Review: The Walk

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DIR: Robert Zemeckis • WRI:Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Browne • PRO: Jack Rapke, Tom Rothman, Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Jeremiah O’Driscoll • MUS: Alan Silvestri • DES: Naomi Shohan • CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon

If you ever take anything away from these reviews let it be this – do not go see The Walk in the IMAX if you’ve had a few too many the previous night. I went to an early screening, fresh as a daisy and sober as a judge, and still was close to painting the always spotless cinema floors with my Eggs Benedict. Apparently, I am not the only one whose tummy got violently ravaged by a swarm of butterflies that mild September morn. It would seem there is a mild hysteria surrounding Robert Zemeckis’ new RealD 3D extravaganza that is causing viewers to become nauseous. There are even reports of people bailing the screening with intent to puke. No, this film doesn’t have a young girl cursing out Christ and masturbating with a crucifix, but a rather Peter Pan look alike trapezing between the World Trade Centre.

 

It might sound cartoonish and it is, but that’s the direction in which Zemeckis chooses to go with in The Walk, not to mention incorporating his patented Disneyfied dream chasing philosophy that’s present in Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Polar Bear Express. The 2008 Man On A Wire documentary about Philippe Petit’s breathtaking stunt portrayed enough raw reality that attempting to reenact it through a Hollywood feature would be futile. Zemeckis’ main concern is the spectacle and the technical preparation it took to reach that spectacle. We are introduced to the biographical movie by Petit, played cheekily by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who breaks the fourth wall from upon the Statue of Liberty to help nudge the narrative along. It’s children’s story-time etiquette and in many ways The Walk is a kid’s movie, certainly in terms of style and presentation.

 

The film boasts a palette of cinematic proportions. Petit’s younger days in Paris as a street performer are shot in black and white, except for the props essential to his act, which are presented in sharp bright colours. These early scenes have a Parisian vibrancy about them that is enhanced by a rattling jazz score. We track further back to his childhood, to when he first fell in love with high-wire artistry and his first encounter with his semi-mentor, Papa Rudi, played by Ben Kingsley. When we fast forward to Paris again, Petit becomes romantically involved with Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), who’s inanimate chic. Slowly he is moulding his accomplices that will help his dream come true.

 

None of these other characters really matter though, they are in a way just extra props for Petit’s act. There is no insight to them and they are all too easily persuaded by Petit to help him in his highly dangerous, expensive and illegal operation. It’s a one man show, two man including the dreaded wire, and that’s where the tension and suspense lies – on the wire. The anxiety builds and develops through various stages throughout the movie as his tight-rope walks get higher and higher, foreshadowing the biggest walk of them all that we all must suffer through.

 

The movie is about a stunt, but is disguised as a heist flick. They are pulling a caper, but instead bailing with the cash, they’re soaring for liberty – well they’re French init? The method and preparation for pulling off this stunt is highly intricate and Zemeckis takes us through the whole process on D-day. There are even Hitchcockian moments of suspense as Petit and his crew set up the wires across the two towers. Petit struggles against intruding security guards and disloyal acolytes throughout his mission, and this is even before he walks that tightrope.

 

Eventually, we get the money shot, the spectacle, the wooziness and in IMAX 3D it truly is gargantuan. Zemeckis has stated that he and his team aspired to induce vertigo and in this department he did not fail. Albeit, for all its skill and digital trickery, The Walk does not induce greatness, rather a playful and sometimes dizzying 3D ride, that works well in its own right. The movie in a way reflects the notion of cinema itself, and begs to be seen in theatres on the biggest screen, urging for audiences to experience an event rather than passively “Netflix and chill”. In theory, Zemeckis’ request is admirable and one that I correspond to, but on screen there have been better representatives.

 

Cormac O’Meara

PG (See IFCO for details)

122 minutes
The Walk is released 2nd October 2015

The Walk – Official Website

 

 

 

 

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Exodus: Gods and Kings

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DIR: Ridley Scott • WRI: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian • PRO: Peter Chernin, Mohamed El Raie, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer, Ridley Scott, Jenno Topping • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Billy Rich • DES: Arthur Max • MUS: Alberto Iglesias • CAST: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley

Going purely by the high-octane trailers, you’d be forgiven for thinking Exodus: Gods and Kings was a non-stop action movie, where Moses becomes a sort of biblical Rambo. However, Ridley Scott seems to be going for a mix of his millennial opus Gladiator and Darren Aronofsky’s recent surrealist Noah, adding existential wandering and buckets of internal conflict to bring up the running time. This means that there is far less action than advertised, but tons of character development and time for reflection.

