Tag: cillian murphy

Dunkirk


Dunkirk (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Those expecting character, or characters, to latch onto, to understand, to care for, are setting themselves up for disappointment because writer-director Christopher Nolan is more interested in the motion of chess pieces across the board than he is at psychoanalysis in “Dunkirk,” one of the most efficient and beautifully photographed war films in recent memory. Every minute serves a purpose with the ominous score looming above and between the horrific evacuation of four hundred thousand Allied soldiers from the titular beach where tides change every three interminable hours.

Tension builds in a consistent manner despite the viewer not knowing the names of soldiers and civilians the story follows. Survival is the central motivation of every person on screen and it is the only element required to create a sense of urgency. Precise with lingering shots of hollowed and pallid soldiers during heavy silences and agile camera work when action and barrage of noise move toward the spotlight, a mesmerizing rhythm is established as the project dives in deep to underline the disasters of this particular evacuation and goes up eventually for a breath of air, of hope, but only for a fleeting moment. Nolan’s laser focus in telling the story equals that of his unique vision for the material.

Perhaps the most impressive chunks of the picture are those that contain no standard dialogue. Pay close attention to the opening scene, for example, as hurried footsteps, rapid breathing, and bullets ricocheting do the talking. Meanwhile, the veteran writer-director ensures to capture the eyes of the target (Fionn Whitehead), who looks more like a boy than a man, as desperation turns to hope and back again. Clearly, with this particular story being told in such a specific way, making room for classic or expected character development would only impede the momentum of the material. Nolan is correct to strip it away for what he intends to deliver is a visceral experience.

Despite images detailing the horrors of war, they are not without astounding beauty. Aerial shots of endless lines and rows of men in dark uniform against the bright sand, ships tilted to the side and being swallowed up by cold water before our very eyes after being bombed, dogfights requiring incredible attention as threats can and do appear at every direction are only some of the examples of the film’s visual feasts. Despite these stunning images, however, we never forget about the bullet-ridden bodies, cold corpses buried in the sand, drowned individuals who were eager to get home just a few moments ago. Couple these images and impressions with carefully executed dialogue of old men sending young boys to fight the war that the former started. A tragic feeling pervades the material.

“Dunkirk” is a top-level war film without sentimentality. Those who require selfless heroism shot in a grandiose way as score crescendos, designed to render the viewers emotionally vulnerable, are certain to be letdown by this most capable and confident work. In my mind, there is no doubt that the film will endure the test of time.

Perrier’s Bounty


Perrier’s Bounty (2009)
★ / ★★★★

Michael (Cillian Murphy) owes a man named Perrier (Brendan Gleeson) a grand and two thugs, Ivan (Michael McElhatton) and Orlando (Don Wycherley), will make sure that he makes a payment in full by the end of the day. If Michael failed to do so, he would recompense with more than a few broken bones. However, when one of the henchmen ends up dead, Perrier starts a bounty for Michael—to be delivered alive just so he can suffer. Soon, Michael and his neighbor, Brenda (Jodie Whittaker), find themselves running all over Dublin as various men hope to get their hands on the reward.

Written by Mark O’Rowe and directed by Ian Fitzgibbon, “Perrier’s Bounty” comes across as recycled, barely watchable trash. Although it is clearly inspired by Guy Ritchie’s signature movies, it does not have enough meat on its bones and substance in its marrow to create first-rate entertainment that engages the eyes, heart, and mind. Instead, it is mostly composed of scenes with slight bantering between the characters but none of them are particularly witty or funny. Thus, it feels like a chore to sit through and I was left wondering when it was going to take off. It never does.

Despite the flying and ricochetting bullets, the heart of the film is Michael’s relationship with his father. Jim (Jim Broadbent) tells his son that he is dying. Although Michael is taken aback by the news, he has very little time to sympathize given his current situation. Murphy and Broadbent make a somewhat amusing odd couple because they are good actors. However, one never believes that their characters are true father and son.

The reason is because the screenplay rarely bothers to tackle the human drama head-on. When the two are about to connect in a meaningful way, the scene is often interrupted by men with guns and mean-looking demeanors. Is it because the movie is supposed to have this “tough” quality to it that it is afraid to deal with real emotions? Is it because the film is made for men? Are “real men” unable to handle emotions like the struggle in communicating their love for their own fathers? On many levels, I found it insulting in its reductionism.

The action is nothing special. I suppose I enjoyed the fact that Michael, far from a killer, does not really know how to shoot a gun: he looks at his targets, looks down, and presses the trigger with the hope of hitting someone. I did not find Perrier’s thugs that intimidating either. They look like actors trying to be these so-called tough guys but not actually embodying them. Expectedly, most convincing is Gleeson. I am convinced this man can play anyone or anything. He can tell a story just by standing in one spot and glaring at someone.

