Tag Archives: Gary Oldman

Child 44

Bleak and depressing, but not for the reasons it should be.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

child 44 1“The film is never as good as the book”. I’ve spent so many hours arguing the point when people say that to me. Of course the book is better, it’s a book. It can make me spend 40 minutes reading about a few not-so-important details that a film, if it’s lucky, gets a minute or two to show me. “Just read the book, it’s much better”. Usually, the people that tell me that don’t, or can’t, appreciate what a filmmaker and his writers have to do to get those hundreds of detailed pages onto the screen and keep it interesting. Of course, that doesn’t excuse films like Eragon or The DaVinci Code in any way, shape or form from being the disgraceful waste of celluloid that they are, but as a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t be comparing the two.

Now I try, I really do, to read the books before I see the film, it’s just a habit I got into years ago. If I can’t, I try very hard to get it read later. So when more than a couple of friends, and my wife, insisted “don’t see the film until you’ve read the book” I made it a goal to get Child 44 read before the film came out this week. Sadly, I let them all down. As I write this, my Kindle is teasing me, essentially calling me a failure as it tells me I only got 54% of Tom Rob Smith’s Soviet set crime thriller read before I headed to my local multiscreen to take the lazy option and watch the rest of the book while I stuff my face with popcorn. So as much as I was hoping I could write this review as a comparison to the book and, good or bad, show just how fruitless some of these statements can be, it’s just a regular old review from me today I’m afraid.

Critically acclaimed book aside, and forgetting that the cynic in me knows that Child 44 is the first book in a trilogy and we all know how that’s going to play out, have you seen that cast list? It’s a veritable who’s who of modern greats that should all, someday, have a list of awards they’ve won long enough to fill one of those books we should be reading. Between them, the acting talents of the names on that one-sheet and their collective filmographies should pique the interest of almost anyone with even half an interest in movies. For the fourth time that I can recall, the amazingly talented (and personal favourite) Tom Hardy is sharing the screen with the sublime Gary Oldman, and whether or not you go into this film knowing or caring about the story, you know that with those two in the cast list, it’s going to be a spectacle worth spending your £12 on this weekend. It’s got to be. Right? Well….

Set in early 1950’s Stalinist Russia, Child 44 sees Tom Hardy take on the role of Leo Demidov, a survivor of Stalin’s famine based war on Ukraine of the 1930’s, a hero of the Second World War and a high ranking member of the MBG, the Russian Ministry of State Security, or as we, post-cold war would possibly call them, the Russian Secret Police. A man who loves the republic that he serves and follows orders blindly in an age where innocence doesn’t exist. An age where a person can be arrested, tortured and executed for almost anything that could be construed as “not in the best interests of the state”. Corruption is rife and to be on the wrong side of it more often than not means not being around very long to fight against it.

Leo finds himself on the worse side of the State’s law when he refuses to name is wife, Raisa, as a capitalist spy. Believing her name to have been planted on a list by envious, vindictive junior agent Vasili Nikitin, played by the surprisingly decent Joel Kinnaman, who’s out to teach Leo a lesson after he embarrassed him while on assignment. His refusal to denounce his wife leaves Leo exiled to a little industrial town and left under the command of Gary Oldman’s General Nesterov, the head of the militia and a man as proud and loyal to his country as he is suspicious of Leo and Raisa’s presence in his town. Together, Demidov and Nesteroy stumble upon a serial child killer case that has been brushed under the carpet by the Republic they both love so much and set out to right that wrong and bring a killer that no one in power seems interested in, to justice.

In a world where justice does not necessarily mean “justice”, Leo finds himself relying on his wits and his wife to solve these heinous crimes when he can’t call for help from a system he’s lived his life in complete obedience to. Instead, he must work outside of the law, skulking in the shadows, hoping and praying that he can keep one step ahead of those that seek his downfall while he tries to catch a killer that no one believes exists and he knows less than nothing about.

