Monthly Archives: August 2015

Review – The Gift (15) [2015]

The Gift - title banner2

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Joel Edgerton

Cast:

Music Composers:

  • Danny Bensi – Martha Marcy May Marlene, Enemy, Last Days In The Desert, Christine
  • Saunder Jurriaans – Martha Marcy May Marlene, Enemy, Last Days In The Desert, Christine

In the last dozen years, there have been a string of actors who have turned themselves into creditable directors. Sofia Coppola directed Lost in Translation in 2003 (and was nominated for two Oscars for it). While George Clooney directed and starred in The Ides of March in 2011 and Ben Affleck did the same in Argo in 2013 (and won an Oscar for it). Joel Edgerton seems to be the latest actor to try his luck behind the camera, and his directorial debut is a gem.

The happy couple. Simon (Jason Bateman) showing affection to his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall) whilst convincing her that this is the right house for them to make a home.

The happy couple. Simon (Jason Bateman) showing affection to his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall) whilst convincing her that this is the right house for them to make a home.

Edgerton’s film, The Gift, centres round an ostensibly happy couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall). They have just moved from Chicago to suburban Los Angeles because Simon got a new job. One evening, when they are at a shop buying supplies for their new home, they bump into Gordon ‘Gordo’ Moseley (Joel Edgerton). Gordo remembers Simon from their high school days and is keen to become friends with Robyn and Simon. Simon, though, is not so keen since he remembers how much of a weirdo Gordo was back then. (Simon even boasts that he and his peers called Gordo ‘the Weirdo’ back in school because he was so weird.)

Nevertheless, Gordo goes to their new house when Simon is not around and starts giving them gifts, despite neither Robyn nor Simon asking for any. Soon, Gordo’s behaviour begins to trouble Simon and Robyn. It puts a strain on their marriage, especially as Robyn suspects that Simon is not telling her something…

The Gift is a slow-burning psychological thriller. Not a lot happens for much of the film. Yet, it is a tense watch. This is primarily because Director Joel Edgerton (thankfully) does not use loud, sudden noises to artificially inject jump-scares into his viewers. Rather, he uses the natural spookiness of the suburban area to good effect and creates a scenario that nobody would want to experience. The combination induces an organic and ethereal tautness into the audience, thereby making The Gift an uncomfortable watch.

Gordo (Joel Edgerton) staring with unsettling intent at Simon and Robyn at the store.

Gordo (Joel Edgerton) staring with unsettling intent at Simon and Robyn at the local supply store.

Central to The Gift being an uncomfortable watch is Edgerton as an actor. Edgerton is really good as the unsettlingly weird Gordo. With just a look (or a gift), he can make viewers feel like ants are crawling under their skin. Edgerton’s/Gordo’s weird behaviour is one of the reasons for this; the other is due to the phenomenal (and subtle) job that the cosmeticians have done to his face. They have transformed Edgerton from a pleasant, amiable-looking guy into someone that no-one would ever want to come across, whether in a supermarket, a social gathering, on the train, or in a dark alley at night. (Especially not in a dark alley at night!)

Edgerton/Gordo is undoubtedly the star of the film. He activates the tension and his behaviour gets unnervingly weirder and weirder the more The Gift goes on. Yet, one cannot ignore the roles played by Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman either to making the movie tense. Hall plays plausibly well as a woman who seems fine on the surface, but has psychological issues brooding under the surface; while Bateman plays decently as his seemingly usual, (semi-)comic, supercilious self. Nevertheless, neither Hall nor Bateman have the same weight on screen as Edgerton. One spends much of the time when Edgerton is not on screen waiting for him to reappear as one knows that something strange and unsettling is likely to occur.

Edgerton gets a lot right as an actor in The Gift. He also gets a lot right as the director and writer of the film too. He captures the cinematography of a suburban town well (with all its beauty and mundane scariness), and uses relatively long shoots to enable viewers to feel the normality (and tension) of the situation unfolding for Hall’s and Bateman’s characters with impressive skill.

Simon and Rebecca find a gift awaiting them at the house upon returning from some friends. Guess who its from...?

Simon and Rebecca find a gift awaiting them at the house upon returning from some friends. Guess who its from…?

Additionally, Edgerton has written a very good script that has believable dialogue and a solid storyline. It is only in the climactic scene at the very end of the film that one or two elements of the dialogue and script don’t work. Indeed, they seem entirely at odds with the realism of the rest of the movie. But to put too much stress on the (eye-raising nature of the) end would be to do The Gift and Joel Edgerton a disservice. As an actor and as a director, Edgerton emphasises that he has talent akin to Sofia Coppola, George Clooney and Ben Affleck.

Over-all, The Gift is a well-executed psychological thriller. The final scenes may be questionable. But the film is tense and suspenseful in an entirely naturalistic and refreshing way. Undeniably, Edgerton is the shining light of this film as an actor, the writer and the director. He is creepy as the main supporting actor; intelligent in his script-writing; and neat in his directing. Edgerton is highly unlikely to be nominated, let alone win, an Oscar for his directing The Gift. But this is a great directorial debut from him, and one looks forward to watching what he writes and directs next.

