Good Kill

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DIR: Andrew Niccol • WRI: Derek Kolstad • PRO: Mark Amin, Nicolas Chartier, Zev Foreman  • DOP: Amir Mokri  • DES: Guy Barnes • MUS: Christophe Beck • Cast: January Jones, Zoë Kravitz, Ethan Hawke, Jake Abel

Good Kill is the latest feature film from Andrew Niccol, who sci-fi fans will know as the writer/director of the cult classic Gattaca (1997) and more recently for In Time (2011). Now, however, Niccol teams up once again with Ethan Hawke to direct his first non-sci-fi movie, a war/family drama set in Las Vegas, Good Kill. And he’s hit it out of the park. with this well-directed, brilliantly acted and intelligently written film.

Now the thing about Nicoll’s previous sci-fi films is that they weren’t as interested in showing us how the dystopic futures they portrayed fall or change, they were more interested in simply showing us how people would live in these realities as a reflection of our own. He does something similar here, except he does it with drone pilots, and while he does use this film as an opportunity to make a few jabs at the C.I.A. and the close-minded “my country ‘tis of thee” patriotism that informs the thinking of many soldiers, for the most part he allows the characters to bring up the advantages and disadvantages of drone warfare and allows you as an audience member to make up your own mind on this topic. Although at the same time Nicoll manages to get his own opinion on drone warfare across without rubbing it in the audience’s face.

The film engages from the start, showing us a group of pilots in the middle of a drone run while utilising its impressive Middle-Eastern inspired musical score courtesy of Christophe Beck. From there, the film is composed of scenes of protagonist Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) either at work, listening to his fellow soldiers weakly attempt to justify what they do for a living, drinking too much, or neglecting his family while his life starts to visibly crumble around him.

Now a film like this, where the narrative is in and around a year of the life of the protagonist, fails or succeeds on the main actor’s performance. And Hawke nails it. Granted, Hawke proved how good he was way back in 1985 in classic family film Explorers alongside the late great River Phoenix, and he’s been proving it ever since.  The rest of the cast, including Zoe Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Mad Men’s January Jones as Tom’s long-suffering wife, also acquit themselves extremely well. Granted, Jones unfortunately doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but that’s kind of the point, the whole narrative takes place from Tom’s perspective, the reason she isn’t in it much is to hammer home the point that he’s neglecting her.

The cinematography courtesy of DOP. Amir Mokri is stunning. The problem with films like this where the same location(s) are constantly re-used is that they can become visually monotonous. To combat this, whenever we return to the same location, Mokri places his camera in a different position, creating a new angle so this film can re-use locations and yet still remain interesting to look at. Also, the film takes place in Vegas, meaning we get the mandatory sweeping shots of the city, and while these kind of sweeping shots are a cliché, they’re well executed enough that you  still enjoy looking at the beautiful city in which the narrative takes place. As well as that, the film’s vibrant colour palette is a welcome change from the starker, greyer, drearier colour palette of the more recent war films like Fury

Good Kill presents drone warfare through Tom Egan’s jaded, world-weary eyes: as just another dead-end job. Tom and Colonel Johns (Bruce Greenwood) are both presented as jaded cynics who have long-forgotten about “the American way”, which presumably inspired them to join the army in the first place in their younger days, and now just see the job as a way to pay their bills, and simply trying (though often failing) to avoid thinking about whether or not what they’re doing is right. Egan’s co-pilot Suarez (Zoe Kravitz), however, is a vocal detractor of what they’re doing, especially when the C.I.A. starts getting involved in their operations and ordering them to act… questionably. Meanwhile, on the complete opposite of end of the spectrum, two of the junior drone pilots act like the stereotypical white, privileged, self-aggrandising macho “America is always right, even when its wrong” knuckleheads that would typically be the main characters in a Call of Duty/Medal of Honour/Battlefield game.

Egan has become an emotionally closed-off, alcoholic, passive aggressive borderline masochist who emotionally neglects his wife, making his suburban family existence with his beautiful wife and loving children a truly nightmarish existence in what is ostensibly a dream come true.