Now, everything about Child 44, on paper, sounds like the makings of an excellent thriller. It’s set in an interesting time, one we don’t see put to film very often and we rarely get to see the Russians depicted in such a bad light these days (maybe that statement explains why the film has been banned in Russia). A story focusing on something as horrible as a series of murdered children should have some real emotional pull and make every parent watching sit and hold their stomach in fear. And with all that talent on the poster, all that ability on the screen, it’s something I would have been comfortable guaranteeing to you without having seen the film.

Sadly, I have seen the film. And my only advice, is to not waste the near two and a half hours that I did hoping for the film we should have got to finally appear on the screen. There’s no way to drag it out, to be clever about saying it or to soften it so maybe you think it might be a film worth watching. Child 44, is a bad film. But it’s not just bad, it’s slow, it’s boring and being a fan of almost everyone on that cast list, it’s soul crushingly disappointing.

Forgetting the part where I’ve read up to around the halfway point of the book and there are glaring omissions from the story that’ll severely impact it if the film does well enough to get the next book, “The Secret Speech”, made. I promised I’d write this as a review of the film, not the adaptation. The film is a masterclass in poor direction, bad screenwriting and complete misuse of the acting talents of some of the best actors around today. Tom Hardy’s Leo Demidov is a great character. A tortured man who struggles with the situation he’s found himself in and is desperately trying to do the right thing while making things right for him and his wife. Raisa is similarly tortured, and played equally well by the always impressive Noomi Rapace. Her fight to stay strong doing nothing to help her as she struggles through life with a husband in such a powerful position. Thrown into turmoil with her exile, her role in Leo’s quest for redemption is much bigger than the writing gives her credit for.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast, while absolutely superb aren’t given much of a chance to shine. A bad mix of painful screenwriting and something very close to stunt casting ruins what semblance of quality there may have been. Opting instead for wasting the talents of world class actors like Gary Oldman and Vincent Cassell with minimal screen time in poorly shot scenes that always appear to teeter on the edge of tense but fall flat and emotionless instead. Great actors like Jason Clarke and Charles Dance are barely given enough time to register with the audience, with the filmmakers instead choosing to gloss over what are clearly supposed to be important scenes of character development.

Now, say what you want about Daniel Espinosa as a director, and I said a lot of things when I came out of Child 44, I always thought he knew how to make a decent thriller. I know films like Safe House aren’t for everyone, but the pacing in it is superb. Hit after unrelenting hit comes at you from the first shot to the end of the film and it just doesn’t let up. The problem, is that Child 44 isn’t an action thriller. It’s a crime thriller. One that should be slow burning at that. Something more akin to Nordic film and TV than action films and Espinosa can’t quite seem to grasp that idea which, considering his background, is pretty ironic. The film has some glaring issues with its pace, never quite picking up to tell the story at a good speed but never dropping well enough to build tension. There are points where the pace slows, the acting is ramped up and the tension really should be building, but the scene just doesn’t live up to its promise. Falling flat on its face is the default position for the film’s direction and not even the skills that Hardy, Oldman and everyone else bring with them can rescue it.

Child 44 is set in one of the most interesting, but equally one of the most horrific times in living memory. It’s a bleak, hopeless time and perfectly suited for a thriller about the cold and calculating murder of 44 children. But the film never seems to pick up on the natural melancholy of a grey and gloomy Soviet Russia that’s handed to it. There should be freezing, unforgiving snow. There should be the air of cold, empty suffering and the film can’t even get that right. Call it a trope, a stereotype, whatever you want. Stalinist Russia was a sad, mournful place to live and die and Child 44 couldn’t even get to grips with the atmosphere handed to it. Choosing instead to bath unhappy scenes that should have an air death in sunshine. A dead child, in a country known to be cold and snowy, is a gift to a film maker. It doesn’t take a genius to know how that particular scene should look and if you can’t even get that right, what hope did the film really have?

