Prisoners – Review

3 Stars

The last few years for Denis Villeneuve have been exceptional. Off the back of the tremendously tense Sicario, he directed the critically acclaimed sci-fi mystery Arrival, and his next film is none other than Blade Runner 2049. Back in 2013 he directed his first English language film: Prisoners.

This (rather depressingly) dark and intense thriller tells the story of the abduction of two young girls in Pennsylvania and troubling steps one father (Hugh Jackman) decides he must take to find them. Both disturbing and powerful, this film explores thought-provoking themes and the murky grey area between good and evil.

However, despite its bold and intriguing premise, the film suffers from an overly-long runtime (one hundred and fifty-three minutes) and over complicated plotlines. Prisoners is trying to be two different films; a dark moody morality tale (like elements of Sicario) and, later, a brain teasing mystery (a bit like Arrival). A straight focus on either would have been preferred to the final mash-up of both, with the former being the best option.

The first two-thirds follow Jackman’s character as he makes questionable decisions as he tries to locate his daughter without the police’s help. It really makes you think about what you would do in the same situation. It includes some of the best, and most tense, moments of the film. Then the final third slips into the more standard mystery thriller. Had the film scrapped that element entirely, it could have been a much more focused and original piece. It could have shaved of around thirty minutes, as well as entire sub-plots and characters that felt unnecessary and baggy.

Despite these issues, I was kept engaged by the film, mostly thanks to Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal (playing the detective in charge of the case), who both offer some of their very best work. At its tensest, Prisoners is a real nail-biter, and some moments are particularly uncomfortable (in a good way). Most of the violence is kept off screen, which keeps it from being glorified, and therefore makes it more impactful.

Prisoners marks the first time Villeneuve worked with director of photography Roger Deakins (they would reunite for Sicario and Blade Runner 2049). The resulting cinematography is unsurprisingly excellent. The weather plays a big part in the most stunning shots, with a speeding car shot in heavy snow being particularly breath-taking.

Despite its flaws, Prisoners remained exciting and entertaining. It would be improved by streamlining, and it feels like Villeneuve has done this with his later work. Within its lengthy runtime is a top-notch morality thriller, which, at times, managed to reveal the talent that has made Villeneuve one of the most exciting directors working today.

Sully – Review

3 Stars

Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood, tells the story of Captain Chelsea ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (the ever-reliable Tom Hanks), the pilot who miraculously landed a plane on the Hudson River in New York, saving the lives of all one hundred and fifty-five people on board.

Sully bares an unsurprising resemblance to Robert Zemeckis’ Flight, a film that told the fictional story of a pilot’s miraculous landing of a plane and the tough investigation that followed. While Sully carries (some of) the emotional weight of being a true story of a real-life hero, its well-known, successful conclusion means it lacks any real narrative tension throughout the film. The crash scenes themselves, the clear highlights of the film, are both intense and powerful. However, these scenes are not enough to carry a film (the actual event only lasted just over 200 seconds), and therefore the rest of the film follows the investigation into Captain Sullenberger’s actions. Before I watched it myself, I had already heard that Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki had added false sense of drama to the investigation by portraying the investigators as harsh, unfair, and out to blame Sully (I have attached a couple of articles on this subject below).  This suggests that Eastwood felt the true events were not dramatic enough to make an engaging film. The main problem with what Eastwood adds, aside from being untrue, is that it’s not very dramatic anyway. It feels unnecessary, and takes away from the true heroics of the story. The film could’ve spent more time delving into Sully as a person, as well as his co-pilot, played by Aaron Eckhart, or even the passengers. These people have experienced something truly remarkable yet the film wastes its short run time on hearings and simulations.

Other than this huge misstep, Sully is a solidly made film. Tom Hanks does what he does best. Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney are both terrific, if underused. As mentioned earlier, there are multiple scenes of the water landing which are particularly moving, and made the film worth a watch. Sully certainly isn’t a bad film, and certain moments are great, but these few moments are not enough to excuse the false, and frankly quite dull, take on the investigation.

http://www.mercurynews.com/2016/09/08/sully-movie-gets-it-wrong-hudson-river-crashs-real-life-investigators-say/

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/sep/12/sully-clint-eastwood-hudson-river-plane-crash-ntsb

La La Land – Review

5 Stars

Ever since it premiered at the Venice Film last summer, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land has been riding a wave of hype and excitement that may well culminate in a Best Picture Oscar win in this year’s Academy Awards. The film shares many of the themes – dreams, ambition and most importantly, jazz – as Chazelle’s previous film, the masterful Whiplash. However, unlike his terrifyingly intense drama, La La Land is charming, funny and bursting with joy.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star together as a wannabe actress and wannabe jazz club owner, who, after a few odd and surprising meetings, fall for each other. The chemistry between the two is perfect and really carries the romantic aspect of the film, making it both believable and charming. Ryan Gosling has proven himself as a more than capable comic actor in recent years (The Big Short and The Nice Guys are two of my favourites) and he delivers many of La La Land’s best laughs. Emma Stone has been widely praised by critics, and for good reason, delivering an award worthy performance that is not only sweet and funny, but also reflects how most of us feel about our dreams and aspirations; full of both hope and fear.

Set in L.A., La La Land, is both a love letter to the city and a movie that teases the culture of Hollywood. The camera picks up the stunning backgrounds and the bold colours of the meticulously designed sets, making the city another engaging character. But the film also likes to poke fun, with cheeky jokes that place Hollywood, acting and celebrities as their punchlines.

The music numbers are catchy, fun and are all choreographed and filmed beautifully. They follow the feel of the story well but none of them truly jumped out as musical classics. The soundtrack is worth the purchase if you liked the film, and the opening number is sure to be spoofed and copied (as it already has been by the Golden Globes), but after the credits rolled the music didn’t really stay with me like it normally does for a live stage musical. Perhaps this is due to effect that live performance has, and without it there is a little bit of magic missing. However, while the individual songs didn’t quite stay with me, and overall feeling of pure joy did.

Watching La La Land left me with the kind of film-high that comes along far too rarely. Bursting with joy just as the shots are bursting with colour, and the characters bursting with song, La La Land is a triumph that deserves the acclaim it has been receiving. With this and Whiplash under his belt (he’s only actually directed three feature films), Chazelle has truly proven himself a great director and I look forward to seeing what he does next.