Even the actors who set out to tell the story of prolific screenwriter and former Communist Dalton Trumbo weren’t entirely aware of the scope of his story when they signed on to the project. Blacklisted for his beliefs and forced to churn out schlocky scripts under a series of pseudonyms to keep his family fed, he eventually won two Academy Awards he couldn’t collect until the mid ‘70s. His family business—Trumbo’s wife and three children all play key roles in transporting illicit scripts under cover of night—is highly reminiscent of Cranston’s most notorious role on Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad, and the zippy pacing and editing liken the film to recent gangster dramas more than the typical biopic. Ultimately, the film’s smooth blend of ‘50s and modern sensibilities keep Trumbo both relevant and unfashionably (in the best possible sense) fun.
Rather than try to tackle the decades of history leading up to the British government’s granting of limited voting rights for women in 1918, Suffragette collages a particularly tumultuous eighteen-month period of violence and retaliation in a real and present way. Avoiding broad strokes, director Sarah Gavron and writer Abi Morgan paint each character with detailed grit and infectious idealism, and the prestigious cast, gravitating around an excellent lead performance by the quietly brilliant Carey Mulligan, lends each historical event an uncanny familiarity. The film sells a world-gone-by while also tapping into the never-more-relevant zeitgeist of radical feminism, reminding audiences that the work towards equality is far from done.
There are no real victories in Sicario, Denis Villeneuve’s terrifying, captivating, and utterly brilliant War on Drugs tale. Towards the end of the film, we see a series of events that most other films would take as crowning moments of success and glory. Instead, once it’s all over, all we and the characters feel is scared and a bit sick. Playing more like a war movie than a conventional cops vs gangs piece, Sicario makes some bold, but not browbeating, statements about America’s position as World Police, whilst simultaneously easily being the tensest movie of the year. It’s the best work yet by Enemy and Prisoners director Villeneuve, who will next take on the Blade Runner sequel, aided by a great quartet of lead actors and staggeringly good work by master cinematographer Roger Deakins. (more…)
One of the most high-profile biopics of the year, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs seems like one of the ‘sure things’ of this year’s awards cycle. Featuring a bevy of Oscar-friendly performances, a snappy and funny screenplay with some key highlight reel Big Quotes, the newest account of the divisive tech figurehead is bound to feature in many of the major award categories. Yet, there is also something missing at the core of Steve Jobs. While individual parts of the film are rarely less than good and quite often excellent, it doesn’t really coalesce into anything particularly moving. For Apple geeks, this detailed if mythologised look at the rocky history of some of the company’s products accomplishes just that, but for everyone else, it’s an effective prestige piece that is never quite the sum of its parts.
With her first widely released directorial debut, Angelina Jolie tells the All-American story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic-runner turned bombardier made castaway and prisoner of war. After purchasing the rights to his story, Universal went through decades of production hell to bring it to the screen. Tony Curtis of Some Like it Hot fame was originally in talks to portray the Olympian, illustrating truly how long this film has been in the works. Universal pictures finally green-lit the production after Jolie took the helm as a team of screenwriters (including the Coen Brothers) ironed out the structure. After telling such a remarkable story of perseverance, it seems fitting that the film also had its own trials. Unfortunately, perhaps because of all those involved in finally getting to tell Louis Zamperini’s story, the film lacks character, both in content and execution. A reverent salute to the man who suffered so much for his country, Unbroken has a big heart but not nearly enough spirit.