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171 reviews in total 
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Star Trek (2009)
2 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times., 14 May 2009

The new Star Trek is all consuming - undercutting low expectations with a colourful landscape of rich visuals married with pace and driven by kinetic flair both in front of and behind the camera. Abram's Mission Impossible looked flat and felt static but Star Trek really moves with swooning camera movements, conspicuously eye catching composition and a degree of self-confidence that scoops you up and carries you along for that Hollywood Holy Grail – "the ride". There's artistry in its visual effects, an omission from most blockbusters, and the design is a combination of craft and graft, contrasting the smooth sheen of the Enterprise's bridge with her new boiler room bowels. Its future tech with a touch of real world grease and it speaks to the filmmakers intentions of partnering the geek aesthetic with something less esoteric for the unconverted.

Ironically for a movie that turns on future proofing legacies, the film's weakness is its story that feels slight and is driven by the commercial requirement to clear the decks for a new series of films – a deficiency that will become more apparent as time strips away its visual impact. Given that the script lacks any of the emotional or intellectual rigour that at least threatened to punctuate previous instalments, it does at least introduce a sense of fun and bravado that alludes to the best of the original series and it's more of a romp than before, signalling a new direction that owes as much to Star Wars, much apparent in the movie's dramatic thrust, as much to the series whose name it bears.

Goodwill notwithstanding, there are elements to this new approach that won't sit easily with aficionados of the Enterprise. The decision to wipe out 43 years of continuity, well conceived but poorly explained and embodied in a villain who is more plot device than character, is a poor return on a lifetime of devotion for hardcore fans – and the philosophical and moral implications of Nero's actions are given a cursory shrug in the interests of moving the story forward, a treatment which makes the decision seem flippant. The humour is sometimes too broad in a bid to appeal to an imaginary constituency of barely brain-stemmed teens, though it frequently recovers, and those on product placement watch will recoil with the news that both Nokia and Budweiser have made it to the 23rd century – a feat all the more remarkable on account of the nuclear war that occurs in Trek's chronology between our present and the time occupied by the libidinous Captain of the Enterprise.

Once the new cast settle into their familiar positions sometime during the final third, it feels natural and reassuringly familiar. Pine, retaining Shatner's cock sureness but dropping the melodramatic pauses, captures the spirit of his predecessor and is a worthy successor, though Orci and Kutzman could reward his performance by deepening his characterisation in the next instalment. Qunito's Spock is fine but lacks Nimoy's presence – how you miss the dulcet tones and Karl Urban's Doctor McCoy is perfect – instantly evocative of Deforrest Kelley without becoming an impersonation. True to the original series, the rest of the cast are little more than scenery, though the new Uhura is some of the best you'll see all year and certainly deserves more to do in future. Her sexually inspired turn adds a decent measure of human beauty to the gorgeous computer generated vistas.

A sensory treat it may be, visual effects and production design spit roasting your optics, but the impact is undermined by the absence of an equally inspired score. Great genre movies are defined by their musical dimension – imagine Star Wars without Williams, Blade Runner without Vangelis but the paucity of great compositions in recent years suggests that as the previous generation of great composers falls away, no one is coming up to replace them. A movie on this scale demanded symphonic support on an hysterical scale – something akin to Goldsmith's intervention in the otherwise lifeless 1979 film, but instead it's a generic score that substitutes volume for melodic coherence and memorable motifs. You've heard the like many times before and will be pushed to recall a note of it afterwards. The composers will claim that the trend is now toward so called 'emotional augmentation' – atmospheric scoring rather than out and out musical enrichment of the narrative, but this reduces what was once an integral part of these movies to clinical diagnostic support and it's unworthy of the potential of the movie score and the art form's heritage.

