thinks he’s the first person to think any of these things, but just comes across as superficial and hollow. Some of his insights are downright laughable such as in one particular instance when he asks, “do you ever feel like everything is a metaphor?” (a question that is almost worthy of an ostentatious high school English essay). Any hint of complexity and perceptiveness gets lost in the film’s attempts to be cute and quirky, allowing cheap sentimentality to undermine and destroy whatever depth this film might have had.

In fairness to the film there were some moments that I enjoyed. One scene I enjoyed was when Davis meets Karen’s son for the first time and is met with a barrage of F-bombs. Davis puts Chris in his place by explaining to him that “fuck” is a fantastic word and that he undermines it by overusing it. Another scene I liked was where Davis and Chris find a gun that belongs to Karen’s boyfriend and decide to try it out. What follows is incredibly silly but it is also the funniest scene in the film. A few highlights however is not enough to save a film that had me rolling my eyes at its cutesy tone, one-dimensional characters and weak philosophy. There is nothing believable about how Davis and Karen become friends with one another and little chemistry to speak of. Chris is a decent character but is still a victim of the script with its embarrassingly hollow dialogue.

For a film that wants to be intuitive and meaningful, it takes a frustratingly safe approach to its concept. Instead of really trying to confront its themes of loss, sorrow and rebirth, it throws in some light comedy and half-baked philosophies that end up undermining the story. It wants to convey this fantastical feeling of wonderment and chance by having its two unlikely characters meet in an unlikely way and finding both of their lives to be richer for it, but it simply isn’t smart enough to pull it off. It is too farfetched, too schmaltzy and too senseless. The deeper meaning that the film thinks it is finding is clichéd and trite and falls short of anything close to profundity. Neither the story nor its characters feel real; therefore the emotions they are trying to inspire don’t feel real. The result is an aimless, overdone and empty film.

★★

Disorder

Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger, Paul Hamy, Zaïd Errougui-Demonsant

Director: Alice Winocour

Writers: Alice Winocour, Jean-Stéphane Bron


At first glance Disorder looks like it has the making of a typical, even generic, European thriller. An ex-soldier is hired to be the bodyguard of a beautiful woman and stays with her in a secluded summer home where the two are often alone together. I can only imagine what Hollywood might have done if they had managed to get their hands on the script. However the fact that the leading creative mind behind this film is a woman is interesting. Films of this genre tend to be seen in purely masculine terms and, in an industry that is already overwhelmingly dominated by men, it is refreshing to see a more feminine approach to this type of story. Winocour’s approach has turned out to be quite revealing of how films like this are typically made. For example this film portrays its main character, a man, in an alluring way which makes one think of how women tend to be portrayed in these films. I don’t think Disorder is by its own merits a particularly great movie but it is interesting in what it reveals about gendered approaches to film.

Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts) is an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD following his service in Afghanistan. He now makes his living as a bodyguard under the service of a wealthy Lebanese businessman with some rather shady dealings. When his boss must travel abroad for a few days, he leaves his wife Jessie (Diane Kruger) and son Ali (Zaïd Errougui-Demonsant) under Vincent’s protection. They travel together to their summer home Maryland in the countryside where they expect to find nothing but peace and tranquillity. Vincent however cannot help but feel paranoid at all times and starts to wonder whether his condition has had a corrosive effect on his instincts as a soldier. He also wonders whether his attraction to Jessie is proving to be equally detrimental to his judgement.

The angle this film adopts in depicting this story from the perspective of a traumatised soldier does prove quite effective. There is an undeniable air of paranoia as Vincent question everything around him in order to protect this woman and her child. He sees a car following them as they make their way to the beach and cannot help but wonder whether it’s actually tailing them or is in fact perfectly innocent of any intrigue. When his actions start to scare Jessie and Ali, Vincent begins doubting himself. In his state he could very well be more of a threat to the family than anybody else who might seek to do them harm. Winocour does a good job of reflecting this in her direction, examining everything purely from Vincent’s perspective and allowing enough instability in the camera movements to put the audience at unease. Is the camera shaking because something bad is about to happen or is it because Vincent is on the verge of a meltdown? We don’t know and that’s just the way Winocour likes it.

