DIR: Russell Crowe • WRI: Andrew Knight, Andrew Anastasios PRO: Troy Lum, Andrew Mason, Keith Rodger • DOP: Andrew Lesnie • ED: Matt Villa • MUS: David Hirschfelder • DES: Chris Kennedy • CAST: Isabel Lucas, Jai Courtney, Olga Kurylenko, Russell Crowe
Russell Crowe goes Oscar hunting in the director’s chair with The Water Diviner, a historical fiction about a father’s search for his dead sons after the WWI battle at the Ottoman. It’s clear early on that Crowe doesn’t have the subtle subjective hand to make such done-to-death subject matter any more compelling than what has gone before it.
Olga Kurlyenko is great to look at but can’t act. Russell Crowe can act and does his usual thing of being gruff and charmingly unapproachable, but his mood fluctuates too inappropriately in this. You watch it and can’t help but wish there was a better director to navigate the tone. But no, it’s Crowe that’s calling the shots. Admittedly though, there are some nice shots in it, with some nifty tracking across the scenery, particularly in his home that engages and might even surprise. Structurally the film is solid but becomes predictable and towards the end just downright pedestrian.
Like in any war movie the battle scenes are key. In this film they are terrible. Not for the want of trying, they’re shot at considerable scale and there’s no little amount of energy shown when the Aussies and Turks throw down. But, blurred slow motion has been outmoded since the turn of the last century and it’s largely used to compensate for an action scene’s lack of tension. Neither does Crowe feel the need to bother with such gimmicks as filmic realism. All I’ll say is this, if you shoot someones face from absolute point-blank range, it’s going to do more damage than a cut on the forehead.
The title refers to Russell Crowe’s less than holistic profession of someone who uses his senses to detect water underground and plunge it out. The efficacy of this is something the movie is pretty ambivalent about, but sees enough to allow Crowe’s character to suss out his sons remains in the rubble four years after they were killed. That’s fine, family connections and all that, but you can’t help but think the title was dreamed up as a way to shift the story along in order to draw some blood. One of the opening scenes with Crowe using his apparatus (coat-hanger) to find water and dig it out is dangerously close to the introduction in Their Will Be Blood. Possible spoilers here, but Russell Crowe is no Daniel Plainview. And he’s certainly no Paul Thomas Anderson.
It’s a perfectly serviceable film, it’s nowhere near bad enough to get angry at, it plays it safe enough to avoid offending, but it surely made it into cinemas because the director is Superman’s dad.
And that’s the frustration of this movie – I really, really wanted to care. Even if that meant expending energy in hating it rather than just thinking it was okay. Nothing. You can tell that Crowe had good intentions, this was more than an Aussie flag-waving exercise for him, he wanted to tell a story. But he doesn’t have the tools to do it, and no amount of twisted coat-hangers is going to change that.
The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival have announced that Russell Crowe’s directorial debut The Water Diviner will screen on Friday, 20th March
Academy award winning actor Russell Crowe will attend the festival next month to introduce his new film The Water Diviner and participate in a post-screening Q&A at the Savoy Cinema.
Entertainment One’s forthcoming release, The Water Diviner, is a tale of love, faith and heroism. Four years after the devastating battle of Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I, Australian farmer and water diviner Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe) travels to Istanbul to discover the fate of his three sons who enlisted to fight amongst their allies but have been reported as missing in action.
When his questions are blocked by military bureaucracy, he’s aided by a beautiful hotel owner (Olga Kurylenko) and then by Major Hassan, a Turkish war hero (Yilmaz Erdogan) who becomes an unlikely ally. As Joshua heads across the tragic, war-torn landscape searching for answers, he struggles to find his own peace but desperately holds onto hope.
The 13th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival takes place from 19th – 29th March 2015. The full lineup for the Festival programme will be announced on Wednesday February 25thwww.jdiff.com. The Water Diviner will be released in cinemas by Entertainment One on 3rd April 2015.
