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Review – Fury (15) [2014]

Fury - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • David Ayer – Harsh Times, End Of Watch, Sabotage

Cast:

  • Brad Pitt – Snatch, Mr & Mrs Smith, 12 Years A Slave, The Big Short
  • Shia Lebeouf – Disturbia, Transformers I-III, Nymphomaniac I-II, Man Down
  • Logan Lerman – 3:10 To Yuma, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Percy Jackson I-II, Noah
  • Michael Peña – Crash, End Of Watch, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Martian
  • Jon Bernthal – The Air I Breathe, The Ghost, The Wolf Of Wall Street, Sicario
  • Jason Isaacs – Black Hawk Down, Windtalkers, Harry Potter I-VII(i) & VII(ii), Stockholm, Pennsylvania

Music Composer:

  • Steven Price – The World’s End, Gravity

The topic of World War II (WWII) is well trodden territory in Hollywood. Seeing stellar American soldiers gunning down Nazis and ‘Japs’ has been revisited on many, many occasions as Saving Private Ryan, Pearl Harbour, Band Of Brothers, Flags Of Our Fathers, and Red Tails testify, to name a handful. Unsurprisingly, after such a high volume of movies on the topic in the last two decades alone, there is a sterile and samey feel to WWII films, unless a new film adds something unseen to the genre. Alas, Fury does not do this.

Young Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman, inside right) joining his crew of tank-men, and being derided for his inexperience by Boyd (Shia Lebeouf), 'Gordo' (Michael Peña) and 'Coon-Ass' (Jon Bernthal).

Young Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman, inside right) joining his crew of tank-men, and being derided for his inexperience by Boyd (Shia Lebeouf), ‘Gordo’ (Michael Peña) and ‘Coon-Ass’ (Jon Bernthal).

The film is fictional and begins in 1945. The Allies are advancing into Nazi Germany, and Fury, the name of the tank led by Sergeant ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt), is in one of the regiments leading the assault into the Fatherland. Including Sergeant Collier, the tank consists of a five man crew: Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan (Shia Lebeouf), Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal), Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia (Michael Peña), and newcomer Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman).

As the crew push deeper into Germany, Sergeant Collier takes it upon himself to educate young Ellison about the brutal nature of war and how to deal with it, as the personality of the enemy sinks to ever more depraved levels.

Fury’s premise is simple and the film sticks to it rigidly. Fury has a raw, muddy, and claustrophobic feel to it. One gains a true insight into what it must have been like (and probably still is like) for a group of soldiers inside a tank while fighting in a war. The movie shows how the crew’s situation turns from uneventful to frenzied chaos upon the rippling of a machine gun or the boom of an explosion. Suffice to say, there is plenty of both and all the action scenes are well done.

Sergeant 'Wardaddy' Collier (Brad Pitt) thinking over a key decision that he has to make.

Sergeant ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt) thinking over a key decision that he has to make.

Another aspect of Fury that’s done well is the developing relationship between Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt and Norman Ellison/Logan Lerman. This is because David Ayer’s script is good and the actors perform their roles well, particularly Pitt as the grizzled but caring war-veteran. To Pitt’s credit, in a film which he dominates, he manages to hold viewer’s attention, whether it is with Ellison, the other members of his band of brothers, other American soldiers, or Germans. Pitt’s/Collier’s character is most interesting and revealing when he is teaching Ellison/Lerman about the nature of the Nazi enemy as audiences get to see the complexities in his character.

Yet, as a corollary of Pitt dominating the film, the rest of the non-peripheral members of the cast don’t get enough screen time to illustrate that they are much more than (lazy) personifications of their nicknames. (Nevertheless, they do get time enough to praise Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt. For which film starring Brad Pitt wouldn’t give the supporting cast time to applaud him?) That the other characters are not given adequate screen time is a bit of a shame as the actors all do good jobs with what they’re given; even, shockingly, the much-derided Shia Lebeouf!

Other than Fury being (yet another) glorification of Brad Pitt, the film lacks direction and the storyline does not go anywhere as a result. Arguably, the movie never intends to build up to a climax (although it half does); and, instead, merely goes out to highlight the grisly, ghastly and inhumane horrors of war, merely from the angle of tank crewmen. Yet, if this were the case, Fury does not go far enough. Many criminal elements and horrors of war/WWII are not shown in the film, especially in comparison to the harrowing Schindler’s List and The City Of Life And Death.

What a surprise! Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt takes off his shirt, gives himself a wash, and shows off his abs to put most men to shame. Haven't we seen this before? (Fight Club? Troy?)

What a surprise! Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt takes off his shirt, gives himself a wash, and shows off his abs to put most men to shame. Haven’t we seen this before? (Fight Club? Troy?)

Additionally, Fury lacks depth. There are several occasions when some of the cast talk about criminal acts they’ve committed during the war. They may talk about it with remorse, but no-one ever questions their actions. This renders the scene frustrating because the film misses the chance to explore the moral conscience of each character, and pointless because it means that such scenes have no consequence (positive or negative) on the rest of the movie.

