Tag Archives: The Guard

A Week In Film #209: Fireworks n ting

The Baker
Okay, so it’s not terrible – it’s just not very good. Like a throwback to those inconsequential, underdeveloped little Britflicks from the mid-90s, funded in the wake of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.

Here we have a big name star – Damian Lewis – as Milo, a hitman-for-hire who has tired of the assassination game, and so starts to put in play the exit strategy conceived by his mentor, Leo (Michael Gambon). That lands him in a small Welsh town where he must pose as the new baker. Some of the locals get wind of his previous occupation, and come to believe that it’s just a cover for him to carry on whacking people. A former rival spends the bulk of the film trying to track him down.

So a mildly diverting if hardly original set-up, and with some fairly diverting turns from the like of Kate Ashfield and Brian Hibbard. But it’s under baked. Did I mention that it was written and directed by Gareth Lewis, brother of previously noted big name star?

Margin Call
Pretty damn excellent drama encapsulating the global financial meltdown within a taut office-bound thriller. A round of lay-offs at a Wall Street investment banking firm sets in motion a chain of events which exposes first just how precarious capitalism is, and then how venal individual companies – or even just individuals – can be in the danse macabre, when it becomes clear in short order just how tits-up the company is.

Writer/director JC Chandor totally nails it – big picture stuff, handling the talent, pace, emotion, dialogue – in what is an impressive debut feature. A top ensemble cast (Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Penn Badgley, Aasif Mandvi) proves impeccable in illustrating a spectrum of different shades of self-interest and greed.

The Guard
Irish writer-director John Michael McDonagh gives us an exquisite lesson in the quirky, punch-above-its-weight minor indy hit.

Brendan Gleeson is a country copper in a sleepy Irish town who loves to wind people up. By guile, instinct and eye-rollingly weary smarts he tees up ready to foil a gang of homicidal drug smugglers, along the way teaming up with Ivy League FBI guy Don Cheadle. It’s a nod towards the buddy cop tropes in what otherwise is a jazzed-up modern day Western, but either ways it’s all just a smokescreen for some Gleeson genius.

Our colourful gang of bad guys – boss Liam Cunningham, irritable Englishman Mark Strong and psycho David Wilmot – are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a cast of memorable bit parts: the odd kid, the overenthusiastic new Garda, the IRA guy, the hookers from Dublin, the dying mum, the bent Inspector, the concerned wife‚Ķ Basically it’s a damn fine film. Even the character-introducing prologue (all of a couple of minutes) is better than most movies in their entirety.

Down Terrace
Ben Wheatley I came to via Michael Smiley tweeting about working with him. That persuaded me to watch Kill List, which impressed me, took my breath away, properly got the cogs whirring. So I figured I should check out his first feature – which he co-wrote with long-time collaborator Robin Hill.

On paper, it sounds terrible – at least if you’re getting the ill thought out marketing version: ‘Mike Leigh does The Sopranos!’ and ‘British gangsters in Brighton!’ were two of the crappy pitches I read, though thankfully only after watching the film.

The set-up: a father and son (Hill and his real-life dad, Robert) leave court after charges are dropped on some non-specific drugs-related case or other. The patriarch, Bill, is determined to find out who ratted them out in the first place. Mum Maggie (Julia Deakin) is on hand to lend some menacing encouragement in between cooking fish fingers and making tea. The son, Karl, is more preoccupied on his apparent impending fatherhood. And, erm, that’s it, really.

Set mostly in a crowded terrace house in an unremarkable part of Brighton, it’s a very talky film, but with sudden bursts of energy, the occasional scene beyond the four walls. The cast is bulked out with memorable characters like the aforementioned Smiley as freelance muscle with babysitting issues, David Schaal as jovial, paunchy, untrustworthy Uncle Eric, and Tony Way as affable fat slob Garvey.

It’s really not perfect, but it is much better than the tag lines would let you believe, and far superior to most movies with ten- or a hundred-times the budget.

The Charge Of The Light Brigade (1968)
Tony Richardson’s sort of anti-war take on the “five hundred” in the Crimean War. Some nice touches – the animated sequences, the ghastly officers all squabbling – can’t mask a confused picture that takes two hours to tell us war is hell, lions led by donkeys, etc.

Waterloo
Sergei Bondarchuk, on the other hand, has a fair crack at similar territory with his own version of the Bonaparte-breaking battle in the centre of the Belgian lands. Rod Steiger ramps up the eye-popping as the kingly commoner himself, Christopher Plummer goes for loveable rogue as Wellington, and several thousand Soviet soldiers do the military reenactment thing in mud and rain. More enjoyable a film to watch than The Charge Of The Light Brigade, but that’s not really saying much.

Unthinkable
Samuel L Jackson as an interrogator given the green light to take off the gloves with suspect Michael Sheen, who threatens to set off three nuclear bombs. Carrie Anne Moss is the FBI Agent playing good cop to his bad. Race against time! War on terror! End justifies the means! Doesn’t this make us as bad as them? And so forth – less a thought-provoking film and more a badly shuffled deck of flash cards bearing fatuous aphorisms. Director Gregor Jordan did better with Buffalo Soldiers and The Informers.