The Water Diviner: The Savoy Cinema | Friday 20 March. Tickets will be officially on sale for this event as of today and can be purchased online http://bit.ly/1McTsGv or www.jdiff.com or at their Box Office which is now open Monday to Friday 11am – 5pm on 13 Lower Ormond Quay. The JDIFF 2015 Season Ticket is currently available to purchase at €245 along limited edition merchandise. Also new this year is the Bring A Friend Season Pass, two season tickets for €425.
DIR: Darren Aronofsky • WRI: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel • PRO: Darren Aronofsky , Scott Franklin, Arnon Milchan, Mary Parent • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Andrew Weisblum • MUS: Clint Mansell • DES: Mark Friedberg • CAST: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson
If ten years ago you said that the director responsible for Pi and Requiem for a Dream would be making $125 million biblical epics you would have been… remarkably prescient. So, eh, well done, I guess!
Yes, surely thanks to the remarkable performance of Black Swan at the global box office, Darren Aronofksy has been granted a budget and canvas rarely afforded to arthouse darlings. With those resources, he has opted to put his own unique slant on one of the most famous stories of them all – that of Noah and his apocalypse-proof ark. It could have gone either way – a triumph or a massive disaster. Actually, it’s neither, but it’s absolutely fascinating to watch.
Do I need to go into a synopsis? The core story – divine vision, two of every animal, apocalyptic flood – is roughly intact, so many of the key story beats are obvious. What is interesting, however, is how unusual Aronofsky’s telling of the story is. He picks and chooses elements from the various versions and interpretations, as well as adding details of his own. Structurally, it’s far removed from your typical Hollywood blockbuster – most of the spectacle is spent in the film’s first half – which is perhaps perhaps best described as a ‘fantasy epic’ – and a majority of the second is devoted to a pretty intense family melodrama.
Noah, it should be said, is rather ‘Old Testament’ in its storytelling. It manages to get across the horror, violence, ancient morality and – yes – moments of beauty that are contained in those early volumes. It makes a valiant attempt at both critiquing and respecting the religious aspects of the story. There’s a truly stunning ‘creation’ sequence, for example, that recounts the biblical story while also allowing an evolutionary reading – a wonderful and provocative discourse realised with Aronofsky’s visceral visual storytelling (here using rapid montage editing). ‘The Creator’ (no mention the G-word here), meanwhile, mostly remains an elusive, mysterious presence throughout, despite being integral to the story. Aronofsky brings a welcome degree of scepticism while staying generally loyal to many of the myth’s themes and ideas: likely to alienate many viewers in the process, but resulting in a richer film. There’s also a contemporary environmentalist message mixed in, although it gels into the story’s themes relatively nicely and only rarely feels preachy.
The production values to the film are predictably impressive throughout – iffy CGI aside, but more on that anon – although the film inevitably sings during the scenes where Aronofsky indulges his wilder stylistic urges. There are several seriously spectacular moments, including a recurring dream / vision sequence that adds some welcome aesthetic oomph to that hoary cinematic tradition. The spectacle, when it comes, is intense and epic. Clint Mansell again proves himself a valuable asset, with his bold score embracing both subtlety and bombast when required. The music is overblown at times, but no more so than the story itself. Generally, there’s a welcome eccentric unpredictability to the film – despite tackling one of the best known stories from history, it’s the rare film of this scale that is happy to embark on stylistic flights of fancy or explore the underexplored thematic resonances inherent in Noah’s plight.