Exciting, inviting and a little bit frightening (the new Chekov's accent is as unsettling as any planetary destruction), Star Trek will polarise die-hards but have little trouble charming the uninitiated. It has scale, energy and a likable interplay between the leads, all of which go a long way toward apologising for some of the screenplay's less intelligible choices. Where it does succeed ultimately, is in evoking the spirit if not the intellectual curiosity of Rodenberry's series, and although we'll expect an extra dimension to the characters in the next instalment, there's enough optimism on display here to allow the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt…though just this once you understand.

4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Washington De-ceased, 26 April 2009

Russell Crowe's Washington hack investigates the apparent suicide of a researcher on Capitol Hill and the murder of a drug dealer, discovering that, somewhat terrifyingly, all roads lead to Ben Affleck's congressman and his crusade against a unscrupulous defense contractor in this solid, if unexceptional compression of Paul Abbot's highly regarded BBC serial.

Several questions permeate the mind as 'Play' unfolds, namely why doesn't a single colleague of Crowe's ask how or why he acquired the hair of a forty year woman and can the skin around Affleck's eyes really be 15 years older than the rest of his face? These investigative omissions not withstanding, all strands of Abbot's plot remain well entwined and although necessarily truncated for the purposes of adaptation, lose nothing of the intrigue that made the TV series manna for the optic nerves.

Kevin McDonald, last seen helming The Last King of Scotland, keeps the tempo up and pastes each frame together with thick set suspense but although State of Play grips from the outset it's an efficient rather than scintillating couple of hours. What's missing you feel, is the depth of character that the longer running time of the television series afforded.

Crowe, our guide to the underbelly of Washington shadow politics and newsroom maneuvering, imbues his journo with an easy manner and a quick wit, but for someone up against a conspiracy involving a slew of homicides and the top echelons of government, seldom lets his canter become a run as he frowns his way to the awful truth. Affleck meanwhile, is never entirely convincing as the libidinous career politician with powerful enemies, gawping when you imagine he was reaching for shock and occasionally very angry indeed when someone behind the camera holds up a white card with 'emotion' scrawled on it. This is a shame because the part, formerly the property of David Morrissey, misses the Gordon Brown lookalike's heft, while the miscast malformed twin of Matt Damon can do little more than oscillate between composed and tearful. If 'Play' is essentially a two hander between the Journalist and the Politician, Affleck's lack of muscle "Beadle's" the enterprise – one good hand and one withered grabbing the viewer and it's not quite the same.

Mind you, despite the occasionally underpowered leads no-one involved is anything less than adequate, Helen Mirren's newspaper editor and Rachel McAdams eye candy hackette providing assured support despite pared down roles. Always watchable and often involving, it's not the bravura thriller it might have been but it won't give Paul Abbot a reason to sue either – besides one day they'll have the technology to paint Affleck out and replace him with a young James Stewart – imagine that.

3 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
"Bing F**kin' Crosby!", 23 April 2009

Want to make a trashy movie but not have those imbecilic executives interfere? Well the trick is to keep it cheap and don't show the script to anyone. Neveldine and Taylor, the duo behind Crank, played the game beautifully and the result was a high octane, low rent orgy of violence, sex, profanity and insanity. If you were in the mood, and more of us needed it than we cared to admit, Crank was a tonic, though one that made you ill and vomit blood for days afterwards.

Anchored by a game and wide eyed Jason Statham who got to deliver lines like 'does it look like I've got C**T written on my forehead?' (yes), Crank was a movie that brushed aside coherence, logic and any sense of it's own importance for laughs and thankfully 'High Voltage', er, cranks it up a notch, though the directorial duo will have to dig deep for a third instalment – though I wouldn't bet against them having a go.

Voltage beings where the original ended with the Stath falling a mile from a helicopter and bouncing off a parked car – dead presumably, but no because the Chinese warlord responsible for his original poisoned predicament has Staham's Chev Chelios scraped off the roadside and deposited in a makeshift surgical theatre where his heart, strong enough to survive the original film and so a desirable commodity for his wizened nemesis, is extracted and replaced with a battery powered stopgap designed to keep him alive and his organs fresh for transplantation. You'd be forgiven for losing the thread at this point but the movie is only 5 minutes old when Chelios thankfully regains consciousness and on Doctor's orders, begins a hunt for his real heart while subjecting himself to electric shocks to keep the temporary one functioning.

