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11 out of 23 people found the following review useful:
Brad Pitt and Andrew Dominik reteam for a Killing, 3 October 2012
8/10

Australian director Andrew Dominik made a blistering debut with Chopper in 2000 before the suitably epic and problematic pause before his second feature, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford hit in 2007 – one of my favourite films of the last 10 years.

Never one to rush to his next project, Dominik is back with Killing Them Softly. Again based on existing material, in this case the 1974 novel Cogan's Trade by the late crime author George V. Higgins, it also sees the director once more penning the script and re-teaming with Jesse James lead Brad Pitt.

The script updates the action from the 70s of the novel to run concurrently with the final days of Obama's race for the presidency. His speeches of hope and the potential of the United States are intermingled with a base and grimy tale of two inveterate idiots who devise what they think is an elaborate plan to steal from the mob and frame someone else for the job.

It's this act, and the almost unbearably tense robbery scene, which sets up the rest of the film – forcing Brad Pitt's Jackie to go after those responsible.

Killing Them Softly is a film about death, the necessity of it at the darker edges of the world but also the way in which it can be seen as a mercy. When Jackie is told to rough up a potential culprit, he protests – if they're going to kill him anyway, why put him through the misery of a beating beforehand?

The title itself refers to the hit-man's philosophy on killing – a preference for taking his victims by surprise, sparing them the fear and anguish of facing their mortality.

It's this oblique attitude which sets Killing Them Softly apart from the identikit crime dramas which trickle through cinemas on a yearly basis. There's a humanity here, despite the criminal deeds at hand. Dominik also works hard to pepper the script with humour – some coarse but all adding up to the portrayal of these characters as more than mere engines for exposition and expiration.

Some of the best scenes in the film revolve around Pitt's all too frequent visits to his mob handler, played by Richard Jenkins. As the economic downturn hits, each and every expenditure has to be checked with the committee in charge. Decisions are caught behind walls of bureaucracy, to the embarrassment of Jenkins and frustration of Pitt.

This is Pitt's film through and through, from his superstar entrance accompanied by Johnny Cash's The Man Comes Around to the intensity of the finale. Jackie is a somewhat familiar man out of step with his time, disenchanted with the excess and stupidity of the people he has to work with. It's frequently a quiet performance but commanding, projecting the controlled power of the character without ever slipping into cliché.

The small cast is mostly peopled by character actors – Ray Liotta gets more to play with here than he has in years and Sam Shepard barely gets a look in. Jenkins is a delight while James Gandolfini provides some crime family credibility.Next to Pitt, it's the duo of Scott McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn who you'll spend the most time with and they do a great job of toeing the line between being likeably dense yet still expendable. Mendelsohn goes for broke as a grimy antipodean addict and McNairy has the harder role as a character you almost hope will make it.

Dominik forgoes the luminous Oscar nominated photography of Jesse James here in favour of dark and gritty lensing courtesy of Greig Fraser. The deeps blacks and rain wash the film into almost monochrome shades, highlighting the potential glint of a weapon in the darkness. The director also throws a couple of set pieces into the mix, including one heavily trailed hit that is rendered with all the slow motion style of a much bigger film and a visual highlight of the experience.

But Killing Them Softly is not about murder, it's about the miserable fate of the underclass and the cycle of behaviour which keeps them there. It's contrasted again and again (perhaps too heavily) with the hopeful message of Obama amid the collapse of the global economy as the mob, an organisation where money was never an issue, penny pinch in their dealings with life and death.

Andrew Dominik has crafted another classic with Killing Them Softly. More accessible than Jesse James and powered by a commanding performance from Pitt, it mixes dense, dark visuals with a curt humanism that sets it apart from others in the genre.

The Grey (2011)
1 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
A survival thriller classic in the making, 31 January 2012
9/10

Director Joe Carnahan made everyone sit up and take notice with his blistering theatrical debut Narc in 2002. Coaxed into screens with help from Tom Cruise (who was one of the 20 plus producers on the film), it was an improbably gritty tale of a broken narcotics officer played by Jason Patric who comes up against more than he bargained for during the investigation into the death of a fellow policeman.