Actually, the single-most interesting aspect of Noah is the characterisation of the man himself. Crowe, Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel collaborate to put him on-screen as someone driven to obsession and near-madness by the challenge handed to him. He’s far from a traditional screen hero, particularly in the film’s latter half when he becomes almost completely delusional and manages to violently alienate his family in the process. It’s certainly a bold take on the character. Other members of Noah’s family do get the screentime necessary to explore their own stories, however. Jennifer Connelly plays his initially supportive wife, Naameh, with real passion, while Anthony Hopkins’ cameo adds some welcome colour – and the film’s only thing resembling humour – as Noah’s ancient grandfather Methuselah. One of the meatiest supporting roles is reserved for Emma Watson as Ila, the ‘barren’ partner of Noah’s eldest son Shem (Douglas Booth, who has comparatively little to do). Much time is also devoted to the increasingly strained relationship between Noah and middle-son Ham (Logan Lerman), who understandably is a little depressed about the possibility of a new world without the fairer sex. Ray Winstone appears as Tubal-cain, the cruel leader determined to procure the ark for himself. Alas, his extended appearance is one of the film’s less interesting features.
Which naturally leads on to the observation that the film is pretty wildly uneven. As soon as the CGI rock monsters / fallen angels appear in the opening minutes, it’s pretty obvious that certain aspects of the film ask a lot from the viewer, even if you’re willing to accept the more fantastical elements. Said ‘Watchers’ don’t become any less odd as they play a more integral part in the film’s second act. The whole thing is earnest and self-serious: rightly so at times, but to the point of parody at others. As alluded to above, plenty of it is completely overblown, especially some of the farcically melodramatic turns towards the film’s end. Surprisingly, apart from two scenes, the animals themselves are underused, although that might be down to the fact the CGI teams are clearly struggling to believably render thousands of different species at the same time. And the ending feels far too neat and tidy, as well as tonally inconsistent with what came before.
Yet, for all its imperfections – and it is, no mistake, a wildly mixed bag – there’s something ultimately admirable about its devil-may-care ambition. Aronofsky throws everything he has at the screen, and while much of it fails to stick, a lot of it does. It is a brave, auteristic blockbuster in an era when blandness and safety have become the standards. There’s something refreshing about that. It’s a reminder how rarely directors like Darren Aronofsky are gifted an opportunity to craft something on this scale, and how strange it is to see a fresh interpretation of such an iconic story. When Noah is at its visceral best, it’s something to be truly savoured, even if it can be just as maddening as endearing.
DIR: Zack Snyder • WRI: David S. Goyer • PRO: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Emma Thomas • DOP: Amir Mokri • ED: David Brenner • DES: Alex McDowell • Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe
With 75 years of stories and countless versions of the character the essence of Superman can be a very hard thing to capture. It can’t be bottled like a shrunken Kryptonian city. The essential beats will always remain, doomed planet, last son, the hope and the blue streak careening across the sky. There is an old complaint about the character that he is too hard to write for, too unrelatable. This has always felt off to me. Within the Superman myth you have so much scope for how to approach it. You could play up a poignant sense of alienation or ramp up the sci- fi elements, play the sparky Daily Planet set up or instead go global with him solving problems all over the world. Love triangles technically between just two people, alien prison dimensions, mad scientists, giant robots, a colourful rogues gallery and if so inclined you can go for biblical allusions and an earned uncynical sentimentality. The world of the Man of Steel is a blessing for imagination and we’ve only barely scratched the surface of that S-Shield.
In 1978 an indelible version of the story was crafted, featuring a generation defining slant on the character. Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of a nerdy bumbling Clark Kent contrasted by the cool and assured Superman characterisation casts a shadow as big as Krypton’s destruction on Kal-El. While I adore the performance in the Donner films, I’m not as beholden to them as full films as other people seem to be. They were of their time. Parts have badly dated and certain plot elements for me seem utterly out of place in retrospect but what you can’t fault those films on was the amount of charm they had. Superman was dryly funny and had a calming confidence to himself that radiated the inherent virtue of the character. The arc of his life, if paced a bit too slowly, was brilliantly conveyed over the first half of that film.
