Screenplay by: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Ian McShane, Anjelica Huston etc.
Cinematography: Dan Laustsen
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Have you ever thought: what’s the point in carrying on? We know we’re going to die someday so why bother trying to live? Dead French bloke Albert Camus wrote an existential essay called The Myth of Sisyphus and deemed life an exercise in the absurd. He offered mythological character Sisyphus as an example. Sisyphus was condemned to immortality for deceiving the Gods and his penance was to push a massive rock up a hill over and over. Camus wasn’t all doom and gloom, because he opined Sisyphus’s struggle ultimately gave his life meaning.
Why am I skirting around such philosophical musings? Well, John Wick is a classic “Sisyphean” character; destined to a repetitive cycle of life and death with very slim reasons for carrying on. In the first film it was revenge. In the second film it was paying back a marker; and then revenge. In the current, and third film of the franchise, it’s because he broke the rules of the assassin’s world and must pay the $14 million price. Plus, more revenge.
Yet, plot and reason are not the main purpose for watching this franchise. I watch it for the non-stop-Asian-infused-rainy-New-York-noir-flavoured-non-stop-balletic-violence-and-stunts. Here the incredible death toll and bloody killing is differentiated somewhat with: animals, vehicles and assorted sharp ojects joining the array of guns and fists used to hurt the two-dimensional bad people sent by the mysterious High Table gangsters. It doesn’t pay to analyse the film with logic, so just enjoy the immaculate: set design, art direction, cinematography, choreography, editing, visuals; and all-encompassing sound and fury.
Keanu Reeves, once again ignores the limits of his emotional range to deliver a formidable physical performance. Just his face, actions and movement alone are enough to convey his desires. Meanwhile, the writers open out John Wick’s back-story; shading in his past relationships and historical beginnings. This allows us to escape New York and venture to the Middle East, for a bit of sun and much needed change of scenery.
The film also welcomes a slew of fine character actors in support roles including: Halle Berry, Jerome Flynn, Asia Kate Dillon and Angelica Huston. They join the ever reliable Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick from the first two chapters. Although, someone may have asked Fishburne to “rain” in his more bombastic moments, it’s still fun to see Neo and Morpheus on screen together. Oh, but the stunt dogs and 1990s B-movie action hero, Mark Dacascos, steal the show in their featured moments.
Overall, while showing signs of formula fatigue, John Wick: Chapter 3, remains a simple but wonderfully entertaining guilty pleasure. The choreography within the fight scenes and car/horse/motorcycle chases just transcend the action genre. Using: humour, pace, shock and sheer kinetic power they consistently startle and astound. Lastly, one could look at Wick’s character in mythical terms, perpetually fighting the Gods and forever pushing the rock up that hill. Indeed, I guess, like Sisyphus, Wick will carry on ad infinitum as long as there is someone to kill; and an audience wanting to watch such exquisite carnage on a big screen.
THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS: APRIL FILM REVIEW ROUND-UP
With Avengers: Endgame (2019) dominating the cinemas at the moment, I thought I’d let Marvel’s magic dust settle BEFORE seeing that blockbuster this weekend. However, during April I caught a few other newer releases at the cinema and online via Netflix. Thus, here are some mini-reviews with the usual marks out of eleven.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
GRETA (2018) – CINEMA – DIRECTOR: NEIL JORDAN
Neil Jordan has an impressive directorial curriculum vitae, including genuine classics such as: Mona Lisa (1986), The Crying Game (1992) and The End of the Affair (1999). Greta is arguably not a patch on them; however, I really enjoyed this B-movie stalker narrative. This is mainly due to a fine cast headed by Isabelle Huppert, Chloe Grace Moretz and Maika Monroe.
Huppert exudes Gallic charm and quiet menace as the obsessive and lonely Greta. Furthermore, as her behaviour becomes more unhinged Jordan wrings every bit of tension from the lean and thrilling script. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography also adds class to a very entertaining ninety-eight minutes.
