REVIEW: Wind River (2017)

Wind RiverUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 8th September 2017

Running Time: 107 mins

Director: Taylor Sheridan

Genre: Thriller, drama, crime

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Kelsey Asbille, Apesanahkwat, Graham Greene

Finally, another film review! Sorry it’s been so long. Just a quick one:

Haunting and beautifully filmed, I thought Wind River was just a fairly normal (albeit very good and unusually interesting) sort of crime thriller until this pre-credit information flashed up on screen at the end: ‘The US keeps records of missing women for all groups—except Native Americans. No one knows how many Native American women are missing.’ Coming after the film I had just watched, that struck hard. For this reason alone, I hope people will see the film.

From a non-social justice point of view, it’s also well worth watching. Although there are a few caveats. Firstly, it’s not for sensitive viewers. Despite what I’ve just said, there is one scene during which a group of supposedly respectable men act like a pack of animals that I could happily delete from my memory, if such a thing were only possible.

Secondly, though riveting and far from predictable, the film ultimately left this Christian viewer feeling like something was missing. As it was. Without meaning to give too much away, certain events, although feeling more like rigid ‘an eye for an eye’ justice than revenge, were completely lacking in any notion of forgiveness or redemption, or even the possibility of such. As for the need for such? That gets no look in at all.

Overall: A powerful indictment of the lack of interest in the fate of Native American women, and a gripping crime thriller, well worth watching both by those wishing to broaden their awareness of this issue and by those simply wanting a cracking good film. But it is flawed in crucial ways that leave this Christian viewer unlikely to be buying it for her shelf.

 

Sex/Violence/Profanity/etc: Premarital sex/sexual activity implied. Rape (on screen). Considerable violence, with both gunfights and fistfights, with injury detail. Plenty of profanity.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?

 

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REVIEW: The Revenant (2016)

The_Revenant_2015_film_posterUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 15th January 2016

Running Time: 156 minutes

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Genre: Thriller, drama, action

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy

 

So this one was a big disappointment, I’m afraid. Of the most frustrating kind: the ‘could have been so good’ kind. When I first saw the trailer I thought it looked so utterly miserable I had no intention to see it, but I kept hearing good reviews and always the reviews seemed to hint that actually there was redemption at the end, rather than it being about straight up revenge, the way the trailer suggested. Well, I’m a sucker for a redemption plotline, and so is my friend, so we decided to give it a chance.

Most of the film is excellent, with a great soundtrack. It’s a gritty survival tale with great performances. Probably a little too graphic for some people’s taste, but realistic rather than gratuitous in its portrayal of wounds and violence. It is also a hugely more realistic portrayal of the ‘wild west’ than most westerns. There was a time when the Native Americans were always the villains in westerns, now for a long time, they’ve almost always been portrayed as the good guys, or at least the oppressed. Which is fair enough and an improvement on the former representation, but still rather incomplete. ‘Revenant’ tells it much more true to life. Some Native American tribes are peaceful, others are busy slaughtering every other tribe or white person they can lay their hands on. Some of the white people are peaceful, some are quite happy to kill a Native American simply for being a Native American. It all makes for grim viewing, but it’s definitely more accurate than most westerns.

The film falls apart at the end, at least for the Christian viewer who’s been promised redemption. (I can’t completely avoid spoilers, so stop reading if you definitely plan to see it, regardless of what I say.)

There is, at the end, a tiny shred of redemption. But it’s just that. A tiny, feeble shred. In practical terms, it comes too late to make any difference whatsoever to the physical outcome. It’s probably fractionally better for one character’s soul than the alternative, but just barely. It’s a huge damp squib, and makes one feel like reporting the film to the Office of Fair Trading for false advertising (that’s a joke, but you get the idea!).

If this isn’t bad enough, the very, very final moments are hugely unsatisfactory as an ending. My friend and I both felt while watching the film (despite what the trailer implied) that we were really watching a film about the strength of the human spirit, and the human will to survive. It felt more like this was driving the main character than the need for revenge. This is perhaps a failure on the film’s part, though I’d be interested to know how it came across other people. At the close of the film, however, it takes great delight in making it abundantly clear that despite what it felt like throughout, the protagonist’s struggle really was just about revenge, not about the triumph of the human spirit. And so it ends. I can’t be more specific without huge spoilers.

There is also an ambiguity raised during the final encounter between the two main characters relating to a pivotal moment earlier in the film, and the lack of clarity one is left with is an additional annoying niggle.

Overall: So close: but no cigar. It could have been a great film, but the ending ruins it, ironically, beyond all redemption.

 

Sex/Violence/Profanity/etc: A sexual assault followed by an implied castration. Brief nudity. Frequent strong violence. Violence realistic rather than gratuitous, but graphic at times. Some disturbing images. Frequent rough, crude and profane language.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?

REVIEW: Child 44 (2015)

Child 44 posterUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 17th April 2015

Running Time: 137 minutes

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Producer: Ridley Scott

Genre: Thriller, drama, romance

Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Vincent Cassel, Paddy Considine

“There is no murder in paradise.”