Indeed, frustration and pointlessness sum up Fury. It is a film that has a lot going for it due to a good script; solid acting from all the cast; the a muddy set which enables one to feel what it must have been like (and what it probably still be like) to be inside a tank during war; and the graphic way that warfare is depicted is gruesome and sickening. However, ultimately, the above-mentioned positives of Fury are not enough to satisfy viewers, considering that WWII has been portrayed in films so many times over the last two decades alone. Thus, Fury has the sterile and samey feel of so many other WWII movies which not even the dominant display of Brad Pitt (and his abs) can overcome.

PG’s Tips

Review – Gone Girl (18) [2014]

Gone Girl - title banner2

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • David Fincher – Fight Club, The West Wing, The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Cast:

  • Ben Affleck – Pearl Harbour, Paycheck, Argo, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
  • Rosamund Pike – Die Another Day, An Education, Wrath of the Titans, Return To Sender
  • Neil Patrick Harris – Starship Troopers, Beastly, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, The Good Dinosaur
  • Carrie Coon – The Leftovers
  • Tyler Perry – Why Did I Get Married?, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, Good Deeds, The Single Mom’s Club
  • Emily Ratajkowski – Entourage, We Are You Friends
  • Kim Dickens – Red, Lost, The Blind Side, Sons of Anarchy
  • Sela Ward – Independence Day II: Resurgence

Music Composers:

  • Trent Resner – The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Brainport: Soul of a City
  • Atticus Ross – The Book of Eli, The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Blackhat

When people get married, they make a vow to one another to stay together for life. At the time of making their vows, couples believe that their bonds are strong and that any hurdles they face in their marriage will be overcome. Nevertheless, there are some hurdles that cannot always be overcome, whether it is due to the behaviour of one or both of the spouses, or due to factors beyond a couple’s control. David Fincher’s excellent new film, Gone Girl, dramatically explores what couples maybe can and cannot endure in a marriage when certain fundamental aspects of any relationship/marriage are tested to the limit.

Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) happily married, looking for books in a library.

Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) happily married, looking for books in a library.

Gone Girl is a psychological thriller, adapted from the 2012 novel with the same title by Gillian Flynn. Nick and Amy Dunne are a young, happily married couple. But on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick (Ben Affleck) comes home to find that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has vanished. Nick reports his wife as missing to the police. But as the investigation gets under way, the shadier sides of Nick’s personality are uncovered, leaving the police to question whether he is guilty of something sinister.

Gone Girl is a fascinating film that looks into Amy’s disappearance in detail. Like with Fincher’s critically acclaimed The Social Network, Gone Girl gives each side a fair amount of time to tell their version of events throughout its 150-minute running time. Cleverly, in between flash backs, the movie dangles carrots of information before viewers, so they jump to conclusions, only to be given new pieces of information that force them to rethink all that they previously knew (or thought they knew) about Nick and Amy. Impressively, this continues in a mature way right up to and including the final scene.

Nick going to the tavern to speak with his twin-sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), about how his relationship with Amy is almost non-existent.

Nick going to the tavern to speak with his twin-sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), about how his relationship with Amy is almost non-existent.

Suffice to say, Gone Girl is an intense movie in which one cannot go to the bathroom for a break at any point. Scenes move quickly; too quickly, perhaps. Yet, each scene is crucial, not just in terms of plot, but in terms of the important issues the film raises because they affect normal people in relationships/marriage. Issues such as trust in a partner/spouse, the extent that one can believe any side of a story, the façade of a happy marriage, the gradual change of personality in one’s partner/spouse, the strain of economic hardships on a relationship/marriage, the strain on a relationship/marriage of having to move city or country for one reason or another, the prejudices of the police during investigations, and the role other people and the media can play over local (and international) opinions. That the film handles these issues in a neutral, adult way is a credit to the film that will leave audiences enthralled and unsure as to who is the hero and who is the villain.

Two reasons why audiences will be enthralled is due to the quality of the dialogue and the acting. Fincher’s trademark fast-talking dialogue is pulled off with aplomb by the talented cast, all of whom play superbly well. Significantly, the two main actors, Ben Affleck and Rosamind Pike, are outstanding and have great chemistry together. Yet, of the two, it is Pike who steals the show with a career-changing performance. The film may rush Amy’s character development, but Pike handles this well enough to guarantee that anything that is missing from Amy’s nature is of inconsequence.

Nick appealing to the public to help him find Amy, with posters of her missing to raise awareness about the situation.

Nick appealing to the public to help him find Amy, with posters of her missing to raise awareness about the situation.

Pike and Affleck’s superb performances aside, what also keeps Gone Girl so vivid is the suburban setting of the movie and the movie’s music score. The ordinariness of the location and the raw feel of the music add to the unnerving quality of the film because they compound the sense that (at least some of) what happens to Nick and Amy could happen to absolutely anyone.