Christian Bale is, of course, intense and serious as he portrays the inner pain of Moses, even in the earlier scenes when he and Ramses fight on the same side. Joel Edgerton brings the evil Ramses to screen with dramatic flair, defying his father Seti’s (John Turtorro) wishes that he and Moses live as brothers, and works with his scheming mother Tuva (a criminally underused Sigourney Weaver) to ensure that power rests solely with himself. He defies Moses’ God, recently introduced to Moses himself by newfound brethren amongst the Hebrew slaves – including Ben Kingsley’s character, Nun, and Aaron Paul’s non-entity, Joshua. Eventually, God joins Moses in his fight, and brings the ten plagues down upon Egypt to try force Ramses to acknowledge his power, and release the slaves.

Scott clearly relished portraying the plagues, and they look amazing – watching an entire river run with blood, a wall of flies fill the sky all around, or a darkness descending that will take the firstborn sons of Egypt is every bit as frightening as it should be. These moments, though, are not enough to lift Exodus out of an overall feeling of tedium… and the movie feels every inch its 150-minute running time. An ending upon an ending, Ramses then pursues Moses into the waters of the Red Sea, at which point the movie simultaneously climaxes and begins to dwindle, unsure of how to finish this renowned tale.

This does not make for the sprawling epic Scott clearly imagined. While visually the movie is often stunning, with some beautifully choreographed fight scenes that are every bit as intense as the previews promised, it lags far too much in extensive side-stories, and tries to walk a very fine line between religious fervour and straightforward drama. It doesn’t always work, and while Bale admirably portrays a very human Moses, the character’s conversations with God are made with an attempt at ambiguity that just comes across heavy-handed. Yes, this is largely down to the source material – Moses leading the chosen people out of slavery and into the desert after a series of plagues convinces the Pharaoh to let them leave isn’t the most subtle of religious tales – but the screenplay works harder at appearing clever than ever actually saying anything new about an ancient legend.

Everything about the anticipation for Exodus screamed ‘epic’, but the delivery is more ‘daytime TV bible stories’ (with expensive CGI) than anything else, and unfortunately lacks any real heart that might lift it from banality.

Sarah Griffin

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
150 minutes.
Exodus: Gods and Kings
is released 26th December.

Exodus: Gods and Kings  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Ender’s Game

Enders-Game-2013

DIR/WRI: Gavin Hood PRO: Orson Scott Card, Robert Chartoff , Lynn Hendee, Linda McDonough, Roberto Orci, Gigi Pritzker, Ed Ulbrich DOP: Donald McAlpine   ED: Lee Smith, Zach Staenberg DES: Sean Haworth Ben Procter CAST: Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley

Is human imagination so undeveloped that we can’t envision monsters more gruesome than overgrown insects? Starship Troopers, The Fly, Tremors and now Ender’s Game.

 

The movie is based on Orson Scott Card’s 1985 bestselling novel, which has proven quiet prophetic. Card’s novel predicted a future of drone warfare and a world where games and reality have merged. Both the novel and film draw on these themes and pose some interesting questions; like in a world where reality is experienced through computer screens, where does the moral responsibility lie for our actions? This could apply to the current online trend of insulting strangers from a safe distance, or waging war on an unknown alien race, as is the case with Ender’s Game.

 

In Ender’s Game, our world came close to destruction by an invading aliens, referred to as ‘Buggers’. Humankind has poured all resources into developing its military force to prevent such an attack ever happening again. The movie follows the latest batch of recruits as they are trained up for elite military service. So far, so familiar. But Ender’s Game has a Bugsy Malone style twist, as all these new Battle School recruits are kids. A gruff Harrison Ford, aptly named Colonel Graff, plays the future Kony of this children’s army.

 

Child soldiers are used as they are considered more adept to the possibilities of technology, making them the better candidates for this new brand of military warfare. This could prove to be a sticking point for some, as it can often feel like an adult movie overrun by kids. There are times when you would be forgiven for thinking – Really? This battalion of adolescents are humankind’s best chance for survival? But if you can manage to suspend disbelief on this point, you’ll enjoy this movie.

