Never have a week’s releases been so dependent on subjective reaction. In Be With Me the Singaporean director Eric Khoo rings variations on the theme of loneliness and love, and you will find the result either rambling or beautifully paced, tedious or moving.
Khoo’s non-professional cast perfectly embodies his loners: an old shopkeeper shattered by the death of his wife, two teenage girls finding love via the net then parting, a sweet-natured security guard, bullied at work and home, who lives for food and inarticulately worships a female colleague from afar.
The real character of Theresa Chan, blind and deaf since childhood but leading a fulfilled life that includes teaching, slightly throws the film off balance, but the contrast between timeless values and westernised Singapore, modern, ruthless, largely Anglophone, makes for a fascinating study. Sober rhythms and understatement work here as they do not in some of the week’s other offerings.
Compare and contrast the first features from two women directors. One brought Hollywood emphases even to her award-
winner about a miners’ strike 30 years ago; the other was described in terms of “socialist realist film poetry” by The Guardian. Gentle reader, guess which is the more entertaining. Barbara Kopple, director of the 1976 Harlan County, USA, abandons industrial conflict for a look at privileged Los Angeles kids playing rough for kicks and
getting more than they bargained for among pushers and pimps on the wild side. Havoc is acted with cool intelligence by Anne Hathaway (too much so – would she have got into this mess?), backed by horribly convincing brattishness from Bijou Phillips as her sidekick (and a hilarious, OTT Joseph Gordon-Levitt, sending up the cool, would-be tough high-school dudes who fall so thuddingly to his lot). Ultimately it’s too glossy to plumb sociological depths, perhaps too short to let us get to know its characters.
On the other hand, Andrea Arnold’s Red Road is at least 20 minutes too long and too reliant on us retaining interest in the characters until the end – always a risk when a movie plays mysterious and holds everything back for a last-minute revelation. It’s the first of three projected films set in Glasgow, all using the same characters. Here the protagonist is Jackie (the excellent Kate Dickie), a CCTV operator who watches a bank of monitors recording the apparent urban hell of the city (which was unknown to the director when she decided to set the story there). Jackie spots a man from her past, just out of jail, and becomes obsessed by him. She follows him, strikes up an acquaintance, indulges in graphic sex and exacts revenge for an old wrong.
As a thriller it begins well, as a character-study it cunningly avoids black and white, but its Dogme-inspired values result in a monotony of pace and light. The titanic tower-blocks of Red Road itself, an real area in blighted Glasgow (is there any other sort, according to this film?), mottled with angry, red-brick stripes like weals, provide the most striking image. I wish I could like this formulaic, self-conscious winner of the Cannes Jury Prize more.
All the King’s Men is based on Robert Penn Warren’s novel, a fictionalised account of the rise and fall of the demagogue governor of Louisiana, Huey Long, assassinated in 1935 after his radical social reforms had become sullied by corruption. The writer-director Steven Zaillian’s updating to the 1950s falls between all stools, neither the Depression-era original nor relevant modernity, leaving too much unmentioned: the war, Korea, McCarthyism. Early sequences depicting the emergence of a populist monster recall Elia Kazan’s underrated A Face in the Crowd, but the film flounders when it leaves politics for baroque emotional complications. The result is a sleek family saga one would welcome on the small screen, where Jude Law’s understated performance would emerge as the gem it is and the usually intelligent Kate Winslet’s autopilot avoidance of deep feeling as less of a cop-out. Sean Penn provides gesticulation and roaring, even a song written by the real Huey Long, in the school-of-imitation style of
Max Skinner, protagonist of A Good Year, reads the Financial Times. Described as “one of the ballsiest traders on the Square Mile”, he greets his colleagues with a cry of “It’s greedy bastard day!” How typical Max is of our esteemed readers is hard to tell;
I suspect most of them shave more often, but he’s incarnated by Russell Crowe, so who’s
Not the director Ridley Scott, who meets his Gladiator star again in a Peter Mayle adaptation set in – surprise! – Provence. The ballsy trader is left a château and vineyard by his uncle (Albert Finney, seen in flashback with Freddie Highmore from Neverland as the infant Max). He quaffs, laughs and commits gaffes. Exasperated suspicion of quaint but cunning locals yields to the joys of France, here epitomised by a cleaning lady who hums Offenbach and pinches his bottom, and a restaurant owner (the beautiful Marion Cotillard) who teaches him such phrases as “mes lèvres sont roses” (to which my neighbour, tormented beyond endurance, murmured in strangled tones, “Ce film est très long”). All very glossy.
Unlike Snuff Movie, a shocker within a shocker, with twists in its tail visible a mile off. Mad director films hopeful young actors in isolated house. Guess what happens. This corn is directed by Bernard Rose, whose Candy Man was a genuinely haunting study of creepy urban myth. How are the mighty fallen.
And unlike Step Up, which charts the meeting of boy from the wrong side of the tracks with hip-hop break-dancing routine and aspirant ballerina from comfortable background who’s trying to put on a show. Guess what happens. Go on – try.