The Impossible – Review

the-impossible06

The Impossible (2012) rating 6.0/10

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Starring Naomi WattsEwan McGregorTom Holland.

The Impossible tells the true story of an American family (mother, father and three kids) caught up in the terrible Tsunami that in 2004 claimed the lives of an estimated 250000 people, residents and tourists alike, across 14 countries in South-East Asia: is was one of the largest natural disaster ever witnessed in human memory.

Of course the idea of using (or exploiting ssomebody may say) real-life horrors, natural (and non-natural) disasters and human tragedies to tell a story is at least as old as cinema itself. I could quote hundreds of movies that did it, some more successful than others… And if Titanic and its $1.8 billion at the box office on its release, is to be taken as proof, there is clearly an appetite for this kind of stuff. Whether it’s the holocaust, slavery, wars, shootings in schools, terrorist attacks: nothing seems to be sacred these days in Hollywood. No tragedy is off-limits anymore, not even a recent one like this. “United 93”  did it for the terrorist attack to America only 5 years after the event. Raise your hand if you thought it was a good idea at the time…. And yet, surprisingly, it ended up being a fairly balanced film, incredibly powerful and on the whole quite an accomplished success. I’m not sure whether anyone actually needed it, but hey… that’s the subject for another discussion.

To cut to the chase, I don’t necessarily argue against the actual idea of telling such stories. After all, isn’t that what every single war movie does? Sometimes it can work. It can raise awareness for a certain tragedy or even serve as a tribute or a simple educational tool, it can give us a different prospective to a known event or it can help us to remember such a tragedy, never forget what our ancestors had to go through. Even seemingly simplistic films like Titanic, once again, beyond the silly love story, can be seen as a look into social classes at the beginning of 1900s.

Sadly “The Impossible” not only does none of that, but also has absolutely nothing to say. It exploits the tragedy to tell us an unbalanced and slightly distorted view of what actually happened in Thailand in 2004 following an American family who just happen to survive against all the odds: you may ask yourself “what’s the point?”. Well, there isn’t one… or if there is it’s probably “life is about luck… and whether you have a medical insurance or not”. Never mind the  insane amount of people who died, most of which locals anyway (which in this film are largely ignored), never mind the ecological and economic impact of such tragedy: as long as the loving American family can reunite itself once again we are all happy. An absolute travesty, if you ask me. Simplistic, cheap, superficial, with an underlying uneasy complacency, and some troubling sentimentality throughout(including an over-played soundtrack, with twinkling piano and soaring strings).

And apparently the horrors of the real events were not enough for the film-makers so they even decided to add a series of manipulative clichés to enhance the drama (slow-motion – sound drops, and an incredibly misjudged sequence, which should really belong to a Black Edwards comedy, where father and son keep on missing each other among the multitude of people in a hospital).

It doesn’t matter whether the story is true of not, this is just not the way it should have been told.

It is a great shame because aside from that, the film technically is really impressive: the actual scene where the Tsunami hits the cost is truly terrifying and what I assume must be CGI is seamless (beating the one in Clint Eastwood’s dog of a film Hereafter) If you can somehow switch your brain off (a next-to-impossible task) and take this as just another  silly disaster movie, a sort of Towering Inferno, or Dante’s peak, there is no denying that the film is quite gripping and emotionally draining. I just wish it could have been a lot more than that.

I long for the day Naomi Watts will finally choose a film which will give her a well deserved Oscar… Sadly this is not such film. Ewan McGregor once again confirms himself as a great charismatic leading actor and his absorbing performance is nothing short of perfect. And finally the little Tom Holland, whose name is deservedly bantered about these days within several industry magazines and papers next to those 3 words “For Your Consideration”. He’s really very good, bringing to the role the fragility of a kid of that age, the strength of a teenager but also depth and emotions reminiscent of some of the best child actors in movies. I can’t wait to see him in something not just half decent.

Their impressive performances ultimately lift the film and give it enough depth and gravitas to avoid being a complete failure and just an insult to so many of the real victims.

6.0/10 

J. Edgar – Review

J. Edgar (2011) 

Directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Dustin Lance Black. Cast: Leonardo DiCaprioJosh HamiltonGeoff PiersonNaomi WattsJudi DenchJeffrey DonovanDermot Mulroney

I am finding really hard to find something good to say about this latest dull dull dull film by Clint Eastwood. I am actually even beginning to think that it’s probably time for Clint to enjoy his retirement, instead of giving us every year a film which borders between the cheesy, the flat and most crucially the rhetorical propaganda! I am sorry to say this, because I love the guy as a person, but let’s face it, both Invictus  and (especially) Hereafter were real stinkers

As far as J. Edgar is concerned behind the thin patina of gloss, the actual true fascinating story and an impressive cast, there is otherwise very little to enjoy.

Eastwood directs it all almost by numbers, as if he wasn’t even there, without any visual flair, any care or attention for details, any subtlety, or  worse any real ideas or anything to say.

Every decision behind the making of this film seems to have been wrong one: the decision to break the film up, flashing backwards and forwards makes it too complicated to follow and keeps the audience emotionally detached for at least the whole first half. The decision to allow Eastwood to recycle his usual plain piano notes soundtrack, which sounds exactly the same as every other one of his films and actually here is used in the most cheesy possible way to its worse effect. The decision to have J Edgar Hoover telling the story of his life to a biographer (my God, can it all be a bit more obvious please!?), but most crucially, the decision to have Di Caprio & Co acting with (not very good) prosthetics for half of the film thus forcing the audience to get constantly distracted by the bad hair lines, the dodgy fake wrinkles and the rubbery feel on people’s faces. I must have spent half of the film looking at the make-up thinking “God, this is bad” and even when sometimes I though “mmm, this is a bit better…” I was always aware of it. Even when you look at the publicity stills from the movie (the picture above this review) you can see tell how fake the hairline is. In an age of seamless CGI (look at the ageing effects of Benjamin Button!!) I am surprise to see such shoddy  work (hopefully it’ll look alright on DVD, but on the big screen I saw this, digitally projected, it all looked incredibly ropey).

