Tag Archives: terrorism

Review – Spooks: The Greater Good (15) [2015]

Spooks - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Bharat Nalluri – Killing Time, The Crow, Spooks, The Player

Cast:

  • Kit Harington – Pompeii, A Testament of Youth, Seventh Son, Game of Thrones
  • Peter Firth – The Hunt For Red October, Pearl Harbour, Spooks, Risen
  • Jennifer Ehle – The King’s Speech, The Ides of March, Contagion, Zero Dark Thirty, A Quiet Passion
  • Tuppence Middleton – Cleanskin, The Imitation Game, Jupiter Ascending, War And Peace
  • Elyes Gabel – Game of Thrones, World War Z, A Most Violent Year, Scorpion
  • Tim McInnerny – Spooks
  • Eleanor Matsuura – Alan Partridge, The Love Punch, Residue, Burn Burn Burn
  • Michael Wildman – Family Affairs, A Bunch of Amateurs, Act of Godfrey, London Has Fallen
  • Lara Pulver – Spooks, True Blood, Edge of Tomorrow, A Patch of Fog
  • David Harewood – The Ruby In The Smoke, Homeland, Grimsby

Music Composer:

  • Dominic Lewis – Free Birds, The DUFF, The Player

When one watches a TV series from the beginning, one usually becomes emotionally invested in the characters. Whether it is Jack Bauer from 24, Homer Simpson from The Simpsons, the inbetweeners from The Inbetweeners, or the leading police officers from 21 Jump Street, viewers usually acquire affection (or disdain) for the characters, and normally they carry their sentiments on into the film adaptation(s) or spin-off(s). But what if one has not watched the TV series that a film is based on? Can one still enjoy the film to the same extent as if one had watched the show? Spooks: The Greater Good may give us an answer.

Harry (Peter Firth) convincing Will Holloway (Kit Harington), an ex-agent, to trust him and to rejoin M:I-5.

Harry (Peter Firth) convincing Will Holloway (Kit Harington), an ex-agent, to trust him and to rejoin M:I-5.

Spooks is based on the British TV series with the same title that aired between 2002-11 (although it was also called M:I-5 in some circles). The film is a spy thriller. At the start of the movie, Adam Qasim (Elyes Gabel), a terrorist wanted by US authorities, is in the hands of M:I-5. He is on his way to being handed over to the CIA in London when the vehicles driving him are attacked in a heist. Threatened with the deaths of agents in the streets, M:I-5 orders the agents to hand over Qasim to the armed attackers.

Now free, Qasim plans a terrorist attack on London. While M:I-5 looks for him and determines what he intends to do, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) disappears. He is convinced that there is a traitor in M:I-5 who let Qasim free, and he re-recruits Will Holloway (Kit Harrington), an ex-agent, to help him find out who the traitor is.

Spooks is a solid espionage thriller. The film is quite grounded and beguiling with good acting and humorous dialogue. For one who has not watched an episode of Spooks the TV series, there are probably some subtleties that go unseen. But not seeing these does not make the film any less entertaining. Furthermore, the film is written in such a way that the allegiances (and rivalries) between key personnel in the upper echelons of M:I-5 are spelled out quite early on in the film. So, one should not have a problem understanding who is on whose side… until they switch sides, of course. But that happened in the TV series regularly, like in 24, and is also part and parcel of the spy genre in general. How much emotional investment in Spooks one needs prior to watching the film is debatable.

June (Tuppence Middleton), an M:I-5 agent, going in with a fellow agent to take out some terrorists.

June (Tuppence Middleton), an M:I-5 agent, going in with a fellow agent to take out some terrorists.

Yes, it may have helped to know what the shifty Harry Pearce, played well by Peter Firth, is like before going into the film in the same way it may have helped to watch The Simpsons on TV to appreciate what makes the blundering Homer Simpson so endearing before watching The Simpsons Movie. Similarly, watching Spooks the TV show may have helped to get to know supporting cast members played by Tim McInnerney and Lara Pulver. Both reprise their roles from the show well but are given little screen time during the movie (especially compared to Peter Firth’s character).

Nevertheless, for every actor reprising their character, there are a handful of new characters. Jennifer Ehle, Tuppence Middleton, Eleanor Masuura and, chiefly, Kit Harington were never part of the TV series. Suffice to say, all of them have a role in the film and add something different to the plot. Fans (and non-fans) of the show cannot have known these characters or anticipate their motives prior to the movie. This means that the film is going to deviate from the show and that whatever happened previously in the TV series is unlikely to be crucial.

Jon Snow... I mean, Will Holloway being the hero and using a gun to take out a foe instead of a sword.

Jon Snow… I mean, Will Holloway being the hero and using a gun, instead of a sword, to take out a foe.

Yet, if fans (and non-fans) are arguing over how alike Spooks the film is to Spooks the TV series, they are arguing over the wrong issue. How closely the film resembles the show pales in comparison to the problem of the film’s tone. Director Bharat Nalluri cannot make up his mind if he wants the film to be taken seriously, like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, or as a spoof, like Kingsman: The Secret Service. Bearing in mind the title of the movie reads and sounds close to ‘spoof,’ it may have been logical to make the film as a satire, as James Bond was pre-Daniel Craig. (Or maybe that conclusion is borne from not watching the TV series?) Either way, Spooks’ tone is confusing. Add in the (numerous) implausible plot twists and it is understandable that viewers get into a fuddle as to what sort of a film they’re watching.

