Marley

2012 Cert: 15

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Ever watched a police helicopter overhead and found yourself mesmerised; your eyes darting eagerly hither and dither in search of their prey? Imagine the same eyeball-dancing fascination watching Kevin Macdonald’s magnum opus tribute to Bob Marley. One doesn’t know where to look, afraid of missing a single image. I left the cinema exhausted and exhilarated.

Director Macdonald (Touching The Void, One Day in September) reveals his obvious admiration for the Rastafarian musical icon by raising Marley, as if needed, to further august stature – Marley the King of Reggae; Marley the musical messiah.

This is a sensitive biography relating how, soon after his birth, Marley and his Afro-Jamaican teenage mother (Cedella Booker) were abandoned by his father. Growing up in the poverty-stricken Saint Ann, Kingston, Marley released his first single aged 16 – Judge Not – introducing the world to his music and his poetic theme of the outsider. The film additionally touches on the supposition that Rastafarian religion was Marley’s substitute for the father figure lacking in his life.

Macdonald’s respect avoids delving too deeply into Marley’s private life, his endless love affairs; perhaps something to do with eldest son, Ziggy Marley, being one of the producers. Some could cry “evasion” (he fathered 11 children by 7 women) but this is not the place for gossip-fuelled speculation. Despite his reservations, Marley’s public image was never far from politics, including an assassination attempt, but his story is also mixed with humour (Marley’s love of football and… oh yes: ganja) and poignancy. Ultimately his rise to international stardom is about his music, his pain and his own search for individuality and global inter-racial brotherhood.

Marley is also a discerning story of Jamaica, the island’s clamber for identity against its British imperial heritage and the raising gangster culture immerging from deprivation and desperation.

Besieged with interviews (including family, friends, former ‘Wailers’ and  collaborators such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Bunny Wailer), mesmerising live performances, still photography, and a blissful Marleyian soundtrack, Macdonald’s honourable tribute skips allegro through two and a half hours until the icon’s untimely death aged 36.

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Tyrannosaur

2011 Cert: 18

Director: Paddy Considine

Initially a short film, Dog Altogether, Paddy Considine’s directorial debut is a rage fest. It is social and domestic rage emanating from exclusion, deprivation and hopelessness.

Joseph (Peter Mullen) is constantly on the verge of a violent breakdown. He sits alone in the pub twitching and muttering, his potential anger simmering like an active volcano. Incessant loud conversation winds him into a rage. In a disturbing opening scene an argument with his bookies had resulted in a savage act at which even the most hard-hearted would baulk. As this scene and the title’s eventual explanation reveal, a central theme of Tyrannosaur is how we are capable of abusing and destroying those we love.

In a role reminiscent of My Name is Joe, Mullen is commanding and likeable as a permanently enraged man caught up in a cycle of self-destruction. We always feel Joseph is aware how unreasonable his violent tendencies are and Mullen evokes his struggle to overcome this with sensitivity.

In a local charity shop Joseph meets Hannah (Olivia Coleman). At first Joseph rejects Hannah’s pious consolation, especially upon discovering she resides in middle-class suburbia. But all is not as it seems. Hannah’s increasingly frightful situation,  her lonely existence and regular bouts of domestic humiliation will eventually lead to a rage of her own with devastating consequences.

This is Olivia Coleman’s most mature performance. She is outstanding. Mostly known for her role in Peep Show, Coleman has reached a new zenith with her multi-layered performance as the childless wife, struggling to maintain her devoted Christianity amidst a volatile and sadistic relationship. 

Hannah’s double-garaged suburban respectability momentarily deceives until her secret reality is revealed. And it is secrets, resentful relationships and the ghosts of past events that haunt Joseph’s life. Visiting a dying friend he encounters a cold greeting from a familiar young woman. These mysteries are never wholly explained. Eventually, desperate to break free, Joseph quite literally sledgehammers into destruction a symbol of his past. 

There are moments one recoils as potential clichés emerge. Whilst Eddie Marsan is chilling as Hannah’s husband, James, one can’t help feeling this was pulled from the abusive spouses textbook. However, just as these clichés appear, Considine switches direction and surprises. It is about more than the obvious suffering, it is about the isolation both Joseph and Hannah experience; both retreating into a desolate life of drink and gambling or religious devotion in order to tolerate their situations. Until the only way out is rage.

Tyrannosaur is brutal and crudely sombre realism. It is a sensitive and powerful portrait of two people dislocated from society: a woman abused; a man embittered, with a violent addiction who takes it out on everyone, including domestic animals. Yet, Mullen’s performance and Considine’s compassionate script permit us to empathise. Brave.