Carnahan seemed destined for the Hollywood big time, moving into pre- production on Mission: Impossible III with supposed buddy Tom Cruise but he soon left over creative differences. The director eventually returned to theatres with 2006's Smokin' Aces – a ridiculously over the top action film with few signs of the filmmaker who brought us Narc. And The A-Team has its moments, it seemed like the subtleties of the director had become lost in blockbuster filmmaking.

Well Carnahan fans, fear not. With The Grey, he's back and better than ever.

The film succeeds thanks to a masterfully wrought script from Carnahan, which is based on a short story by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, who also contributed to the adaptation. The film pits lead character Ottway (Neeson) against the trials of the weather and the landscape and the horrors of a pack of ravenous wolves but also against himself. He has taken a job at the end of the earth, surrounded by the dregs of humanity, and feels like this is just the kind of hell he deserves. Ottway accepts his new situation with resignation and almost recognition. The wolves are a real adversary but also, fundamentally, represents the personal demons the character has been trying, and failing, to face.

Carnahan takes what could have been a staid action B movie with stock macho characters and forces the audience to see them as people. Sometimes bad people yes but human beings nonetheless who have a right to live one more day, even if its just to spend that time drunk or wallowing in whatever defective life choices they have made. He makes you feel each death in the film, feel the loss of another valued life.

An early moment sees Neeson's Ottway comforting a mortally injured man after the plane crash. It's a moment of total compassion, giving the dying man a glimpse of better times as his gore streaked hands search frantically for some contact. And he finds it, in the grip of another survivor. It's a simply stunning moment, something unexpected and powerful and makes the mention of an Oscar nomination for Neeson far from laughable.

The Grey is shot through with touches of startling subjectivity, lead by Ottway's frequent voice over. It introduces us to his world and makes it clear that we're experiencing everything from his perspective. This also gives Carnahan the chance to toy with some arresting imagery, like Ottway's wife lying next to him on a bed of snow, a recurring visual motif that keeps the character going, alongside a letter he has written to her. The character keeps it as a talisman, as a chance for reconciliation, of a life beyond this current circumstance and it serves to make us all the more hopeful of his survival.

Neeson is on top of his game here, unhindered by even a whisper of an accent, he digs deep to bring out the complexities of a man who has given up on trying to live a good life. His physicality is a boon as well and his worn and functional hands a constant feature – weapons and tools of survival. He may carry most of the dramatic weight of the film, but his supporting actors are uniformly excellent. While the dialogue sometimes falls into repetitive macho territory, there's depth to every major character, with Dermot Mulroney and Dallas Roberts doing solid work. Most memorable is Frank Grillo who had a small role in last year's Warrior. Here as Diaz, he takes what could have been a stereotypical semi villain and crafts a tremendous arc for the character.

Carnahan is intent on providing more than a mere action movie with The Grey but doesn't completely shirk those responsibilities. Everything from the bone-jarring crash to the finale is handled with a gritty attention to detail and some fast but never confusing editing. Set pieces occur infrequently and lack the bravura of blockbuster films but it's that intimacy which makes it all the more engaging, even terrifying.

Strangely enough, it's with the wolves themselves that The Grey almost falters. Brought to life with a mixture of animatronics and CG, they often looks less than convincing and are used far too often throughout. A handful of CG sequences are effective, and there's menace in the physicality of an on set model but these enemies are at their most terrifying when they're unseen – like a nocturnal cavalcade of howls, etched only in half seen plumes of lupine breath.

But it's a minor issue in a film which does so many things right. The Grey is possessed of a bleak beauty, projecting the chill of the Alaskan wastes right into the theatre. It is bold and brash and macho, while also presenting moments of powerful emotional weight and even addressing themes of spirituality and the constant closeness of death. And the ending, when it comes, is mere inevitability, coming to a head in a burst of finely wrought lyricism and an indefatigable drive to live just one more day.

Avatar (2009)
1159 out of 1951 people found the following review useful:
The best blockbuster in years - the master is back!, 15 December 2009
9/10

It has been 12 years since Cameron unleashed the phenomenon that was Titanic and real fans would have to look as far back as 1991's Terminator 2 for their last proper dose of his incredibly epic action (True Lies, while fun, really doesn't count). So the anticipation for Avatar has long since reached fever pitch and beyond.

