Review: Truth

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DIR/WRI: James Vanderbilt • PRO: Brad Fischer, Brett Ratner, William Sherak, Andrew Spaulding, James Vanderbilt • DOP: Mandy Walker • ED: Richard Francis-Bruce • MUS: Brian Tyler • DES: Fiona Crombie • CAST: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Dennis Quaid

 

While Cate Blanchett is currently riding high on the success of her Oscar-nominated performance in Todd Haynes’s female/lesbian-centric film Carol, unfortunate scheduling has pulled focus away from yet another outstandingly rich Blanchett performance in Truth, the directorial debut from screenwriter James Vanderbilt. Released just three weeks in the US before the diversity-friendly, melancholic melodrama Carol and almost simultaneously with Tom McCarthy’s gripping newsroom thriller Spotlight, the onus is on the celebrated screenwriter’s debut to amplify the narrative of investigation into the darker aspects of American culture and its power structure, forcefully probed by such critically acclaimed heavyweights through sobering and absorbing critiques.

 

Based on CBS news producer Mary Mapes’ 2005 memoir, Truth and Duty: The Press, The President, and the Privilege of Power, Blanchett plays the non-conforming journalist, who produced a report for the 60 Minutes II programme in 2004, which challenged Bush’s service record with the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam era. Revelling in the glory of exposing the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse story (giving Bush a further axe to grind), Mapes and long-time news anchor, Dan Rather (Robert Redford) attempt to prove the president’s attendance record was more than shaky, owing to his family connections. Basing their investigations on leaked documents by an unreliable source, Mapes, Rather and a mutinous production team find themselves on the receiving end of political and corporate power, compromising their journalistic integrity as the authenticity of the documents comes under scrutiny.

 

While Haynes interrogates sexual diversity and challenges to the stability of the family by emotionally investing in a tangible love story between the two female characters and McCarthy exposes the Catholic Church’s large-scale culture of abuse with ethical humility by giving prominence to the victims rather than the crusading journalists, Vanderbilt’s Truth fails to grill the hegemonic construction of political, corporate and media corruption with any stinging, impactful conviction. Vanderbilt, rather, speeds through the chain of events that almost led to a presidential downfall and changed the face of modern journalism without the emotional or moral punch that reinforces Carol and Spotlight, devaluing the scale the CBS report had on the construction of the media and the manipulation of its integrity and values.

 

While Hayne’s exquisite craftsmanship is stamped all over Carol and his customary ironic overtones intensify his dismantling of 1950s socio-cultural structures, Vanderbilt’s impulsive, disjointed style, not only prevents an identification with characters and connection to events but draws attention to the director’s inexperience, whose failure to tease the hot subject matter into a carefully considered narrative, loses much of the moral and political significance of the story. Unlike Spotlight, the considerable repercussions of the story are sidelined to accentuate the journalists’ campaign without digging into the culture of corruption that led to the crusade and rather than merging both cause and effect into a sophisticated and damning cinematic critique of modern journalism and conservative power, Truth is hesitant and hurried, becoming more akin to a nondescript television movie. Vanderbilt’s style is at such odds with the narrative objective, that his investigations becoming more alienating than immersive and the zipping fashion with which the story unfolds creates an indifference to rather than engagement with events, making the overall story appear less significant than it was in actuality.

 

Supported solidly by Redford, Truth is rescued by another engrossing performance by Blanchett, who plays the lobbying producer with such compelling nuance, it is unfortunate the overall narrative and style cannot equal her efforts. Although the film is based on her book, Vanderbilt appears determined not to exploit Mapes’ position as an identifiable, female protagonist, in favour of a more rounded overview of all players involved. As such, when the crusaders mightily fall and Blanchett is put on the spotlight and breathtakingly shines, it is clear Vanderbilt missed a great opportunity by not intensifying Mapes’ perspective, which would have given the film that much needed subjective, emotional and feminist edge. Although most of the journalists involved ended their CBS careers in the aftermath, it was Mapes who was fired from the corporation, so such feminist overtones could have bolstered identification with Mapes’ position as a woman against unscrupulous corporate hegemony, but Vanderbilt seems at pains to avoid such political engagement.

 

Although the film shares a similar agenda to Carol and Spotlight in attempting to demolish the ideological agendas of conservative, hegemonic institutions, Vanderbilt’s attempts at interrogation simply do not get under the skin and fail to penetrate the cynical cycle of corruption and cover-ups, so palpably executed in Spotlight. While Rathers became the public scapegoat and thus a symbol of modern journalistic rectitude, it was Mapes who felt the full force of the corporate and political axe and Blanchett’s stunning performance was the unexploited golden ticket in Truth. The film has evidently suffered from a tentative, inexperienced director whose cautious probing of the seedier side of a culture of corporate corruption, leaves a feeling of being outside events rather than being complicit in the crusade. Despite some fantastic separate elements, such as performances and production values, when all pulled together, the film fails to add up to a thrilling, critical exposé on the whole and Cate Blanchett will possibly not get the appreciation for her performance that she deserves.

