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Film round-up: November 7, 2019

MARIA DUARTE and ALAN FRANK review Luce, The Good Liar, Midway, Meeting Gorbachev and Driven

Luce (15)
Directed by Julius Onah
★★★★

SOMETIMES small-scale films are those that hit hardest and most memorably — and that’s certainly true with Luce.

Director Julius Onah’s riveting psychological thriller, which he co-scripted with JC Lee from the latter’s stage play, grabs from the start and keeps you gripped and concerned about the fates of its key characters.

All the more so, since Onah rigorously avoids cheap melodrama in favour of compelling characterisations and potent storytelling.

Kelvin Harrison Jr scores strongly as a star US high-school athlete whose reputation is soured when his African-American teacher (Octavia Spencer, superb) finds evidence of foul racism, indicating that the much-admired hero may not be quite the idol he appears to be.

Onah tells his disturbing story with great power, eliciting a star-making performance from Harrison and equally stellar characterisations from Spencer, along with Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as Harrison’s parents who adopted him from Eritrea a decade earlier.

Alan Frank

The Good Liar (15)
Directed by Bill Condon
★★★

HELEN MIRREN and Ian McKellen prove a class act in their first-ever film together, a con-artist caper with numerous twists — some pretty obvious — and one that nobody will see coming.

McKellen plays conman Roy Courtnay, who sets his sights on his next mark, the wealthy and recently widowed Betty McLeish (Mirren), while conducting another sting with his partner Vincent (Jim Carter).

Betty soon falls for his charms, while her suspicious grandson Stephen (Russell Tovey) clocks Roy’s game.

Based on Nicholas Searle’s widely acclaimed novel, director Bill Condon delivers a fun and engaging cat-and-mouse thriller with a surprising dark edge, thanks to Mirren and an uber-sweary McKellen’s superlative sparring performances.

Courtnay shows his true violent streak in a particularly brutal scene on Charing Cross Tube platform, while St Thomas’s Hospital in Waterloo has never looked as visually and artistically appealing.

Sheer nonsense but entertaining with it.

Maria Duarte

Midway (12A)
Directed by Roland Emmerich
★★★

IRONICALLY, since this combat-action outing is yet another traditional Hollywood “How we won the war” film, it’s directed — in appropriately muscular style — by German-born Roland Emmerich.

He kicks off with a dazzling and adrenaline-fuelled reconstruction of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941 that triggered the US entry into WWII.

If it’s superbly recreated wartime action you want, this visually stunning sequence is alone worth the price of admission, establishing the film’s impressively high pictorial appeal.

Visuals apart — and Emmerich continues to create stunning action sequences in the air and on the sea throughout the film — Wes Tooke’s screenplay tells that “How we won the war” story mainly from the point of view of two US soldiers, Lt Dick Best (Ed Skrein) who led his dive bomber squadron at Midway and Patrick Wilson’s intelligence officer Layton.

Their performances adhere firmly to standard genre portrayals.

AF

Meeting Gorbachev (PG)
Directed by Werner Herzog and Andre Singer
★★★★

WERNER HERZOG and Andre Singer’s gripping documentary introduces to new generations the man responsible for perestroika and glasnost in the Soviet Union.

In it, the 87-year-old Mikhail Gorbachev, battling illness, speaks frankly and openly to Herzog, who wrote and narrated the film, about political and personal issues, from his anger over the lack of progress over nuclear arms reduction that he had initiated with Ronald Reagan to the loss of his beloved wife Raisa in 1999.

His dismay at Margaret Thatcher’s hawkishness and penchant for nuclear weapons is an eye-opener.

It is a riveting documentary which, filled with archive film footage and based on three interviews with Gorbachev, chronicles his rise and fall from Soviet power while also outlining his legacy.

Herzog’s affection for his subject is palpable in what’s an insightful and, on occasion, moving portrait of the man.

MD

Driven
Directed by Nick Hamm
★★★★

DIRECTOR Nick Hamm wastes no time with opening titles in his fascinating biopic of controversial carmaker John DeLorean, whose legendary automobile famously starred in the Back to the Future films.

Armed with Colin Bateman’s brisk screenplay, Hamm entertainingly charts DeLorean’s extraordinary rise — he extracted a $600,000 investment from US TV idol Johnny Carson in the process — and fall through the eyes of his friendship with ex-con-turned-FBI informant Jim Hoffman.

He happily lured DeLorean into the FBI-created cocaine-trafficking ring that ultimately brought him down.

Hamm describes his film as a “twisted buddy-comedy set against the backdrop of the frivolous ’70s” and he tells his beguiling story fast enough to carry the narrative across a few less-than-convincing sequences.

He is well served by two engaging and larger-than-life performances, probably more Hollywood than accurate, from Lee Pace as DeLorean and Jason Sudeikis as Hoffman.

AF

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