That, if you can believe it, is the setup, and you won't be shocked to learn that it's a fairly sober foundation for what follows. Shot on prosumer camcorders, Crank 2 is saturated in the promise of bargain basement vulgarity and doesn't disappoint. Edited with an eye for the absurd, it feverishly presses on across ninety monged out minutes in which guns are inserted into rectums, nipples sliced from torsos, fights segue into Godzilla style monsters battling against miniatures (with actors in caricatured masks of Statham and his enemy battling it out) and in the funniest sequence, Geri Halliwell appears in flashback as Mother Chelios, taking the young Chev to task on a talk show in which a few British cars and a reject from a mad max movie dressed as a British punk are dropped onto a Californian backlot for the least convincing but most enjoyable English flashback you've ever seen. Chelios may be a hardline misogynist and causal racist, "Is that some change loose in my pocket or did I hear a chink?" is his riposte to one of the Chinese Villains, but there's something about the former Sydenham market trader that would make him likable if he were playing a recidivist paedophile and he brings his gruff, er, charms to every scene.

There's little that's fundamentally new about the second Crank – it's structurally the same as the original and hits many of the same beats, but the sense of fun and embellishment of every frame with unashamed excess, makes it hideously enjoyable. Counting the instances of 'f*ck you Chelios' should be your new drinking game when it comes to DVD but in the meantime, High Voltage is essential for those that like their junk movies tasteless and baseless. The end, which such is the pace, you arrive at 15 minutes before the film itself, promises a third which on this evidence would be well worth a punt - as Chelios would say, "Bing F*ckin' Crosby!"

Watchmen (2009)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Less is Moore, 8 March 2009

Alan Moore's beef with Hollywood is that it's a crudifying monster – its arms entering the spectator's mind through the eyes and once inserted, frenzied and aimless, pulping the grey matter contents into a kind of wit resistant batter which is no more capable of processing the dense psychological and social preoccupations of his work than wood can hope to ferry electricity.

For Moore, willfully ignorant in an effort to protect his own authorship, cinema just isn't up to it. The detail of each panel within the humble comic book is a gallery of ideas and story specific detail that you, yes YOU the grateful reader, pore over at your leisure, like the fine art connoisseur plotting their time through a superb exhibition and breathing in each piece in turn. This notion that film, by its very nature, is reductive in translation and confected on delivery, has lead the co-author of Watchmen to suggest that his 1986 graphic novel was "unfilmable". For the record, that's senseless toss but this adaptation isn't going to change his mind. It's not the mode of translation that's at fault – film is a perfectly viable tool for the job, it's the way that tool has been used.

Watchmen is a fascinating view because it vividly illustrates several of the problems transferring material between two visual art forms that rely on significantly different patterns of consumption and interpretation to work.

Dave Gibbons, who illustrated the 12-part series on which this is based, was, unlike Moore, happy to be credited and that's hardly surprising because Zack Snyder has used his art work like a storyboard, compensating for the rapidity of the moving image where appropriate, with fits of slow motion, designed to recall the experience of forensically eyeballing those all important panels. It is, superficially at least, a good technique, reverent to the original and designed to fluff the fanboys who will have envisioned it thus and will be in a furious masturbatory frisson as a result. Were this the only barometer, Watchmen would be a qualified success but its problems are manifest in those areas that required an artist rather than the fan at the helm – a director rather than a acolyte - narrative, backstory, tone; the elements of the graphic novel that, somewhat counter intuitively, may have benefited from a less straitjacketed approach.

