| Posted by Lou | The time is 6.26pm here in London UK |
A busy week's film going means a collection of three film reviews: The Way Back, 127 Hours and The King's Speech. The short version is that they were all fantastic.
The Way Back
Alright, I admit it - I put alliteration ahead of the actual main focus of this film, which is not actually Colin Farrell. Though he is in it, and he is very good, and in case you're wondering no I wouldn't say no (despite his dislikeable public persona) - I mean, have you seen In Bruges? The man can act, and he's sexy. Anyway...
The Way Back covers the epic journey of a group of men who attempt to escape from a Siberian gulag by travelling 4,000 miles on foot to India. (This is captioned at the very beginning of the film, in case you're currently screeching SPOILER.) The soul-sucking horror of the gulag is ably set up (well, it was already planted in my mind from high school history), and you pretty much don't care who they are or what they have done - you want them to get the fuck out of there.
Their escape is through some absolutely stunning and utterly epic locations. If it weren't for the depths of human suffering being experienced by the characters in the foreground, this could be seen as one long travel advertisement for the Asian continent. Director Peter Weir and his team take these grand locations and create visceral and immediate scenes of hardship within them. I almost felt like the snow and ice was coming out of the screen to enshroud me, and was reaching for my water as they trek through the desert.
As for the characters, I didn't really feel like I was engaging with them as individuals (other than Farrell's delightfully psychotic Russian)... but then I suddenly found myself crying. I think the journey itself is so clear and so overtly motivated and it is all so big that I didn't really pause to think about them too much until they had already gotten under my skin. Or this can perhaps be attributed to the addition of Saoirse Ronan as a Polish girl who joins them, injecting a bit of warmth and spirit to their rag-tag bunch.
Definitely one to see at the cinema, but wrap up warmly and take a drink!
My initial reaction to this film can be summarised as: Holy Fuck.
**If you don't know the true life story this film is based on, stop reading now.**
The film is vibrant, entertaining, terrifying, funny, horrific, and ultimately very moving.
James Franco is perfectly cast as Aron Ralston, aka The Guy Who Cut His Own Arm Off. Within 2 minutes director Danny Boyle has set him up as a familiar type: the uber-extreme sports dude who goes out on his own to do crazy shit with little regard for his own safety. Likeable and genuine, but bat-shit crazy in pursuit of his own form of getting a life-affirming rush. As someone who has followed Franco's own bat-shit crazy career in the arts it was easy to see the appeal of this character to him.
I personally am totally and utterly mortified by the world of extreme sports, in a way where I actually felt sick from the minute Ralston jumps on his bicycle. Watching people sidle through cracks and jump off steep rock faces and fall into water just makes me cringe at the lack of safety of such situations. Yes, I'm a square. But the reasons for feeling like this are of course vindicated when Ralston finds himself wedged in an isolated crevasse with his arm as stuck as an arm can be.
As Boyle and Franco's imagining of Ralston's journey to the abyss unfolds it is hard not to feel totally emotionally involved in his plight. They focus on the little things that become Ralston's whole world: the quantity of water in his drink bottle, the attempts to use the tools at his disposal, the passing of each hour... Of course becoming emotionally involved when you know what is coming makes that nauseous feeling a little sharper... And when it comes, the moment is like a horror film - it is the first time I have ever wanted to cover my eyes and block my ears in a cinema...
In many ways Boyle's Trainspotting is a great comparison film for this - both take journeys into darkness and translate them to screen in a way that manages to entertain without shying away from the horror. If he hadn't already just picked up an Oscar (for Slumdog Millionaire) I'd be backing him for this effort.
And Franco. Franco. Oh man. He is just brilliant. Perfect. You know I love Darcy, but Franco is the one guy I would happily see rip that Oscar out of his grip. Truly an amazing performance. A normal guy, in extraordinary circumstances.
Definitely go see this. Even if you're squeamish - I am too and made it through okay. Just make sure you have a drink with you.
The King's Speech
I have been desperately looking forward to seeing this film since the instant it was released to the critic's eyes and everyone started saying "Firth" and "Oscar" in the same breath. Who would have thought that two years in a row Darcy would give us such notably magnificent film performances? I thought he could have (or even should have) won last year, and thus will be jumping for joy if he does it this time. But enough about my undying love for the all-time most iconic performance in a television period drama...
In-keeping with the visceral nature of the two aforementioned films, The King's Speech begins with one of those moments where you can't help but feel totally involved in what you are seeing. Firth's Bertie stands in front of a microphone to deliver his first speech to the people and... oh god it is so cringeful. Another moment for feeling slightly physically ill.
In a brilliant performance, Helena Bonham-Carter as The Queen Mother (or rather just Elizabeth, as she was back then) seeks help for her husband's stutter and we find ourselves in the office of Geoffrey Rush.
Now, I am definitely a fan of Rush. He is a brilliant actor, and does this very well... most of the time. But some of the time... he is just too over-the-top, too larger-than-life. Luckily Firth was giving the performance of his life (well, cinema performance of his life) as nothing less would be able to stand up to Rush.
Firth is wonderful. His Bertie is both vulnerable and strong; stiffly regal and desperately human. By the time his brother (surprisingly well cast as Guy Pearce) abdicates and Bertie is suddenly King George VI you are absolutely desperate for him to succeed.
The interpretation of the historical events of the time is quite interesting - Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson come in for particularly harsh treatment (I have no idea what they were really like), while Bertie and Elizabeth are retrospectively viewed through the filter of the wartime heroes they became for Britain. (Throughout the film I kept imagining Bonham-Carter's Elizabeth delivering the famous line: "The children won't go without me. I won't leave the King. And the King will never leave." The film stops well short of this, but it did highlight to me that she had captured the right spirit.)
I've probably made it sound rather droll, but actually it is a surprisingly entertaining film for something that is essentially about speech therapy. It is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and also very moving. In fact, my only complaint (beyond Rush's tendency towards over-acting) is that I really couldn't take Timothy Spall seriously as Winston Churchill. Another to put on your list!
(For Pride and Prejudice fans there is even the bonus joy of seeing Mr Collins and Elizabeth in minor roles.)