Film review – Red (2010)

20 October 2010
Red: Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and Sarah Roses (Mary-Louise Parker)

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and Sarah Roses (Mary-Louise Parker)

While Kick-Ass asked what if teenagers and tweens acted like superheros, Red asks what happens to elite CIA black-op agents after they retire. In the case of Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) it is to live a simple life of routine that involves finding excuses to phone pension office worker Sarah Roses (Mary-Louise Parker). When Frank is attacked by a hit squad he is forced to take Sarah and himself into hiding and then track down his former team members to fight back and figure out what is going on.

Based on a short DC comic miniseries written by Warren Ellis, Red is a fun blend of action and comedy. It establishes early that the action is going to be slightly over-the-top, finding a comfortable middle ground between realism and completely ludicrous. Most importantly is that the action is not one constant blur of rapidly edited set pieces but consists of scenes that are strategically peppered throughout the film. The action is frequently very inventive with something different happening in every sequence, ensuring that the film never succumbs to the sensation of it all feeling a bit same-old.

Red: Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren)

Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren)

The performances are great with John Malkovich in particular having a marvellous time as the group’s more paranoid and crazy member. It is also very cool seeing Helen Mirren packing some serious firepower, and Morgan Freeman and Brian Cox are also good as the other retirees with attitude. However, the real standout is Mary-Louise Parker who steals every scene she is in and even out-charms Bruce Willis. Parker has marvellous comedic timing and is by far the ingredient that really makes Red as fun as it is.

Unfortunately, Red does drag in the final act. The action stops being as fresh and Parker’s character is pushed to the side too much. Also, despite the early promise of something a little more darkly funny and edgy, Red gets surprisingly tame. A lot of scenes of mass carnage and gunfire result in no causalities as the film becomes overly concerned with making sure none of the innocents get caught in the crossfire, despite the extent that this distractingly threatens suspension of disbelief. The final act is not terrible; it just doesn’t live up to the promise of the first two acts. While not in the same league as Kick-Ass or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Red is still overall a playful and highly entertaining action/comedy.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – Invictus (2009)

23 January 2010
Invictus: Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman)

Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman)

William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus”, written in 1875, is said to have been a powerful source of inspiration for Nelson Mandela during the 27 years he was kept a prisoner in Apartheid South Africa. Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and four years later became South Africa’s president after helping to end Apartheid and introduce democratic elections. Director Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus portrays Mandela as a man of great intelligence, compassion and fairness. Mandela was all too aware that great tensions still existed in South Africa and that the only way for his nation to heal was through forgiveness but also for the people to develop a sense of unity. Mandela seized upon the opportunity provided by South Africa hosting the 1995 Rugby World Cup to make the national South African rugby team, the Springboks, a source of inspiration for all South Africans, black and white. Invictus portrays the PR campaign and series of rugby matches that resulted.

Adapted from the book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, by journalist John Carlin, Invictus is an examination of the relationship between sport and politics. Invictus never gets too much deeper than establishing this connection in its precise historical context but it does convincingly demonstrate the incredible importance and significance a sports game can have to a nation. During the scenes depicting the cup you very quickly find yourself cheering on the Springbok’s knowing how profound the outcome of the matches will be.

François Pienaar (Matt Damon)

Working with Eastwood for the third time after Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, Morgan Freeman gives one of his best performances to date as Nelson Mandela. Freeman beautifully captures Mandela’s charisma, confidence and genuine enthusiasm for both rugby and reconciliation. Matt Damon is also convincing as the South African sporting hero François Pienaar the Springbok team captain. However, many of the best moments in Invictus occur during the scenes depicting Mandela’s security team who are a combination of Mandela’s personal guards and ex-Apartheid Special Branch men. The initially tense dynamic between the security men functions as a microcosm for black and white relations within South Africa, creating an enjoyable subplot throughout the film.

Invictus begins as a political biopic, ends as a sports film and is entertaining throughout.  Eastwood is one of the most reliable and assured directors working today and like most of his films Invictus combines his disciplined approach to filmmaking with his calm desire to not rush proceedings in order to allow the story to leisurely unfold. There is nothing particularly remarkable about Invictus but it suitably delivers plenty of emotive moments that are hard to not be swept away by and the final rugby game is suitably exhilarating.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – Lucky Number Slevin (aka The Wrong Man) (2006)

7 August 2006

Director Paul McGuigan’s best film to date is still the English gangster film Gangster No. 1 from 2000. However, the major problem with Gangster No. 1 is the same problem that plagues McGuigan’s latest effort Lucky Number Slevin. Both films suffer from a very weak final third act but while Gangster No. 1 was salvageable, the direction that Lucky Number Slevin takes completely ruins what initially promises to be a good film.

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