I loved the performances in Child 44, everyone does a great job in selling me on their Russian accents and there’s enough Hardy to keep me happy until Mad Max comes out. The entire cast do a spectacular job but they all need…. No, they all deserve, a much better film than this. Child 44 has a spectacular premise, but it’s clearly too much for one film and far too much for this director. Better suited perhaps to one of those 8-10 episode HBO mini-series like Generation Kill or True Detective. Save your pennies and do what I’m going to do. I’m going to quench the sudden urge I have to watch Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy instead.

Child 44 is out in cinemas right now should you decide to ignore Brooker’s warning and try it for yourself.

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Failed Critics Podcast: Planet of the Apes Special!

POTAYou maniacs! You’ve done a whole podcast on the Planet of the Apes films! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

That’s right listeners; this week’s podcast is dedicated to all things simian as we not only review Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but also discuss all the films that have gone before. Including the Tim Burton one. Sorry about that.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Another conquest in the revitalised Planet of the Apes series, ‘Dawn’ has further enhanced the reputation of its new director (Matt Reeves) and delivered on its promise to realise the potential of a truly sophisticated and intelligent blockbuster franchise that was displayed during Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

by Owen Hughes (Twitter: ohughes86)

new-tv-spots-for-dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apesIt’s 11th August 2011. My 25th birthday and exactly one month after I first sat down to watch the 1968 science fiction masterpiece that is acclaimed director Franklin J. Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes and its four subsequent sequels. Enthralled by its epic story of ruling classes, forbidden zones, the devolution of mankind into speechless pets, time traveling hippies and Charlton Heston’s chest rug, I’m sat in the cinema eagerly awaiting the start of the latest sci-fi blockbuster, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Regardless of my personal opinion on reboots, anything will be better than Tim Burton’s effort in 2001.

Within 10 minutes, I have already fallen in love with this dazzling new re-imagination of the origin of the Monkey Planet and its founder, Caesar.

Immediately after the credits have rolled, cleverly teasing what is to come in the as yet unnamed sequel, I breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate what has been a successful birthday treat. As hungry as I am for more, surely a blockbuster as unusually intellectually stimulating and exciting as Rise cannot be topped? After all, the second film in the original Apes series, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, was by far the weakest of the bunch. If history does indeed repeat itself, then lowering ones expectations seems like the most sensible approach.

It’s now 16th July 2014. Obviously not my birthday, but once again I feel like I can already crack open a beer and toast another successful entry into a much beloved franchise having seen Dawn of the Planet of the Apes at Cineworld’s surprise secret screening yesterday evening. It has achieved what I daren’t have dreamt it could; a worthy successor to one of the best big-budget films of recent times. Phew!

Deploying a multi-layered story of betrayal, family, home and tolerance, it once again draws you into its unlikely but bizarrely believable world through the meticulous undertaking that has gone into its conception and development.

Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s script begins by reminding us during the opening credits of the devastation caused by the outbreak of the ALZ-113 virus, as seen during the end credits of the previous film. A plague so devastating, it seemingly wiped out the human race. Shifting attention to the now ape infested (I mean, occupied) Muir Woods, California, over a decade later, we see the complex community formed by an older, wiser and greyer familiar looking chimp called Caesar. Juvenile chimps are being educated by orangutans in the laws of their society (ape shall not kill ape), the male chimps and gorillas are out hunting whilst the females stay at home. It’s a young and primitive society, but a functioning utopia for all ape kind. Aside from Caesar feeling a bit down about his old chum James Franco not being given a part in the latest flick, everything is now hunky dory in Monkey Town.

That is until the unexpected arrival of a trigger-happy Carver (Kirk Acevedo) who aimlessly drifts into the their territory. Unaware of the genetic advancements that ape-kind have gone through whilst humankind has regressed, feeling threatened by their sudden appearance, he promptly shoots one of them. Thus begins a calamitous clash of cultures so disastrous that not even Take That covering Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit compares.