Thankfully for the patient masses, Avatar has turned out to be the biggest and best event movie of the year, perhaps the decade. The story is pure Cameron simplicity – a paraplegic ex-marine is given a chance to walk again through the use of a unique alien body, called an Avatar. It is his job to gain the trust of the natives so that a greedy corporation can steal the precious metal from their lush moon. Jake's (Sam Worthington) crippled main character is the perfect point of contact for the audience – not only is he new to the visual delights of Pandora but his disability means that every moment in his Avatar body is one of glorious freedom from the confinement of his chair. When the Corporations intentions become more sinister, Jake must choose between his new found place with the natives and his own race and fight for what he believes in.

Avatar combines parts of Pocahontas and Braveheart with a liberal dose of Space Marines into an epic whole that takes nearly three full hours to unfold. We could criticise that length, the weak story and the hammy dialogue. We could attack its thinly-veiled ecological message or the frankly bizarre spirituality in its second half but honestly nothing can spoil the experience while you are enveloped in it. And a large part of that is down to the brilliant use of 3D – which is both subtle and incredibly effective. Til now, we have been making movies with 3D elements, Avatar is the first truly 3D film and might well prove to be one of the most significant things to happen to blockbuster film-making since Star Wars.

Cameron is also pushing the envelope with truly photo-real CG – something which has been promised for years but has finally been delivered with Avatar. The interactions of the characters with the environment is incredible and the detail on the faces of the motion-captured leads (Worthington and Star Trek's Zoe Saldana) bring them to life. You will believe totally in their performances, representing another quantum leap in tools which have rarely been used for anything other than spectacle.

Make no mistake, Avatar is an important film from a technical standpoint but it is also great entertainment. The world of Pandora is a stunning spectacle from scene to scene and as Jake learns more about the Na'vi the film approaches the kind of light hearted adventure story which has been absent from movie theatres for years. Then the final act explodes into tragedy and desperate action, with the final half hour a blistering life or death struggle that has to be seen to be disbelieved.

Over the coming days you will be hearing a lot about Avatar, and some of the critical reaction is bound to focus on its weaknesses in a bid to appear appropriately reserved and objective. But this is not a film to be dissected or examined, rather one to be experienced with a warm crowd, a great sound system, in 3D as you bask in the knowledge that the movie-making master is back!

Gamer (2009)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
GAMER - Almost but not quite..., 18 September 2009
6/10

Alrighty so I've been waiting for Gamer for quite a while and what Neveldine and Taylor have pulled off is almost great in a lot of ways. The concept is good and for a change it has been executed by people who seem to halfway understand how these games and MMO worlds actually work. Even the story and the characters are strong and the bitter satirical tone works well with the impressive production design and solidly created near-future world. The main problem is that the Crank maestros didn't have enough faith in their creation and bombard the viewer with so much audio/visual garbage that it's often impossible to see what's going on – let alone enjoy the supposedly awesome action.

The brief moments of stillness come as welcome oases in the deluge – so much so that I found myself literally counting seconds without a cut as though they were some kind of cinematic nirvana. But before long we're off on another nonsensical chase scene or assaulted with more stroboscopic glimpses of quivering flesh. As in the recent Crank: High Voltage, the directors seem intent on playing to every base image they can cram onto the screen and while there's a certain amount of fun to found in their disgusting, deviant world view it simply gets in the way of making you invest in the world they are trying to create.

Still, I couldn't help but enjoy the sheer audacity of the vision – it's been a while since I've seen something this unique that actually had the courage to pursue its ideas to the (bitter) end. There are messages here too, touching on free will and the ever encroaching creep of internet based second lives but they aren't strong enough to leave a lasting impression. If Neveldine and Taylor grow up a little and realise that they can makes films for adults and not just horny, sugar high teenagers, we might finally get to see the gritty, visually unique action film I know they are capable of delivering.

39 out of 82 people found the following review useful:
When all else fails, they dress up in bondage gear and walk in slow motion..., 5 August 2009
3/10

I like Stephen Sommers. Theoretically. I caught Deep Rising on video (yes VHS!) many moons ago and, apart from being shocked by the body melting effects, really enjoyed it. The film found the right balance between ridiculousness and thrills and stuck to it. Sommers' next, 1999s The Mummy struck that balance just as well, with a more kid friendly slant and was a near perfect summer action adventure, especially considering the gut wrenching disappointment that was The Phantom Menace. And then, with The Mummy Returns, the cracks began to show...