And then there is the romance subplot that is far too contrived. Of course Michael and Brenda will eventually get together. I saw no reason to have Brenda as one of the major characters since what she does most of the time is whine about her current boyfriend. I sensed that the writer had no idea how to create an interesting female character so he chose to rely on stereotypes.

“Perrier’s Bounty” is devoid of suspense, thrill, drama, comedy, and action. It does not challenge us to do anything other than to sit in our chairs and watch images go by. If that isn’t a depressing experience, I don’t know what is.

The Edge of Love


The Edge of Love (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

Poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Ryhs) makes a living writing scripts for the government during World War II. When not at work, he enjoys spending time with a childhood friend, Vera (Keira Knightley), a singer, in a bar, drinking, flirting, and chain smoking. When Dylan’s wife, Caitlin (Sienna Miller), pays him a visit, she suspects that he might be having an affair. Meanwhile, William (Cillian Murphy), a soldier, admires Vera’s beauty and elegance from afar.

Based on a true story, “The Edge of Love,” written by Sharman Macdonald, works more like a commercial for things to do to distract oneself during a war rather than embodying a focused and engaging story about a poet with a yearning to contribute his talent. The first half seems to be about the glamour of being free and not having to be responsible. Everything glows beautifully, from Vera’s hair as she entertains the bar’s customers to the alcohol-filled glasses being handed to those who wish to escape the horrible and traumatizing realities of the outside world.

I enjoyed deciphering the relationship among Dylan, Vera, and Caitlin. While too apparent push and pull forces are present between the two women, they are marginally interesting because the performers play upon a certain level of mystique. A kind of friendship is built upon what could have been jealousy or rivalry. By the end, it can be argued that what they come to share is the only true and lasting element in the film.

There are amusing moments when Dylan believes he is the center of attention—so seemingly adored by the women in his life—but he fails to realize that at times he is being made fun of for his tomfoolery. Somewhere in the middle, however, the picture is stripped off of its glamour. This is the point where we expect Dylan’s story to move front and center so we can understand how his mind works, his specific motivations, how much he values his partner, the children that they have, and the war that threatens to destroy everything.

It is disappointing because the screenplay comes across as reluctant to really delve into the darker side of his relationships. Tragic things happen but more than half are so out of context, sometimes I found myself confused and was forced to think back to the film’s common threads and themes in order to try to make sense what had just transpired. The lack of clarity in terms of presenting events in a logical way is problematic because instead of being invested in the emotions and psychology of the drama as well as anticipating what might happen, I spent ample time looking back.

While the women’s story held my interest, especially at the point when they are forced to evaluate their worth in their men’s lives as well as a possible attraction between the two of them, I wondered why Dylan is missing from the frame for extended amount of time. When he is finally shown, the picture fails to provide dimension. We see him drinking, looking sad, and acting cranky but we are not given a full understanding of him after the partying and fun times have come and gone. So when he makes critical decisions pertaining to another character near the end, it comes across more random than shocking. Since we never get to know Dylan as a person, his emotions and actions lack depth and resonance.

Directed by John Maybury, if “The Edge of Love” were a fashion video, it would be a success. It inspires us to look at the intricate details of the clothes and how the actors carry off the looks. However, as a peek into a time period in Dylan Thomas’ life, a poet of whom I had no knowledge of, it is quite uninformative.

Red Lights


Red Lights (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) visit a family that believes their new home is haunted. Seconds after Margaret and Tom step inside, loud banging can be heard from upstairs. The father insists that the noise has been so relentless, his family is unable to get a proper night’s sleep. Once everyone is acquainted, a seance is performed by a medium. The table shakes more violently as the medium’s connection to the spirits intensifies. Meanwhile, as a renowned psychologist and physicist, respectively, Dr. Matheson and Tom know that the seance is a complete sham. They make a living debunking so-called paranormal phenomena and this particular “haunted” house proves to be an easy case.

Written and directed by Rodrigo Cortés, “Red Lights” is unwaveringly confident as it moves from the idea that logic offers the best solution for mystifying problems to opening up the possibility that perhaps science, despite being a singularly powerful tool, does not have all the answers.

The interplay between Dr. Matheson and Tom is interesting in that although they believe in science, we are given a chance to understand the subtle differences of their beliefs as well as their approaches to solving problems. Although one’s status and level of experience is higher than the other, observing them interact feels fresh because the relationship feels mutualistic. There is a reason for us to keep watching because the surprises do not depend on scenes where they reveal channelers, healers, and the like as charlatans.

A darker turn is taken, however, when Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), one of the world’s most popular psychic who happens to be blind, suddenly comes out of retirement. Tom becomes desperate to prove to the world that Silver is simply a very talented performer. He does not understand why his mentor is reluctant to go after Silver given that if they are successful, not only will their department get more funding, their lives’ work will be recognized universally.