I am usually a huge fan of Di Caprio: I loved him since  “A Boy’s life” when he upstaged even Robert DeNiro (in a time where DeNiro was actually still good), he was absolutely amazing in “What’s Eating Gilberg Grape” (to this day one of my favourite films), I thought he was one of the most mesmerizing Romeo in  Baz Lurhman’s “Romeo + Juliet“, I even liked him in Titanic (in fact, I think, special effects aside, some of the success of that film was because of his ability to draw us in.. and to draw millions of little girls back to see the film over and over again). He was great in the Aviator, the Departed and he even managed to bypass the fact that he had a baby-face in both Catch me if you Can and Revolutionary Road, just because he was so good in both! But on “J.Edgar” Di Caprio is forced to spend half of the film covered in that damn thick prosthetics which prevents him to convey any real emotion to his character. I felt like I was always watching Di Caprio in a fat-suit as opposed to J.Edgar.

To be completely honest, it’s not all his fault. Eastwood ‘s direction jumps from scene to scene, sometimes quite randomly, trying to cover as much ground as possible from the undoubtedly intriguing real life. There are way too many characters, too many story lines, most of which are left hanging without a real sense of place and eventually the emotional focus of the film gets diluted and any understanding of his character gets lost.

There are some potentially very strong moments: for example the relationship between J.Edgar and his domineering mother (the always very watchable Judi Dench) and the sexual tension between Di Caprio and Armie Hammer, are both potentially very strong, however in the hands of Eastwood they all fall into schmaltzy and clichés as those cheesy piano notes tell us “a now, watch out… this is going to be emotional”. It’s all handled so badly that it even kills a potentially good performance like the one by Di Caprio.

The rest is just a hollow mess where characters come and go without leaving any real mark: we never really know why Naomi Watts‘s character decides to stick with J. Edgar right until the end, we never really get a grip on the procedures that made finger prints database possible, we never really get a sense of what could have happen if the real J.Edgar had been exposed and while all sorts of lawyers and politicians appear and disappear in a seemingly random succession we are getting more and more lost in irrelevant subplots.

It could have been a fascinating story: a closeted gay, the first director of FBI, a man who lived through presidents like Truman, Kennedy and Nixon. There could have been so much here and yet it’s all wasted in bad storytelling, staging and wrong choices at every turn.

I blame the direction, the script (surprisingly the same person who had penned the quite gentle and a lot more subtle Milk),but also the editing: obviously a lot has been cut out trying to condense 50 years into 137 minutes. But instead of loosing entire subplots and deciding to make it all more focused, somebody made a terrible decision to actually have it all in. The first 20/30 minutes are some of the most disjointed and messy I’ve seen in any film recently.

It would probably deceiver even less than a 5/10 rating, but some of central performances are quite good, despite everything else around them.

5/10

Fair Game – Review

Fair Game (2010) 

Directed by Doug Liman. Starring Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Anand Tiwari, Michael Kelly, Ty Burrell

Fair Game was the only American film in competition at the Cannes Festival in 2010, and given its political message it comes to no surprise at all that it was selected by the French.

Based on the 2 memoirs by former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn) and Valerie Plame Wilson (Watts), a CIA agent outed by White House officials, the movie tells how the couple were betrayed by the Bush administration and attacked by the media after Mr Wilson decided to publish an article on the New York Times called “What I didn’t find in Africa“.

In the article basically Mr Wilson accuses the White House of misrepresenting him and saying that he had found evidence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction in order to sell the case for the imminent invasion of Iraq.

Fair Game is really split into two parts: the more urgent political thriller, as the pair undertake their respective fact-finding missions (obviously taken from his version of events), and the more emotional domestic suburban drama, charting the couple’s breakdown as their findings are manipulated by the White House (which must come from her memoirs).

Penn and Watts have already worked together twice before (21 Grams and The Assassination of Richard Nixon), and whenever together  in this film, they convincingly managed to convey the intimacy of a real marriage in danger of being destroyed by the constant assaults by reporters and the media in general, the sense of dread given by the death threats and arrogance of the power above them.

Naomi Watts is pretty much perfect as the tightly controlled woman who’s been training for a whole life to  be secretive , and control her own emotions (“I don’t have a breaking point” she says at one point in the film).

Sean Penn, was born to play the role of Joe, the liberally opinionated fighter who’s running against the whole system. He’s basically playing himself and he’s clearly enjoying himself quite a lot (and he’s very good at it too!).

The contrast between the two of them makes a dynamic combination. I just wish there was a little bit more of that in the film.

Unfortunately by trying to stick to the facts (which in a film like this I guess is the safer option), the director Doug Liman (from the first Bourn Identity) give the film a rather slow pace which works against the tension the film is trying to create and eventually its dramatic impact is diminished.

The breaking of marriage happens mostly too  quickly and off-screen and when the final confrontation comes, because we haven’t been so much invested in the relationship we get the feeling that it could have gone either way.

Also, it takes forever to actually get there and the film fells generally a bit too slow for what it’s trying to do. All the President’s Men it ain’t!

On the plus side, the sense of the real story really comes through and by the end of it, somehow you’re just left with a feeling that you’ve been watching a documentary (obviously helped by the very last appearance of some real footage) and you come out of it even more pissed off at the Bush Administration than you’ve ever been.

7/10

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