This is a hard film to review without giving spoilers that would really reduce the impact of the film, so I’ll try not to be very specific about the plot. It’s being billed as a serial child killer thriller set in Stalinist Russia (how unpleasant, you may think, but the trailer intrigued me). Sure enough, I found the serial-killer angle wasn’t half so important as the one-line description would imply. Which is probably why it is so good (at least in my opinion – the crime genre leaves me fairly cold, as a rule). This is far more a film about two people trying to survive in Stalinist-era Russia, their journey as people, and as a couple, than it is a serial killer thriller, though that plot strand does provide considerable forward momentum, especially in the second half.

Rather than try to give a spoiler-free summary of the plot, may I suggest you just scroll down and watch the trailer, then carry on reading (if you’re still interested)! (Though the trailer does simplify the plot considerably, focussing primarily on the child killer strand.)

It was only gradually at the beginning of this film that I realised Leo, the main protagonist, was not, as I had vaguely assumed from the trailer, an army officer, he is in fact MGB (Ministry of State Security). Think KGB or secret police. An unlikely hero, then. However, we quickly come to see that he is about as decent as anyone doing that job in Stalinist Russia can hope to remain – he seeks to bring his prisoners in alive and goes ballistic when a fellow officer summarily executes two people (though he, not the other officer, is reprimanded!). Later in the film, other revelations and events also brought home to me that he hadn’t necessarily had much choice when it came to his job – to refuse such a position would probably have led to him being denounced as an enemy of the state. However, we are given no information about how he arrived in the role and he seems content in his comfortable life at the beginning of the film (though like the vast majority of characters, his ‘loyalty’ to the state seems little more than the attitude that has to be presented in order to survive – not too surprisingly in Leo’s case, since his parents died in the state-imposed famine in the Ukraine, although he was then adopted by a Russian army officer.)

Choice is a major theme in this film, and the choices the characters face are wrenchingly hard. Over and over, people must choose between say, a friend, and their own family. Sometimes even between their family and their own life. It is through these choices that we see our unlikely hero, Leo, and our heroine, his wife Raisa, grow, both in themselves, and together. This growth makes it an enjoyable film from a Christian perspective, although the religious and spiritual silence of the era, is, to the believer, deafening. Almost every character is totally absorbed with simple survival – there is no space for ideals. ‘You know what people get around here when they demand the truth?’ Raisa warns Leo. The fact that some characters choose to try to do what is right, regardless, is one of the most satisfying elements of the film.

Despite it becoming clear from very near the beginning of the film that Leo’s and Raisa’s marriage is not the idyllic thing he believes it to be, characters display strong marital fidelity in the film, and as I’ve already mentioned, the way they grow together left this viewer very happy. Certainly one of the most heart-breaking scenes for me was when Raisa finally tells Leo the truth about their marriage. Which may sound odd in a film about child murders, but as I said, that is only one strand of the plot.

The film has quite a long running time (137 mins) but I was gripped throughout. It was one of those films where you genuinely did not know how it would end (happy or sad?). People expecting a straight-up serial killer thriller will probably be disappointed. So, from a few things I’ve read online, will fans of the book, at least with the ending. Having not read the book, the twist that is left out (or at any rate, left non-explicit) sounds bizarre and one I’m perfectly happy to have been spared – but fans will probably disagree.

The UK rating is 15 and the list of warnings is fairly unpleasant (strong violence, strong language, sex, child murder theme), but I was actually pleasantly surprised by how restrained the film was. The one sex scene is largely shielded by a bed’s foot board and certainly the child murders are never shown on screen and details/photos of the bodies are not shown too close up – some things we really do not need to see. See below for a more detailed description.

Christian reviewers will no doubt be indignant at, and moved by, the persecution of a man who was in a homosexual relationship – the hard choice he is offered is 15 years in a gulag (a likely death sentence) or writing a list of every man in the town he knows to have had sex with another man. But they may also roll their eyes slightly when they reflect that out of every far more numerous group persecuted under Stalinist rule (Christians, Jews, Muslims and many ethnic groups, to name a few) it’s the plight of those committing homosexual acts, surprise surprise, that gets the attention. Sigh.

There are a few moments when it’s not entirely clear how something specifically happened, for example when at one point the secret police turn up, but it’s always broadly possible to understand (someone was overheard, recognised, etc.). Although I would normally have preferred more clarity, I could not but appreciate that the not-knowing placed the audience in exactly the same position as the protagonists – who also do not know, which on reflection I think was very effective. The fight scene in a muddy ditch was unequivocally a flaw, though. I mean, seriously? How are you supposed to tell who is doing what to whom?

The film has, surprisingly, or at any rate disturbingly, been banned from theatrical release in Russia, although it will be made available to purchase on DVD or online. Apparently they’re keen to present the Communist era in a favourable light, just at the moment, and this is definitely one of those films where you leave the cinema just thanking God that you weren’t born in that place and at that time.

