Tag Archives: rachel weisz

Review – My Cousin Rachel (12a) [2017]

Star Rating: 2/5

Director

  • Roger Mitchell – Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, Venus, Le Week-End

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Rael Jones – White Lie, Suite Française, Harlots, Noor

A psychological thriller should play with the viewer’s mind. The audience should not know the past or the motives of the key characters until they are revealed at crucial moments in the film. It is what gave movies like Basic InstinctGone Girl and Elle an edge and keeps viewers on their toes. My Cousin Rachel is a psychological thriller, but it is so dull. Why?

Philip (Sam Claflin) and Rachel (Rachel Weisz) awkwardly talking over tea upon meeting.

The film is based on the 1951 book with the same title by Daphne du Maurier. Philip (Sam Claflin) is raised by his cousin after his parents die when he is young. Now, almost old enough to inherit his cousin’s estate, he learns that his cousin died shortly after marrying a woman called Rachel (Rachel Weisz).

Philip believes that Rachel murdered his cousin and is enraged to find out that she will be coming to live at the estate. However, his feelings soon get complicated as he becomes infatuated with her, all the while wondering if Rachel will do the same to him as she did to his cousin…

My Cousin Rachel is a psychological thriller set in Jane Austin-era England. Nevertheless, its edge is immediately blunted when our central protagonist, Philip, narrates ‘did she or didn’t she,’ before proceeding to tell us the entire backstory of the movie up to the moment when he learns of his cousin’s death. This ruins the film and ignores the first rule of film-making: show, don’t tell. The audience does not need to have the backstory spelled out for them so early on and this information should have been dished out at the appropriate moments during the film. As a result, the audience’s curiosity of how the characters have come to this point, and how they have come to be who they are, is lost.

The terrible opening is just the start, though, as My Cousin Rachel goes downhill from then on. This is irritating because the film has a captivating premise. A man who falls in love with the possible murderer of his father-like figure should make for a compelling watch as the protagonist’s feelings should drive him to madness. Yet, the movie misses this open goal. Instead, it steers off course and becomes a nauseating calamity about a young man desperate for the attentions of an older woman. What on earth made Director Roger Mitchell think that that would make for a good psychological thriller?

Louise (Holliday Grainger) looking on sadly, as if she feels that she is losing her friend, Philip, to Rachel.

In case that were not bad enough, Philip is implausibly stupid and highly immature. He makes illogical and irrational decisions that test the patience (and the sympathy) of the audience. When a viewer starts to feel their patience wearing thin with the central protagonist, one begins to wonder why they should keep watching him and the film, unless the supporting cast make it worthwhile.

Sadly, this is a mixed bag. Ian Glen brings charm and gravitas to My Cousin Rachel with his Ser Jorah Mormont-voice that can melt butter. Glen does his utmost best with the (limited) script and time he has been given, and it is to the movie’s detriment that he is not given more to do. His on-screen daughter, Holliday Grainger, is unremarkable as the female support for Philip. One has sympathy for her character/Louise and this works in Grainger’s favour. However, Louise’s demeanour reminds one of Grainger’s past roles as Lucrezia Borgia and Anastacia in The Borgias and Cinderella, respectively. This taints Louise adversely. The sense that she may have an ulterior motive is never far from the viewer’s mind, especially as My Cousin Rachel is (or at least is supposed to be) a psychological thriller.

Nonetheless, Glen and Grainger are peripheral characters. It is Rachel Weisz as the titular Rachel that one looks out for. And Weisz is unusually poor here. Her chemistry with Claflin is non-existent and Rachel does not come across as manipulative or dangerous. This makes one wonder what her purpose is to the story (other than to be Philip’s fascination). It is not all Weisz’s fault that she comes across badly. The director does not give Rachel the screen-time or the script to demonstrate her true colours. But, still, Weisz looks disinterested throughout, and this negative energy emanates onto the audience who feel the same way about the film.

Nick (Ian Glen, left) giving Philip some much needed advice about Rachel, as she may not be who she seems.

  My Cousin Rachel, though, is not without its positives. The Cornwall countryside is wondrous to behold and the Victorian, aristocratic mansion that Philip lives in is dark and creepy. These features create a noir atmosphere that is tailor-made for a great psychological thriller. But cinematography alone cannot carry a film, even if it is used to its maximum potential.

Over-all, My Cousin Rachel is a disappointing movie. For a psychological thriller, it lacks the edge that makes films within the genre intriguing and nerve-wracking. The film is not helped by a poor script, key characters lacking in enthusiasm, and a premise that falls short of its promise. Ultimately, My Cousin Rachel is a self-pitying drama instead of a psychological thriller, and that is criminal for the genre.