With that said however, Vincent himself isn’t really that interesting of a character. He’s traumatised and tormented but doesn’t display much in terms of personality. Maybe his service as a soldier has eaten away at his personality, leaving a hardened warrior in its place, but I felt like there should have been something there that the audience could have connected with on a human level. Although Schoenaerts was serviceable in the role, I simply didn’t think the character made enough of an impression on me for me to really empathise with him. Kruger was also decent in the role of a trophy wife who is actually more of a prisoner than she initially appears to be but, again, there just wasn’t much to the character herself that I found that interesting. Both Vincent and Jessie are good ideas for characters but I never found their stories to be that interesting because I didn’t think the film took the step to make the characters themselves interesting.

Disorder is a well-constructed film that succeeds at building tension and that has some rather intense action. I also like the perspective that Winocour brought to the film, treating the subject with more sensitivity than a male director or writer might have been inclined to. The film takes its time with building its atmosphere, which was greatly assisted by the score, and there is definitely a strong sense of paranoia. We are never sure how safe these characters are or whether they can trust anyone or even themselves. The characters however were not interesting enough to truly engage me and the ending was greatly underwhelming. Still, all things considered, it is interesting what this film reveals about gender in film today. The palpable tension and well-executed action show that the thriller is by no means a man’s genre. Winocour shows herself to be a thoroughly capable director with a sound understanding of filmmaking and has crafted a thriller that is overall neither better or worse than the rest being made today.

★★★

Louder Than Bombs

Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, Jesse Eisenberg, David Strathairn, Amy Ryan, Rachel Brosnahan, Devin Druid

Director: Joachim Trier

Writers: Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt


The film opens on a shot of a newborn infant clutching his father’s finger. As the child’s life begins, so does he intuitively form a powerful bond with the parent whom he recognises as his custodian. It is a bond built upon love, faith and nurture that endures for the duration of their lifetimes. The opening shot reflects the fragility of this bond as well as its instinctive nature. There is a beauty to this image but there is also a certain pathos as its portrayal of life at its inception ends up serving as a contrast to the remainder of the film. Louder Than Bombs tells the story of what happens when the bond that is formed at this very moment is ultimately and inevitably severed by death. When a director understands the importance of an opening shot and how powerful it can be, it is a strong sign that the film you’re watching is in capable hands.

It has been three years since Gene Reed (Gabriel Byrne) tragically lost his wife and now there is going to be an exhibition in her memory. Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) was a renowned photographer famed for capturing images of war zones who committed suicide, leaving behind her husband and two sons. Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) is the elder son who has since graduated from college and is now married with a newborn baby. He returns home to assist the upcoming exhibition by sorting through his mother’s things while also taking the chance to reconnect with Erin (Rachel Brosnahan), an old flame. The younger son Conrad (Devin Druid) is still in high school and still living with his father. He has become increasingly withdrawn since his mother’s death and remains in the dark about the fact of her suicide. He spends his days shut in his room where he can avoid his father and lose himself in his video games. So affected are they by Isabelle’s death that the three of them are unable to connect with one another or reconcile their feelings about the woman whom they all remember in different ways.

Despite the impression that the title might form in the viewer’s mind, Louder Than Bombs is in fact a strikingly quiet film. The suburban setting is thousands of miles away from the destructive and chaotic areas of conflict that we only ever see in Isabelle’s photographs. What makes this film stand out is how much it is able to convey with its stillness. By far the most striking image in this film is when the camera focuses squarely on Isabelle’s face for what seems like an eternity as she subtly yet vividly conveys an entire spectrum of emotion. Whereas a typical image is said to be worth a thousand words, this is an image that speaks entire volumes. Isabelle is not featured prominently in this film and yet she makes her presence felt, haunting the memories of those who remember her. The absence she leaves following her departure is almost deafening in its silence. This family has been fractured by her death and nothing is as it once was. The way this film jumps between chronology and perspective is indicative of this as each family member reflects upon their own unique remembrances of her.

The up and comer Devin Druid gives the film’s standout performance as an introverted teenager unable to fully comprehend the loss of his mother. He deftly conveys this character’s anxiety and confusion in his attempt to make sense of it all. He isolates himself from his father without quite understanding why, he plays video games for hours on end in order to escape his own thoughts and he has no clue how to vent his frustration and anger. Huppert also shines every moment she is on screen as a woman who finds herself torn between her life as a photographer, which provides her with stimulation and fulfilment, and her life with her family, which provides her with love and comfort. When she is home she misses her work but when she’s away she misses her family. Through this character she expresses an agonising inner-conflict that perhaps could never have been reconciled. Neither the audience nor the characters are ever given a clear answer over why she took her own life. All we have to go on are the memories of her.