Sommers likes effects, this has always been clear and in his early films it could be considered a virtue, particularly in his fantastical re imagining of The Mummy tale. The sequel barely managed to keep its head above the flood of CG assisted smoke and mirrors and the knock on effect was to create more and more fanciful images. This reached its supposed peak with the unintentional horror show that was 2004s Van Helsing - with much of the running time composed of terribly animated, wire swinging sequences which defied logic, physics and good sense. Well, with G.I. Joe, Sommers has topped even that frustrating CG fest.

Pretty people in incredibly, perhaps dangerously, tight clothing do all manner of unlikely things in G.I. Joe. You've seen some of them in the trailer and in small doses they seem like fun but the reality is that, over two hours, it just creates a vicious, all encompassing boredom. So their suits make them more or less indestructible - how interesting. When did filmmakers forget that putting heroes in situations with absolutely no danger just neuters the whole experience. There is no vicarious thrill if we don't even slightly believe they could be hurt whilst jumping through a Parisian LUAS. And speaking of tentative Irish connections, there is a moment in this film where a token, shockingly unfunny black man realises his futuristic fighter jet has no firing controls. Then his colleague suggests that it might respond to voice commands. In Celtic. Cue Marlon Wayans murdering the pronunciation at 30,000 feet. And its not even played for laughs. You couldn't make this crap up.

The story is a mess of two many characters and blatant, on the nose exposition which makes the biggest mistake possible in a fantasy film - it never establishes the rules. As such, the audience is lost in a wildly vacillating tone which shifts from spastic humour to ultraviolence and small children beating the crap out of each other in seconds. The latter scene transplants a rough and ready kitchen fight scene into one involving children no older than 12. If Bruce Willis is barely dodging blades, fire and saucepans in a kitchen it is exhilarating. Here is just feels vaguely sinister and more than a little off-putting.

For what its worth, Channing Tatum seems to have potential as a leading man. Sienna Miller makes next to no impression, particularly when set against the genuinely stunning and surprisingly effective Rachel Nichols. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Christopher Eccleston battle with shockingly awful versions of their actual accents (why?!) and Dennis Quaid smirks a lot in that way which makes him look like a stroke victim. The Paris sequence comes closest to making sense (as there is a clearly defined goal) and is almost engaging, though overlong and the final act borrows at first amusingly, then shamelessly from the end of Star Wars. Just transpose Arctic water for space and you can almost see the Death Star.

Bottom line - forget the reviews filtering through the net and go see The Hurt Locker instead. Its the best action film I've seen in years.

67 out of 70 people found the following review useful:
Forged on the Anvil of obscurity, 24 March 2009
9/10

Anvil! The Story of Anvil begins with testimonials from members of some of the biggest bands of all time; from Guns n' Roses to Metallica. They are all united in their praise for one group which served as an inspiration to each of them in the early 80s. That band was Anvil and footage from a massive concert in Japan shows them sharing the stage with Jon Bon Jovi and Whitesnake, destined to be just as successful as their peers. But it simply never happened. Sacha Gervasi's documentary traces the bands unfortunate history and catches up with them 30 years later, capturing the amazing story of their last-ditch attempt to snatch fame from the jaws of obscurity.

Lips and Robb have been playing music together since they were 14. Now in their 50s they have kept Anvil ticking over, supporting themselves with menial jobs and persisting despite the exasperation of their friends and loved ones. This is a band that really doesn't do it for the money but for the love of the music and the (sometimes disturbing) devotion of the few remaining fans. At this point, their commitment to Anvil seems relatively benign until Lips gets word from an Eastern European woman he met online (yes, really) that she has organised a full European tour for them and suddenly they see one final opportunity to give Anvil the success it deserves.

Anvil is an inspirational story of blind commitment and the bond between friends. Lips and Robb have complimentary but very different characters. Lips is the typically mercurial lead guitarist. Prone to violent outbursts and equally sudden, heartfelt apologies he is the heart of the band but also its biggest liability. Robb is his calm and Zen-like foil (with a penchant for scatological art) and their exchanges are never less than entertaining but are also surprisingly emotional. Lips' melodramatic, snivelling, lip quivering apologies are some of the highlights of the film, with Robb's increasingly uncomfortable reactions a joy to watch. If they ever decide to give up on Anvil (unlikely) they would make a great comedic duo. Indeed it is the humour of the movie which makes it most memorable, with a barrage of major and minor disasters on the European tour reducing the audience to speechless, breathless, hernia-inducing laughter.