Mark: 8 out of 11
LOVE, DEATH & ROBOTS (2019) – NETFLIX – DIRECTOR(S): VARIOUS
This anthology of eighteen animated short films was curated by Joshua Donen, David Fincher, Jennifer Miller and Tim Miller. Produced by various crews from a range of countries, the series is a re-imagining of Fincher and Miller’s long-planned reboot of animated sci-fi film Heavy Metal (1981). Firstly, I love short films and have watched a lot over the last ten years, and I don’t mind animated stuff either.
In Love, Death and Robots the animation, graphics, action, editing, composition and imagery on show here are incredible. The stories themselves are hit and miss; with some actually feeling over-sexualised and retrogressive. Nonetheless, the production values on show raise the bar so high it masks some of the generic writing and weak characterisation. Lastly, there are some brilliant shorts and my favourites include: Three Robots, Shape Shifters, Zima Blue, Ice Age and the very funny Alternate Histories.
Mark: 8 out of 11 (averaged score)
OUTLAW / KING (2019) – NETFLIX – DIRECTOR: DAVID MACKENZIE
According to Wikipedia this historical epic about Scottish nobleman, Robert the Bruce, cost $120 million to make. It’s a shame so much money was wasted because technically speaking the production is an absolute tour de force. It’s a pity the script and narrative are so bereft of intrigue, suspense and character relatability. Yes, I get that the English are bad and the Scottish must stand up to defeat their nefarious “landlords”, but unlike the far more theatrical and entertaining, Braveheart (1995), this all felt irrelevant.
I thought Chris Pine, who is a charismatic movie star, lacked personality in the lead, and Florence Pugh, as his wife, was given little to do apart from run away then get kidnapped. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was fantastic as a bloody revenging Scottish rebel-lord; as was David Mackenzie’s incredible direction of the impressive battle scenes. I have read that the film was hacked to pieces and what is on show is a hung-drawn-and-quartered cut of a longer film. Perhaps, one day we will see a true version of Outlaw / King and Mackenzie’s vision will be properly represented.
Not quite a dirty dozen but a filthy five as former soldiers and military contractors including: Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal, gang together to rob a drug baron’s fortress holed up deep in the South American jungle. The story has all the hallmarks of a testosterone-driven-men-on-a-mission-genre classic, but just when I thought it was going in a certain direction, the ending under-mined much of the previous compelling action.
The cast are very impressive though and they more than make up for any deficiencies in the thin characterisations. Similarly, while it starts slowly, once we get into the heist J.C. Chandor’s methodical directorial style really comes into its’ own. Chandor creates a lot of tension during and after the robbery as events twist out of control. Thematically, I thought this was going to become a modern day version of 1948 masterpiece, The Treasure of Sierra Madre. Indeed, if the drug money they steal had become a true threat to test the friends’ loyalty and courage under fire, I would have marked this thrilling film higher.
Mark: 8 out of 11
UNICORN STORE (2018) – NETFLIX – DIRECTOR: BRIE LARSON
This is a very odd film. However, if you pick through the bones of the whimsical script, the rainbow-baubled art direction and Brie Larson’s eccentric child-woman, you’ll find a rites-of-passage genre film in there somewhere. Larson directs herself as the immature narcissist, who having been kicked out of Art College begins a dead end temp job to try and appease her parents. So far so relatable.
However, the film twists into symbolic fantasy when she is offered, by Samuel L. Jackson’s enigmatic ‘Salesman’, the dream opportunity of owning a Unicorn. WTF!!?! I enjoyed a lot about the film, notably the Napoleon Dynamite (2004) style humour; plus Larson and Mamadou Athie’s performances stand out. Overall though, I got that the Unicorn was an allegory for human maturation but I personally felt the narrative was slow and stretched despite fine work from the very talented Larson.
THE NETFLIX MEMORANDUM – INCLUDING REVIEWS OF: AFTERLIFE, THE DIRT, RUSSIAN DOLL, DAREDEVIL ETC.