As well as an engaging and emotional story, Louder Than Bombs is an interesting exercise in the power of perspective. Conrad reflects on a lesson he learned from his mother about how changing the frame of a photograph can completely change its meaning. Trier teaches this same lesson by allowing certain scenarios to play out from different points of view. He directs this film skilfully and purposefully as he reflects how our perspectives can affect our perceptions, our relationships and our feelings in revealing ways. In order for their reconciliation to happen each of these characters has to have their eyes opened in a profound way and learn to see things differently from how they appear. Louder Than Bombs is a film that does not seem great or profound upon its first impression. It requires patience, thought and concentration to really sink in but is well worth it. Upon reflection I discovered it to be an intelligent and thoughtful drama about the effects of loss.

★★★★★

Miles Ahead

Cast: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, LaKeith Lee Stanfield, Michael Stuhlbarg

Director: Don Cheadle

Writers: Steven Baigelman, Don Cheadle


When speaking of this film Don Cheadle has exclaimed that he hates the word ‘biopic’ just as much as Miles Davis hated the word ‘jazz’. He’s right to avoid this categorisation because Miles Ahead is far from a conventional biopic. Instead of compiling a sequence of ‘greatest hits’ moments from Davis’ biography, the film places its focus on a particular moment in his life. During this moment he is asked to consider how he would describe his own life. He considers this question by looking back at the day he met his interviewer and the events that followed. The flashbacks we see are not merely scenes from the past, they are memories that play out in Miles’ head. He interacts with them, inhabits them, and watches them on repeat. These memories are set off by triggers which affect him as he goes about his day. This film should not be mistaken as a retelling of Miles Davis’ life, it is an exploration.

It has been five years since Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) put away his trumpet and took a break from his music career. While his production company has paid for him to record a session for his comeback he has refused to hand them the tape. On this particular day the Rolling Stone reporter Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) turns up on his doorstep for an interview. Forcing his way into Miles’ home, he follows him around in an attempt to learn more about his life and music. The day that follows ends up being a wild one complete with booze, drugs and an attempt by the music executive Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg) to steal Miles’ new tape. Over the course of this day Miles thinks back to the romance he shared with Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a relationship that ended in heartbreak.

I like it when a film resists the temptation to stick to the same generic format as every other biopic and actually tries something new. Miles Ahead doesn’t make any mention of his childhood or his early career or any of what J. D. Salinger called “that David Copperfield kind of crap” because none of it is relevant to the story it wants to tell. It depicts Miles at a point in his life when he is dejected, estranged and adrift. The only memories that are relevant to him today are those of his wife Frances whose face graces the cover of his album ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’. He recalls the moment they met, the moment he asked her to give up her career as a dancer and the moment it all went wrong as he drinks and dopes the hours away waiting for his next cheque from the studio. These flashbacks are not simply cutaway scenes that play out before the story is allowed to continue, Miles is actually reliving them. There is one moment where listening to one of the tracks from ‘Sketches of Spain’ literally transports him back to a moment in his past. The film’s determination not to follow the traditional mainstream format of biopics is reflective of Davis’ own nonconformist attitude and works well, I think, for the film. Some viewers however will doubtless be put off by this film’s irregular style.

Cheadle delivers a transformative performance as Davis, inhabiting the look, the voice and the mannerisms. He assumes Miles’ arrogance, swagger and obstinacy in such a larger-than-life way that the actor himself completely disappears. The portrayal is not a sentimental one as Cheadle proves his commitment to show the ugly, lamentable side of Davis as well as his ingenious, creative side. This is demonstrated most notably by the flashbacks of his marriage to Frances where Miles is shown to display infidelity, abuse, neglect and misogyny. The result is a complex figure who presents something of an enigma as an irrational, disagreeable, self-destructive man who somehow created music of incredible beauty and ingenuity. McGregor also excels as a reckless, intrusive reporter keen to solve the enigma.