 

 

The movie follows the fate of Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield) as he rises up the ranks of Battle School. If the classic, sci-fi romp Starship Troopers took a gory, tongue-in-cheek look at future alien warfare, then Ender’s Game is its sanitised, cyberspace modern equivalent. In this future scenario, space warfare is concerned with military tactics over brute strength. The result of this is that the action is always on a large scale, with giant space ships and exploding planets. A pet hate of mine is when CGI turns into indiscernible banging and crashing of large machinery (you know who you are, Michael Bay!) But Ender’s Game makes impressive use of CGI, resulting in some epic space battles – this is one to see on the big screen.

 

 

In Colonel Graff’s search for “the one” who will save earth, Ender Wiggins soon emerges as the perfect candidate, excelling in all the area’s that make a leader. However, he is difficult to completely root for as a character. Ender is no cheeky rogue, like the the young Captain Kirk, or a plucky, naïve newcomer like Luke Skywaker. Instead, he has the demeanour of a levelheaded, middle-aged accountant, coolly calculating the risks and pitfalls of each scenario presented to him. He seems so capable at every challenge that they barely seem like challenges at all – and this is a young teenager on track to be Commander-in-Chief of the entire military forces – he might at least break a sweat!

 

 

Ender’s Game is a movie that wants to be taken seriously, even with a plot involving adolescents on a quest to save earth. The fact that it has serious overtones, but with a young cast makes it difficult to know if it’s meant to be a movie for kids or adults. The upshot of this ambiguity is that it’s open to everyone. It’s refreshing to see a popcorn blockbuster that’s made for both adults and kids and this sci-fi epic won’t fail to entertain. In the 1980s, films like WarGames, The Goonies and Flight of the Navigator happily threw child characters into the fray. Ender’s Game continues that noble tradition.

 

Deirdre Mc Mahon

12A (See IFCO for details)

113 mins
Ender’s Game is released on 25th October 2013

Ender’s Game – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Iron Man 3

Iron-Man-3-Toys-Extremis-and-Iron-Patriot-Armor

 

DIR: Shane Black • WRI: Shane Black, Drew Pearce • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: John Toll • ED: Peter S Elliot, Jeffrey Ford • DES: Bill Brzeski • Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Jon Favreau, William Sadler, Rebecca Hall

After making his name with his ground breaking screenplay for 1987’s Lethal Weapon, Shane Black went on to achieve writing credits on films such as The Last Boy Scout, The Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight. He then disappeared off the Hollywood radar for close to a decade, before returning in some style with his 2005 directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Despite not being a major player at the box-office, this film re-established Black’s standing in the industry, and gave its stars Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer roles to die for. While Kilmer has only occasionally threatened to build on his performance under the stewardship of Black, the previously troublesome Downey Jr has seen his career going from strength to strength, to the point that he is now the face of two major franchises, Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes.

Along with last year’s Marvel Avengers Assemble, and his brief cameo in The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 3 marks Downey Jr’s fifth appearance as Tony Stark and his alter-ego, and with Black returning to the director’s chair instead of Jon Favreau, it is clear that the careers of both men have come full circle.

Having helped his fellow Avengers to defeat Loki and the Chitauri in New York City, Stark is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when a mysterious terrorist leader known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) announces himself to the world by committing a number of atrocities across the globe. His relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) becomes strained as a result, and with figures from his past re-surfacing in the shape of Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian and Rebecca Hall’s botanist, Dr Maya Hansen, matters quickly become complicated for Stark and those close to him.

Taking its cue from the ‘Extremis’ (a highly advanced virus created by Killian) story arc developed by Warren Ellis, Iron Man 3 has a tough act to follow after the overwhelming success of Marvel Avengers Assemble. In addition, the last stand alone adventure for the wisecracking superhero (Iron Man 2) was somewhat disjointed, despite being enjoyable in the most part, meaning that there were some necessary adjustments to be made this time around.

With all that in mind, it is pleasing to report that the latest chapter in the big-screen adventure of Tony Stark is consistently entertaining and gripping, making it arguably the finest film of the Iron Man series thus far. As ever, the chemistry between Downey Jr and Paltrow is right on the money, and Don Cheadle now looks fully comfortable in the combine roles of Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes and War Machine.