Over-all, Gone Girl is a terrific and thought-provoking film that has been cleverly executed by a world-class director. The film sensibly deals with some profound issues that can derail and break even the strongest of marriages. Indeed, the level of profundity is intensified by the film’s location, the film’s music, and the film’s grounded and absorbing performances from the cast; in particular, from Rosamund Pike. All of the above will ensure that audiences will remain mesmerised long after Gone Girl has ended as viewers will not only be wondering who of the cast was (more?) to blame for the situation that unfolds in the film, but also whether or not one’s own relationship/marriage would survive if he/she were faced with similar circumstances.

PG’s Tips

Review – Trance (15) [2013]

Trance - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Rick Smith – Breaking and Entering

Psychological thrillers, by their nature, are puzzling and mess with one’s mind. Inception, Shutter Island and Black Swan all did this with varying levels of charm, appeal and success. Danny Boyle’s impressive and sexy Trance adds something new to this testing sub-genre.

Simon (James McAvoy), unconscious after being bashed on the head by a batton. As a result, he cannot remember what he did with the painting.

Simon (James McAvoy), unconscious after being bashed on the head by a batton. As a result, he cannot remember what he did with the painting.

  Trance centres round Simon (James McAvoy), who works for a London-based company that auctions expensive paintings. The company has a security system in place to prevent the paintings from getting stolen, and Simon is part of the system.

However, when Franck (Vincent Cassel) leads a gang to steal a precious painting during an auction, the painting disappears. Simon, the last person to have handled the painting before its disappearance, was smacked on the head while he removed the painting. Since then, he has developed amnesia and so he can’t remember where he put the painting. In a desperate bid to find the painting, Franck decides that Simon must go to Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist. Elizabeth believes that by hypnotising Simon, she can get him to recollect the location of the painting.

Trance’s plot is clever and innovative. The film is fast-paced from the off, intense, violent and engaging. It is complex and confusing too, since it constantly does back and forth in time, unravelling what happened to the painting as well as explaining the various (and sinister) motivations of the characters. Moreover, and similar to Black Swan, one is never sure in Trance when one is watching reality or a dream (or a memory or a possible memory). All of this keeps viewers firmly on their toes because no-one can be sure as to where the film is going.

Simon undergoing hypnotherapy with Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) in an attempt to regain his memory regarding the painting.

Simon undergoing hypnotherapy with Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) in an attempt to regain his memory regarding the painting.

Although, it is dubious as to whether Trance’s storyline actually makes sense. Again, this is not novel to the sub-genre: it is uncertain whether the plots for The Machinist or Shutter Island added up (but no-one would argue that those were atrocities to cinema, like Sucker Punch or The Lady In the Water); while Fight Club and Inception demanded that one see them twice (at least) before being able to appreciate (or understand) those movies, and few had reason to complain about those excellent films either. Perhaps, the latter is true for Trance. However, there are some quite significant plot issues that could undermine the film and its realism (if one believes in the effectiveness of hypnotism/hypnotherapy, of course), but these are not going to be discussed here as they would spoil the thrill for those who haven’t seen the movie.

The force of Trance’s storyline is matched by the three main (and more or less only) cast members; James McAvoy in particular. Far from his relaxed demeanour as Charles Xavier/Professor X in X-Men: First-Class, his performance as Simon resembles that of his (brilliant but crazed) stage performance as MacBeth. Nothing illustrates this similitude more than the intensity in Simon’s bombardier blue eyes, as the hypnotherapy, combined with his own problems take effect on him.

Similarly, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson play well, but not with the same power as McAvoy. As Franck, Cassel does a decent job as a shady, amoral character. Yet, it is hard to classify him as the villain here since there is no-one who is particularly good in Trance (some people are just much worse than others). But if one does view Franck as the main antagonist, then one may not feel entirely satisfied with Cassel’s performance because he does not possess the look or the flair to make himself a dangerous villain on screen, unlike the cunning Liam Neeson in Batman Begins/The Dark Knight Rises, or the terrifying Michal Zurawski in In Darkness, or the flamboyant Javier Bardem in Skyfall.

Franck (Vincent Cassel), furtherst right, keeping a worryingly close eye on Simon's treatement, with his group of thugs alongside him to illustrate the consequences for Simon if he fails to shake off his amnesia.

Franck (Vincent Cassel), furtherst right, keeping a worryingly close eye on Simon’s treatment, with his group of thugs at his side to illustrate the consequences for Simon if he fails to shake off his amnesia.

While as Elizabeth the hypnotherapist, the stunning Dawson wonderfully holds her patients (as well as the audience) under her spell, as if ravishingly embodying the psychological thrill of the movie and the sub-genre in one attempt.

Over-all, Trance is a mind-bending and gripping film that is a worthy addition to the sub-genre of psychological thrillers. The movie has its flaws, but to a limited extent these should be disregarded because Boyle’s film is original, appealing and stylish. Furthermore, like all noteworthy psychological thrillers, Trance takes one out of one’s comfort zone and, to its credit, keeps one in thought long after the film has ended.

PG’s Tips