 

Darren Beattie

15A (See IFCO for details)
102 minutes

Good Kill is released 10th April 2015

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Boyhood

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DIR/WRI: Richard Linklater  PRO: Richard Linklater, Jonathan Sehring, John Sloss, Cathleen Sutherland   DOP: Lee Daniel, Shane F. Kelly  ED: Sandra Adair   DES: Rodney Becker, Gay Studebaker  CAST: Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

Filmed over a period of twelve years with the same cast, Richard Linklater’s innovative Boyhoood is the first of its kind.  The film traces the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), from the age of six years old in 2002 to the verge of young adulthood and maturity.  Following the film’s striking first shot of the young, daydreaming Mason, Linklater portrays his handling of key life experiences such as the aftermath of his parents’ divorce and his mother’s ensuing relationships, undergoing puberty, falling in love and eventually leaving the family nest for college.

There is no doubt in arguing that Linkater’s pioneering filmmaking idea is a success.  This is because the use of the same actor to play Mason over a twelve-year period gives the film a sense of realism that makes it impossible not to become emotionally involved with his character.  It is as if we are watching a documentary that allows us to grow up with him and to share his experiences.  Therefore, the film is able to secure an emotional connection without the use of emotive music, opting instead for pop music released during the period of 2002 and 2014.  However, it can be argued that towards the end of the film, the emotional attachment to Mason begins to wane.  This is because his melancholic, teenage angst makes it more difficult to connect with him.  Nevertheless, his quirky personality ensures that he is not completely deprived of his likeability.

It is also impressive that that despite the long filming period, the film still maintains a sense of aesthetic continuity.  Clearly, the film was shot and edited with great focus and discipline in order to give the impression that it was filmed in a few weeks, rather than a period of over a decade.  Moreover, the visual continuity also affirms Linklater’s status as one of the noteworthy auteurs of this generation.

However, the film also reveals Linklater’s development as a filmmaker.  For example, instead of typically relying just on loaded, philosophical dialogue, he allows the characters and the long filming period to imply his philosophical ideas for much of the film.  This is clear from the film’s sense of timelessness.  In other words, it is implied that no matter how much music, trends or political frenzies change over a period of twelve years, what it means to be human and to grow up will always remain the same.  Also, the character of Mason‘s mother Olvia (Patricia Arquette) is used to infer, without any heavy dialogue, that adulthood is only an illusion; no matter how many experiences and important life events one lives through, there is always that permanent feeling of being lost, or of not having reached the point where it all comes together.

Overall, Boyhood is a significant piece of filmmaking and a worthwhile experimentation on the part of Linklater.  There are few out there who could make a simple documentation of growing up into something artistic and absorbing; it proves to show that with the right director, even the simple things can make sagas.

Aisling Daly

15A (See IFCO for details)
165 mins

Boyhood is released on 11th July 2014

Boyhood – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Before Midnight

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DIR: Richard Linklater  WRI: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke  PRO: Christos V. Konstantakopoulos Richard Linklater, Sara Woodhatch  DOP: Christos Voudouris  ED: Sandra Adair  CAST:  Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Ariane Labed

The summer is here. That means lots of sequels in the cinema. Before Midnight demonstrates what character development in a sequel can be. It is also an engaging dialogue on the nature of 21st century romance, well written, with excellent performances.

The romance between Celine and Jesse, which began in Vienna in Before Sunrise, rekindled in Paris in Before Sunset, continues to unfold in Before Midnight. At the end of the middle film, Jesse missed a flight home from Paris to be with Celine. The story resumes nine years later, this time in Greece.

At the airport, Jesse drops off Henry, his son from his previous marriage. Henry returns to Chicago, living with his mother. Jesse remains in Greece and resumes the final days of his holidays there with Celine and their twin children. They visit the beach and help prepare dinner at the home of elderly writer Patrick (Walter Lassally) and his family. Their friends booked a local hotel for Celine and Jesse to have some time alone. They enjoy their conversation as they stroll to the hotel, where they spend the rest of the evening. Like the previous films, the pleasures are less in what the characters do than in what they say and how they say it.