For some insane reason I have given up alcohol for the year and the weight of reality and time burdens my everyday existence. First world problems abide. Anyway, while my liver breathes a huge sigh of relief, my mind still desires stimulus. Thus, I have, in my constant sobriety, had even more time to stream and watch even more films and television. These bitesize reviews look at the latest stuff I’ve seen on the behemoth streamer Netflix; with the usual marks out of eleven.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Ricky Gervais’ latest fictional piece is a really enjoyable tragi-comedy. His everyman, Tony, is suffering severe grief following the passing of his wife. Sadly he allows misanthropy and suicidal thoughts to overcome his daily existence in the fictional town of Tambury. The comedy is founded on dark materials but filled with deep humanity as we watch Tony wrestle with his demons.
I especially loved the eccentric characters and jokes concerning Tony’s job as a reporter with the local newspaper. The supporting cast are a joy too and include brilliant comedians like: David Earl, Kerry Godliman, Joe Wilkinson, Tom Basden and Diane Morgan. The ensemble cast and fine writing combine to create a simple, funny and emotional journey through one’s man’s fight with depression and grief.(Mark: 9 out of 11)
ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT (2019)
I keep telling myself not to watch such true crime documentaries as they make me feel really sad about the state of human behaviour. This story from the United States was in documentary film form so I got pulled back in by not having to sit through ten episodes of horror. Also, I’d heard it was a pretty incredible story too so my interest was piqued by that.
Safe to say this grim tale of grooming, paedophilia and abduction that one family suffered at the hands of a human monster in the 1970s, is something you wish you could un-see. As a documentary film it is very well made but it does make you lament the gullibility of some people and sickness of others. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
DAREDEVIL (2018) – SEASON 3
I’d say Matt Murdoch’s Daredevil is my favourite of the Marvel/Netflix streamed offerings. Charlie Cox is a fine actor and the drama, fighting and villainous rendition of Wilson Fisk by Vincent D’Onofrio, make it essential viewing. While it takes a huge gulp to believe that a blind guy could be that great at fighting criminals with sight, once you buy into that premise the show offers a lot of fun.
While not scaling the heights of Season 1, and lacking the brutal Punisher (John Bernthal) side-plot of Season 2, this latest Season 3 finds Murdoch up against Fisk again and a new psychopath in rogue FBI agent, Ben Poindexter. Like other Marvel adaptations on Netflix it’s still five episodes too long and bogged down with plodding angst and lengthy dialogue scenes, so doesn’t quite hit the bulls-eye throughout. Nonetheless, it’s still compelling drama and the hand-to-hand fight scenes are an absolute sensation. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
THE DIRT (2019)
Crazed rock stars take drugs, smash up hotel rooms, screw groupies and almost die due to their excess is the unsurprising narrative ups and downs of this Motley Crue biopic. It’s not a bad watch but is essentially like a poorer version of This is Spinal Tap, without the incredible gag-rate. The film fleshes out the caricature members of the band showing their human side; Douglas Booth and Iwan Rheon bringing depth to their paper-thin roles. Moreover, while the era and stadium shows are really well emulated the direction lacks alot of imagination.
I mean, there was an intense film about addiction and human excess in here, and while we do get some moving scenes, notably with singer Vince Neil’s life struggles and Nikki Sixx’s heroin dependancy; ultimately the film did not dig deep enough into their characters. Still, fans of the band and their energetic rock music will love it no doubt. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
JESSICA JONES (2018) – SEASON 2
Kristen Ritter is back as Marvel’s hard-drinking, misanthropic and super-powered private investigator; and she remains very pissed off. Season 1 of Jessica Jones was absolutely brilliant due to David Tennant’s incredible villain, Kilgrave, and Jones’ character arc reflecting the damaging nature of controlling relationships.