Running time 92 mins

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

2011. Cert: 15

Director: Tomas Alfredson

There is a mole at the heart of British Government Intelligence and it’s one of five candidates. But which one?

Let’s not kid ourselves, the root of this political thriller is, essentially, a whodunnit? But any analogy to Agatha Christie or rural Midsomer ends here.

Director Tomas Alfredson produces a crisp, sophisticated, and intelligent movie. We are taken back to a time of Soviet Union political paranoia (“from now on always assume you’re being watched”) when the terrorists were Russian agents, not Islamic extremists. Alfredson presents an austere greyness; it’s the Cold War and it feels bitter and grave. 

Central to the story is George Smiley. He’s getting on a little; recently forced into a humiliating early ‘retirement’, deserted by his wife, and in need of a prescription upgrade to his glasses. Following the apparent killing of agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) and the death of MI6 boss, ‘Control’ (John Hurt), Smiley is called back by Government Ministers to track down the identity of the double-agent that Prideaux and Control had been investigating. 

Gary Oldman as Smiley gives his most powerful performance yet; evoking Smiley as a broken, tortured man; lonely and left out to dry by his employers. Prior to the release there has been much talk about the BBC’s acclaimed 1979 series or Alec Guinness’s iconic performance. But they seem irrelevant here. If you’re like me and have never seen the series or read John Le Carré’s novel you have no frame of reference. But no matter. Oldman’s Smiley stands on his own. He is cerebral, calm, morose. He has very little to say but Oldman’s eyes are the only voice we need; the more he suppresses Smiley’s agony the more we feel. 

The screenplay, adapted from Le Carré’s novel by Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor, is skillfully structured. This isn’t a car-chase-gun-yielding-absurd thriller; this is a thoughtful, tactical, poignant drama. Control’s chess piece symbolism is apt as Smiley and his second, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), manoeuvre themselves around the secret service offices, secret files and suspicious agents. And the longer the game goes on the more the personal lives of the men are revealed and affected. This dreary, male dominated environment is taught with homosexual undertones and these secrets parallel the political secrets. Personal relationships are destroyed, affairs and treachery revealed, and the once seemingly friendly working environment self-destructs.

Alfredson allows his actors to take their time. The director of Let the Right One In trusts the small detail and the subtleties of his stellar cast. Oldman is suitably supported; in particular by Mark Strong. In the opening set-piece Strong is as cool as any 007; as the school teacher he is avuncular; as the friend he is sensitive and tragic. Colin Firth as Bill Haydon is charming, with a sexual twinkle towards Strong’s Prideaux, reminding us of George Falconer in A Single Man.

Alfredson directs suspense with aplomb and the whole two hours is brilliantly paced; the final scene building to a tingling crescendo as a metaphorical British new age sets in, all accompanied by the tones of Julio Iglesias’s La Mer. A breathless triumph.

Running time: 127 mins

Glorious 39

Written and Directed by Stephen Poliakoff

Stephen Poliakoff has always been fascinated with the past, evident in dramas such as Shooting the Past (1999) and Perfect Strangers (2001). Here, in Glorious 39, he exposes the aristocratic and establishment pacifiers of the late 1930s who, in the run-up to the Second World War, staged a desperate last effort to do a deal with Hitler in the hope of retaining their power and privilege.  

In merry old England, in the idyllic rural countryside, young actress Anne Keyes (Romola Garai) lives happily with her adopted aristocratic family. She is blissfully close to her brother Ralph (Eddie Redmayne) and sister Celia (Juno Temple) and adores her Parliamentary father, played with cool charm by Bill Nighy. Siblings take jovial walks together. Anne reads Keats poetry to them as they snuggle together in the lounge. All is perfect and loving. Or so it seems.

Gradually mysterious events occur. A young MP friend (David Tennant) dies after a dinner party rant vehemently criticising Prime Minister Chamberlain and his government appeasers. Recordings of secret meetings are found archived at home. Anne’s actor co-star seemingly commits suicide after listening to one such recording. Gradually Anne’s familial world becomes unhinged.

These gradual revelations in Anne’s life are beautifully played by Romola Garai. At times stunning, at times vulnerable, she covers the full emotional spectrum; skilfully evoking the joy of life and love and then the confusions and desperation as the ruthlessness of her family are realised.

Poliakoff presents a sinister and haunting environment.  A family arena in which wider events resonate is a theme in much of Poliakoff’s work and in Glorious 39 political conspiracy is lived out in the confined inhabitance of one family. No wider outside influence is evident, as though this family are members of an oligarchic elite controlling the Nation’s political dealings themselves.

