GONE BABY GONE * * * *
Cert 15 114 mins
Having been a critic’s whipping boy for most of the current century, castigated for the likes of Pearl Harbor, mocked in the tabloids over the 'Bennifer' saga, panned when he delivered decent performances in underrated films such as Daredevil, Changing Lanes and Jersey Girl and only grudgingly acknowledged for his performance in Hollywoodland, Ben Affleck has taken it all on the chin with good grace and humour.
So, he fully deserves now to bask in the fulsome praise being accorded his directorial debut and first screenplay since the Oscar winning Good Will Hunting. Adapted from a novel by Mystic River author, it too involves a missing child which, given coincidental similarities to the Maddy McCann case meant the film’s UK release was been considerably delayed out of respect.
Fresh from his Oscar nominated performance in The Assassination of Jesse James, brother Casey delivers yet another electrifying performance as baby faced private eye Patrick Kenzie who, partnered by girlfriend Angie (Michelle Monaghan), works as a small time skip chaser from their working class Boston neighbourhood apartment. An area where both Afflecks grew up and know well.
When four-year-old goes Amanda goes missing and, after three days, the police have no leads and her negligent junkie mother Helene (Amy Ryan) seems reluctant to push things, the couple are approached by her frantic aunt Beatrice (Amy Madigan) and uncle Lionel (Titus Welliver) who want them to use their contacts with the sort of people who wouldn’t talk to the cops to help with the search. Angie’s reluctant, wary of the possible outcome, but Kenzie, who feels a fierce commitment to the community, eventually agrees.
Capt Doyle (Morgan Freeman), who heads up the force’s Child Crimes Against Children unit. hooks them up with his two investigating detectives, Poole (John Ashton) and the Louisiana born Broussard (Ed Harris).
Some early poking around throws up a link between Helene, her low rent boyfriend, a local Cuban dealer and some missing drugs money and it seems that the case has been cracked. And not with a happy ending for many of those involved.
However, this proves to be just the beginning of a very complex, slow burning narrative where what you see isn’t necessarily what you get, where characters and motives have many hidden layers and the plot’s twists and turns pull you further into what becomes a deeply thought provoking moral and ethical dilemma about what happens when the right thing to do isn’t necessarily for the best.
Capturing the mood, characters and dialect of the tough neighbourhood to atmospheric effect, the performances are terrific throughout, Ryan especially good as the mother whose actions never match her professed maternal intentions while Harris delivers an intense turn as a cop with more than one secret and a big chip on his shoulder.
So well scripted and with a paedophile subplot that entwines around the main story, it’s almost impossible to second guess where it’s going or the complicity of those involved but also forces you to ask what you’d do if faced with the same situation that confronts that deeply Catholic Kenzie in the stunning final scenes. With an ending that balances on the edge of an abyss, this squeezes the heart and mind in a way few other films this year can match.
MONGOL * * *
Cert 15 125 mins Subtitled
Not only did Russia win Eurovision, they also secured an inexplicable Best Foreign Language Oscar nomination for director Sergei Bodrov’s epic biopic of the early years of Genghis Khan. Not that it’s a bad film, but it’s certainly inferior to Persepolis, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days and The Orphanage, none of which got a look in.
The story begins in 1162 as nine-year-old Temudjin (Odnyam Odsuren) is taken off by dad, his tribe’s khan, to pick himself a bride from among the Merkits.
It’s supposed to be a peace offering for his father stealing one of their wives for himself some years earlier. Unfortunately, along the way they spend the night with another clan where the boy claps eyes on the feisty Borte (Bayartsetseg Erdenebat) and decides she’s the 10-year-old of his dreams.
Dad goes along with the arrangement and a deal’s sealed that the pair will get wed in five years time. However, returning home his father’s poisoned and treacherous follower Targutai usurps the lad’s right to become the new khan. Since tribal law forbids killing children, he keeps him captive instead, waiting until he’s old enough to be disposed of.
Temudjin escapes, is befriended by a young prince from another tribe, is recaptured, escapes, is recaptured and (by now we’re in 1186 and Tadanobu Asano’s taken over the role), escapes again, finally getting to marry Borte (Khulan Chuluun) her only to be wounded on their way back home and for her to be taken captive by his dad’s Merkit rival.
As you can probably tell by now, the plot’s rather prone to repetition.
And so it goes, with yet more rescues, escapes, recaptures, imprisonments, some years in slavery and yet another escape, by which time he’s got a couple of kids, neither of which he’s actually fathered.
He’s also fallen out with his former blood brother Jamukha, whose help he enlisted to rescue Borte from the Merkits only for some of his followers to accidentally kill his brother which, to satisfy honour, leads his old friend into a reluctant alliance with (keep up here) Targatui.
You can’t say there’s not a lot going on, but so little of it unfolds at anything resembling a pace that it’s sometimes hard to stay awake. But don’t worry if you rouse and think you’ve missed a chunk of narrative. The screenplay sometimes takes such huge unexplained leaps it’s as if the film was edited by a combine harvester.
It is, though, lovely to look at and, although there’s barely any of them, the battle scenes are well handled with plenty of sword slicing action and flying blood. But, essentially, it’s a love story about two people who almost never seem to be together but remain utterly devoted. As such, and with sturdy performances from the pair, the film does entertain.