What sets the Apes films apart from other big-budget Hollywood blockbusters this year (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Edge of Tomorrow, Godzilla, Transformers: Age of Extinction to name but a few) is not so much the spectacular way Reeves’ shoots his bombastic action sequences. Nor is it solely because of its gloriously uncompromising script that refuses to dumb down (monosyllabic apes aside) or spare the viewer any of the meatier dialogue that often can only take place via subtitles. Not even its consistently mind bogglingly life-like CGI that is on another level to almost everything that came before it can be the only reason why Dawn is so impressive. It’s a combination of all of the above. It hits a treble 20 with every single shot its spear-tipped poky sticks are aimed at.

Well, almost all of its targets. The only real downside is how it struggles to pin down a genuinely sympathetic human character like Rise did with James Franco and his father, John Lithgow. Watching their relationship slip away due to dementia was heart-breaking, but more importantly, both actors were tremendous. Discounting Andy Serkis and his (once again) stunning ‘motion capture’ performance as the leader of the apes, struggling to contain a rebellious little git within his ranks who wants war with the humans at the same time as providing a future for his family, there’s nothing here that matches up to what we’ve seen previously. The closest moments this ever gets to that level are, at best, fleeting.

Jason Clarke, whole-heartedly playing a father and partner determined not to let humanity lose its only chance to return to the glory days of old, gets the closest to immersing us in any individual humans struggles. We see what his old life meant to him in snippets, rather than in anything satisfyingly substantial. His friend in the human colony and co-leader of the people, Dreyfus, played by the ever-imposing screen presence that is Gary Oldman, gives a first impression of a man grappling with his responsibility to preserve a crumbling civilization. Unfortunately, one short emotional scene aside, it’s not expanded on or developed far enough to push the boundaries, but it is most definitely an assured performance nevertheless. I would have been shocked if it were anything less from an actor of his calibre.

In context, this minor gripe is hardly detrimental to the overall quality of the film in the grand scheme of things. It manages to capture the essence of what makes the original Planet of the Apes films so much fun and clever, whilst continuing to expand on the mythology firmly established in 2011. Verging into b-movie territory occasionally with the explosive action sequences does it no harm whatsoever and only serves to recall the ambitious nature of those 1970’s classics. None more so than both Conquest of and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Making apes riding horses seem terrifying rather than silly (honestly) is an admirable achievement.

Quite frankly, whoever is writing / directing the next unnamed sequel (Night of the Planet of the Living Apes, anyone?) the foundations have been laid so sturdily by Rupert Wyatt initially and now Matt Reeves, that it will take some monumental effort to screw it up from here. Step up one Joel Schumacher? Nah. Please, no. No! It was a joke.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is out in cinemas nationwide tomorrow (Thursday 17th July 2014).

Owen borrowed all of his writing techniques from I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan and can be found regularly mumbling away in a soft-brummie accent on the podcast, using profane words to describe films on Letterboxd, or wondering what to tweet about now the World Cup is over on Twitter.

Failed Critics: Episode 14 – The Dark Knight Rises BATMAN SPECIAL

Holy half-baked opinions Batman! This week our very own Rogues Gallery of Villains (Gerry – The Joker, Owen – The Riddler, James – The Penguin, Steve – Catwoman) not only review The Dark Knight Rises, but also tackle all things Batman in a bumper 2 hour Batman Special.

THWACK!

In the opening section we discuss our randomly-allocated Batman films of the past – including Gerry’s near-breakdown over the 1966 movie and Owen looking for the positives in Batman and Robin. Plus Steve puts us all to shame with his tales of heroism. Well, sort of.

BIFF!

This week’s Triple Bill sees the critics giving us their favourite performances from the actors that have played the Caped Crusader in the last 25 years.

CRACK!

Then finally (at 1hour and 19 minutes if you want to skip) we review the most anticipated film of the year. Does it live up to expectations? Was it a worthy conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy? Could we understand a word Bane was saying?

We’re away next week, but will return on 7th August with a review of Ted and our favourite sporting movies.

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