                                                                                                 

 

 Dee  O’Donoghue

15A (See IFCO for details)

125 minutes

Truth is released 4th March 2016

Truth – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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DIR: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo • WRI: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: Trent Opaloch • ED: Jeffrey Ford • MUS: Henry Jackman • DES: Peter Wenham • CAST: Robert Redford, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson

Steve Rogers – super soldier, war hero and man-out-of-time – is back in the world after a stint as a patriotic popsicle beneath Arctic ice. Captain America’s second solo outing since the so-so WWII epic that was 2011’s The First Avenger, The Winter Soldier sees Cap trading in his wartime crusade against Nazi pseudo-science outfit HYDRA for more cloak-and-dagger espionage under SHIELD. When the intelligence agency closes ranks after a masked super-soldier threatens even their highest levels, Rogers is forced into the fray against an unknown enemy who will ultimately lead him to question everything – particularly his place in a world that has more use for him as a weapon than a symbol.

It’s not exactly a new premise, seeing the quintessential poster boy for the Good Ol’ Days thrown into the morally ambiguous snarl of sleeper agents and sexy sexy spy tactics, but why should it be? The Avengers proved that our summer superhero flicks, smartly-scripted with a dash of character, can follow the commercial course without devolving into a by-the-numbers blockbuster, and The Winter Soldier certainly aims to carry that particular torch.

On the whole, what follows the much-lauded ten minute-preview released online proves stronger than even the ethereal and undefined “buzz” might suggest, the first hour or so delivering a story that is by turns entertaining and, dare I say, engrossing.

Dipping a booted toe into some genres and gleefully cannonballing into others, Cap 2 is a surprisingly subtle blend of nostalgic espionage and pulse-pounding action, all wrapped up under the stars and stripes of a superhero film. The fight sequences oscillate between balletic and genuinely bone-shuddering, rarely feeling overwrought thanks in no small part to a script that is well-paced and self-aware without bordering on trite.

Characterization is key to taking us through the hammier blockbuster aspects – every instance of Cap’s shield caroming off of another henchman’s head without somehow reducing it to patriotically-branded pulp is balanced by a quieter moment, such as Rogers sitting by the bedside of his now-aged love interest from the first film, or lingering in the doorway of a veteran rehabilitation meeting.

Johannson is again on form as the mercurial Black Widow, a glib foil to Evan’s po-faced Captain. Indeed, the leading man himself gets a chance to stretch actorly muscles typically left uncurled in films such as this, and it’s a genuine treat to watch him bring a quiet charisma to the ultimate blank slate that is Steve Rogers, a man with no life outside of his uniform.

However, just as those tracking shots ease their way down Black Widow’s catsuit as she strikes a pose after some particularly intense leg-grappling, I’m sure you sense a “but” on the way.

Thematically, the film follows the heightened stakes of Whedon’s alien attack on New York by attempting to ground Cap in some approximation of the real, the plot making vague gestures towards institutional paranoia and our hero’s waning faith in the powers-that-be. The hot-button topic of a secure state and the taxes it levies on personal freedom certainly forms the crux of the latter half of the film, but by this point a moment late in the second act has cast a new light upon events that ultimately dilutes all that went before and everything to follow.

In the interest of remaining as brief and spoiler-free as possible, suffice it to say that the core conflict of this film is the tension between a straight-laced soldier without a cause and the shady masters only to happy to provide him with one, so long as no questions are asked. In the grand tradition of the espionage thrillers it tips its hat to, The Winter Soldier is strongest as a tale about not knowing who the enemy is, of fighting in a brave new world of moral ambiguity where the word “evil” doesn’t hold the same currency it used to. The very last thing we needed was a flickering black-and-white montage narrated with a smug German (sorry, Swiss) accent whose sole purpose was to solidify this murky morality into solid black and white in time for our final battle, and yet that’s exactly what we got.

This descent at the end of the second act ultimately hamstrings the third, plonking us firmly back into a narrative of hero vs. villain and rendering all of the tropes that earlier seemed playful into reductive parodies of themselves. From here the plot aims for home along the path of least resistance – which, conveniently, intersects with that of most exploding aircraft, least concern for collateral human fatality and spends a great deal of time detouring around Scarlett Johansson’s hips.

