Released: 10th April 2015
Directed By: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Ethan Hawke, January Jones
Many of the scenes are emotionless, repetitive and detached, set in a claustrophobic room without windows. These scenes involve the audience looking at monitors, switches and controllers, and are filmed mostly in medium or close shots of the actors’ faces. In most films this would perhaps be disagreeable and boring, but in Good Kill they are exactly what make the film work. This is modern warfare 7000 miles away from the combat zone.
In his third collaboration with director Andrew Niccol, Ethan Hawke plays Tom Egan, a US Airforce drone pilot who is on the brink of breaking point. Through the day to day life of Egan Niccol’s film is rewarding and stakes its place in the pantheon of modern war movies; Niccol is unafraid to show the life of a man in modern warfare unlike that of any soldier I’ve seen before on film. Niccol presents Egan’s life like any man who works a blue collar job; he works shifts in the same location every single day, doing the same process every single time, repeating the steps before, during, and after a strike like he’s part robot such is the systematic nature of what he does. After the shift is done, he drives home, picks up his groceries, helps his kids with their homework.
Unlike most men, however, Egan’s profession is to deliver military strikes on targets which, intelligence says, are terrorist targets. Egan begins to question the orders and the legitimacy of his job when orders begin to come from the CIA – shown by Niccol as speakerphone button on Egan’s telephone. They are just a voice, we never see them. This heightens the stress Egan feels, how can he fire a missile at a crowd of men on a live feed when the person giving the orders cannot qualify the reasons for doing so?
Like many war films where the main character is a long serving soldier, they are often drawn back into service because life outside war no longer makes sense. With Egan we have a man who can no longer serve the purpose of his training and his true skill – a fighter pilot – but he wants to believe in the good the US is doing regardless. Yet with the increasingly blurred lines between right and wrong, one line stood out for me amongst the rest, capturing the tone of Niccol’s film perfectly:
“Don’t ask me if it’s a just war. That’s not up to us. To us it’s just war”
Most war films want to show the surroundings and atmosphere of the war zone where our heroes are deployed, but Niccol only ever shows Afghanistan and Yemen on a monitor. Not once does the action leave the control room where Egan and his co-pilots sit day after day, not once do we hear a sound from the explosions (let alone in deafening surround sound) and not once does the angle change when we’re looking at the foreign land – it’s forever an overhead shot from a mile in the air and the focus is decided by the drone camera, not a cinematic flourish. Furthermore I liked the parallel establishing shots of the Las Vegas desert and the Afghanistan towns – both are a place of turmoil for Egan. This may not look like a clever directorial choice on first glance but Niccol makes some very brave decisions here, and sticks to them.
Ethan Hawke shows once again why he is such a dependable leading actor, he has the ability to take on so many varied roles but always manages to bring a realism to each part he takes. Think how different he is to Denzel Washington in Training Day yet stand his own against Denzel’s scenery chewing; compare this to his work with Richard Linklater’s outstanding ‘Before’ series or recent genre films like Assault on Precinct 13, Before The Devil Knows Your Dead, or even the lacklustre Sinister. In Good Kill we believe the emotional torment he is going through by just an expression or look of resignation, but what we do not need are the clichéd moments which surround Hawke and weigh the film down with familiarity when the exact opposite makes it so appealing.
Egan is an alcoholic, his marriage is breaking down, he and his wife argue constantly and she may be having an affair. We’ve seen this far too many times for Good Kill to offer anything new on the matter, and there are far too many scenes like this which bog the film down. As a study on the impact of war on a man, Niccol shows enough promise with the military side without having to fall back on old troupes in the family side, and some of the dialogue between Egan and his co-pilots is too obvious and direct in the questions of war to ring true. Add to this January Jones opposite Hawke as his wife and the drama fails to ignite when they argue – Hawke is at another level and Jones’ range is stretched too far. There is also a character moment in the final few minutes which was pure nonsense and totally out of sync with the rest of the film’s believability. It’s there to give Egan one final and clear ‘good kill’ after perhaps dozens of questionable strikes, but the reality of his actions would amount to all kinds of consequences. We see him walk away and drive off and Niccol pastes on a redeeming ending which a better film would never have gone anywhere near.
Good Kill may find a wider audience in the years after this war is over and it’s one which I will certainly revisit. Like so many post 9/11 war films, it’s a story the audience might not want to hear and a lead character they may not want to see; but Andrew Niccol may just have given us one of the most important war stories of a generation, if not an entirely successful film.
Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.
Released: 21st September 2018 (UK)
Directed By: Gaspar Noé
Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull and Giselle Palmer
Reviewed By: Dion Wyn
Birth and death are extraordinary experiences. Life is a fleeting pleasure.
Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has been warping our fragile little minds for over 20 years. After the vast disappointment of Love 3D in 2015, he finally returned to Cannes this year. Where he won best picture at Director’s Fortnight; with his latest feature Climax. The win truly has reinvigorated interest and buzz of Noe’s work. The big question is does it actually live to the hype? Climax is set in the mid 1990’s, 20 French urban dancers join together for a three-day rehearsal in a closed-down boarding school located at the heart of a forest to share one last dance. They then make one last party around a large sangria bowl. Quickly, the atmosphere becomes charged and a strange madness will seize them the whole night. If it seems obvious to them that they have been drugged, they neither know by who nor why. And it’s soon impossible for them to resist to their neuroses and psychoses, numbed by the hypnotic and the increasing electric rhythm of the music. While some feel in paradise, most of them plunge into hell.
Climax grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Gaspar Noé’s fine form has returned with his sangria-soaked neon nightmare. Climax opens very subtly with interviews from the dance troop. We get a candid view into their lives and what drives their passion for dance. Noé shows the naivety of his cast before we enter the pressure cooker of the dance hall. Once the usual closing credits happen at the beginning, the true story starts to unfold. The opening dance sequence is electrifying and full of raw kinetic energy. You have succumbed to the euphoria of Noé, the camera becomes another dancer in the troop. We are witnessing the synchronicity and passion for the art of dance. You suffer from a slight come-down after the initial performance, but the depravity and relaxed inhibitions of the dancers start to flow out. There is no real script to Climax it is largely improvised, we delve into the sexual depravity of the dancers. These conversations are not for the faint of heart. You start to see where Noé is going with Climax or do we?
Once the LSD soaked sangria kicks in Noé begins his wizardry behind the lens. Distortion and blurriness are subtly put into frame. You can feel the sweat pouring through the walls. The music intensifies and the dance becomes a lot more aggressive. We have now entered the hellish nightmare we were expecting from the get go. It isn’t the drug trip we witnessed in Enter The Void either. Once the LSD has kicked in, you only see the reactions to their hallucinations. Gaspar Noé challenges you to think what is actually going on? The usual camera trickery now ensues, a classic Noé move. The journey warps your senses and you don’t always know what is going on. The crucial element in sustaining the tension is the killer soundtrack. It really is the beating heart of Climax (Vinyl has been pre-ordered all ready). After the explosion of this pressure cooker of a situation, the story goes no holds barred with scenarios of extreme violence, incest and self harm. Noé doesn’t create an in your face scenario in this instants, it is rather out of character for him.
Sofia Boutella has shed away the action star. Her raw and un-tameable energy is addictive. She flows so powerfully through Climax and you can feel her passion for dance. The casting of the dancers is a master stroke. They all bring a different element to the piece and the diversity of characters gives it great balance. Our inner darkest ideas and nightmares flow through Climax like a virus. You are tested from the get go and Climax is a true cinematic challenge. It is a true testament of youth and the ever flowing challenge of perfecting your artistry. Gaspar Noé’s Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.
The Little Stranger ★★★★
Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to.
Released: 21st September 2018
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill
Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland
Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to. At the helm is Room Director Lenny Abrahamson, with an impressive cast including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.
Set shortly after the second world war, Doctor Faraday (Gleeson) introduces us to the faded grandeur of Hundreds Hall, a place he envied feverishly as a child. Having belonged to the Ayres family for several generations, the house is now inhabited by just Mrs Ayres (Rampling) and her two adult children, Roderick (Will Poulter) and Caroline (Wilson). When Faraday is called to the house to visit the unwell young housemaid Betty, he recollects his childhood adulation of the place. Remembering the presence of a young girl, he is told that this was Mrs Ayres first daughter, Susan, who had died as a child. It seems the spectre of Susan (affectionately known as Suki) still lays heavily over the house, as housemaid Betty tells Faraday she fears something ‘isn’t right’. As he becomes more entwined with the family and their home, strange events begin to raise concerns and individually threaten members of the family.
From the very outset, the film breeds an unsettling feeling, the house is imposing with long shots conveying the sense that the characters are being observed. The audience follows Faraday in to this fading world of status and money, sensing his childhood desire and starched formality. The family are equally intriguing and unnerving. Roderick, badly injured during the war, is now an invalid struggling to cope and disturbed by the sense that something in the house does not want him there. Matriarch Mrs Ayres seems to be doing her best to keep the past alive and daughter Caroline (the best of the bunch as attested to by a fellow doctor) seems strong yet vulnerable. When Faraday begins an intriguing friendship with Caroline, their relationship evolves to hinge the entire ethereal story together. With fantastic performances all round, the characters all emerge fully formed, conveying depth without the need for swathes of expository back story.