But after two hours Temudjin’s only just united the Mongols and become the great Khan. There’s a whole ancient world still left to conquer for the sequel.
JOY DIVISION * * *
Cert 15 100 mins
A useful companion piece to Anton Corbijn’s biopic, Control, this is Grant Gee’s documentary about the influential late 70s Manchester outfit and doomed singer Ian Curtis.
Written by famed music journo Jon Savage, it traces their career from the formation after seeing a Pistols gig in 76 to Curtis’ suicide in 1980 following depression caused by drugs taken to control his epilepsy.
There’s not a huge amount that won’t already be familiar to fans and Gee does tend to employ a lot of arty editing and stylised visuals to keep the attention from wandering or asking why, while his mistress Annik Honore talks on camera, Curtis’ widow Debbie is only represented by quotes from her biography.
The official story is she was tied up with Control, but somehow that doesn’t sound too convincing. Nor do Gee’s pretentious tenuous attempts to sell the film as the story of Manchester’s rehabilitation from industrial gloom as well as that of the band.
However, there is some fabulous archive footage of the band playing live or in rehearsal, not to mention an amusing audio clip of the moment when Peel played their record at the wrong speed. To his credit, Gee also affords producer Martin Hannett his often neglected due in creating the band’s doomy gothic sound.
Many of the interviews are quite fascinating too. Graphic artist Peter Saville recalls how he’d never heard the music when he designed the Unknown Pleasures sleeve and talks about choosing an image of a tomb for what would be the sleeve image to Closer.
But it’s the three surviving members, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and Peter Hook, whose candid reminiscences make it most worthwhile, recalling how Curtis was bluntly snubbed by his idol William Burroughs when he asked for an autograph or painfully talking about how they ignored the signs that led to his suicide.
Perhaps the moment that sticks most is Hook recalling how, when he took the call informing him of Ian’s death, was in such shock he simply put the phone down and went back to finish his dinner, adding that the fact he never went to pay his last respects has haunted him ever since. But the film comes not to mourn, but to celebrate, and as such it does its job with a passion you can’t deny.
SUPERHERO MOVIE * *
Cert 12A 86 mins
Director Craig Mazin peaked early. His debut feature was Specials, an underrated, little seen but smart and sharply funny mockumentary about a bunch of inept superheroes who, played by a cast that included Rob Lowe, Thomas Haden Church and Judy Greer, had hang-ups, insecurities and neuroses like everyone else. Tellingly though, he didn’t write the screenplay.
What he did go on to write was the aptly titled puerile Senseless with Marlon Wayans as a guy gaining super senses and the side effects and, oh dear, Scary Movie 3 and 4. He’s now both written, produced and directed this which, as you might guess from the title, is a parody of the superhero genre.
With school nerd Rick Riker (Drake Bell) acquiring his powers after being bitten by a mutated dragonfly, the basic template is clearly Spider-Man.
So, here’s Sara Paxton in the Kirsten Dunst girl next door role as Jill Johnson, spoof veteran without shame Leslie Nielsen as Uncle Albert, Marion Ross as the aunt and Christopher McDonald hamming it up as the villain who needs to leach the lives of others to maintain his own.
Signature scenes from Sam Raimi’s movie are turned on their head while Mazin also shoehorns in send-ups of X-Men, Batman, Superman and, with Pamela Anderson as an unlikely Invisible Girl, Fantastic Four.
Some is quite clever (Mazin, for example, references the comic’s early feuds between Spidey and the Human Torch), but very little of it is anything like funny. Bell simply doesn’t have the presence or comedic skills to bring his character alive and simply ends up looking like an indifferent actor whose trousers keep falling down.
It’s lazy, juvenile, packed with the obligatory scatological gags and includes a profoundly tasteless running joke at the expense of Stephen Hawking. But, after the staggeringly dreadful Meet The Spartans, it’s a comedy classic in comparison and, if nothing else, Miles Fisher’s spot on impersonation of Tom Cruise doing Oprah has to be worth the ticket.
UN SECRET * * *
Cert 12A 100 mins. Subtitled
Guilt and shame about the fates of Jewish families in occupied France provides the weighty subject matter for the latest by veteran director Claude Miller in a study of guilt and forgiveness that (adapted from Philippe Grimbert’s autobiographical novel) switches between 1985 and 1955 but has its dramatic revelations rooted in events of the mid-40s.
Filmed in both monochrome and colour, it stars Mathieu Almaric as Francois who, born Jewish but raised a Catholic has always felt himself a disappointment to his distant parents, once champion swimmer mother (Cecile de France) and demanding athlete father (Patrick Bruel).
Told dad’s gone walkabout following his dog’s death, Almaric flashes back to his childhood, both as a sickly timid boy (Valentin Vigourt) with a fearless imaginary brother and as the adolescent (Quentin Dubuis) who, on his 15th birthday, learns a terrible secret from parents’ friend Julie Depardieu about his family, his father’s previous wife (Ludivine Sagnier), an adulterous affair, the stuffed toy dog in the attic, and the Holocaust.
Keeping Nazism as a background spectre, it unfolds at a slow, fitful pace to build to its emotionally devastating but ultimately cathartic revelations as Francois comes to terms with himself and the shadows of a past that was never the idyll he fantasised.