Upon taking control of the film, Black talked about taking a step away from the premise of Iron Man facing off against another giant robot, and certainly the threat this time is an altogether more human and real-world based kind of threat.

It is also significant that Stark is taken out of comfort zone for a large section of the film, as circumstances mean that he is stranded in Tennessee (when he is presumed dead), where he has to rely on all his ingenuity to repair damage of his own making.

With one $15 million dollar film to his name before taking on this task, there were some question marks about how Black would handle the pressure of a film with such a major budget. His handling of the major set-pieces is extremely efficient, though, and in unison with co-writer Drew Pearce, he has maintained the sharp wit that has been synonymous with his work over the past couple of decades.

This framework was established by Favreau (who reprises his role as former bodyguard turned head of security Happy Hogan) in the earlier films, and blossomed under Joss Whedon in last year’s superhero team up, which makes the decision to hire Black for this film all the more obvious.

If there was a criticism to be labelled at the film, it does become slightly overblown in the extended finale, but considering all that gone before it, the filmmakers had more than earned the right to turn outlandish during the final act.

Stepping up to the plate alongside reliable regulars Downey Jr, Paltrow and Cheadle, Pearce and Kingsley offer plenty of menace, while the often under-appreciated Hall also makes the best of the screen time she is afforded.

With a sequel to Marvel Avengers Assemble (those who are intrigued by that prospect should wait around the end credits) very much in the pipeline, this will not be the last we see of Tony Stark in his iron suit, and on the basis of this film, that can only be a good thing.

Daire Walsh

12A (see IFCO website for details)

130 mins
Iron Man 3 is released on 25th April 2013

Iron Man 3 – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Hugo – Film of the Week

Hugo to cinema

DIR: Martin Scorsese • WRI: John Logan • PRO: Johnny Depp, Tim Headington, Graham King, Martin Scorsese • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Thelma Schoonmaker • DES: Dante Ferretti • CAST: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee

Martin Scorsese’s latest film tells the tale of Hugo, a young boy, who loses his father and is taken in by his alcoholic Uncle. Seeking a substitute family he starts fixing things for the mob. He soon rises through the ranks earning himself the name ‘Hit-Man Hugo’. But his life of crime eventually catches up with him as the hit man himself becomes the target of a hit.

Well, not exactly – calling to mind that scene in The Sopranos where Christopher sees Martin Scorsese and yells ‘Marty! Kundan… I loved it!’ Scorsese veers off course and tackles a children’s film in 3D. Yet if truth be told it’s more a case of him taking Brian Selznick’s illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret and crafting a child’s adventure story into something that’s not necessarily for children and in doing so creates something much dearer to his heart than wiseguys and psychos – the magic of film itself.

Scorsese announces himself immediately in the film’s opening scene as his camera soars majestically over Paris and swoops breathtakingly through a train station, landing upon the eyes of the film’s titular hero.

Hugo (Asa Butterfield) has become an orphan and now lives secretly in the walls, passageways and ceilings of a 1930s Parisian railway station ensuring that its clocks tick tock. When he’s not on the job, he’s playing Dickens’ Oliver stealing what he can in the station in order to survive and to continue his work fixing a writing automaton his father left him, while all the time evading the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) – a cross between Inspector Clouseau and Officer Crabtree, the British spy posing as a policeman in Allo Allo – who’s determined to round up all the pesky orphans and send them off to the police station. Boo! Hiss!

Hugo gets into trouble with the station’s crusty, ill-tempered toyshop owner (Ben Kingsley) who confiscates his notebook which contain the plans for Hugo’s work fixing the automaton. In his desperate efforts to retain it, he chances upon Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) and together they set off on a magical adventure. Their initial adventure soon gives way to something more than both of them could ever have imagined and this is where the film comes into its own – extending beyond its initial narrative to become a celebration of film itself.

The film looks absolutely beautiful, thanks to the ravishing production design of Dante Ferretti, Scorsese’s legendary companion and purveyor of lavish costume and sets. Added to this is the use of 3D, which for once is integral to the storytelling. The film speaks for itself and there’s no need to go into the plot details – all the better to discover it for yourself as Hugo and Isabelle do. Their adventure is ours. Such details function to provide Scorsese with the platform to engage in this eulogy for the wonder and magical quality of film and cinema, and testifies to Scorsese’s own ongoing vocation to preserve and restore old films himself and get them projected once again onto a cinema screen. The heart-shaped key that Hugo requires to operate his automaton is unashamedly symbolic of the director’s sentiments writing this passionate love letter to cinema.