Plato wrote, “At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.” This film touches on love and romance, taking as its theme what keeps a couple together. While the script is not exactly poetic, it is still quite special. Its characters engage in interesting conversation, telling stories, asking questions, cracking jokes, sometimes arguing. Discussion sometimes veers into the pretentious, for example, questioning the notion of self, but it offers a refreshingly intelligent and often humorous look at 21st-century romance. Conversations between the characters functions as the film’s “action”. Dinnertime discussion, in which characters of different ages and perspectives talk about contemporary sexuality, romance and the gender divide, raises issues explored in the relationship between Celine and Jesse that takes up most of the screen time.

Director Linklater elicits fine naturalistic performances from his ensemble. Walter Lassally, a former cinematographer who worked on Tom Jones and Zorba the Greek, makes his acting debut (aged 85). Xenia Kalogeropoulou, a famous Greek actress, came out of retirement to recount, as ageing Natalia, a touching remembrance of her deceased husband. Young Yiannis Papadopoulos (Achilleas) and Ariadne Labed (Anna) provide good looking support as Patrick’s grandchild and his girlfriend. The cadences and rhythms of speech throughout the film make it feel sometimes like the actors are improvising, but this is not so. Acting and writing are impeccably well judged.

Of course, the film centres on the relationship between Celine and Jesse, and Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke take up most of the screen time. They have come to know their characters intimately and they act with conviction. Their characters are necessarily not consistently likeable. Celine’s feminist anger can grate; not that she’s wrong, just that she feels Jesse misunderstands or is insensitive to her position. Jesse can come across as self-satisfied. But the fact they are not thoroughly likeable makes their personalities that more credible and believable. Seeing these films is perhaps like meeting old friends, listening to what they have to say, but not necessarily agreeing with everything.

Linklater’s unobtrusive reaction complements the film’s naturalism, combining long static shots and extended takes. There are no visual gimmicks or flashy techniques: Linklater focuses on making the film’s world appear to be “real life”, as the characters assert. Sandra Adair’s crisp editing and Christos Voudouris’ sharp framing and lighting also lend well to the film’s apparent authenticity.

The trilogy, taken together, provides perhaps a generation-defining look at contemporary romance, beginning with the characters in their idealistic 20s, their complicated 30s, becoming frustrated in their 40s. Each film, taken alone, is perhaps not particularly original. One only has to think of the mind games played out, for example, in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). But, over time, Linklater reinvigorates the romantic comedy/drama with his remarkable naturalistic style and complex characterisation, epitomised by Celine.

Celine presents as one of the most articulate and complex female characters in a cinematic romance. Deciding whether or not she should take a government job makes Celine, an environmental activist, anxious. She berates Jesse, a successful novelist, for making her decision worse by assuming that he wants to their family home from Paris to Chicago so that he can play a more consistent role in Henry’s life. She criticises Jesse, “Captain Cleanup”, for failing to acknowledge that “little fairies” are not responsible for tasks such as unloading the dishwasher. She must also deal with Jesse’s apparent representation of her as Madeline in his novels. She’s not afraid to advance her point of view and she does not allow herself to be defined solely by her relationship to Jesse, even though their relationships is central to the works. Celine, as a character, more nuanced, realistic and credible than most characters balancing their work, home and romantic life.

Socrates advised men to get married:  if you find a good wife, you’ll be happy; if you find a bad wife, you’ll become a philosopher, and that is no bad thing, he said, for any man. Celine and Jesse are not married, but they have found each other. Sometimes they’re happy; sometimes they’re not, and their arguments, jokes, stories and talks, their encounters, excursions, adventures and walks, all on a sunny Greek evening, make their musings, “walking around bullshitting”, as Jesse puts it, great entertainment.

John Moran

108 mins

15A (see IFCO website for details)

Before Midnight is released on 21st June 2013

 Before Midnight – Official Website

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