Anvil's humour is tempered by a huge amount of respect, channelled through Gervasi's coverage of the band. He toured with them as a roadie in the 80s and his love for the guys and what they do can be seen in every frame. Even when their situation is being ridiculed it is never at the expense of the band and their determination shines through as their defining attribute. Gervasi's work behind the camera is extraordinary. Having such great, trusting subjects is certainly half the battle and the sheer cavalcade of bad luck which they attract is a bonus but Gervasi shows remarkable restraint in every aspect of the film-making, particularly the editing. The difference between a moment that is funny and one that transcends mere humour to become uncomfortable and even emotional is all in the editing and Gervasi knows exactly when to cut to make the movie most affecting.

There is a moment in Anvil! when the band arrives at an important gig already expecting it to be almost empty. Lips' voice-over combines his almost trademarked acceptance with the tiniest glimmer of hope – a hope which has never been totally extinguished in 30 years. As they walk through the tunnel to the stage there is a genuine surge of adrenaline and a moment of real emotion. As a viewer you desperately want things to work out for Anvil, just this once, and you will it to happen. That level of connection is rare in dramatic films and practically unheard of in documentaries but Anvil creates and holds that tension in a perfect cinematic moment.

Anvil transcends the sometimes niche position of the documentary to deliver a truly extraordinary piece of cinema. It combines the lasting afterglow of a great concert with that of seeing a fantastic movie in a single package which is touching, funny and hugely entertaining. Even if you abhor heavy metal, are generally ambivalent about documentaries and think you couldn't care less about this bands bizarre longevity – you simply have to experience Anvil!

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
'Twelve... more or less...', 2 March 2009
8/10

Let the Right One In (or Låt den rätte komma in the original Swedish) is an unusual coming of age drama set in snowbound Stockholm in the early 1980s. It tells the story of a boy on the razors edge of puberty and the trials of trying to rip a nascent adult from the restrictive cocoon of childhood. Oskar is a typical movie pre-adolescent – he doesn't really fit in at school and is perpetually bullied by his cruel peers, whose attacks are casually brutal in the awful way children can be. Oskar's life is further complicated by the separation of his parents; he splits his time between living with his mother in the city and the countryside haven belonging to his father. Increasingly frustrated by his life, Oskar has taken to carrying a knife and seems on the edge of violent reprisal. Then a mysterious young girl moves in next door and Oskar's world is forever altered. So much of Let the Right One In conforms to the standard rules of the pre-teen, coming of age genre. The broken home, the bullying and, most specifically, the mix of curiosity and burgeoning sexuality which defines those initial interactions with a member of the opposite sex. Eli is a mystery to Oskar, a truism only heightened by the strange life she lives – not attending school and living with a man who is old enough to be her father but who she never obeys. Her habits are not kept a secret from the audience, but the filmmakers are smart enough to not define her merely by her needs. As the two young, isolated people grow closer together, we hope for a happy resolution, even though we know how unlikely it will be. Despite its genre trappings, Let the Right One In never becomes a horror film. It has horrific moments and it is certainly not for children but the director, Thomas Alfredson, never forgets that his film is a drama and that the relationship of the children is the most important element of the piece. Combining themes of endless childhood, subsumed sexuality, casual violence and mesmerising performances from the 2 young leads, Let the Right One In is far more than the sum of its stereotypical parts. A sweet story of young love, with violent embellishments, wonderful effects and a healthy dose of the macabre – it is a gem in the increasingly stagnant horror movie genre.

Watchmen (2009)
725 out of 1092 people found the following review useful:
We All Watch the Watchmen, 26 February 2009
7/10

Let's get this out of the way - Watchmen the movie is not as good as the graphic novel.

Zack Snyder's Watchmen is not your average graphic novel adaptation. Unlike with 300, which was short and sharp and shallow and easy to adapt, the original Watchmen is incredibly dense and, as written, unfilmable. So Snyder did something very smart - he didn't even try. What he did instead was to take the world of Watchmen and rebuild it in a way which made a virtue of this new medium (film) rather than try to cram the graphic novel into a cinematic form.

