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Review – Churchill (PG) [2017]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Jonathan Teplitzky – Better Than Sex, Burning Man, The Railway Man

Cast:

  • Brian Cox – Bourne I & II, Coriolanus, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Her, Strange But True
  • Miranda Richardson – Empire of the Sun, The Hours, Harry Potter IV & VII(i), Belle, The Happy Prince
  • John Slattery – Madmen, Iron Man II, The Adjustment Bureau, Spotlight, Captain America III
  • Richard Durden – The Bill, Trial & Retribution, Agora, The Awakening, Dickensian
  • Julian Wadham – The English Patient, Exorcist: The Beginning, The Iron Lady, The Happy Prince
  • Danny Webb – Alien III, Valkyrie, The Bill, Locke, Pegasus Bridge
  • James Purefoy – A Knight’s Tale, Rome, Ironclad, High-Rise, Interlude In Prague
  • Ella Purnell – Never Let Me Go, Maleficent, Kick-Ass II, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, UFO

Music Composer:

  • Lorne Balfe – Ironclad, Terminator Genesys, The Lego Batman Movie, Ghost In The Shell, Horse Soldiers

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain 1940-45 & 51-55, has been mythologised. “History will be kind to me if I write,” Winston once said. Well, he did write it: a six volume series about World War II after it concluded. Unsurprisingly, history has been very kind to him ever since and Churchill has gone down as a legendary war hero that would fit right into Ancient Greek mythology. But what was he actually like as a person? Director Jonathan Teplitzky gives us an answer, but not without issue.

Winston Churchill (Brian Cox), smoking a Churchill cigar, contemplating events of two decades past as he walks along the beach.

Churchill is a drama centred round Winston Churchill (Brian Cox) in the days leading up to D-Day (6th June 1944). The movie opens with Winston walking along a beach, remembering the failed Gallipoli campaign during World War I, when he was responsible for the death of more than 150,000 Allied soldiers. Winston is tormented by these memories; the loss of life weighs heavily on his shoulders. This causes him to obstruct Operation Overlord, the proposed invasion of Normandy, as he does not want another slaughter on the beaches.

Churchill makes for interesting viewing. The film casts Winston not as the myth we know, but as the human being he was. He still has the haughty sense of humour that went hand-in-hand with his self-conceit, the great oratory skills, and the bulldog hunch of a man on a mission, plus he chews/smokes enough of his famously long cigars to get lip cancer by the end of the movie’s 105-minute running time. Yet, Churchill also portrays him as a ‘has been’ and deeply flawed. The Winston here cannot understand why people don’t listen to him; is an alcoholic after being worn down by four years of war; a bully to his secretary (Ella Purnell); a poor, inattentive husband to his wife, Clemmie (Miranda Richardson); and a pain in the backside to the British and American generals. (All the film-makers needed was to add Churchill’s racism and then it would have been complete.)

Winston, smoking a cigar, lectures an unimpressed-looking General Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery), who was the Supreme Head of the American (and Allied) forces in Europe during WWII. He clashed with Churchill often as the war went on.

The way Churchill is portrayed in the movie, though, is generally thought-provoking, and it is fascinating to see how his past experiences affect his decision-making. But when it comes to the preparations for Operation Overlord, Churchill takes events past the point of credulity (and probably historical accuracy too) by showing us that he was vehemently opposed to the D-Day plans, per se. It is true that in 1944 Winston had doubts over whether the Normandy landings would succeed (which could easily be coupled with how many men he feared would die in the operation, whether it succeeded or not). This is understandable (and moral), even without him being haunted by the events of 1915. Nevertheless, this is different from being categorically against even the idea of the operation. The academic, Nigel Hamilton, argues that the Prime Minister disagreed with the Normandy landings until he got an agreement from the Americans about working together on the nuclear bomb. This makes sense in the grander context of the era (which Churchill does not explain), and if the film would have gone down this route it would have demonstrated Winston’s political acumen. But it doesn’t. Instead, the movie has us believe that the Prime Minister prayed for God to unleash the heavens, biblical-style, so that D-Day would be called off. This does not seem to glove with Winston’s personality, and one wonders whether the film-makers had an ulterior motive for this perspective. (Anti-atomic weapons, anti-war, perhaps?)

Another problem with Churchill is that every line Winston delivers is spoken vociferously, as if to an auditorium (or history). This may have been what Churchill was like, but for a drama this should have been toned down. Before long, Winston’s need to practice his oratory for even the most banal of issues becomes tedious and risible. (It also makes viewers think that Teplitzky once read a book on Churchill’s hundred most famous quotes and tried to throw in as many as possible.)

Winston and Clemmie (Miranda Richardson) on the steps. Leading Britain and the Empire through the war takes its toll on Churchill and it is then that he needs his wife’s unfailing support. But only on his terms.

Otherwise, one can admire much about Churchill. The script is really good for what it aims to achieve, and it is humorous in the right places too. The cinematography of beaches, countryside manors, palaces and bunkers, is apt and gives viewers a decent taste of Churchill’s working environments during World War II. Furthermore, the actors all play their parts well, masterfully so in the cases of Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson. More than anything, it is through Richardson’s character/Clemmie that we see how difficult Churchill was as a person; that the gallant war hero of popular culture is just the myth that he created.