Season 2, alas, is a plodding let-down full of filler episodes and weak sub-plots which quite frankly bored me. While Ritter holds the season together, the investigation into her past gets dragged down by soap operatics and a severe lack of pace and action. Mark: 6 out of 11
Mads Mikkelsen is one of my favourite actors and he is on good form as a crack hit-man daubed ‘The Black Kaiser’. There’s a decent B-movie in here somewhere but the attention-deficient and showy direction detract from a potentially interesting story of regret and redemption. Moreover, while the action scenes are deftly realised the stupid characterisation, exploitative sex scenes and amoral violence drag the film into the unwatchable territory.
The least said about Matt Lucas’ performance as the amoral ‘Mr Big’ the better; here a usually excellent comic actor is given appalling direction that, like most of the film, lacks subtlety, tone and emotion. (Mark: 3 out of 11)
RUSSIAN DOLL (2019)
Another Groundhog Day copy gets a run out with Natasha Lyonne’s sassy computer programmer finding herself living out the same day over and over with various insane diversions along the way. It starts off really interestingly with lots of crazy deaths, character revelations and existential suffering. However, it soon runs out of steam, adding up to eight dramatically paper-thin episodes, more style than content.
Lyonne, is a fine actor who I like very much, delivers every line like New York comedian Andrew Dice Clay and this grated on me in the end as I felt I was watching a stand-up performance rather than a fully-rounded character searching for the meaning of life. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
THE SINNER (2018) – SEASON 2
After the surprisingly excellent Season 1 of The Sinner, I was really looking forward to the second season. The cop show format is twisted in a really interesting way as we see the accused commit the crime, yet find the cop, in this case the impressive Bill Pullman, empathising with the criminal. Pullman’s Harry Ambrose is a brilliant creation. He’s not flashy or loquacious but a determined and dogged cop with his own personal demons.
Drawn to the troubled or underdog Ambrose digs for justice and redemption. In this story he sees his own past in the crimes of a 13 year-old boy accused of murder and is determined to find answers. Here the boy in question is given a compelling performance by Elisha Henig; and his characters’ commune existence and family history had me gripped throughout. A supporting cast including Carrie Coon and Tracy Letts also add real quality to this stirring psychological drama with themes relating to: physical and psychological abuse; religious cults; family tragedy; mental illness; and the darkness of the human spirit. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
Writers: Nic Pizzolatto, David Milch, Graham Gordy
Directors: Jeremy Saulnier, Daniel Sackheim, Nic Pizzolatto
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Carmen Egogo, Stephen Dorff, Scoot McNairy, Ray Fisher etc.
No. of episodes: 8
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Time is an unforgiving concept. It marches on and absolutely never stops until we are dust. While young we believe we have more time, but deep down we can see our own death. That fear will either drive us forward positively or send us insane. Old age is perhaps the bitterest turn in time we must suffer. If we live long enough to collect a litany of fine memories, the mind disintegrates them, cruelly disallowing us from recalling such happy moments. There is also regret. If you have a conscience you are likely to suffer regret. Regret of what you have done wrong, not done right and been simply incapable of doing. Lastly, it is said time and tide wait for no man or woman. But it is waiting; waiting for us to die.
Existential police procedural drama, True Detective, is back for a third season and very good it is too. Starring Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff as the, as usual, mismatched cops; it concerns the hunt for two missing children in the Ozarks, Arkansas. Further, the supporting cast include the impressive Carmen Egogo and always compelling Scoot McNairy. Set over eight compelling episodes we criss-cross three separate timelines that centre on the said case. Events unfold circa 1980 (when the crime occurred); circa 1990 (when the investigation is re-opened); and the present with the characters aged and withering from time’s unrelenting march. The complex structure really enhances the genre plot as the intriguing timelines over-lap and bleed into one another, thickening the mystery and heightening suspense.
While the criminal case is central to the conventions of the genre, writer Nic Pizzolatto is as much interested in the character development and themes pertaining to: love, time, regret, guilt, aging, memory and death. The character of lead detective, Wayne Hays (Ali) is fascinating. A former U.S. soldier who served in Vietnam, he is a complex soul striving for meaning and trying to do the righteous thing. Consistently, however, he finds his race and social standing a barrier to solving the crime. Through his trio of timelines we feel his sense of loss, love, isolation, anger, happiness and confusion. The confusion especially worsens when his older self is hit by Alzheimer’s. Indeed, it is incredibly heartfelt while he attempts to piece together events from memories past including: the crimes, his actions, violent events, and the romantic moments he had with his wife (Egogo.)