Miles Ahead is not a film that will work for everyone. Fans of Miles Davis who might expect greater emphasis on his achievements as a musician or on the music itself will probably be disappointed. Other viewers are liable to be put off by the film’s impressionistic style which is quite alternative and improvisational, much like jazz itself. For what Cheadle has set out to do with this film though, I think he has succeeded remarkably well. Miles Ahead seeks to explore the nature of this fascinating man at a certain point of his life and to discover what his music really means to him. Rather than provide an answer though, the film paints the portrait and allows the viewers to decide for themselves what it is they see. One thing that is clear is that Cheadle was determined not to make a generic film about this remarkable man. In the words of Miles himself, “if you’re gonna tell a story, come with some attitude, man”. Miles Ahead has plenty of attitude.

★★★★★

Urban Hymn

Cast: Letitia Wright, Shirley Henderson, Isabella Laughland, Ian Hart, Steven Mackintosh

Director: Michael Caton-Jones

Writer: Nick Moorcroft


When I saw this film being screened at the Glasgow Film Festival there was a Q&A afterwards with the director Michael Caton-Jones and some of the film’s stars. During this Q&A a point was raised by an audience member about how British cinema has often told the stories of outsiders and provided voices for those who often went unheard. Such is the subject of Urban Hymn. The young offenders featured in this film are amongst those who are often written off by society. Due to the hard lives they’ve lived, they carry much anger and animosity that they are unable to express in a healthy way. Their actions therefore inspire hostility and rejection when what they need is compassion and understanding. Without anybody to help them and to believe in them, they are doomed to pursue paths of indifference and self-destruction. This is why their stories need to be told.

Following the 2011 UK summer riots Kate Linton (Shirley Henderson) gets a job as a social worker for troubled children in a home. Two of the girls there are Jamie Harrison (Letitia Wright) and Leanne Dixon (Isabella Laughland), both of whom act out against their carers. They spend their nights drinking, doing drugs and committing crimes that frequently get them into trouble with the police. While Leanne, the more aggressive of the two, serves a term for one of these crimes, Kate takes the opportunity to try and reach out to Jamie. After hearing her sing and learning of her passion for music, Kate invites Jamie to try out for the community choir. Having become a part of something that actually makes her happy and where she is praised and accepted by others, Jamie starts working to commit herself towards a brighter future. Her friendship with Leanne however threatens to destroy whatever chance she might have.

I think my main issue with this film is that I’ve seen it before. It tells the story of a troubled youth from a tough background who possesses a talent that allows him or her to find inspiration and fulfilment. However, unlike Good Will Hunting or Billy Elliot, this story belongs to a girl and is refreshing because of it. Her perspective allows the film to tell this story in a different way which doesn’t feel tired or routine. The familiar beats are all still there but they haven’t been worn-out because the story now belongs to a character we haven’t seen before. Jamie has the same aggressive temperament as many of the characters depicted in these kinds of stories but also shows herself to be caring and protective of the children sharing the home with her. When one boy gets attacked by a bully, she steps right in and intervenes. When one girl comes into her room after having a bad dream, she lets her stay in her bed. She also remains steadfastly loyal to Leanne, even when she brings out the worst in her and holds her back from reaching her potential.

Although this film is Jamie’s first and foremost, Kate also has a story to tell. She has known tragedy in her life and helping these children is her way of dealing with it. When she discovers that Jamie is gifted with a beautiful singing voice and learns more about her background, she takes it upon herself to help her realise her potential and to help open the doors that Jamie always thought were closed to her. Again, it’s a story that’s been done but still manages to feel fresh in large part due to Henderson’s sublime performance. Leanne is by far the film’s most singular character. This is a character who doesn’t have the trust or the self-worth to believe that she can make a better life for herself. She has resigned herself to a life of neglect, rejection and incarceration and so has given up caring what happens to her. The one thing she does care about is her friendship with Jamie and refuses to let anything come between them. Laughland is absolutely ferocious in this role.

While the film did feel familiar to me it still had enough charm to draw me in and engage me. The film also manages to convey a sense of authenticity through the setting of the 2011 riots, a cameo by Billy Bragg as himself and most of all through these authentic characters and the believable performances of the actors playing them. Best of all is the music which provides Jamie with moments of true happiness, belonging and freedom. Her journey and growth as a character is the heart of this story and Letitia Wright sells every single second of it. During this Q&A she spoke about how this film is somebody’s story which was why it was so important to her to give as honest a performance as she could. Urban Hymn is a touching and honest film with a story that, while familiar, is nevertheless moving.

★★★★