Out of the Furnace – a review

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Christian Bale leads an all-star cast in Out of the Furnacea gritty drama centred on the lives of two brothers, Russell and Rodney Baze, living in small town America and struggling to find meaning in their lives following the death of their father.

Bale’s Russell is trying to make an honest living but following a tragic accident is imprisoned and whilst inside loses his girlfriend to police chief Forest WhitakerCasey Affleck plays his younger brother, Rodney, an Iraq veteran plagued by the horrors of war and unable to find peace upon returning home. When Rodney suddenly goes missing, Russell will stop at nothing to uncover his whereabouts.

The grimy aesthetic of this tough corner of America and the hard working lives of its inhabitants is expertly brought to life by director Scott Cooper and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi. Helped dramatically by the fact it was shot beautifully on 35mm film, giving a deep and real texture to the story. The production design, art direction and make-up also deserve special mention in their contribution towards the film’s authenticity.

The stellar cast deliver top-of-their-game turns and in so doing create an understated and affecting story of the hardships of war, violence and loss. Although some of the film’s bigger themes are perhaps only alluded to and not given enough screen time then that lends to the realism of the picture, as the performances are steeped in naturalism and grit rather than showy emotion. One scene between Affleck and Bale in particular explodes out of the screen and resonates throughout the cinema, with the former stealing the show with a moment of brute brilliance.

David Rosenbloom‘s editing works wonderfully to gently roll the story together, subtly accentuating the differences between these two brothers. One sequence in particular (possibly an homage to The Deer Hunter) is stitched together to highlight Russell’s inability to take a life, following his experience of the accident and prison, against Rodney’s burning rage to keep fighting anyone in his way after the trauma he suffered in service of his country.

The only gripe, but sadly it’s one that doesn’t go away, it would’ve been more interesting to delve further into the troubled relationship of these two brothers and explore that dynamic without all the revenge / ‘baddie’ stuff (although the baddie is superbly embodied by Woody Harrelson). Still, a proper film. And you don’t get too many of them these days.

first published on filmjuice.com

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The Complex – a review

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Hideo Nakata is famed for bringing into the world some of film’s truly darkest horror creations. None more so than 1998’s Ring, and no, not the dumbed-down-over-obvious-Hollywood-Naomi-Watts-screaming version but the genuinely terrifying Japanese original. It seems the years haven’t been kind to Nakata, his powers of darkness clearly having faded, as his latest offering The Complex sadly proves.

Watching Sadako crawl out of the TV for the first time in Ring is up there amongst the scariest moments in movie history, with some of the others also coming from that same film. Unfortunately, it can’t be said any of that horror magic remains in The Complex. Whatsoever.

It may be that having a child as the scariest element in a horror film is just old hat. A 35 year-old hat, in fact. As 1979’s seminal masterpiece The Exorcist did it beyond comparison and again a year later with Kubrick’s psychological game-changer The Shining. It seems to have become a genre unto its own: a creepy child being creepy supposedly creeping people out. But is that really enough anymore to send shivers down our spines? Watching The Complex, apparently not.

The opening half hour is pretty solid, building some nice tension as we learn that Asuka, played by Atsuko Maeda, and her family have moved into a haunted apartment building. Asuka starts to hear noises coming from the other side of her bedroom wall but when she goes to investigate she discovers far more than she bargained for. It’s just, if you heard creepy noises coming from next door, why would the first thing you’d do be to go take a look? OK, it’s a horror film but we’ve seen it all before and, as a saturated genre, horror needs to be more original and inventive than this.

Maeda does a valiant job bringing this lost young woman to life, and can’t be faulted for effort, but there’s not enough around the character to make her struggle emotive and the terror palpable. There is a semi-intelligent twist (albeit fairly easy to see coming) and interesting camera perspectives to keep you engaged but when the major scares are just an old guy in prosthetics and a small child looking evil then there isn’t really enough to give you the willies. Even when watching alone and with the lights out. Not good enough for a modern horror movie, especially a Japanese one. Sorry.

first published on filmjuice.com

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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – a review

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There’s nothing really wrong with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, everything’s in the right place, but that’s sort of the problem. It isn’t just average but, on top of that, generic. Any potential personal engagement is robbed from the experience by the paint-by-numbers narrative and plot progression. It looks and sounds like a slick big-budget Hollywood action thriller, promising something original and exciting with its impressive opening sequence but thereafter things steadily get worse. Chris Pine does his valiant best to progress the seen-it-before storyline and it’s through no fault of his that the film doesn’t work, as he delivers another solid performance as the eponymous hero.

Kenneth Branagh convinces as clichéd Russian super-baddy Cherevin but perhaps should’ve left it at that and not opted to don his director’s cap as well. Although he did admirably with his previous big budget directorial outing, Thor, any of that film’s spark is missing here. It’s unoriginal and quite frankly boring as a result, unacceptable in an era when cinema should really be pushing forward and reinventing itself, not churning out regurgitated formulaic duds like this. Maybe if they’d cast a real actress as Ryan’s wife instead of Keira Knightley, who only manages in turns to look either hungry or constipated, then their relationship (which is central to the story) may have been more believable and resulted in some genuine jeopardy.

Kevin Costner is decent enough as the steely Harper but, again, his character doesn’t really ring true. He’s the mysterious and powerful CIA man in the shadows but then also the hitman sniper out in the field, perhaps believable as one or the other but unfortunately not as both. The climactic finale, like the film as a whole, lacks any sense of suspense and is so crushingly unoriginal it actually elicits outrage.

Trying to position itself somewhere between James Bond (Branagh’s Cherevin certainly has more than a waft of a Bond villain to him) and Mission Impossible, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit lacks any of the big action set pieces of the former and could have done with some of the intelligent tension of the latter. It may be the re-launching of a lucrative franchise for the studio but if you’re looking for a superior spy thriller and a far better Jack then look no further than Jack Reacher. Hopefully the next installment in that franchise should help wash away the sour taste left in the mouth by Ryan. Sadly, this is one recruit who should’ve stayed in the shadows.

first published on filmjuice.com

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