The screenplay has a few surprises. Instead of a typical showdown of mind games between Dr. Matheson and Silver, it is fascinating how neither share one scene together. Instead, through Dr. Matheson’s recollection, we are given background information about their history in the 70s which eventually explains why she does not want anything to do with the man. The second half is more deeply-footed in its ominous atmosphere, the use of music more sparing, and the images more bizarre. Its pacing, too, becomes more unpredictable. Quick in some, slow in others, and completely stagnant in what can potentially be Tom’s salvation, specifically his relationship with Sally (Elizabeth Olsen), a pupil of Dr. Matheson.

Coincidences pile up like dead autumn leaves as Tom, the lost sheep, obsessively sorts through them with hopes of finding a golden answer. Which “coincidences” does Silver induce and which ones do Tom creates for himself? Sometimes it is challenging to discern and, arguably, it may not even matter–at least for Tom. Do logical answers matter much to irrational minds?

Sharply photographed, smartly written, and well-directed, “Red Lights” brings to mind the beautiful contradictions in Chris Carter’s “The X-Files” and the paranoia of Adrian Lyne’s “Jacob’s Ladder.” It may not be as accessible as either but it certainly is as mesmerizing.

Batman Begins


Batman Begins (2005)
★★★★ / ★★★★

After Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) was sent to solitary confinement for fighting six fellow prisoners, Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), representing Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), invited the richest man in Gotham City, currently on the other side of the world and anonymous, to train and join the League of Shadows. Still angry from the murder of his parents (Linus Roache, Sara Stewart) in the hands of a desperate man (Richard Brake), Bruce accepted. “Batman Begins,” based on the screenplay by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, had a gravitational pull so potent, its more sensitive moments actually managed to rival its most thrilling action pieces: it offered us a believable story that we could sink our teeth into instead of simply expecting us to lick a plate full of sugar and fluff that would inevitably leave us unsatisfied. The level of screenplay was impressive because it focused on the story of Bruce the man through first exploring his formative years prior to delving into Bruce the Batman, a symbol meant to inspire and nudge citizens of Gotham out of their apathy involving the city being ruled by criminals and the corrupt. While Bale was convincing as a man full of rage and thirst of vengeance, his character arc was even more involving despite the fact that the material jumped forward in time several times, especially toward the beginning when one detail after another regarding Bruce’s past were thrown on our laps. By keeping its dramatic momentum intact, it caught and maintained our attention; since we could follow its strands almost every step of the way without too much strain, the rewards were fulfilling. The film had a dark atmosphere, especially with its talk of the undetected depression serving as a catalyst for the common people’s desperation, it managed to have fun without being cartoonish and breaking the mood. For instance, Alfred (Michael Caine), the Wayne’s longtime butler, caretaker, and Bruce’s remaining father figure, was given amusing comments regarding his master’s nightly extracurricular activities. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), formerly a member of the board in Wayne Enterprises but exiled to the basement after new power took control of the company, also had his share of the spotlight when Bruce paid him a visit for nifty and very expensive gadgets. This gave way to questions I’ve always wondered about such as how the Batcave was discovered, how the Batsuit was assembled, and how the Batmobile looked in its early stages. It even featured one of the most beloved treasures in my toy box when I was a kid: the batarang. The picture was also notable for its intelligent use of its antagonists. Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), one of the biggest crime bosses in the city, was not an ostentatious figure that craved attention. He actually preferred to operate in the shadows but he wasn’t afraid to make threats in public if necessary. Still, he was notorious for his reputation. Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy, zealously creepy behind those glasses), the eventual Scarecrow, was actually more interesting divorced from his mask. No DNA mutation here, just a regular human so willing to push his experiments to the extreme, he was no better than the criminals he surrounded himself with. The topic of fear ran in the veins of “Batman Begins,” directed by Christopher Nolan, and it was handled with profound insight. The screenplay explored the various meanings of the word and how it changed contingent upon the stakes on the table. The film showed respect by treating the audience as thinkers.