Steven Galvin

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
Hugo is released on 2nd December 2011

 Hugo – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hR-kP-olcpM

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Shutter Island

Shutter Island

DIR: Martin Scorsese • WRI: Laeta Kalogridis • PRO: Brad Fischer, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Martin Scorsese • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Thelma Schoonmaker • DES: Dante Ferretti • CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams

There are 2 ways to approach Shutter Island – one is as a masterfully constructed cinematic homage; the other is as a return by Martin Scorsese to the overblown schlock fest of Cape Fear. As always, the truth is somewhere in between.

Shutter Island reunites Scorsese with the scowling, cherub-faced Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio has certainly improved in his Scorsese-muse role over the years as he admirably battles to play roles beyond his features. Woefully out of his depth in Gangs of New York, he went on to just about hold his own in The Departed. In Shutter Island, Di Caprio comes of age somewhat, putting in a strong lead performance as U.S. marshal, Teddy Daniels, who comes to the island’s Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane in order to investigate the disappearance of one of the inmates. Once on the island with his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), Daniels is soon wrestling with his own personal demons as well as the case at hand.

As well as the inmates, Shutter Island is haunted by the presence of the likes of Val Lewton, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick. Scorsese lashes it on thick as he crafts this popcorn pot-boiler and directs the camera mixing his own visual trademarks with twitching nods to cinematic legends.

Scorsese pulls rabbit after rabbit out of his director’s hat as he cranks up the atmosphere to match the apprehension and sense of foreboding menace on the island (beautifully designed by Dante Ferretti) as Daniels becomes deeper and deeper involved in the goings-on of the mysterious asylum and his own past. Scorsese is a master of manipulation and Shutter Island allows him to integrate his passionate love of cinema with his mastery of direction to create an ominous feast of claustrophobia, paranoia and terror that at times can leave you breathless.

And yet, the centre can’t hold. To invert a classic phrase, Shutter Island is an example of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. The film suffers as the substance struggles to compete with the style. There are too many forced scenes that exist merely to cater for the overly signposted, unsatisfactory ending. On top of this, there are too many bluffing scenes that struggle to engage and at times just seem completely out of place. The film is way too long as Scorsese seeks to make an epic out of what is essentially a B-movie. If he’d trimmed the fat off here and trusted a tighter screenplay, he, and we, would have had a much better film. As it is, Shutter Island is what it is: a master craftsman doing manual labour. I was told that Lacanians love it – whatever that means…

Steven Galvin

Rated 15A (see IFCO for details)

Shutter Island is released 12th March 2010

Shutter Island – Official Website

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The Wackness

The Wackness
The Wackness

DIR/WRI: Jonathan Levine • PRO: Keith Calder, Felipe Marino, Joe Neurauter, Brian Udovich • DOP: Petra Korner • ED: Josh Noyes • DES: Annie Spitz • CAST: Ben Kingsley, Famke Janssen, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, Mary-Kate Olsen

If you were born in the late ’70s you will probably find The Wackness brimming with nostalgic bits of your teenage years in the form of mid ’90s cultural iconography. But if you weren’t into Hip Hop, didn’t become a chronic dope smoker or come from a tragically dysfunctional family, you will probably find the subject matter difficult to relate to.

Set during the summer of 1994, The Wackness offers up a nostalgic backdrop for an atypical coming-of-age tale. Luke (Josh Peck), a recent high school graduate and pot-peddler, trades weed for session time with psychiatrist Dr. Jeffery Squires, played by a frazzled Ben Kingsley. Further complicating the unlikely relationship, Luke falls in love with the unconventional doctor’s stepdaughter while Jeffery’s lifeless marriage finally crumbles. Additional familiar strife on Luke’s side causes these characters to work together in an effort to save the family home by selling as much smoke as possible – hence the film’s tagline, ‘Sometimes it’s right to do the wrong things’. It all sounds so quirky and fun, but the melancholy sepia-filtered look of the film, combined with serious narrative issues of identity, legality, morality, and plain old-fashioned coming-of-age awkwardness gives this film a dark sadness.