Once again, Mahershala Ali proves he is pound-for-pound one of the best actors around. He gives an incredibly nuanced and intelligent performance as Hays. To inhabit the same character in three different guises takes a particular skillset and the subtle differences in performance are a joy to behold. He is assisted by uniformly excellent direction and production design. Indeed, some of the editing is sublime as the images switch between the young Hays and older Hays brilliantly; dissolves, reflections and over-lapping montage effects used imaginatively throughout. Lastly, it’s was also great to see Stephen Dorff too in a prominent role as Hays’ no-nonsense partner, Roland West. Dorff provides ebullient support during the investigation and their friendship is a mainstay of the show.
After the scintillating first season which had Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson burning the plasma off the TV screen with their intense performances, the unfocussed second season contained star acting power but a confused narrative. However, Season 3 is a fine return to form and if you love your cop shows: dark, existential, meditative, violent and intelligent, then this is definitely worth your time.
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Will Poulter, Asim Chaudhry, Craig Parkinson, Alice Lowe etc.
Choices, choices, choices! We all have so many choices to make every day. Some simple; some much tougher. We didn’t have any choice over whether we were born, but now we are here there’s a myriad of daily selections we get to make. Do we get out of bed? Do we eat? Do we wash? Do we find the strength to get in our car or on the train and face the horrors of employment? Do we engage with violent abandon by calling the driver who cut us up at a roundabout, “a wanker!” Do we wear our clean underwear today or re-use yesterdays? Do we have a salad or burger for lunch? Do we start smoking again? Do we regret having children? Do we tell our partner we love them? Do we have the last beer in the fridge? Do we try and change our life? Do we just give up? Do we watch the new drama box-set or a Netflix special by Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker. So many tough choices!
Thus, you’ve had a shitty day with so many choices made and you sit down in front of the television in the hope you can switch off your brain. But that darned Brooker won’t let you. The televisual provocateur and his production team are cruelly requesting, for your entertainment, that you make MORE choices. If you’re young enough to remember those: “Go to page 47 to see if your spell vanquished the demon – or go back to page 666 to find out if you are the conqueror of the Universe”, type books, then Bandersnatch is THAT in television form. You may also be used to multiple choice computer games the likes of which I played myself as a kid on the Spectrum 128k computer. This is also the inspiration for Brooker’s twisted vision. But is it any good? I would choose YES! Bandersnatch is dark, hallucinatory and involving “fun”.
The story/stories are set rather aptly in 1984. Our main protagonist is a grieving and troubled teenager, Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead). Stefan is obsessed by a “choose your adventure” book called Bandersnatch. Inspired to turn it into a computer game, he soon descends down a veritable black hole mentally, physically and emotionally. The fact that we are vicariously responsible for the characters’ journey create a real sense of dread, doubt and suspense. It’s very clever and immersive and no doubt the writing of it must have been a tortuous process.
While it may not be for some I was engrossed by the show as it felt at times I was living in a Philip K. Dick story. Dick’s novels are often hallucinatory and dream-like with simple yet devastating prose. They deal with reality, alternative reality and beyond reality. You’re often in a place with unreliable narrators or confused protagonists who are existing in some real world, imagined or manufactured nightmare. Paranoia, anxiety and depression infect Dick’s world and Brooker captures that vibe brilliantly in Bandersnatch. However, it’s not also without humour too, albeit incredibly dark sarcastic humour.
Brooker and his filmmaking team achieve a style over substance triumph with Bandersnatch. I have only gone through Stefan’s narrative once but it gripped me from start to finish as an experience. The drained, urban and suburban 1980s colour and council-estate-grey look suited the psychotic breakdown of the main character. Nonetheless, at times, the dizzying twist of choices did take away from the emotional journey of the character. At one point I was so in the meta-hole the whole trip made me feel quite queasy. Having said that, I will be going back into this meta-adventure again; after all, the choices like in life seem endless.