The terror of the film gradually reveals itself, impacting in set scenes that are truly disturbing and realistic. Director Abrahamson has a subtle touch (as seen in the Oscar Nominated Room) and these climactic scenes engulf you, whilst revealing the fate of certain characters. Abrahamson knows how to accentuate the fear for the audience and uses restraint to devastating effect. As the house leaks secrets and the memory of the deceased Susan comes to the forefront, the story is told with an intensity that uses strikingly rich music and extreme close ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. However, to reveal too much of the story here, would spoil the experience of discovering for yourself what is happening at Hundreds Hall.
The Little Stranger is a mature and nuanced film, layered in such a way that it address status and class alongside desire and emotion. The period setting is detailed and worn, bridging the gap between transitioning eras in Britain. This is no straightforward horror or ghost story and the film certainly feels to have done justice to its excellent source material. Rich in theme, characters and style, I would gladly take The Little Stranger home.
Released: 19th October 2018
Directed By: Matteo Garrone
Starring: Marcello Fonte
Reviewed By: Rhys Handley
Dogman is the anti-Paddington. Antithetical to the marmalade-loving bear’s enduring mantra – “if we are kind and polite, the world will be right” – dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) carves out a life in the dilapidated outskirts of Rome modestly tending to his estate’s canine residents and enjoying the respect of his neighbours.
But Marcello’s submissive, accommodating kindness is pushed closer and closer to its limit by the hulking Simone (a terrifying Edoardo Pesce, surely masked in near-mutant prosthetic), a brutish ex-boxer who stalks the estate terrorising the residents. Unable to say no to a friend, Marcello facilitates Simone’s egregious coke habit to little recompense.
When Simone’s scheme to rob a nearby jeweller’s implicates Marcello and he is apprehended by the police, the Dogman takes the fall himself and goes inside for a year for the sake of the bully who pretends to be his friend. When he comes out, something has changed.
Marcello, diminutive and always sporting a toothy grin, strikes an unimpressive, but likeable figure. He is perfectly happy with his lot as the film opens – a divorced father who takes pride in his work and loves trips to the beach with his daughter. While director Matteo Garrone makes a meal of the grim, filthy aesthetic of the film’s setting, he peppers in moments of levity and blissful tranquility to reinforce the humble satisfaction of Marcello’s daily life.
To see him repeatedly indulge the cruel, selfish whims of Simone quickly becomes a source of frustration, as the brute encourages vices in Marcello that seems entirely at odds with his persona. Marcello is swept away on break-ins and hedonistic strip club nights in jarring scenes more in keeping with Garrone’s work in the gangster canon such as 2008’s Gomorrah.
In these scenes, the toxicity fuelling Marcello reveals itself. Fonte delicately skews the kindly facade when Marcello enters Simone’s world. Behind his courteous smile is a sickening glimmer of delight – Marcello loves the thrill and decadence of life of crime. His latent desires mix with his better nature, to create something more insidious than Simone’s overt depravity.
Dogman stumbles in its closing chapter as Marcello is released from prison, returning to a community who despises him for violating their trust and chasing Simone’s false offers of brotherhood and fortune. Marcello reemerges not exactly changed, but more honest to himself about what he is. Garrone and his co-writers steer this portion of the story with a steady hand, but it is hard to shake comparisons to other established squares-gone-rogue like Walter White.
Marcello’s resolve and vengefulness is convincing thanks to Fonte, but its emergence is sudden and teeters dangerously close to cliche. His push and pull with Simone is rote, which makes its languid pace a little irritating – this has suddenly become a very different film, and it can’t carry the slower moments of contemplation as well as it could before Marcello was locked up.
An inevitable confrontation takes place, bursting with brutality and gore. But rather than a release of tension, it feels like a betrayal of the thoughtful, measured character piece Garrone set up. The violence overreaches for shock value where Garrone had before been satisfied with something more pensive and empathetic.
Luckily, he pulls back in the final moments of the film and dovetails elegantly by concluding what is essentially his thesis on ‘little guy’ psychology. He frames Marcello not as a good man pushed too far, but as someone whose better and worse natures are intrinsically tangled to create a monster very different to the bully who ultimately leads him to snap.
No matter how kind and polite the Dogman might try to be, he cannot deny the malice that festers in his heart – and Garrone artfully distills Marcello’s melancholic final moment of self-realisation in a resonant closing shot that gracefully irons out the kinks in this curious, inconsistent little film.
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