Over-all, Spooks is an enjoyable spy thriller. It has been put together well enough to ensure that viewers who have not watched the TV series that preceded the movie are not worse off than those who did. The tone of the film may be puzzling and some of the Byzantine-like scheming makes no sense. However, Spooks: The Greater Good has got good acting, dialogue and intrigue, with semi-grounded action. Thus, like any film with such ingredients, Spooks is a decent movie and worth a watch.

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Review – Zero Dark Thirty (15) [2013]

Zero Dark Thirty - title banner2

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Kathryn Bigelow – The Loveless, The Weight of Water, The Hurt Locker

Cast:

Music Composer:

When it comes to films about historical events, like Titanic, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Lincoln, one knows how they will end before even starting them. Yet, such movies can be just as, if not more entertaining and gripping than movies where one does not know what is going to happen. The same is true for the arresting Zero Dark Thirty, which also sends out a potent message to America’s enemies.

The film is a politico-historical drama based around real events. ‘Zero dark thirty’ is a military codename for half past midnight, and it is the time that the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden took place on the night of 1st/2nd May 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Maya (Jessica Chastain), baggy-eyed as she watches countless interrogations of detainees in her attempts to find a lead to Osama Bin Laden's location.

Maya (Jessica Chastain), baggy-eyed as she watches countless interrogations of detainees in her attempts to find a lead to Osama Bin Laden’s location.

Zero Dark Thirty is all about the CIA’s attempts to find the world’s most wanted man following his masterminding of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on 11th September 2011, and his subsequent vanishing. The film is an unhurried, yet captivating thriller that does not feel like it is 157 minutes long. Like with The Hurt Locker, it has a grounded feel, and therefore lacks the hyperbole and surrealism of 24. Even the ending mirrors this mood, which is rare and noteworthy for Hollywood.  It is too early to know how true Zero Dark Thirty is to the reality, but it feels like a realistic and fair representation of events. First, it illustrates how dangerous it is for Americans to be in Afghanistan/Pakistan, thereby emphasising how heroic they are being out there. Second, it demonstrates some of the difficulties CIA agents face operating in the field, trying to unearth information about their targets (who have multiple identities and never seem to stay in the same place twice). Third, the movie shows the CIA adopting dubious torture methods and degrading treatment upon suspected and actual terrorists in undisclosed locations in their desperate bid to find leads on Bin Laden.

There has been much controversy over Kathryn Bigelow’s depiction of torture adopted by US personnel in 2002 and afterward (when it was officially outlawed). Arguably, the film enables Bigelow to reveal her anti-American/anti-war bias again, like she did so painfully in the critically-acclaimed The Hurt Locker. Yet, it is doubtful that she glorifies torture here. Instead, she lets viewers decide for themselves, in a similar vein to Rendition, if torture is ever necessary or useful, which is an intelligent way of kicking off a moral debate on an important and current subject.

CIA agent Dan (Jason Clarke) arguing with his and Maya's boss, Joseph (Kyle Chandler), as he tries to help Maya in anyway he can.

CIA agent Dan (Jason Clarke, right) arguing with his and Maya’s boss, Joseph (Kyle Chandler, left), as he tries to help Maya in anyway he can.

But what is even more striking than the portrayal of ‘enhanced interrogations’ in Zero Dark Thirty is how the film has painted the War on Terror as merely Osama Bin Laden. Yes, he is the figurehead of modern-day Jihadi terrorism and his death is a symbolic hammer-blow to the cause. But by 2011 it is dubious how influential Bin Laden was to the pursuit of world Jihadism, due to the emergence of numerous Al-Qaeda splinter groups, such as Al-Aqaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al-Shabaab, among others. Yet, these other terrorist groups are barely given a mention, which is strange considering the security threat they pose to the world.

Additionally, Zero Dark Thirty does not explore, even for the sake of context, the complex and conflicting relationships between America, Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention the contradictory nature of the Pakistani state itself. (Anyone remember David Cameron saying that Pakistan looks “both ways” on terrorism?)

However, if one can ignore the lack of political background, one can enjoy strong performances from all the cast. At the forefront, is Jessica Chastain, who demonstrates, for the first time, that she can play a leading role just as solidly as she can a supporting one when given the chance. Her single-minded character, Maya, is given the central task of finding Bin Laden. Maya might get her way sometimes in a contrived manner for reasons of plot, but Chastain looks so natural in the role, and the way Maya changes under the circumstances is indicative of Chastain’s talent.

Patrick (Joel Edgerton) enjoying banter with his marine companions before leading them to into combat to kill Bin Laden.

Patrick (Joel Edgerton) enjoying banter with his marine companions before leading them to into combat to kill Bin Laden.