While stoner-cinema has been popular for some time, from the classic Cheech and Chong to the more recent Dude Where’s My Car?, and of course Harold and Kumar doing whatever it is that they do, The Wackness is not a slapstick adventure of hazy stoner tomfoolery. Luke is a drug dealer, undoubtedly a title that comes with a slew of negative character presumptions. What is a disarming about Luke, however, is that he doesn’t exactly fit into any of these negative stereotypes. He is sensitive, thoughtful and sad – personality traits that perhaps even compliment a pacifistic drug like marijuana. But The Wackness takes this connection too far. Nearly every scene involves dope-smoking. The point is clear – the world is not a fairy tale, but the constant drug use moves away from being an artful tone-setter and becomes gratuitously repetitive.

Despite this criticism, The Wackness is a smart film with a pessimistic flatness that encourages the viewer to sink into the muted drama.That being said, the experience is not without a bit of fun with an awkward, cringe-inducing sex scene and the ‘Where’s Wally’ excitement of noticing mid ’90s artefacts, like an original Nintendo and bus side advertisements for Forrest Gump, sprinkled throughout the film. Like the characters that populate the drama,The Wackness is both a glass half full and a glass half empty.

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Elegy

Elegy
Elegy

DIR: Isabel Coixet • WRI: Nicholas Meyer • PRO: Andre Lamal, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg • DOP: Jean-Claude Larrieu • ED: Amy E. Duddleston • DES: Claude Paré • CAST: Penélope Cruz, Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard

A scene early on in Elegy sees Ben Kingsley’s ageing professor show Penelope Cruz’s character his darkroom. He comments that he never uses it anymore, and that he really should switch to digital photography, but he doesn’t understand it. Cruz looks at him knowingly, and disagrees: ‘Of course you do’. It’s a fleeting moment, but it’s one that neatly sums up Kingsley’s character. This is a highly intelligent, educated man, who has developed a remarkable talent for kidding himself.

Based on Philip Roth’s novel The Dying Animal, Elegy is a smart, character-driven drama that avoids the traps that other films of this nature (such as the last Philip Roth adaptation, The Human Stain) frequently fall into. We first see dry academic David Kepesh (Kingsley) on a talk show, discussing ideas of sexual happiness and independence, and how they have influenced the course of his life. The rest of the film is an extension of these themes. Having left his wife at a young age, Kepesh has lived a life based around such freedoms; a popular lecturer, he admits to regularly sleeping with his students, usually through his end-of-term cocktail parties (in an amusing aside, he makes it clear that he only does this after he has given them their results). It is through one such party that he connects with Consuela (Cruz), an intriguing student thirty years his junior. Kepesh begins to find himself establishing a relationship and falling in love with her, and as a result questioning his values and ideas.

Kingsley’s name is no longer the seal of quality it once was – you may have seen him embarrass himself in The Love Guru – so it’s refreshing to find that Isabel Coixet’s film is an above-average piece of work. Initially, the mood appears to be one of consistent, dreary navel gazing, but thankfully both the character and film are blessed with a sense of humour and self-awareness that rescues them from self-pity. Kepesh is introspective, but frank; his voice over is frequently very funny, and the fact that the film stars Dennis ‘Mad Bomber from Speed’ Hopper as a Pulitzer Prize winning poet (!) erases a lot of potential intellectual snobbery too. When Kepesh finds himself – in his 60s – as afraid of commitment and emotional honesty as a teenager, he is just as aware of the irony and ludicrousness of the situation as the audience, a fact that makes for a fascinating and believable character. Hopper aside, the film is populated with characters like this; believably flawed without being dislikeable or dull. Indie stalwart Patricia Clarkson shows up as a married woman who provides Kepesh with regular, no-strings attached sex, and the always welcome Peter Sarsgaard is superb in a handful of scenes as Kepesh’s son, who takes pride in a moral superiority over his absent father, only to find himself just as fallible. Cruz, while older than her character and not quite as instantly attractive, does a fine job in a role that requires her to come across wiser than a man thirty years her senior.

Regularly treading the fine line between intelligent and indulgent, the film nearly tips over into the latter as the seemingly-obligatory-for-this-sort-of-thing-terminal-illness plotline rears its ugly head, and an unimaginative soundtrack doesn’t help. Ultimately, though, the strength of the performances and the witty, acerbic nature of the piece win out, and instead, the film remains a smart, engaging work, one that succeeds in being entertaining and genuinely intelligent in spite of itself.

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