Following the Bryan Singer Donner-aping Superman Returns which I would label an interesting misfire, too slavishly indebted to an older sensibility but still thoughtful enough to at least demand respect rather than love, it was clear the slate needed to be swept clean. The architects of this new take is a triumvirate of fluctuating talent. Christopher Nolan, the dry and serious creative force behind the Dark Knight Trilogy, a riveting and mature if occasionally ponderous exercise in grounding the fantastical elements of Superhero films, Zack Snyder a hyperactive man child whose filmography is a flashy but very often hollow example of style over substance, of effect over empathy and finally the hit and miss scripting duties of David Goyer. For every hit Batman Begins, we have something risible in Blade Trinity. Fans were aghast at Snyder’s choosing initially but believed that these three, working in unison, could cancel out any weaknesses and instead unite and create something truly special. For all of Snyder’s weaknesses he has an eye for action sequence, Nolan could ground the excess and Goyer could provide a solid foundation marrying the outlandish with the ordinary.
They come so close to succeeding. Man of Steel is a vibrant re-imagining, the opening Krypton prologue may be heavily indebted to Avatar and the Star Wars prequels but no matter. It is a bracing introduction and for someone who loves the crazier sci-fi elements of the property, seeing an alien world so teeming with strangeness proved a refreshing opening. How the tone of this could ever fit in with the world of the Dark Knight films is beyond me but it isn’t soon before literally and figuratively the film crashes down to Earth and gives us a more recognisable world. The film is sly with its chronology giving us Man of Steel action much faster than I assumed it would, the inevitable scenes of young Clark being flashbacks elegantly woven across the films narrative. I was very happy it eschewed a straight ahead progression in favour of a more interesting approach. Spectacle wise the film has some dazzling sequences and the last hour or so of straight ahead Kryptonian action is a bruising set piece, blurring figures barreling through more buildings and landmarks than you can count. I’ll admit a certain fan boy glee in finally getting an intense action scene in a Superman film. Cinematically Superman has always struggled in this area, the threat never seeming big enough, the action never that important. There is an energy to the fight scenes that can go along way to making this a distinct entry for the character but alas it’s just not enough.
For me, the best Superman story would mix such high-octane thrills with something a bit more thoughtful. The potential to do that was here. All the talk of ideals and inspiration, which I think is the single most important aspect of the character are present but oddly muted in the actual film. It feels more like characters are telling us that rather than we are seeing something inspiring on screen. It might have to do with how they approach Superman as a character here. Obviously this is his first adventure and they seed in certain doubts and insecurities but despite extensive flashbacks it amounts to very little character wise. We see events and lessons learned but Superman is still essentially half sketched. It’s hard to know why exactly but we never get to see him in his moral fortitude before those morals are challenged by the films villain, General Zod.
Throughout the whole film, relationships are barely defined, scenes are more exposition join up points than characters talking. After two brief scenes between Lois and Clark a dynamic is set up that I don’t think the film has earned. Within the story it is clear why a certain level of trust has been established but it’s happened off screen, in between more disjointed scenes. Snyder can handle the big moments but it’s the basic moments that strengthen a narrative that seems to be lacking. The producers make a big point that they had to pretend no other Superman film had ever been made before this. Now I’m well aware the tropes of the material are embedded in pop culture but if this was a fresh take on new characters I’d never feel like I’d gotten to know these people to care enough.
This is felt with various characters, the Kents are underused, in particular Jonathan Kent as played by Kevin Costner. His scenes are important for the arc but he feels more like a mouthpiece for a view point rather than as a real people. Despite being a similar presence Jonathan was always more of a character than say, Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben. But we don’t get that here.
Oddly enough the most explored character throughout the film is Jor-El, Superman’s birth father. While Kal remains a little aloof Jor-El gets meatier moments than what we should expect and provides the film with a clear through-line. Russell Crowe does seem an awkward fit at times but he largely succeeds.