Maya’s solemnity is in mild contrast to her two main colleagues, the tough-yet-amusing Dan (Jason Clarke) and the bitchy Jessica (Jennifer Ehle). Both Clarke and Ehle play well, and are more empathetic than Maya. Nevertheless, they are both outshone by Chastain’s performance.

Over-all, Zero Dark Thirty is a sincere and honest attempt to recreate the finding and killing of Osama Bin Laden. That one knows how the movie will end is irrelevant, as it is an engrossing and tense watch. The film might be devoid of much of the current context vis-à-vis the War on Terror, and it might be overly-simplified; yet, what it lacks on those fronts, it makes up for in compelling performances, not least from Jessica Chastain. Furthermore, Zero Dark Thirty sends out a stark message to America’s enemies: it doesn’t matter where they hide or for how long they hide, America will find them and bring them to justice.

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Review – The Iron Lady (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 3/5

Dementia is a cruel infliction that eats away at what an individual once was. (Lady) Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister 1979-90, was a formidable and highly intelligent woman in her day. Yet, rather than focus on her prime, The Iron Lady highlights the crippling effects that the illness has had on Lady Thatcher in her more recent years.

‘Young Margaret’ (Alexandra Roach) standing for election in Dartford (in 1951). She was then the only female Conservative candidate across the country.

The film is about Lady Thatcher (when young played by Alexandra Roach – Private Peaceful; when middle-aged and old played by Meryl Streep – Sophie’s Choice, The Devil Wears Prada, Suffragette), elderly and suffering from delusions and dementia, glimpsing back, at random, at the happy and distressing moments of her life, before she attends the ceremony of the unveiling of her portrait at the Prime Minister’s house.

The movie’s plot is simple, but is not necessarily easy to follow. This is because whenever Lady Thatcher looks back into the past, she does not do so in chronologically and there is nothing to inform viewers of the year they’re watching. Even for those who are historically fine-tuned, this can be confusing. Factually, The Iron Lady is generally accurate; yet, there are several brushes of artistic license in the movie, such as the timing of Denis Thatcher’s (when young played by Harry Lloyd – Jane Eyre, A Game of Thrones, Junk; when old played by Jim Broadbent – Gangs of New York, Harry Potter VI & VII(ii), Cloud Atlas) proposal.

Thatcher, as Prime Minister, in a cabinet meeting, telling a colleague that it is not his time to speak.

More than anything, the storyline’s approach undermines Lady Thatcher. It undermines her as a person, her ideology (the idea that the individual should not depend upon the state and that he/she should determine his/her destiny), and all that she did for the country and for women across the world. First, at 105 minutes, The Iron Lady is too short, since more time was needed for director Phyllida Lloyd (Mama Mia!, Macbeth) to have adequately visualised Thatcher’s life before and after she became a politician. Second, for a woman who sacrificed so much for politics, the film stresses astoundingly little on Thatcher’s rise to the premiership, as well as her time in ten Downing Street and her fall from office. That much of her time in office in the movie is dominated by her hardline policies towards cutting public spending; beating back rioters; and the wars against Argentina, over the Falkland Islands, and the IRA (terrorism), has a familiar chime, as if Ms. Lloyd was trying to (not-so-subtly) force her own views of the current Coalition government upon viewers. Third, to have Lady Thatcher remembering her life via flashbacks, among delusions of her late husband was callous and insensitive; especially, as the former Prime Minister is still alive. If anything, it makes even those who despise Lady Thatcher pity her. (Whoever would have thought that the die-hards on the Left would feel sympathy for Thatcher?)

Irrespective of the plot, there is an exceptional performance from Meryl Streep, which makes The Iron Lady worth watching in and of itself. Throughout the movie, Streep seemingly morphs into Lady Thatcher to the extent that one is likely to forget that they’re not watching the real person.

Thatcher in her heyday (right), and Meryl Streep (left) as the brilliant look-alike.

It is a shame for Streep that the supporting cast cannot match her display. Alexandra Roach, as ‘young Margaret’, is distinctly average, as are the two actors who play Denis Thatcher, Harry Lloyd and Jim Broadbent. The rest of the cast, particularly Anthony Head (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Inbetweeners Movie, Ghost Rider II: Spirit of Vengeance) and Richard Grant (Twelfth Night, Corpse Bride, Zambezia), impersonating Thatcher’s ministers Geoffrey Howe and Michael Heseltine, respectively, play poorly with the little time they have on screen. Head and Grant do not capture their characters’ personalities accurately. Both actors appear as cowardly critics (with eyes brimming with hawkish ambition) of their leader’s policies at times of supposed crises, and Grant also fails to give Heseltine the ego that drove him to resign as Defence Minister in 1986 and challenge for party leadership in 1990.

All-in-all, Margaret Thatcher was a formidable individual in her day. She was, and still is, a highly polarising figure for many a reason. Therefore, one would expect a biographic film to be about her achievements and shortcomings as a leader, and perhaps a bit about her legacy too. Yet, The Iron Lady shows relatively little of these, preferring instead to let us watch and pity an elderly lady no longer in complete control of her mind. Despite a phenomenal performance from Streep, the film would be an insult to any human being, let alone one of the calibre of Lady Thatcher.

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