BIRD BOX (2018) & ROMA (2018) – NETFLIX “CINEMA” REVIEWS
Firstly, may I wish you all a happy holiday season and
thank all the people who have visited and read my reviews and articles this
year. There are a lot of film review sites out there so it’s great so get so
many visitors in a saturated online market.
For my final reviews of the year I have decided to
double-up two Netflix releases. I watched them pretty much back-to-back in the
hope, on top of enjoying them for entertainment purposes; I may be able to add
them to my 2018 favourites.
So, here are my quick and concise reviews of Birdbox (2018) and Roma (2018) with the usual marks out of eleven. By the way, if you’re
interested my favourite films and TV show lists of 2018 will appear early in
January. Happy 2019 in advance!
BIRD BOX (2018)
Directed by: Susanne Bier
Produced by: Chris Morgan, Scott Stuber, Dylan Clark, Clayton Townsend
Screenplay by: Eric Heisserer / Based on: Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Danielle Macdonald etc.
It’s the end of the world as we know it: AGAIN! I’d say that many of us may be getting apocalypse fatigue by now. So much so that if the end of the world does happen we’ll be mentally ready. Thus, any genre film about the end of the world must fight against the tide of similar films and TV shows released in the last decade or so to gain our attention or praise. Bird Box, for me, was a very entertaining and thrilling addition to the sub-genre. It benefits from an excellent ensemble cast and sterling lead performances from Sandra Bullock and Trevante Rhodes. Moreover, John Malkovich steals every scene he’s in as a cynical and obnoxious lawyer.
The story involves an invisible alien or natural force which infects the world’s population once they look; seeing it is deadly. It grips an individuals’ mind and then forces them to do horrific acts of violence to themselves. The film establishes Bullock’s character, blindfolded, with her two children just about surviving in the wilderness. After which we flash back five years and find Bullock’s pregnant character thrown into a memorably gripping set-piece. After which anyone familiar with George A. Romero’s zombie-film template will recognise many of the twists and turns in the story. Indeed, Bird Box is not that original because the superior, A Quiet Place (2018), also had a very similar premise but used sound rather than vision as the danger. Nonetheless, as a genre film Bird box rips along compellingly and Suzanne Bier has created some intense horror moments throughout.
Mark: 8 out of 11
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Produced by: Alfonso Cuarón, Gabriela Rodriguez, Nicolas Celis
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira
Alfonso Cuarón writes, directs, edits and shoots a clear
love and hate letter to his Mexican childhood. It contains the love he feels
for his mother and the maid who helped raise him; and ire towards the men that
negatively affected his young life and his country of birth. Set in the 1970s
it covers around a year in the life of one middle-class family living in Mexico
City; the main focus being the young help, Cleo. We follow her as she carries
out her mundane tasks on a daily basis in an Upstairs Downstairs thematic structure. She is committed to her
work and it is clear that she dotes and loves the children as if they are her
own. As a historical film the era aesthetics are incredibly realistic and
Cuaron’s cinematography, presented in crisp black and white imagery, is
virtually perfect. You feel like you are there with the characters in 1970s
Mexico. Historically too, the film evokes between the lines the politically charged
danger of the era; however, Roma is
more of a personal film than determinedly socio-political.
Cuarón is an auteur at the height of his powers. His
direction on both Children of Men (2006)
and Gravity (2013) was phenomenal;
utilising technological brilliance with fierce storytelling acumen. Likewise,
in Roma his stylistic choices are
fascinating, although I think it actually works against the themes and content
at times. The long take pans and tracking shots, while expertly done, slow the
pace of the story and in my humble opinion are repetitive and overdone.