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Review – Denial (12a) [2017]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Mick Jackson – The Bodyguard, Volcano, Temple Grandin

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Howard Shore – The Lord of the Rings I-III, A History of Violence, The Departed, The Hobbit III & III, The Spider

If 2016 determined anything, it was that we now live in a Post-Truth era. In such an era, facts do not matter since there are ‘alternative facts’ that just have to sound real to be true. Yet, does that mean there are no incontrovertible facts at all? What about the existence of gravity, or that the Earth is round, or whether Henry VIII had six wives, or whether the Holocaust happened? In 2000, the High Court of England determined at least one of these facts. Director Mike Jackson’s Denial brings the libel case that the antisemitic, Neo-Nazi propagandist David Irving brought and lost against the American academic, Deborah Lipstadt, to the big screen.

Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) addressing students on Holocaust denial in 1994, where she asserts that David Irving is a liar.

Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) addressing students on Holocaust denial in 1994, where she ass that David Irving is a liar.

Denial is based on the case and the book, History On Trial, by Deborah Lipstadt. The film opens pretty much with the scene in the trailer where Deborah (Rachel Weisz) is addressing students about the Holocaust in 1994. No sooner does she say that David Irving is a liar and that she will never debate with Holocaust deniers, when Irving (Timothy Spall) stands up and mocks her. Deborah refuses to speak with him or deny her accusation. Subsequently, Irving takes legal action against her. Deborah responds by getting together a legal team, consisting predominantly of barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) and solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), and they set about uncovering Irving’s ‘facts’ for the lies they are.

Denial is a slick legal thriller. It goes through the different stages of the case very well, so that viewers understand the sheer amount of work the lawyers had to do at the pre-trial stages and during the trial itself. The movie shows all of this with efficiency, particularly from Lipstadt’s side; Irving’s less so, but that is because he did not have a lawyer to represent him in court. (Irving claimed that no-one could represent him better than himself. Lipstadt and her legal team believed that he could not afford the legal fees.)

David Irving (Timothy Spall) stands up to Deborah's accusation and urges her to argue with him on the 'facts' that the Holocaust did not happen.

David Irving (Timothy Spall) stands up to Deborah’s accusation and urges her to argue with him on the ‘facts’ that the Holocaust did not happen.

Irving is portrayed with relish by Timothy Spall as a vain, headline grabbing, publicity-seeker. At times, it is almost comical watching him pander to the cameras (or the cameras to him). Yet, at other times, one just wants to ask him: don’t you realise how stupid you are going to look at the end of this? And this is not just because we know he is going to lose the case. It is because, as is typical with bigots, antisemitic or otherwise, they let their prejudices distort their realities to the point where the differences between black and white, night and day, and fire and ice no longer exist. Regardless, Spall makes Irving entertaining to watch, which is quite an achievement since the man is a Hitler lover.

Irving’s opponents are played well too. Rachel Weisz turns in a (very) strong New York accent and portrays Lipstadt as passionate and uncompromising in her belief to take down an odious Holocaust denier. Andrew Scott illustrates Anthony Julius aptly as a cold and pugnacious borderline sociopath. And Tom Wilkinson does a good job as Richard Rampton, showing him to have a soul to go with his professional façade.

Denial is driven by its protagonists. It is just as well too, as the film does not have much else going for it. For one, one feels no tension as the case builds up to its verdict. Considering the protagonists keep stressing how massive the case is and that it will determine if the Holocaust happened (as absurd as that sounds), it is startling that one feels nothing. And before one argues that it is impossible to feel anything as viewers know the outcome before going into Denial, let us remind ourselves that we felt euphoric after King George VI gave his speech in The King’s Speech; that we felt endangered when Batman and Bane first went to blows in The Dark Knight Rises; and that we felt heart-broken when Alice gained Early-Onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice, despite knowing what would happen by the end in those movies. This indicates that director Mike Jackson’s sense of timing needs improvement.

The real Deborah Lipstadt with her legal team, back in 2000, after her victory.

The real Deborah Lipstadt with her legal team, back in 2000, after her victory.

Second, the film misses out a noteworthy (and hilarious) moment in the case, which is astonishing. And, three, Howard Shore’s music score is hugely disappointing. Like the film, his score becomes mawkish and sentimental when it needs to crank up the tension. For a man who once wrote the wondrous, engrossing music for The Lord of the Rings, one knows he can do better. Indeed, one knows that courtroom drama can be done better. Watch the recent National Treasure, starring Robbie Coltrane.

All-in-all, Denial is a nicely put together legal thriller. It has a good cast that perform well and it does a decent job at portraying the case that David Irving brought against Deborah Lipstadt. More significantly, though, the movie forensically examines the evidence we have to prove that the Holocaust happened and surgically debunks Holocaust denial. Thus, like gravity, like the Earth is round, and like Henry VIII having six wives, the Holocaust’s occurrence as a historical fact is incontestable. Bearing in mind the era we live in currently, that is vital.