Watchmen the graphic novel acknowledges the limitations of the medium, whether it knows it or not, by fortifying each part with written extracts from various fictional sources – a former super heroes autobiography, a police report, a magazine article – all of which add texture to the characterization and flesh out the stories alternative timeline. Inevitably the three act Hollywood picture isn't the easiest framework within which to add these deets, so what to do? Émigré directors of the 30s and 40s working in Hollywood (and a few of the natives), overcame these sorts of problems by investing scenes with expressionistic composition and shadow, which married with incisive, witty dialogue, hinted at what couldn't be shown or seen, and consequently your imagination became the bridge and added the depth. The result? Film Noir – the perfect fusion of artistry and suggestion and some of the finest American films ever made.

Snyder knows he has a problem in this respect but sentimentally in thrall to the source, is incapable of making the decisions that might have saved his bacon. It's a matter of hitting the same psychological points in the story but with greater subtlety than a word for word transfer allows. Much of the dialogue is lifted from Moore's script, but what works within the context of the comic book, feels clunky and coarse when it exits the mouths of real human beings. Rorschach is the case in point. On paper he's brooding, introspective and psychotic – on screen he speaks the same words, does the same things but has a pantomime quality that errs toward the ridiculous. Too often, when unable to mark out his roadmap to the story's political and socio-satirical cues, Snyder's instinct is to go for crunching violence and spectacle (as well as adding inches to Doctor Manhattan's flaccid penis –not a bad metaphor for his approach), perhaps hoping to overpower the viewer's undernourished cerebellum. He'll say the noise is all on the page of course, and it is, but what felt cutting in the novel's more fully realised world, looks like a blunt instrument on screen. It isn't that you can't film it, you just can't do like this, but it's another case study to add to the files on the issue of how the filmmakers best equipped to replicate the EXPERIENCE of these stories, are seldom the ones who actually have an interest in doing so.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Fincher goes backwards, 8 February 2009

A quirk of film spectatorship is how, ever so often, and despite being several stages removed from the alchemic processes of collaboration that power creativity, you just sense that a film isn't going to work. In the case of Benjamin Button, the news that Eric Roth, who penned the interminably folksy Forrest Gump, had written a screenplay which David Fincher would direct, raised an eyebrow in the Frames household. The portents were as black as Carol Thatcher's nightmares. Like Gump, Button would chart the lifetime of a boorish miscreant, or cipher, whose job it was to guide us through several decades of American History. Robert Zemeckis, a technocentric director whose movies had been enhanced by bravura visual effects, directed Gump and although being his blandest film, attained a clutch of Oscars for his trouble. Oscars that his funnier, edgier and more entertaining pictures had never stood a chance of winning.

David Fincher, like Zemeckis, is a director whose grip on the use of effects as a story enhancing tool rather than a sideshow, is so tight that his direction is almost an effect itself. He gave us Fight Club, one of the most astute and thematic rich satires ever made. Seven was a classic thriller. Zodiac a genre shredding police procedural where the devil really was in the detail. Three superb pictures and no industry recognition whatsoever. What to do? Well perhaps, reasoned Fincher, doing 'a Zemeckis', was the way forward. After all, good as he is, the man's got an ego right? This alone must explain why a filmmaker previously attracted to such engaging, edgy material, was motivated to direct Roth's fatuous slab of homespun whimsy - a light touch jaunt through the 20th century as seen through the eyes of a glaze eyed non-entity.