Moreover, Cuaron the editor has fallen in love with own work and to me would
have been a masterpiece if trimmed to two hours. There are at least four
incredible standout cinematic scenes – that I won’t spoil – which all linger
long in the memory. Furthermore, the characters, led by the humble Cleo are
empathetic and at times tragically formed against the backdrop of political
unrest. Yet, despite evoking the Italian neo-realist era of post-war filmmaking,
Cuaron’s film feels padded at times, lacking the economy of Rossellini’s and De
Sica’s work. Overall, it’s a touching work of cinema about birth, life and
death, which arguably did not need the stylistic flourishes to tell such a
simple, slice-of-life story.
Writers: Marti Noxon, Gillian Flynn, Alex Metcalf, Vince Calandra etc.
Editors: David Berman, Maxime Lahaie, Émile Vallée, Jai M. Vee
Starring: Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Eliza Scanlen, Matt Craven, Henry Czerny, Taylor John Smith, Sophia Lillis, Elizabeth Perkins
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
As is often the case when a writer has a big hit producers and studios look at their back catalogue to see if there are any apples in the shade ripe for plucking. Thus, following the cinematic success of her book adaptation Gone Girl (2014), Gillian Flynn’s debut novel from 2006 is given a stylish, small-screen HBO treatment. The story concerns crime reporter Camille Preaker – Amy Adams on stunning form – who returns to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to investigate the murders of two girls. There she confronts a personal ordeal from the past, clashes with her mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson) and attempts to bond with her precocious, teenage sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen).
Firstly, I must say Amy Adams is one of my favourite actors. Her performances in films such as: The Fighter (2010), American Hustle (2013), Arrival (2016), Nocturnal Animals (2016) to name but a few, have demonstrated what a striking screen presence she has. Furthermore, she is able to illuminate a character’s emotion through sheer being; it’s almost effortless. But while she excels in serious roles, displaying both inner strength and vulnerability, she also has a sense of mischief and humour. Indeed, who better to evoke the pathos required to portray a character like Camille Preaker? Adams nails the alcoholic, self-harming, ex-psychiatric hospital patient role, refusing to suffer fools and using mordant wit to hide her pain.
Camille’s assignment takes her back to a place she never wanted to go back to; drinking even more to further block out her inner turmoil. But, she has a vested family interest to find the killer of two missing girls, as her sister, Amma, knows the victims. Her inquisitive nature finds her locking horns with local cop played by Matt Craven; and forming a dysfunctional liaison with out-of-town investigator, Chris Messina. Being a small Southern town everyone has secrets to hide and out-of-towner Camille is not actually welcomed with open arms; not so much the Prodigal’s daughter but the outsider’s insider come to poke her nose where it doesn’t belong. Conflict further derives from external and internal grief that drives a feeling of gothic dread throughout. This is a story about abuse and neglect and the need to dominate through an overpowering sickness and poison. Dysfunctional humans harm others and themselves in order to get through the day.
Having watched a number of films and programmes dealing with the death or taking of children, this harrowing subject is becoming a real go-to for filmmakers and writers. Over eight episodes such crimes are melded with themes relating to: family secrets, mental illness, grooming, mutilation, addiction, suicide and sexual assault. As with Gillian Flynn’s aforementioned Gone Girl, the setting is not a happy place. Human beings do not come off that well either and are presented as very damaged personalities; or controlled and bullied by even more fucked up parents. However, as a brooding psychological thriller Sharp Objects is utterly absorbing and well worth a watch.
I would argue that it moves too slow for eight episodes and is on occasions slightly repetitive, but Jean-Marc Vallee once again proves he is one of the best directors around gaining brilliant performances from Adams, Patricia Clarkson and Eliza Scanlen especially. The editing also is very poetic, shifting beautifully from past to present and in between, charting a series of chilling, violent events. So, while it does have filler moments in the middle it is worth sticking with. Indeed, the end contains a great twist, which in my opinion, was delivered with way to much subtlety. Ultimately, if you like your dramas dark, elegant AND brutal then stick with it; because Sharp Objects cuts deep, way after the end credits have rolled.