Nowhere is this approach more obvious than in the film's title sequence. A wonderfully composed collage of images depicts scenes from the universe of Watchmen in a way which is only possible in the movies. In this way, we are subconsciously introduced to a world where costumed heroes are a part of everyday culture and brought, in a stylish and fluid way, from the original days of the Minutemen to those of the Watchmen. This introduction is cinematically perfect and is indicative of the heights which the Watchmen movie is perfectly capable of achieving but not quite capable of sustaining.

Watchen is a brave film for a major studio to make and without a doubt it would not exist in its present form without the success of 300. It is incredibly dark (both in tone as well as shooting style) with events that would be anathema to any other superhero story. The less you know about the story, the better so there will be no spoilers here but suffice to say Watchmen's version of a happy ending is a far cry from the Hollywood norm.

Snyders brings his unique approach to action to bear on Watchmen, expanding on the action scenes in the comic without making it feel too redundant. His efforts are ably supported by the incredibly game cast, excellent cinematography and near perfect visual effects - this film is incredible to look at but also manages to create an entire world in a way which most superhero stories never do. The attention to detail in even the smallest scenes is commendable and the dense flashback structure means the same attention is paid to the presentation of full and complex characters.

Snyder has made a film which is gorgeous to look at, agreeably violent, well written, wonderfully designed and features some of the best small scale action sequences ever committed to celluloid. But, naturally, not everything is perfect. Most of the performances are excellent, with a cast of relative unknowns who manage to distinguish themselves despite constantly competing with overbearing effects and design. Patrick Wilson, in particular, does great work with a difficult role as Nite Owl, while Jackie Earle Hayley is blistering as Rorschach. Unfortunately in a film which could have done with a strong female presence, neither Carla Gugino nor Malin Ackerman make much of an impression, despite having quite a lot of screen time. Synder's musical cues are another bone of contention - often pushing the tone of the film into the realm of parody. And the ending... well let's just say it cheapens the experience in search of the lowest common denominator and the whole package suffers. On a related note, neither of the stories major revelations are handled that well. These moments were genuinely shocking in the graphic novel but are almost glossed over in the film.

Don't get the wrong impression, Watchmen is a good film, sometimes a great film. Snyder has managed to make a movie which is a terrifically well balanced compromise between accessibility and fidelity. That anyone can sit down in the cinema and experience a distillation of the Watchmen universe in just 163 minutes is a marvel. It does not deliver the depth of feeling and connection of the novel but that is more a matter of the differences in the media than a failure on the part of the film.

On its own merits, Zack Synder's Watchmen is a dark and twisted tale peopled with complex characters whose motivations are not obvious even to themselves. It is a solid film, sometimes rising into the extraordinary, and deserves to be successful. This is not Alan Moore's Watchmen but it is a competent extension of the universe into another medium and a worthy cinema-going experience.

Reality cannot be wrestled with, 1 February 2009
8/10

The Wrestler is without a doubt Darren Arronovskys most straightforward films to date and proves that he has the talent to handle a wide range of genres and styles, a skill which David Fincher may not have in light of his uneven Benjamin Button. Here, Mickey Rourke plays an aging professional wrestler who is lost in some no man's land between his 80's hey day and the realities of his bruised and broken 21st century self. After a brutal bout, The Ram's body betrays him and he ends up alone and battered by life, trying to recover from a heart attack. Unable to compete in the ring and alienated from everyone around him, he reaches out to a sympathetic stripper (Marisa Tomei) and makes a last attempt to connect with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). The Ram is approached for a high profile rematch with a former foe and he must choose between a potentially fatal return to the ring and the tiny, nascent possibility of a real life which he has carved out for himself.

Much has been made of the parallels between Rourke and The Ram but making that connection takes away from the sterling work by Rourke. He inhabits the character totally – no doubt helped by his increasingly bizarre features (he underwent reconstructive surgery after a short lived boxing career) but also bringing a strange naïve sweetness to a difficult role. For The Ram, it is life outside of the ring that is hard, the everyday is not subject to the rules and controls which exist in a wrestling match. And, most telling of all, you always know who is going to win in a wrestling match – in real life it is never certain. Even when Randy's life is going well, there is always a sense of fatalism, the sense that he cannot allow himself to succeed because he is too afraid of not knowing what will happen next.