If Forrest Gump succeeded at all, and the debate goes on, it was as a result of it's canny juxtaposing of the dull everyman with extraordinary moments in US History and the characters that populated it. Look, there's Gump shaking hands with President Kennedy! There he is with John Lennon! But Benjamin Button, bless his one dimensional heart, barely makes a mark on history as he inoffensively passes through it. The fact he's aging backwards making him one of the most extraordinary humans to have ever lived, if anything, goes virtually unnoticed, as if it was no more remarkable than an unusual skin disease. The potential of the premise is therefore offensively wasted, to the point where you're not convinced his aging normally would have made much of an impact on his life. Button's plight (he is born computer generated) might have given him a unique perspective on the human condition and what a different movie it could have been had Pitt played someone with the mind of Oscar Wilde - a cutting intelligence and wit brought to bear on his inverted existence and the lives he touched upon the way. But the Gump model only works it's magic if you find profundity in the banal and the chocolate box truisms that have the least demanding members of the audience nodding their heads and wiping a tear from their sentimentally swollen eyes. Thus it's a superficial, curiously still piece of work that hopes you'll graft your own experiences on to Pitt's blank canvas and in doing so, squeeze out the melancholy as you remember your own lost loves, your own disappointments, your own missed opportunities. That's fine if you're in the mood but otherwise you might think Fincher is wasting your time and unlike Pitt, you're not getting any younger.

The only thing that saves Button from complete irrelevance is the technical showmanship on display. As with Fincher's previous efforts, the meticulousness in the framing of each shot married with the highly inventive use of CGI speaks to the intelligence behind the camera. It's also a handsome film, as they say in New Orleans, impressively mounted and richly photographed. But Fincher, who to his credit pulls back from fully fledged Gump levels of sentiment, can do nothing with Roth's mawkish script and consequently Button is easy on the eye but unforgiving on the mind. Has Fincher sold out with it? Well he may finally get his Oscar but as he stands at the podium, golden statuette in hand and grin fixed for the cameras he'd do well to remember Tyler Durden's warning from the long long ago - "The things you own end up owning you".

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Nighy of the living dead, 26 January 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Directed by budget FX minnow Patrick Tatopolous, the man who inflicted Emmerich's Godzilla – the 9/11 of creature features, on an a world barely recovered from the actual terrorist atrocity, this is further proof, not that any more was needed, that not only do visual effects people make poor directors but that inexplicably, and for reasons no-one really understands, their film's are almost always marred by middling effects work. If that's counter-intuitive, the finished film surely is not, as it's just as derivative as you'd expect, though thankfully not as long.

Tatopolous sets out his stall early and invites you to pick over the knocked off tat on display. This Underworld adventure, we soon learn, is going to be saturated in the bleakest blue and lovers of grain should cancel their social engagements for the weekend, there's enough grit on these atmos inducing tinted frames to soak up Rancor vomit. In mid-budgeted genre fare the level of grain is usually proportionate to the use of sub-standard CGI, possibly because the likes of the Greek Geek imagine it hides effects flaws. It doesn't, and there's some lousy pixelage here, but it hardly matters – Rise of the Lycans, that's the hairy brigade to you, has a human special effect that computer power can't hope to match – his name is Bill Nighy.

He's the centre of the old story about an overprotective father from an aristocratic family who hates his beautiful and well heeled daughter's boyfriend, particularly as she's predictably opted for a bit of rough - yawn. He's a grubby, long haired, stubbled up bruiser from the underclass and no sooner has he preened his way into her affections with a bit of macho posturing (he impales a wearwolf through the head with a sword), she's positively agape, not to mention as hot as a solar flare. Toss in the spectre of a probable insemination as a consequence of covert coitus, add Daddy's well known snobbery, plus a temper that could char flesh and the stage is set for familial gubbins with a bit of stodgy teen-friendly mythology added to keep the metal heads awake.

So you may hate the plot but what about Daddy Cruel himself, the blazen blue eyed Nighy? He's a vampiric dandy having a wonderful time, so much in fact that it's nearly infectious. Nearly. A lank with fangs, he's the instigator of a dialogue chewing contest that spreads to most of the cast, with inflections and emphasis' all over the spectrum. Sometimes it's as if all the laws of pronunciation have been abandoned, but if phonologists are apoplectic with rage at King Viktor's murder of the language, Nighy couldn't care less. He's gapes and twitches and swills syllables around his mouth like fine wine. Sometimes it's as if he's trying to stab the air with his lines and if you like that, you'll love the way his dialogue oscillates from olde world 'I know not' nonsense to the contemporary vernacular in less time than it takes for a werewolf to have it's head severed with a broadsword. Mad eye fans are also in for a treat.

