11:35 a.m. 25 August 2022
The Forgiven (15)
Confession. I watched this under a wonderful misunderstanding of McDonagh, thinking it was the work of younger brother and playwright Martin who made In Bruges and Three Billboards, rather than older brother, JMM, who made The Guard and Calvary.
Martin blames me because I still wonder how I got to write a 5 star review for Three Billboards. JMM had enough credit in the register of those first two films, however, that forgiveness was not remotely an issue, even if his previous film War On Everyone, a nihilistic parody of buddy movies, was excruciating. That remains the case with this latest failed effort, a sort of Tui package holiday version of The Sheltering Sky.
Adapted from a novel by Lawrence Osborne, it is a drama about the clash of civilizations set in the Moroccan Sahara. Fiennes and Chastain are a bickering couple on their way to a weekend party at the couple’s secluded castle Jones and Smith. (Oh Matt, I’m afraid my favorite doctor will become the big screen Jonah.)
On the road through the desert at night, Fiennes strikes and kills a young Arab boy. After the boy’s father arrives to retrieve the body, he is forced to leave and make amends. Meanwhile, his wife and the rest of the guests are drinking, sniffing, frolicking, enjoying the lavish hospitality they have been given, and largely forgetting about Fiennes and his fate. The local staff look at them with a mixture of disgust and indifference.
Fiennes is splendid and dependable in the lead role, gradually shedding layers of the upper-class public schoolboy caricature to reach the tormented person below. None of the other performers get the chance to dig deeper; the inference being that there is no depth for these people other than empty misery. The superficiality of the film’s vision is summed up by the party scenes where a few girls in bikinis are wiggling by the pool. Surely, only in hip-hop videos can someone have a good time.
But it’s the West’s self-hatred that really annoys. Here, all Westerners are parodies of debauched drunkards while Arabs are wise spectators who speak only of witty and pithy aphorisms.
Directed by John Michael McDonagh. With Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Matt Smith, Caleb Landry Jones, Said Taghmaoui and Christopher Abbott. 117 mins.
This is one of the rare occasions when you want the special effects to be less effective.
Fall strands two young adventurers on top of a very tall (2,000 meters or two Eiffel), very narrow, very old and very rickety television tower in the middle of the desert, and although you know that they are not real, those downward views look very convincing. Considering it’s essentially what used to be called a B-movie, independently made for $3 million, it’s a very shrewd production. (After distributors picked it up, they spent a little more money on it: digitally removing some profanity.)
It’s the return of the minimalist survival tale, a genre quite popular a few years ago with tales of people stuck on a ski lift/adrift in shark-infested seas or Ryan Reynolds buried in a box.
It’s one of the best. Granted, there’s something slightly mechanical about waiting to see how all the little clues dropped in the first half play out in the second, but it’s exciting and very satisfying. Although the story has its sugary moments, these are offset by some cheerfully unforgiving inversions.
Directed by Scott Mann. With Grace Caroline Currey, Virginia Gardner, Mason Gooding and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Duration: 107 mins.
The Gold Machine (PG)
This fictional documentary mixes two opposing worlds: the dreamy and indulgent world of scholarly fiction and the brutal and ruthless reality of colonial exploitation.
Its central figure is an Andrew Norton, a construction of Byrne’s face, Dillane’s voice, and the words of famed psycho-geographer Iain Sinclair. A lonely windbag, he wanders into exile in the decaying art deco splendor of Marine Court on the Hastings seafront, worrying about the legacy of his great-grandfather Arthur Norton, a Victorian botanist sent to the Peru to find locations for coffee plantations.
Meanwhile, her daughter Frane is in Peru, retracing her steps and asking the Asheninka people about their historic exploitation at the hands of the Peruvian Corporation.
Do you have all that? I was so engrossed in trying to figure out what I was looking at that I barely committed to his thesis on how the railways, Christianity and coffee were used to exploit the local population and enrich London. Shamefully, I was more interested in seaside intellectualism than serious, socially-concerned travelogue.
What level of first-world privilege is it to utter lines like “Hastings seagulls, reminded me of Virginia wool?” An outrageous insult: these poo-spray chip thieves are neither snobs nor anti-Semites.
Directed by Grant Gee. With Stephan Dillane, Michael Byrne and Farne Sinclair. Duration: 93 mins.
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