This remoteness and tangibly claustrophobic insular setting is redolent of British movies like The Wicker Man (coincidence that Christopher Lee is in the both) where a close-knit community, in this case a family, conspire against the central character. Nobody is to be trusted; from the Vet to a young girl with whom Anne entrusts vital evidence.

At times Poliakoff’s direction steers into horror genre clichés reminiscent of the Hammer Horrors (coincidence that Christopher Lee is in the both): half-seen figures disappearing through woodland, Anne fleeing through narrow passages, and sudden interrupting entrances. However, there is predominantly an atmosphere of haunting tension as Anne becomes increasingly isolated. As family secrets are revealed her life becomes more threatened.

Any pacifists would be forgiven for thinking this is a pro-war film. After all, the ‘goodies’ are for outright war whereas the ‘baddie’ conspirators are trying to avoid it. Nighy’s stoic Lord Alexander speaks of the atrocities of the First World War and his fear of losing the next. He fears defeat would destroy democracy and culture. It seems as though his motives are genuine.

However, when you realise this means a Vichy-like deal with Hitler and horrific consequences for the Jewish population of Britain the emphasis changes. The good-willed pacifiers become pro-fascists. And inevitably the family’s own methods of maintaining their democracy and political advantage lead to Big Brother wire-tapping and dictatorial murder.

The horrible truth of what could happen at home is evoked by the images of so-called burdensome cats and dogs systematically being put down; emblematic of the extermination of Jews that was going on in Nazi-Germany at the same time.

We all know the outcome of 1939 and whether the aristocracy came close to manipulating a deal with Hitler is uncertain, but Poliakoff proposes an eerie scenario should the powerful elite become so influential.

Harry Brown

2009. Cert: 18

Director: Daniel Barber

With a shocking and tangibly realistic opening, with the audience literally taken on a breathtaking ride, director Daniel Barber’s movie promises much. Instead the film becomes too much of an explicit violent indulgence. 

We enter the lonely, stark life of elderly Harry Brown played with reliable truthfulness by Michael Caine. His teenage daughter has died and his wife is terminally ill in hospital. His mundane daily routine includes playing chess in the pub with his friend Len (David Bradley), a man who lives in constant fear of his housing estate tormenters. Harry witnesses mindless violence and street bullying. On his daily walk to the hospital he avoids the local gang hang-out: a pedestrian subway, sinisterly evoking the mouth of hell, where no man returns alive.

This is a dystopia. A bleak existence of drug deals and gun gang culture. When Len is murdered and the inadequate justice system allows the guilty perpetrators freedom, former marine Harry goes on a revenge spree.

Yes, this is a vigilante movie. Yes, this is another Death Wish.

No, Harry Brown does not offer anything new or interesting to the genre.

The main problem is the excessive evilness of the young thugs. These wild and amoral villains have no fear of the consequences of their actions. They are without remorse; even smiling with indulgent glee at the blood-soaked image of their dead elderly victim. The script by Gary Young makes no attempt to provide a reason for their anarchic and wicked crimes. We have nothing to empathise with. The script demands we hate these murderers in an attempt perhaps to justify Brown’s eventual bloody vengeance.

The law and the police are superfluous. An early morning raid on gang member homes merely ends up in a street riot. Emily Mortimer’s police officer is feeble, helpless, and whilst Mortimer attempts a sensitive portrayal, her quiet voice and gentle demeanour merely weakens the character further. In addition screenwriter Young gives her the implausible Columbo-like sixth sense; she immediately suspects Brown, whilst colleagues inevitably dismiss her. This, presumably, avoids having to spend time watching her work it out. Instead we get too many drawn out scenes such as Harry’s visit to a local dealer’s drug den; a predictable, horrific environment where we witness heroin needle injections and psychotic drug induced mania. Unfortunately, we have seen all this before in countless films and are apathetic.   

Barber’s direction is at times sharp and he courageously takes time in evoking Harry’s mundane existence but he wastes film with sensational and predictable scenes.

The redeeming quality is Michael Caine. He is a far superior actor to Charles Bronson and he touchingly gives Harry moments of sensitivity. Unfortunately the script doesn’t allow us to see the journey from frail helpless man to vengeful killer. 

Harry Brown portrays a depressing modern urban society. It is possible to leave the cinema drained of hope, fearing the future; when the law is so helpless and the young generation are so utterly amoral. However, thankfully this is a microcosm of an inner-city life, so exaggerated that we can seek comfort in the belief that nothing is so apocalyptic.

Running time: 103 mins