Ultimately, the chink in The Winter Soldier’s armour is the same that plagued Snyder’s Man of Steel. Heart, humour, fantastic visual action and a solid villain – the bones of an excellent film were there and could likely still be excavated from an overwrought third act. Unlike MoS, Captain America: The Winter Soldier still makes it out near-intact as two-thirds of an excellent film, and certainly sets up some daring knock-on effects for the rest of Marvel’s ominously-titled “Phase 2”. However, while certainly the beefed-up super-soldier to its weak-chinned predecessor, The Winter Soldier ultimately pulls its punches and I can’t help but wonder at the Cap that could have been.

 

Ruairí Moore

12A (See IFCO for details)
135 mins

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is released on 26th March 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier– Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: All Is Lost

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DIR/WRI: J.C. Chandor  PRO: Neal Dodson, Anna Gerb, Justin Nappi, Teddy Schwarzman   DOP: Frank G. DeMarco, Peter Zuccarini   ED: Pete Beaudreau  DES: John P. Goldsmith MUS: Alex Ebert  Cast: Robert Redford

All Is Lost brings back all my faith in terror and death, to lift a phrase from Dorothy Parker. Robert Redford’s unnamed protagonist is sailing his yacht, the Virginia Jean, somewhere near the Sumatra Straits. One day he wakes up to find a substantial hole in his living quarters – the boat’s been struck by a stray shipping container. Frantically, he tries to patch it up. A fat storm sits on the horizon. Here his troubles begin. From then on, we watch Redford’s character react to a series of disasters and rest between them. All Is Lost is not contemplative or poetic in the traditional way of seafaring films; all we have to go on are Redford’s character’s actions. Any downtime is infused with tedium or dull anxiety. There are few instances of capital-c cinematography; pretty shots of the sun rising etc. serve to signal the approach of weather – red skies in the morning and all that.

 

So pay attention, budding scriptwriters. Just put a solitary person at nature’s mercy and you’ve got yourself a plot. Forget explication, context, even dialogue; in this case, there’s a little speech over the short prologue, a roared expletive later on, and that’s it. All we have to focus on is the man’s minute-to-minute struggle. Director J. C. Chandor recognises that the survivalist film is most absorbing when it plays like a procedural. Life of Pi the book didn’t scrimp on the particulars – urine sores and so on – but the film frontloaded the fabulism and became a different thing. All Is Lost is all about those particulars. Redford paints glue over the patched-up hole in his boat, or he figures out a way to use a plastic bag to make seawater drinkable, or he puts a dressing over a gash, all with the energy and presence most actors reserve for the big weep scene. Or – perhaps the tense cycle of disaster and relief simply supercharges every little movement? And Redford’s achievement is a total ignore-the-camera naturalism? I can’t tell. In 1972’s Jeremiah Johnson, he played the survivalist as messianic action hero, but All Is Lost will grip you more. It of course makes sense that frantic little activities are the real human reaction to disaster – to storms, the angry sea, sharks, death’s general proximity. But it’s so refreshing to see a filmmaker leave traditional action-heroism out of it. The cutting is leisurely but the camera is always smartly placed, so we see every exertion, and every fumble, clearly, without them seeming over-fluid or superhumanly frenzied – Hollywood-ised.

 

It helps that Redford is old. He looks better than most 77-year-old men, but you can really see it when he tries to clamber about the ship, or whenever there’s a close-up. His own relative proximity to death piles on the sense of the human as feebly ephemeral. Whether or not all of our endeavours are futile is not a question this film ought to be expected to answer. But in All Is Lost, not even the free market is safe from the sea – the shipping container that hits Redford’s character’s boat dribbles cheap sneakers out into the Indian Ocean.

Darragh John McCabe

12A (See IFCO for details)

106  mins

All Is Lost is released on 27th December 2013

All Is Lost – Official Website

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Cork Film Festival Competition: Win a Pair of Tickets for ‘All is Lost’ starring Robert Redford

© Daniel Daza

As part of the 58th Cork Film Festival All Is Lost, directed by J.C. Chandor and starring Robert Redford, screens on Wednesday, 13th November at 8.30pm in the Cork Opera House.

Deep into a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean, an unnamed man (Robert Redford) wakes to find his 39-foot yacht taking on water after a collision with a shippingcontainer left floating on the high seas. With his navigation equipment and radio disabled, the man sails unknowingly into the path of a violent storm. Despite his success in patching the breached hull, his mariner’s intuition and a strength that belies his age, the man barely survives the tempest. With theunrelenting sun, sharks circling and his meager supplies dwindling, the ever-resourceful sailor soon finds himself staring his mortality in the face.

Thanks to the fine people at the Cork Film Festival we have two pairs of tickets to give away to see the film.

To be in with a chance of winning yourself a pair of tickets, simply answer the following question:

What 2011 film, starring Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci and Kevin Spacey, did J.C. Chandor direct?

Email your answer to filmireland@gmail.com before 1pm on Wednesday, 13th November, when the winners will be notified by email.

www.corkfilmfest.org

Check out our Cork Film Festival coverage here


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