Chuck in the man with the world's deepest voice and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is a very odd bag. Michael Sheen doesn't have much to do except look angry and kill things – his girlfriend does less and everyone else is on screen to be mutilated, sliced or chased. "It's over" the baritone piped brick sh*t house tells Sheen at the end and the rug was well and truly ripped from beneath my feet when he replied "No…it's only just beginning." Not for me it isn't Michael, I couldn't take another minute.

36 out of 69 people found the following review useful:
Artistic licence to kill, 31 October 2008

Daniel Craig returns to the role he saved from irrelevance and if we find him in a gloomy place, spare a thought for the blue eyed assassin - that's a dark corner he now shares with the filmmakers as well as the villains.

We have reason to fear Quantum. Their reach extends to the film's editors who are shadow men doing evil work to what you imagine was a fairly exciting thriller. They're complicit in an attempt to make each action sequence as elusive as possible. As an audience you're aware something is happening but it's like being caught in the middle of a bar fight having been glassed in the head from behind. This is maddening, frustrating editing – a Bond movie chewed up and passed through the Bourne Trilogy's celluloid digestive tract. Not even the theme song escapes this butchering. Constructing action this way is tossing money on the fire, necking whisky and urinating on the flames. Each sequence is as furious and cold as Craig's Bond but while this is highly effective as a tool for characterisation, its effect on each set piece is to brutally undermine the line of action, truncating what may have been show stopping moments and robbing them of those beats that fuel anticipation, nervous tension and most crucially, excitement.

The moments in between, where a Bond film breathes and is punctuated with humour, chic and yes, sex, are either mercilessly brief or absent and this makes Quantum of Solace feel slight and uninvolving. Obfuscation is the name of the game this time round but the filmmakers have extended this principle to the story and have confounded us all in the process.

Perhaps this pared down inelegance is what Bond's producers imagine a modern action audience wants, after all the aforementioned Bourne movies have been praised for their crack head cutting and real world brutality. The aesthetic is disorientating, messy but has a visceral punch that shakes up an audience in a way conventional editing struggles to replicate. That's fine of course but Bond's audience expects elegance, refinement and a sense of style, not stylisation that causes a film to eat itself. Solace struggles because it's so involved in machine gunning imagery into its audience that it forgets to entertain them. Consequently you have a strange post-view sensation that there was much that was good in it – Craig, the sumptuous visuals, the expressively mounted action, the Bolivian cab driver – it's just that you struggled to see much of it; it all fell between the gaps in the shots.

A prick tease picture through and through and the first movie to fully replicate the deep seated frustration that results from sexual abstention coupled with a gyrating beauty on your lap but one you can't touch because there's a gun in your mouth; Solace is still preferable to the series parodying itself but Royale showed you can pull this trick better and with greater heft.

A razor across your eyeballs, corneas ripped to shreds, Solace's climax has Bond and Camille, who watched her family burn, huddled as an inferno closes in around them. Teary and terrified she speaks for herself and the audience as shot after shot dies having only enjoyed barely a second of existence – mayfly editing; "not like this, not like this" she tells a battered Bond. Well quite.

Hamlet 2 (2008)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
To be., 27 October 2008

Armed with long foppish hair, a non descript American accent of the kind you use for comedy sketches and a truckle of comic energy, Steve Coogan is likable, if not memorable as a failed actor turned drama teacher that rouses his troop of slack jawed misfits to stage his self-penned sequel to Shakespeare's opus, in an attempt to save his drama class from the axe. A self-conscious riff on the likes of Dead Poet's society, it combines vulgarity and stupidity to good effect in a formulation that will be familiar to fans of writer Pam Brady's work on South Park and Team America. There are lots of good setups – Coogan's drunk wife lamenting the couple's fertility problems in a restaurant, Elizabeth Shue popping up as herself, having given up acting for nursing and the play itself – including the memorable number '(I feel like) I've been raped in the face'. It's a quirky enough vehicle for Coogan to adapt his slightly awkward, self-important f*$£ up persona for an American audience and there are laughs to be had, though occasionally it feels a bit laboured. Not the breakthrough Coogan may have envisioned but it won't do his stateside reputation, whatever that is, much harm either.