And that’s how I’d view the film overall. Making Zod more morally complex gives Michael Shannon stuff to work with and Cavill as the Man of Steel has a quiet dignity. I can easily imagine him growing into the role over time and becoming the wiser Superman of various stories. Amy Adams’ Lois is a fine version of the character, nothing too different there. Although an early scene where lazy shorthand is used to make her a tough cookie in the face of arrogant male characters felt very easy and half hearted. In the end there are flaws and missteps but nothing that is Kryptonite to a big blockbuster film. Most are forgivable in the service of a brand new take and some may even be necessary for modern audiences to embrace the character but it still seems like another draft away from being the truly great Superman film I was hoping for. A dark moment in the third act is troubling too and seems to be setting us on an angst ridden road that I think has been well trod by the citizens of Gotham these last few years. I don’t want my Superman moping around, I want him to soar majestically.
By no means a failure and nothing to be cast into the Phantom Zone any time soon, I still think that for it to have truly worked it needed to be that bit more thoughtful and fully rounded from a character perspective. Superman is my favourite superhero and he is all about heart and hope, not just whizz bang pyrotechnics. Kent we have it all next time around?
DIR: Allen Hughes • WRI: Brian Tucker PRO: Remington Chase, Randall Emmett, George Furla, Allen Hughes, Stephen Levinson, Teddy Schwarzman, Mark Wahlberg • DOP: Ben Seresin • ED: Cindy Mollo • DES: Tom Duffield • CAST: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Another tale of political corruption in the US here, Broken City feels very much a product of a different time, that time being the 1990s.
Written by newcomer Brian Tucker, Broken City sees New York’s slimy mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) trying to win a tight re-election campaign against improbably nice politician Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper). His name sounds like valiant, so you know he’s the good guy. Unfortunately for everyone (including us), the manipulative Mrs. Hostetler (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having a not-so-subtle affair, and her accomplice may be a member of Valliant’s campaign team. Proper scandal here, like.
Enter Mark Wahlberg’s Billy Taggart, a disgraced former cop let off the hook by Hostetler back in the day, now a struggling private detective. Taken on by Hostetler to spy on his wife, Billy soon ends up getting caught in a web of intrigue and back-stabbery that might make a good TV movie version of L.A. Confidential.
Breaking so little new ground that it actually manages to pack dirt back into that hole, Broken City is however a passable entertainment, the sort of film that you might catch on the telly at 11pm after an aborted night out and be very grateful to have stumbled upon.
Crowe and Wahlberg, two actors prone to violent bouts of over-acting when under-directed, make a surprisingly good pair here, neither quite able to out-class, or out-yell, the other. Zeta-Jones sleepwalks through her role like never before, but the always reliable Jeffrey Wright and comeback king Kyle Chandler provide quality support, however rarely.
Director Allen Hughes, out on his own for the first time having made the likes of From Hell and The Book of Eli with his twin brother Albert, goes for a gritty look in his film, but finds the night sky of New York too polluted with office lights and street lamps. Even in the darkest corners of Brooklyn Hughes can’t quite make New York look like a bad place to live. The constantly moving camera makes one wonder if his DOP was involved in some twisted re-enactment of the film Speed, where if the camera dropped under 2 miles per hour it would explode.
The main plot may be nothing new, but it has enough little twists to keep the attention, even if it never gives a sense of New York City beyond the corridors of power. The subplots are a mess however, with Billy’s troubled relationship and even more troubled past feeling like after thoughts, which are hardly resolved at all.
With some nice touches, particularly a television debate between Hostetler and Valliant – in which Crowe is finely caked in fake tan – that takes a turn for the nasty, Broken City is still little more than another post-Oscars screen-filler. It will do fine until something better comes along, but it’ll do even finer on Netflix during a post-Christmas party hangover. If you must see it, save it for then.