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Review – The Light Between Oceans (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 2/5

Director:

  • Derek Cianfrance – Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond The Pines, Metalhead

Cast:

Music Composer:

There are some films that look like Oscar material. They have stellar actors in the main roles, a seemingly interesting plot, and wondrous cinematography. Yet, the film remains in post-production for longer than it should and, upon viewing, the movie simply does not work. 2014’s Serena was one such film. The Light Between Oceans (TLBO) is another.

A stunning view of the lighthouse and the ocean from Janus Rock.

A stunning view of the lighthouse and the ocean from Janus Rock.

  TLBO is a film based on the novel with same title by ML Stedman. It is December 1918 and Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) has returned to Australia from the Western Front. World War I (WWI) has taken his toll on him. To recuperate, he applies for a job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote Australian island, called Janus Rock.

After getting the job, he meets Isabel (Alicia Vikander). The two marry and go to live on the island. Life is going all right for the happy(ish) couple, until a baby and a dead man wash up on a lifeboat one day. Tom and Isabel are presented with a dilemma: one that will have consequences for the both of them.

Let’s deal with the good elements of TLBO first. The scenery is spectacular. The producers have chosen a beautiful island to represent Janus Rock and the cinematography captures the wonders (and dangers) of this isolated island. Enhancing the sense of isolation is Alexandre Desplat’s beautiful score. It tugs at the heart at times and makes us feel the eerie remoteness of the place at others.

Additionally, Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender, with Rachel Weisz in the chief supporting role, are attractive and perform decently. But their Australian accents are glaringly non-existent and their characters are bafflingly boring.

The happy couple, Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and Tom (Michael Fassbender), dancing at their wedding. This photo may be genuine show of affection from the two actors since they are a couple in real life as a result of this film.

The happy couple, Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and Tom (Michael Fassbender), dancing at their wedding. This photo may be genuine show of affection from the two actors since they are a couple in real life as a result of this film.

Nevertheless, actors can only work with what they are given. Even the finest of our current crop of actors cannot make something out of a poor script and a frustratingly uninteresting plot. It does not help that at 140 minutes TLBO is a long film. Nothing of significance happens for the first 45 minutes when finally the moral dilemma (i.e. the turning point of the story) arrives. That is at least 30 minutes too late. And even when it does arrive, the conundrum is handled in a woefully sentimental manner, well beyond the point of incredulity. It could even be argued that TLBO trivialises child abduction and Stockholm Syndrome, since the former is dealt with as well-meaning and the latter as a non-issue. Director Derek Cianfrance really should have done more research into these highly sensitive subjects as then the reactions of the characters would not be perplexing. Either that, or Cianfrance got the wrong end of the stick, completely.

But these are merely the start of TLBO’s problems. The film feels badly disjointed. This is despite the director’s best efforts to stitch scenes together that bear no link, using the trick of fading one scene into the next. But it does not make the movie flow any easier and makes one realise that TLBO has some fundamental storyline issues. This could explain why the movie spent more time than it should have done (near two years) in post-production.

The issues regarding the storyline are not helped by the movie trying to cover a plethora of topics, including love, grief, trauma, moral dilemmas, and the consequences of one’s actions. All of these can make for fascinating viewing if they are done well. Yet, none of them are properly fleshed out and there is too much telling and not enough showing in the film. This all makes for a recipe of unsatisfying viewing.

The parallels with Serena could not be more apparent. That film had an attractive cast, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Toby Jones and Conleth Hill (better known as Lord Varys from Game of Thrones); it had gorgeous cinematography; and dealt with a lot of interesting subject matters, such as starting up one’s own business in North Carolina during the Great Depression, law enforcement, corruption, and mafia. But it was a mess of a movie. This led to questions of what director Susanne Bier had initially wanted from the film, what she had cut out in the editing room, and how she had come to release the final draft of the film because Serena was a muddle that did not know what story it was trying to tell.

A distraught Hannah (Rachel Weisz) looking for her husband and daughter. They disappeared at sea and no-one has seeing them since to her knowledge.

A distraught Hannah (Rachel Weisz) looking for her husband and daughter. They disappeared at sea and no-one has seeing them since to her knowledge.

TLBO is not on the same scale as Serena. But many of the questions that applied to Serena apply for TLBO. It would be nice if, one day, Cianfrance spoke about what he set out to achieve with TLBO, what he succeeded on, what he failed on, and why he failed on them. Ironically, that would make for a much more interesting tale than the one consisting of Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz.

Over-all, TLBO is a disappointing movie. It has the cast, the setting, and the ideas to be an Oscar contender. Yet, it is a dysfunctional tangle of half-baked plots that go in directions that aren’t plausible. If that does not vex viewers, the movie’s sentimentality will take them over the edge. Indeed, soppiness of the movie will make them wish that The Light Between Oceans had remained in post-production permanently.

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