Alongside Rourke, Tomei gives a good performance, although she is far too attractive for the role of a forgotten stripper. Seeing the two of them together comes across as aspirational rather than real, an anomaly in an otherwise naturalistic film. Likewise, Rourke's relationship with his daughter, though heartfelt, is spiked with too much cliché to be truly engaging. She is the hate-filled daughter who grew up without a father while he plays the immature, absentee dad who lost his way in a multitude of character flaws. These elements weaken the film to some extent but are generally forgivable – especially in light of the fact that Wood features in some of Rourke's strongest scenes and she holds her own very well for such a young actor.

One of The Wrestler's greatest assets is its camera-work by Maryse Alberti. Fluid and almost documentary style, it also manages to be a commentary on theme and character. Often when Rourke is walking to a new location, the camera follows close behind, hand-held. This deliberately apes that oft-used shot of a fighter on the way to the ring, enhanced by the claustrophobic corridors he walks down, mirroring those underneath a stadium. This connection is made literal as Rourke walks in one long take to the deli counter, with crowd noises on the soundtrack. Rourke literally treats every moment as though he were on the way to the ring, and this is another subtle indication of his inherent immaturity and fear of reality. When faced with another life, he retreats – even going so far as working in the same dead end job for fear of being forced to grow up. Rourke's man child is pathetic, selfish and broken but in the ring he is loved, adored and lauded for not growing up. It is an escape for the character and not fundamentally different from the many ways in which we all escape from responsibility and the vicissitudes of reality.

The Wrestler is a strong and simple film about a deeply flawed and powerfully sympathetic character. Rourke's performance is mesmerizing and his envelopment in the character complete. As the film ends and Bruce Springsteen's 'The Wrestler' plays over the credits we cant help but wish that things could have worked out better for The Ram but the fact is, outside of the ring, no one ever knows who is going to win.

Ghost Town (2008/I)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Gervais shines out of the office..., 22 December 2008
7/10

David Koepp has proved himself a capable director and Ghost Town is probably his most well rounded film to date, with both Secret Window and Stir of Echoes having trouble balancing their supernatural elements. Doing double duty as writer and director, he gets a lot of mileage out of a rather standard romantic comedy plot.

I've never been a fan of Ricky Gervais in any forum, be it stand up or his TV shows – which seem to be based on vicarious embarrassment rather than genuine wit. Mainly, he always seemed to come across as a bit of an arsehole. In Ghost Town he plays a socially awkward dentist who shuns company and is openly rude to everyone he comes in contact with. His favourite part of his job is the fact that his patients spend 90% of their time unable to speak. After a near death experience, Gervais finds that he can now see and hear the dead and, in a city as large as New York, is suddenly inundated with requests from the denizens of the afterlife. One such ghost, played by Greg Kinnear, has some unfinished business with his widow (Tea Leoni) and sets out to convince Gervais to help him so that he can find some peace.

So far, so standard. Guy has to get close to girl for an ulterior motive and ends up falling for her. Ghost Town even recycles the Cyrano De Bergerac conceit of having Kinnear prompt Gervais with lines designed to sweep Leoni off her feet. What elevates this film is not so much the humour (which is consistently well written) but the performances and the moments of drama which underscore the comedy. Gervais is perfectly cast as a man who has retreated from society not out of misanthropy but fear of more pain and loss. His timing is excellent and his ability to move from comedy to drama genuinely impressive. Leoni works well as his quirky foil and the two have surprisingly good chemistry. The supporting cast are generally good but this is really Gervais's movie and he performs admirably with some challenging material.

As a story, Ghost Town is nothing new. It reaches a predictable conclusion and gets there with a minimum of fuss. It is well polished entertainment and proves that Keopp is getting better with practice and that he has some flair for more light-hearted comedy fare. The film is sweet without crossing over into the saccharine, sharply funny and sad in an empathic way which mostly avoids melodrama. Gervais couldn't hope for a better introduction as a leading man and his performance is the heart (and lightly mean-spirited soul) of the movie.

Recommended.


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