15A (see IFCO website for details) 108mins Broken Cityis released on 1st March 2013
DIR: Tom Hooper • WRI: William Nicholson • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward , Cameron Mackintosh • DOP: Danny Cohen • ED: Chris Dickens, Melanie Oliver • DES: Eve Stewart • CAST: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmaybe, Amanda Seyfried
Few films in recent memory have screamed Oscar®-bait more than Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables. When an Academy Award®-winning filmmaker takes one of the world’s most beloved musicals based on one of the most powerful novels ever written and casts it with cream-of-the-crop performers, including a former Oscar® host, an Oscar®-winning actor and two Oscar®-nominated actresses, how could it fail come February?
Well, with surprising ease, apparently. It takes quite a talent to so thoroughly slaughter this golden egg-laying musical goose, but Hooper has found a way. A masterful director of actors (check out The Damned United) who has been remarkably lucky with his script choices, never more so than for his multi-award-winning film The King’s Speech, Hooper has never been accused of having outstanding visual flair. Here, that lack of flair is downright unimaginative, and results in a lazily produced and bloated film that never manages to engage the eyes, even as it haunts and delights the ears.
Hooper’s misdirection has not been enough to block out the power of Victor Hugo’s story, or the arresting music and lyrics of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s 1980 musical, and Les Mis retains a certain magic.
Tony Award-winning musical performer and Wolverine Hugh Jackman stars as Jean Valjean, a beleaguered Frenchman in post-Napoleonic France, starving and unable to find work due to his status as an ex-con; he has just served 19 years for stealing a single loaf of bread. Daring to start a new life, he breaks parole and creates a new identity for himself, within years becoming a successful factory owner and mayor of a provincial town. Valjean’s past catches up with him in the form of Javert (Russell Crowe), the foreman of his former chain gang, now a high-ranking police inspector who views Valjean as the one who got away, and someone whom the law must punish once more.
Valjean’s life on the run from Javert is complicated by his adoption of Cosette, a sweet urchin whose prostitute mother (Anne Hathaway) was unable to take care of her. Years later, as revolution stirs once more in the streets of Paris, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) finds herself besmitten with a young rebel named Marius (Eddie Redmayne), and is soon dragged with her father into the political tumult, pursued ravenously by Javert.
Hugo’s themes of persecution and faith echo wonderfully in the film’s finer songs. Anne Hathaway sobs her way through ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, her hair shorn and her cheeks bloodied, having just sold her locks, teeth and body. Jackman belts out ‘Who am I? I’m Jean Valjean!’ as he decides to take responsibility for his actions in order to save another man. Samantha Barks, the only professional singer in the main cast, brings a mournful elegance to ‘On My Own’. Hooper’s insistence on using single-take close-ups throughout many of the numbers show off his actors’ talents well, but they are anything but cinematic, more akin to watching the big screen at a pop concert than a Hollywood musical. The only properly choreographed performance is ‘Master of the House’, a jaunty, nasty song that feels out of place in the midst of so much real drama.
Because of this, the musical numbers have no energy, and you would be forgiven for wishing Gene Kelly would burst onto the screen and roar ‘Gotta dance!’ If only. It is not until well into the third act that the medley ‘One More Day’ properly electrifies the film, followed swiftly by the show-stopping ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’; but it’s too little too late. As the rebels set up barricades in a Parisian cul-de-sac so fake it looks like Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, it’s hard to care anymore about the young lovers’ plight, let alone the attempted revolution. When the film reaches its apparent climax, there are still 20 minutes to go, although the overwhelming finale just about makes up for that drag.
Hooper’s decision to have the actors’ singing recorded live on set results in some very affecting performances that hammer the emotions through the songs; although this doesn’t always facilitate their hitting the right notes. Jackman makes a believable Valjean, but the boy from Oz rarely flexes the vocals (and not once the dance moves) that made him a Broadway darling. Russell Crowe, a rock ’n’ roll singer in his spare time, scoops his voice repeatedly to reach the notes required, but the effect is more Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia! than Michael Crawford. Due as much to some of Hooper’s more incomprehensible directorial decisions as to the Gladiator star’s miscasting, Crowe only manages to capture a fragment of the obsessive, sadistic and homoerotic nature of Javert that Charles Laughton mastered in the role nearly 80 years ago.
