As far back as I can remember, I always loved gangster movies. Lawless is the latest offering from John Hillcoat, penned by Nick Cave and starring Tom Hardy, Shia LeBeouf and Jessica Chastain. Following the lives of the Bondurant brothers out of Franklin County, Virginia it ticks all the boxes.
Prohibition is in full swing and the Bondurant brothers are making plenty of moonshine. Jack (Shia LeBeouf) narrates the tale of how he and his brothers Howard (Jason Clarke) and Forrest (Tom Hardy) ran a lucrative bootlegging operation not prepared to toe the line or lie down for any man. The main man in particular is special detective Charlie Rakes played by Guy Pearce. Pearce obviously channelled Christopher Lloyd’s Judge Doom character from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, as at times he is a pantomime villain with ticks and accents, while menacing enough in most scenes to give the character credence.
I’ve been a really big fan of Ciarán Hinds since seeing him for the first time in Stephen Spielberg’s Munich in 2005. Since then he’s rocked my world in There will be Blood, Margot at the Wedding, The Debt, Harry Potter 7.5 and The Gate Theatre’s 2009 adaptation of The Birds. He’s well able to lead the line but also has that Steve Buscemi-like knack of adding something special with a supporting role.
But as I was watching John Carter earlier this week I realised the man needs to be careful as he is treading on another thespian’s toes. The other man is Spooool’s 2011 Man of the Year, Michael Fassbender.
When the president of the country is in attendance you know something special is afoot. Michael D Higgins beamed and you could tell he felt incredibly privileged to present a Volta award to the septuagenarian Al Pacino. The Volta Award acknowledges outstanding people who have made significant contributions to film. It is named after Ireland’s first cinema, the Volta Picture Theatre on Mary Street in Dublin.
Pacino was genuinely chuffed to receive the award and a warm welcome from the people of “the south Bronx”. Before proceedings got under way he gave a few short words by way of an introduction. He summed it up by saying the film was completed, not finished and he hoped we could follow the many layers and jumps. It sounded like a “I know this is a bit of a mess but enjoy” type of speech.
Having seen the trailer and now having heard Al’s speech to say my expectations were low is putting it mildly. Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised. The film is really a documentary following Pacino as he tries to stage Salome in L.A. whilst making a film of the production and it also is a mini bio on the life of Wilde. The play not being filmed is a read through directed by Estelle Parsons and is to be performed to the “doctors and dentists of L.A.” while over 5 days he aims to film the play which causes most of the conflict in the film as time is so short as he struggles to balance his time between actor and director.
The piece is full of hilarious Pacino moments where he comes across as some Col. Kurtz lost in the jungle, see desert camel scene and “can I get some napkins” moment. Many of the scenes seem orchestrated which isn’t surprising as Pacino isn’t that stupid and can tell what will be good for the film, he pretty much confirmed this in the Q&A afterwards.
The weak points are the self indulgent pontifications by Al sprinkled throughout the film and when Bono, yes Bono, comes on screen to give his two cents it was hilarious to hear a rather audible groan from the audience. U2′s Salome, thankfully rarely heard since it’s release in ’92 playing over the credits is one of the more odd moments.
Jessica Chastain is outstanding and it’s easy to see how she has and will continue to excel towards stardom. This was the first film completed by her and gives us an insight into the tedious nature of getting a film to the screen seeing she has managed to amass about 5 pictures since finishing Salome. She also gives Naomi Watts a run for her money in a certain area, I shall say no more.
The film could have been a rather boring affair if it was just a straight filming of a play which never works. We get instead a haywire portrayal of the complications of staging any piece of work, never mind in three different forms. A thoroughly enjoyable insight in to the mind of a genius. Oh and Oscar Wilde too.
USA / Al Pacino / Al Pacino / Starring: Al Pacino, Jessica Chastain, Kevin Anderson / 95mins / Drama
Congratulations to the Lighthouse Cinema on their launch of the 10th JDIFF last night. The cinema was packed to the rafters with Dublin cinephiles.
The guest of honour Stellan Skarsgård was in flying form and got us all into festival mood, with the complementary whiskey helping as well.
The programme certainly doesn’t disappoint and for a full look at what’s coming up, check out the JDIFF site or use the embedded program at the bottom of this post.
But to make things that little bit easier when going through the program I have picked a few highlights.
Ralph Fiennes directorial debut; Coriolanus is certainly full of sound and fury.
A man foresees a bad storm. Everyone says he’s crazy. Maybe he is. Or maybe he isn’t.
This, is Take Shelter in a nutshell. A compelling tale that is slowly developed, dragging the viewer through the full range of emotions but amping up the tension and unease that exists in a town, workplace and family whenever someone begins to show signs of mental illness.
Mississippi Burning shows the good old south through the eyes of the honest lawman, To Kill A Mocking Bird through the eyes of a child and The Help is through the eyes of the maid.
Emma Stone plays Skeeter a recently graduated student determined to pen something that has never been spoken about never mind written. How black maids feel raising the children of their white employers. She enlists house maids Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) to help her on her journey. All women know the danger of their activity, the fact that a white women is in the house of a black women is breaking the law but after mounting racism and injustice they can no longer stand idly by and do nothing.
There is already a lot of Oscar buzz around the film and rightly so, all the main actresses put in fantastic performances resulting in believable characters that could so easily have slipped into tasteless caricatures. It’s great to see Sissy Spacek on screen as the forgetful but fierce grandmother and you can do nothing but hate Bryce Dallas Howard , the prudish bigot hell bent on keeping the maids in their place. The stars of the show are without question Aibileen and Minny, best friends who’ve seen and lived it all they give the film it’s warmth and heart.
What sets The Help apart is its viewpoint, as I wrote at the beginning with Mississippi Burning we have the macho bravado of the lawmen standing up to the cowardly murderous hicks and in To Kill A Mocking Bird the injustices are portrayed with a child’s innocent mind but in The Help for the first time we see it from the side of women. Their caring nature, resilience and faith give them the strength to stand up and be counted. While not as militant a film as others regarding the south it does not shy away from the issues of the day but more so deals with real universal themes such as the loss of a child and domestic abuse. This is what makes it so original, by taking a look at the lives of maids we see on a much more human and identifiable level what the civil rights movement was about and how the racial prejudices affected black people.
Frank Darabont the director of The Shawshank Redemption when asked why his film is so popular and enduring said because it’s a film about hope and the world is full of too much damn cynicism. The Help is a rare film managing to combine the right amount of humour, suffering and belief that leaves you feeling enlivened.
Tate Taylor / Tate Taylor / Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer / 137 min / Drama / Release: 10 August 2011 (US/Canada), 26 October 2011 (Irl/UK)