Retreat


Retreat (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Martin (Cillian Murphy) and Kate (Thandie Newton) opted to spend ten days in the remote Blackholme Island in hopes of curing whatever was vitiating their marriage from the inside. With the help of Doug (Jimmy Yuill), the owner of the island and Martin’s longtime friend, the couple was able to settle in. A couple of days later, bloodied Jack (Jamie Bell) was spotted collapsing in the field across their cottage. Martin and Kate took him inside with reservations. When Jack woke up, he informed Martin that there was an airborne virus that originated from South America which had infected the rest of the planet. Not only was it extremely contagious, it was also lethal for it aggressively attacked people’s respiratory systems. They had to do whatever it took to seal themselves from inside the cottage. “Retreat,” written by Janice Hallett and Carl Tibbetts, drew many wrinkles on my forehead. While I had no qualm in accepting its premise, Martin and Kate’s decisions forced me to mutter many frustrations under my breath. If you were told by someone that everyone was dead or dying in a specific part of the world, would you readily accept such a statement? Martin did. For an architect, requiring to have a certain level of logic for a living, there was something odd about the way he allowed Jack to take over, physically and psychologically, the household. In the least, I expected him to perform a bit of investigation. Given that cellphones, the internet, and the CB radio didn’t work, why didn’t Martin or his wife take it upon themselves to be more creative in asking the same questions in a different way to in order to coax out the wrinkles in Jack’s claims? Instead, much of the picture was dedicated to characters yelling at each other, pointing the gun at one another, and, yes, fighting for weapons that slid across the floor. It just wasn’t interesting. The scenes that were supposed to be thrilling were greatly lacking in tension. For instance, when Kate and Martin finally decided to work together, they made their way to the kitchen to prepare a hearty breakfast. Martin boiled water in a pan while Kate prepared the bread. Jack sat on a chair in a vulnerable angle. We knew exactly was going to happen, but with the right direction, it could have been effective. But it wasn’t. The scene–and many that adopted a similar approach–wasn’t given enough time to simmer. When the husband and wife entered the kitchen, they went directly for the necessary tools-turned-weapons. Two seconds later, Martin took the pan, the water magically hot after being put on the stove just a second before, and splashed it all over the stranger. As a result, it became more about the violence than the suspense when it shouldn’t have been because they didn’t have proof that Jack was lying to them. With a more focused screenplay in terms of delivering thrills and a true understanding of human psychology and behavior, “Retreat,” directed by Carl Tibbets, could have been far more engaging. Although Martin and Kate were supposedly so desperate to get out of the house, the plot was cemented in its increasingly thick contrivances. We sit in our chairs passively, wishing it offered so much more.

In Time


In Time (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Set in the near future, humans were genetically engineered not to live past the age of 25. Once a person turned of age, a green countdown of one year appeared on one’s arm. When it reached zero, death was a certainty. Will (Justin Timberlake) was twenty-seven years old which meant he’d been scavenging for minutes for two years. In world where time was used as currency, as one would use money to buy a bottle of pop or pay toll to be allowed to pass a certain area, a couple of years, let alone hours, wouldn’t get an individual very far, especially if one lived in the ghetto, as did Will and his mom (Olivia Wilde), a place known as a Time Zone, where the rich limited the circulation of time. “In Time” began like a great science fiction film: it left us in middle of a curious era, handed us the rules of the game, and allowed us to navigate through the necessary exceptions and recognize why they were justified. We observed what people did in the Will’s time zone which ranged from people trying to make an honest living to earn time (but were often short-changed) to thugs (Alex Pettyfer) who harassed others and stole their time via arm-to-arm contact. One of the most compelling early scenes involved a woman who had only an hour and a half on her arm but a bus ride required a fee of two hours. After much begging to no avail, despite explaining that her destination was approximately two hours away by bus, the driver coldly suggested that she ran as fast as she could to get to her destination on time. I liked that the director allowed the woman to have only one look at the people sitting on the bus where not one volunteered to give minutes. It wasn’t that they were required to but it was a decent thing to do. That scene gave me strong feelings anger and sadness because I had been in that situation before. A person couldn’t pay for the the fare and I just sat there, impatient as to when the driver would finally step on the gas. Unfortunately, I felt like the film’s grand ambitions were thrown out the window in the latter half in order to make room for romance and chase sequences. While there was undeniable chemistry between Will and Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of an influential and rich man (Vincent Kartheiser) who could live for thousands of years if he so chooses, their differences were not explored beyond the set-up of poor guy wanting more and rich girl wanting to be less suffocated by parental controls. Since the roots of the partnership was executed superficially and lackadaisically, when they decided to rob banks and give time to he impoverished à la Robin Hood alloyed with Bonnie and Clyde, there wasn’t much tension or excitement. We wanted to them to get away from Timekeepers Leon (Cillian Murphy), Korsqq (Toby Hemingway, sporting a runway-ready haircut), and Jaeger (Collins Pennie), assigned by the government to capture the duo, because they strived to do good for the downtrodden but it was a passive rather than an urgent experience. Finally, I yearned to see more scenes of Sylvia’s father do more than looking glamorous and serious. There could have been complexity in him because we saw that he, too, worked for higher, possibly more sinister, echelons. It was a slight disappointment that “In Time,” written and directed by Andrew Niccol, circumvented daring intricacies for the sake of digestible answers. If it had maintained its initial promise–heavy on the concept, light on the adrenaline–and had been more careful about clunky details, it could have been a paragon of modern science fiction.