And fragments are all this film is; pieces of a glorious story, with moments of fine acting and superb songs brought low by excessive Dutch tilts and face-hugging close-ups. Not since Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc have expensive sets been this lost, buried out of focus, behind the faces of a film’s stars.
Yet it’s still hard not to recommend Les Mis, on some level. The story is timeless and the music resplendent, and Jackman and particularly Hathaway deserve to have their performances seen and heard. The un-cinematic quality of Hooper’s interpretation may yet lead to it finding a more respecting audience on the small screen, where the careless photography and in-your-face close-ups can cause less offence.
DIR: RZA • WRI: Eli Roth, RZA • PRO: Marc Abraham, Eric Newman, Eli Roth • DOP: Chi Ying Chan • ED: Joe D’Augustine • DES: Drew Boughton • CAST: Russell Crowe, RZA, Zhu Zhu, Lucy Liu
The Man with the Iron Fists
answers a question that someone out there has long pondered – can Wu-Tang Clan’s The RZA direct, score, star in and co-write a decent martial arts film? The answer is no.The story is one of the most ludicrous and convoluted offered in any film of recent years, so it’s unworthy of much attention. At its most basic level, the plot kick starts after the murder of a gang leader in a vaguely historical China. The leader’s vengeful son (Rick Yune), an immigrant blacksmith (RZA) and a playboy British envoy (Russell Crowe) all end up stuck in the middle of the gang war that ensues, localised around Jungle Village. This plot encompasses so many different factions and individuals its impossible to care about who is who, or why they just disembowelled that other guy. An over prominent voiceover by Mr. ZA himself plays over proceedings. The film was co-scripted by Eli Roth, so take that as a warning / recommendation as per your personal opinion of the man.
The multi-tasking helmer has a deep affection for kung-fu action, having clearly studied everything from the Shaw Brothers’ classics to his old collaborator Quentin Tarantino’s (here serving as off-screen ‘presenter’) reinterpretations of cheesy B-Movies. There are times when this threatens to become a convincing homage to the same – whether it’s the gloriously multi-coloured sets, pitch-perfect retro titles or the cameos from cult genre icons.
Alas, aesthetically the film is an absolute mess, and not just the liberal spilling of CGI blood and guts. The fight scenes lack any sense of spatial awareness or energy, even though the film’s more fantastical elements add a distinctive twist to the combat (there is indeed a man whose fists are iron). The cinematography fails to take advantage of the rich sets or beautiful Chinese locations. The disparate influences of the soundtrack – hip-hop beats, orchestral numbers and the occasional Oriental-infused composition – fail to gel together into a coherent whole.
The editing, though, is the most infuriating problem of all. The film is so excitedly cut together that it feels like we’re enduring a feature-length montage. The average shot-length can’t be more than a couple of seconds. The pacing is therefore exhausting, and the rapid cutting further damages the already uninspiring setpieces. During the film’s climactic battle scene, for example, Yune’s character ends up in a hall of mirrors against a hidden opponent. It looks as if we’re about to get the film’s action payoff in a visually magnificent setting. Alas, after around twenty seconds it cuts to an entirely different and much less interesting scene. Every time the film appears to be taking flight, the editing ensures it comes crashing down again.
The acting is a mixed bag. The decision to shoot an English language film with a predominantly Chinese cast is a strange one – while the dialogue is still undeniably stilted, the ensemble do fare better than the Japanese cast of Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django did. RZA is an uncharismatic lead. Lucy Liu appears as little more than O-Ren Ishii Redux. Russell Crowe has a lot of fun hamming it up. It’s not a great performance by any stretch, but we’ll let him away with having a blast.
The Man with the Iron Fists just doesn’t come together. Not funny enough to work as a satire, not slick enough to be a worthy genre entry in its own right, the film feels careless and haphazard. A missed opportunity.