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Cinema Film round-up: February 8, 2024

The Star's critic MARIA DUARTE reviews The Settlers, Occupied City, The Iron Claw and Gassed Up

The Settlers (15)
Directed by Felipe Galvez

★★★★

 
WRITER-DIRECTOR Felipe Galvez’s impressive yet unnerving debut western chronicles the genocide of Chile’s Selk’nam people as it skilfully melds historical fact with myth and fiction. 

The film follows a British soldier Alexander MacLennan (Mark Stanley), an American mercenary Bill (Benjamin Westfall) and a mixed race sniper Segundo (Camilo Arancibia) who, at the turn of the 20th century, embark on an expedition across the Tierra del Fuego at the behest of a wealthy landowner (Alfredo Castro). He orders them to secure a pathway for his livestock through the Selk’nam people’s land. This means slaughtering all native Americans in their path. 
 
When Segundo realises what their real mission is, to eradicate the indigenous population, he cannot bring himself to do it. He feels conflicted as he does not wish to rape or harm any of the Selk’nam people, unlike his ruthless companions. They show no mercy to the Selk’nam and they sexually assault a young woman in a devastating scene. 
 
This is a visually arresting western-cum-thriller that examines colonialism and the lies and greed that it is founded on. It is brutal, and it is a harrowing watch. 
 
The film mixes real and fictional characters as it investigates the paradox of how the history of a population that has all but disappeared has become a part of a national narrative. 
 
Beautifully acted against the backdrop of the stunning Chilean landscape it provides an uncompromising look into the past in order to understand modern-day Chile. 
Out in cinemas February 9

Occupied City (12A)
Directed by Steve McQueen 

★★

 
ACADEMY award-winning film-maker Steve McQueen provides a unique cinematic glimpse of the Holocaust through hypnotic visual imagery and narration in this epic documentary which takes a lot of stamina to sit through at almost four-and-a-half hours long. 

It does include a 15-minute intermission though. 
 
It is based on his wife and historian Bianca Stigter’s rigorously researched book Atlas of an Occupied City – Amsterdam 1940-1945. Shot during the pandemic in 2020 it goes to 130 locations in the Dutch city to uncover what happened there during the Nazi occupation. 
 
Devoid of archive footage or interviews of any kind, the film focuses solely on modern-day images which deliberately do not marry up to the detailed narration voiced by Melanie Hyams. The words, however, are unfortunately soporific. Her monotone delivery isn’t enough to keep you engaged and fully alert over the four-hour-plus marathon monologue. 

Though the facts and figures are fascinating and eye-opening, particularly the number of Jews who took their own lives rather than be captured by the invading German army, it is hard not to drift off into your own hypnotic state. 
 
While a bold endeavour, this is a hard slog. 
Out in cinemas February 9

The Iron Claw (15)
Directed by Sean Durkin

★★★★

 
THIS gripping sports drama is based on the real-life story of the Von Erichs, a family of brothers who rose to great heights in the wrestling world in the 1980s while suffering unmeasurable loss. 
 
It is hard to believe one family could have been struck down by so much tragedy. So much so that writer-director Sean Durkin left out one of the siblings because it would just be too much for people to get their head round. 
 
The film provides an intimate portrait of four loving brothers (played brilliantly by Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson and Stanley Simons) dominated and bullied by their overwhelming and larger-than-life father (a phenomenal Holt McCallany, Mindhunter), a former wrestler turned manager/trainer. He was determined one of them would bring home the heavyweight title while their mother (Maura Tierney) refused to interfere. 
 
Efron delivers a career-defining performance as the oldest brother Kevin, whose unbelievable muscular physique and dodgy hairstyle are frankly distracting in every scene.  
 
It is a compelling tale about resurrection as Kevin manages to break the family curse and remain the last man standing in this real life Greek tragedy. 
Out in cinemas February 9

Gassed Up (15)
Directed by George Amponsah

★★

 
American Fiction’s lambasting of black stereotypes in film and books comes to mind as black trope after black trope is served up in this cliche driven crime thriller about a moped gang in London who turn to petty theft for survival. 
 
The film, directed by Geroge Amponsah (The Hard Stop), follows Ash (an engaging Stephen Odubola), a young black lad who is trying to support his younger teenage sister and send his junkie mum to rehab. 

When he joins the gang, led by the charismatic Dubz (Taz Skylar who also co-wrote) they soon become caught up with an Albanian crime ring and what started off as stealing mobile phones on the go ends up in a robbery which goes awry. 
 
While the young cast do their best they are not served well by the material which is predictable and hackneyed. I can imagine Monk (Jeffrey Wright) rolling his eyes in judgement. 
 
Although it may make you think twice about using your phone in the street.  
Out in cinemas February 9

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