Overall: An atmospheric and character-driven thriller. I really liked this film, and am sorry to see it getting poor reviews elsewhere. I’ll be looking for an excuse to see it again, and I suspect that it is one for my shelf.

Sex/Violence/Profanity/etc: One sex scene, fairly discreet. An implied scene of off stage rape/sexual assault/torture (what actually happens is never revealed). An attempted assault, possibly would-be sexual. Theme of child murder, images of naked murdered children, not shown that close up. Multiple scenes of adult violence including several executions/shootings, stabbings and violent struggles – however, few graphic wounds are shown, with the exception of a severe head injury. One suicide, one attempted suicide. Shot of a mangled body from a distance. Scene of a mentally disturbed man simulating torture on himself. Two torture scenes, brief and without bloody violence. Considerable and continual atmosphere of threat. I honestly don’t recall much of the language, but according to the British Film Classification Board some of it is strong. Theme about men in homosexual relationships – the activities are condemned, but the men are also cruelly persecuted.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?

REVIEW: Lore (2012)

Lore poster by Source. Licensed under Fair use via WikipediaUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 12th October 2012

Running Time: 109 minutes

Director: Cate Shortland

Genre:  Drama, romance, thriller, war film

Starring: Saskia Rosendahl, Kai-Peter MalinaNele Trebs

Made in German, but by an Australian director, Lore is a very good film, but not a very enjoyable one. Yes, it’s one of those. The titular protagonist, Hannelore (Lore), who could be a poster girl for the League of German Maidens (female equivalent of the Hitler Youth), is left holding the baby (literally) when her Nazi parents abandon them. Not just the baby, but her younger sister and even younger twin brothers. Her mother tells her to take them to her Grandmother’s in Hamburg, a distance of five hundred miles, before walking away down the road to surrender to the Americans. When they can no longer stay where they are and are forced to attempt the journey, they discover that no trains are running. They must go on foot, trading their few belongings for food – or for breastfeeding, since, making their plight even worse, the baby is not yet weaned.

Help and protection comes from an unlikely source – a young Jewish refugee, Thomas. The children’s desperation is made clear by the fact that they stick with him – for the obvious reason to do with life-long indoctrination, and for another that I cannot mention without spoilers. Lore is also struggling, in the midst of this, with her awakening sexuality, leading to an even more complicated relationship with Thomas.

This is a grim film. It paints a very believable picture of the grief, confusion, and above all, denial, that many Germans felt at Hitler’s death and Germany’s occupation. In one scene, Germans are saying to one another that the photos of the dead in the concentration camps posted by the Americans on the walls of every town are fake, that the people are actors, it’s all staged. Lore is, in a way, lucky, because, for reasons I won’t disclose, she knows for certain that this is not the case. As, one suspects, do those speaking, deep down.

The only refugee to give any help to the children, at least for free, is a woman wearing a cross around her neck, a tiny flash of humanity in an otherwise unflinching portrayal of how fear makes people look out for number one. The ending is satisfying from a Christian perspective, in that a main character appears to be coming to terms with the fact that their whole life is built on lies, and to be rejecting those lies. The film is also a powerful reminder that the enemy are people too, who can suffer, and hope, and be afraid, however misguided they are.

It is not a perfect film. It’s one of those films where the characters don’t speak much. This creates an eerie, mysterious atmosphere, but is basically taken to an unrealistic degree, and results in the viewer not feeling they really know the characters. This, in turn, blunts the emotional impact of many of the events. There are also a couple of irritating inclarities or inconsistencies, such as a pivotal scene when one character seems to need papers, but others somehow get by without.

Overall: Definitely one to watch, so long as you’re not expecting a war film with lots of bangs and explosions and running around. This is a war film all right, but its power is in its unremitting portrayal of the reality of war (or its aftermath), not in action scenes. The auditorium was full when I saw this (at a local film society) and the audience was completely silent throughout. People hardly twitched or coughed. Engrossing, albeit uncomfortable, viewing. However – not one for sensitive viewers (see below).

Sex/Violence/Profanity/etc.: A scene of lower body female nudity from the front, upper body female nudity from behind, a bare breast (during breastfeeding), several scenes of a man fondling a woman (one during rape), a scene of masturbation/fondling (the borders between the two are blurred). Two women are shown with blood-streaked thighs after (implied) rape, one of the women is dead. Another women is shown being raped, not so graphically. There are several scenes of the macabre (ants crawling on bloody skin) or of graphic wounds. A scene of a man who has committed suicide. Two murders (one by gunshot, one through bludgeoning with a rock). Photographs of concentration camp victims. Scenes of theft, sometimes with violence. The film is in German and subtitled – I do not recall any swear words in the translation, it’s possible there were some. It’s a rather engrossing film and hard to remember! Apologies if I’ve forgotten anything, but this should give you a pretty good idea the sort of thing to expect.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?