All-in-all, Churchill is a stimulating drama. It shows Winston Churchill as a man, plagued by the horrors of the Gallipoli disaster and intoxicated by whiskey and the paradox of his virtuoso and his doubts. However, one cannot escape the feeling that the film exaggerates the Prime Minister’s views on Operation Overlord at best, and gets them wrong at worst. To depict Churchill as utterly against the concept of an Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France seems implausible; especially, if we are to believe that this is the same man who was hell-bent on the obliteration of Hitler’s Germany.

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Review – Jason Bourne (12a) [2016]

Jason Bourne - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Paul Greengrass – Bloody Sunday, Bourne II-III, Green Zone, Captain Phillips

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • David Buckley – Blood Creek, From Paris With Love, The Town, The Boy Downstairs
  • John Powell – Bourne I-III, Paycheck, X-Men III, Green Zone, Rio I & II, How To Train Your Dragon I-III

In 2002, The Bourne Identity came out, starring Matt Damon as the titular character. Based on Robert Ludlum’s best-selling novel, audiences followed Jason Bourne, the CIA’s amnesiac, super-assassin find out who he was. The Bourne Identity was such a success, it was followed by The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) and The Bourne Legacy (2012), in which (strangely) Matt Damon/Jason Bourne was absent.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), having gone into hiding from the CIA, fights in (quasi-legal) bare-knuckle duels to make a living.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), having gone into hiding from the CIA, fights in (quasi-legal) bare-knuckle duels to make a living.

Now, nine years after Matt Damon last played the role, Jason Bourne is back in (the unimaginatively-titled) Jason Bourne. But after having found out (seemingly) all there was to know about his past, what new information could he learn? And, more importantly, does it make for worthwhile viewing?

Jason Bourne begins with Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles) hacking into the CIA and stealing files about Treadstone, the top secret project that Jason Bourne was part of when he first joined the CIA. Whilst hacking, Nicky finds out that Jason’s father, Richard, had a role in Treadstone. So, she goes to Athens and finds Bourne doing quasi-legal bareknuckle fighting for cash.

However, no sooner does Nicky tell Bourne that she has information about his father, the CIA are after them. Bourne now has to evade the CIA once more. Yet, at the same time, he must chase down the necessary people in the CIA who can answer questions about his father.

Jason Bourne is a typical Bourne film, just updated by the touching upon of how Wikileaks founder, Edward Snowden, and data-storing internet companies affect the workings of the CIA. Otherwise, the film has high-octane chases; some good chase sequences, the first of which is particularly well put together, occurring during an anti-austerity riot in Athens; some close-up, shaky-cam fight sequences; and several unexplained plot contrivances. All of which makes for fun viewing.

CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) keeping close watch of his bent-forward protégé, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander).

CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) keeping close watch of his bent-forward protégé, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander).

Yet, apart from that, there really is not much to Jason Bourne. If anything, this is a step-down from the standards previously set by the first three Bourne films. The directing and editing are awful. Part of the appeal of the original Bourne films was that the camera was so close, shaking and sufficiently cut that one felt like they were part of the fights. That happens again here and it is all right. But it is not all right for the camera to shake when there is no fight going on (seriously Paul Greengrass, invest in a tripod) or to cut fight/action scenes every second or so, as it makes one sick.

Also, viewers learn little we did not already know about the eponymous character… other than that Bourne is a doubly super-assassin. It is amazing (staggering in fact) that Bourne is still able to stay three steps ahead of his former masters, despite being out of the game for nine years. He has always been too good and too intelligent for his masters, but this time it is past the point of credulity since he has not been trained to understand and tackle the technology he is up against now. But, no, he understands how to use it and manipulate it just fine.

Perhaps, that is why all the cast look so unenthused. Matt Damon says little, but looks the part: tough and mean (then again, this could be Damon’s grumpy face at the prospect of facing another day of shooting). Alicia Vikander, for the first time in her stellar career, is badly miscast and unconvincing as the ambitious head of the cyber operations of the CIA. Her character’s motives are never clearly explained, which is half of the problem. The other half is that Vikander looks too young for her character’s role, and her character is too weak to be in the position Greengrass has put her in; especially, when compared to the similar role (and apt) Joan Allen played in Bourne II-IV.

The Asset (Vincent Cassel) trying to keep up with Bourne.

The Asset (Vincent Cassel) trying to keep up with Bourne.

The other characters of note in Jason Bourne are played by a grizzled, weather-worn Tommy Lee Jones (coming from nowhere to be the senior CIA man) and a scary, super-assassin played by Vincent Cassel (who is called The Asset. Yes, Greengrass and the other writers are so creatively bankrupt that they failed to give Cassel’s character a proper name or at least a fear-inducing codename.) Neither Jones’ nor Cassel’s performances are memorable, and (embarrassingly) Brian Cox and Karl Urban, respectively, played the exact same roles as they do in The Bourne Supremacy. As a result, one has a terrible sense of déjà vu watching Jason Bourne, and not in a good way.

All-in-all, Jason Bourne is an entertaining film, if an unnecessary addition to the Bourne series. The movie contains the standard tropes that audiences enjoy, plus Matt Damon is back. But the film adds nothing new to the franchise, and from the directing, to the acting, to the plot, to the general lack of imagination in the film, one cannot help but note that the movie is riddled with problems. What’s worse is that so much of Jason Bourne has been copied from other Bourne films. And there is no worse an insult to a sequel than for it to be deemed a poor imitation of its predecessors.

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