17 out of 35 people found the following review useful:
Good craic., 20 October 2008

It wasn't exactly a meeting of minds, nor was it motivated by a need to get to the truth, but the set of interviews that brought disgraced President Richard Nixon into a room with David Frost, is a fascinating historical tit bit – an act of opportunism on both sides that lead to one of the most sensational disclosures in the history of television political journalism. Nixon had broken the law and this unlikely confessional took place in the company of a light entertainment presenter. Imagine Tony Blair confessing he lied about the reasons for going to war in Iraq to Des O Connor and you realise how amazing this actually was.

Howard's film is fairly dispassionate in its treatment of both men. Frost, played with delicious smarm and just the right amount of arrogance by Michael Sheen, is constituted as a fledgling but highly libidinous talk show host, who in Nixon sees an opportunity to reinvigorate his celebrity and gain credibility in the US. Nixon on the other hand is in denial about his role in the Watergate scandal, fired up with a sense of self-righteousness and indignation at the liberal 'sons of bitches' that brought him down and is determined to use the encounter to rewrite history to his own advantage. Both men, it's suggested, have something to prove to themselves and their peers but mercifully the shadowy reflection angle isn't laboured en route to the tense exchanges. The climax, when it comes, manages to be both mesmerising and moving, not least because both actors meet the requirement of transcending mere impersonation and inhabit their characters. When you're told that Nixon's face betrayed, better than any trial, the personal regret, hubristic folly and watershed breakdown in the relationship between the American electorate and its government, thanks to Frank Langella, you believe it.

Hunger (2008)
10 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
History with the story safely removed, 20 October 2008

When a film is introduced to you as important your first instinct should be to ask, 'to whom?' The answer, in the case of the artist Steve McQueen's debut, is to the filmmaker - but the audience? That's more problematic. McQueen's exactitude in recreating the horror within the Maize prison – the barbaric and often mindless tussle between Republican prisoners and the Queen's screws, is total. It's a brutal document told in long takes, still close-ups and punctuated with occasional narration from Mrs Thatcher, whose cold and unflinching assessment, though grossly hypocritical ,"There is no such thing as political murder, there is only criminal murder", is mischievously juxtaposed with the dehumanising spectacle informed by that piece of political positioning. The devil though, is as always in the detail, though in this case it would be better to say that it lies in the devil's advocate. McQueen's assertion is that this is reportage, veritie, not myth making, but he should know better, and in fact does, because the details as presented are his details, so should the occasional moment of Christ like iconography slip through, benignly written off by the director as something he was unaware of ("honest to God"), we might infer that McQueen indulged himself and has chosen the path of least controversy – plausible deniability.

It's a curious picture as it's ostensibly a political film, though in fact, appears benign in this respect. McQueen's own political position is as effusive throughout as a viable solution must have been to the protagonists. Ultimately this becomes frustrating because it's a subject matter that demands closer examination of the contexts. Hunger provides the reality, occasionally overlaid with artistic overindulgence, but bubble wraps it – it's polemically inert, which is welcome in documentary but disappointing in a piece of pure cinema. It's also frustrating self-conscious, going out of its way to subvert convention (long takes, little or no score, sparse dialogue, careful composition) but in doing so safety adhering to those associated with art house movies. It strives to be taken seriously and although its impact is undeniable, its lack of political heft is unforgivable, making it a far less brave piece of work than its makers imagine it to be.

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