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Review – Mission: Impossible V – Rogue Nation (12a) [2015]

MI-V - Title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Christopher McQuarrie – The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow

Cast:

  • Tom Cruise – Eyes Wide Shut, Valkyrie, Mission: Impossible I-IV, Jack Reacher I & II
  • Jeremy Renner – SWAT, Mission: Impossible IV, The Avengers Assemble I & II, , Captain America III
  • Alec Baldwin – The Aviator, To Rome With Love, Blue Jasmine, Still Alice, Caught Stealing
  • Rebecca Ferguson – Drowning Ghost, The White Queen, Hercules, Despite The Falling Snow
  • Ving Rhames – Pulp Fiction, Surrogates, Mission: Impossible I-IV, Operator
  • Simon Pegg – Big Nothing, Mission Impossible III-IV, Paul, Star Trek I, II & III
  • Sean Harris – Harry Brown, The Borgias, Prometheus, ‘71, Macbeth
  • Simon McBurney – The Last King of Scotland, Harry Potter VII(i), The Borgias, The Theory of Everything
  • Tom Hollander – Enigma, Pirates of the Caribbean II-III, American Dad!, Jungle Book: Origins
  • Jens Hultén – The Border, Skyfall, Ragnorak, Johan Falk: Lockdown

Music Composer:

  • Joe Kraemer – The Thirst, Confession of A Gangster, Jack Reacher, Titans of Justice

What has become of the Mission: Impossible franchise? The first film was a proper espionage thriller with a tough mission and the odd elaborate action stunt to give credence to the film’s title. But by the second film, the espionage element had given way to entertaining, if unfeasible action stunts and the veneration of Tom Cruise’s alter ego, Ethan Hunt. And by the fourth film, the storyline had given way to even more entertaining, unfeasible action stunts and venerated Tom Cruise’s alter ego to the point of deification. So what could one expect from Mission: Impossible V – Rogue Nation (M:I-V)? Well, more of the same really!

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) working together to uncover the Syndicate.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) working together to uncover the Syndicate.

M:I-V centres round Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, who else?) hunting down the Syndicate, an international criminal organisation, and its leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). However, the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) that Ethan is part of is being closed down by CIA Director Alen Hunley (Alec Baldwin). The CIA believes that the Syndicate does not exist and that the IMF is causing embarrassment to the CIA/America due to its unorthodox methods. They want Ethan to turn himself in.

But rather than hand himself in, Ethan chooses to go rogue so as to uncover the Syndicate and to find Lane, himself. And he will start by going after Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).

That is the vague outline of M:I-V’s plot. But, in truth, M:I-V has no plot. The film flagrantly does not care for the spy thriller ingredient that made the first film so interesting. Instead, M:I-V prefers to go from one entertaining, over-the-top action stunt to another. Indeed, it wouldn’t matter which order the action stunts occurred as the storyline and the dialogue make no sense at all; although, having the first stunt as the one where Ethan hangs off a taking-off aeroplane does set the tone for the rest of the movie. And, astonishingly, Director Christopher McQuarrie manages to maintain this tone for its entire duration. The stunts get ever more outlandish and creative to the extent that one has to question who came up with these ideas (and how) because they are ingenious.

Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) on a bike and in possession of something Ethan needs. Thus, a high-speed bike chase is about to begin...

Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) on a bike and in possession of something Ethan needs. Thus, a high-speed bike chase is about to begin…

However, M:I-V does not solely consist of ingenious, if totally unrealistic action stunts. The film consists of a good amount of banter between the protagonists (more so than in previous instalments), and gives viewers the sense that a family unit is developing within the IMF now that Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames has been in all five films, Simon Pegg has been in them since the third one, and Jeremy Renner since the fourth. Each member of the team has a particular role and whether it is Cruise as Action Man come again and the mastermind who exposes the movie’s villain(s); Rhames as Ethan’s reliable sidekick Luther; Simon Pegg as Ethan’s reliable but goofy, tech-nerd Benji; or Renner as Ethan’s boss Brandt (who Ethan regularly disobeys to ever positive results), each one of them looks like they are enjoying their roles and they make some funny puns whilst they’re at it as well.

Unsurprisingly, Cruise, Rhames, Pegg and Renner all play well in M:I-V even if they do nothing spectacular. Rather, it is the newcomers that arguably make the most impressions on viewers. Rebecca Ferguson, as the ambiguous Ilsa Faust, makes the greatest impression of them all. She is beautiful, sexy and can kick arse! That she holds up against Tom Cruise (and may, heaven forbid, outshine him in his own film) speaks volumes for her talents as an actress.

Yet, the rest of the cast do not have the same impact on viewers. Sean Harris plays decently as the main villain, Solomon Lane. Harris/Lane is cold, unflinching and meant to be scary. But because he is given little screen time or background story, audiences don’t get the chance to feel much for him by the end. For similar reasons, one feels little for Alec Baldwin as the CIA director and Simon McBurney as the head of the British secret services, even if neither of them play badly with the material or time they’re given.

Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the ice-cold, sociopathic villain at the head of the Syndicate.

Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the ice-cold, sociopathic villain at the head of the Syndicate.

It would have been intriguing to learn more about these characters as they seem, ostensibly, to have depth and more to say for themselves. But to explore them would have meant that the film-makers would have had to come up with a genuine storyline and spent less time showing us how awesome Tom Cruise is. And that would have defeated the whole purpose of M:I-V.

Over-all, M:I-V is a highly enjoyable action film. It has little place for clever espionage and has a veneer of a storyline that does not work at any level. Nevertheless, the movie glorifies Tom Cruise; has plenty of action sequences; several implausible action stunts; good chemistry and humour from the returning cast; and includes a gorgeous, strong female character that could fit seamlessly into any Marvel comic-book film. Thus, M:I-V delivers unashamedly on everything it sets out to achieve.

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