REVIEW: Their Finest

14 04 2017

“Authenticity informed by optimism” – that was the motto of Britain’s wartime Ministry of Information when it comes to creating films, according to Lone Scherfig’s “Their Finest.” Around the time that “keep calm and carry on” came into common parlance through Tube posters, the government was also hard at work shaping the national consciousness through the medium of cinema. In 1940, filmmakers came together to convey the seriousness of the war effort while also inspiring confidence and patriotism.

“Their Finest” specifically follows the course of one picture shoot about the sacrifices made at Dunkirk (luckily Scherfig got this out before Christopher Nolan’s epic). Welsh screenwriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) approaches the evacuation with a creative, novel approach to a story whose validity and heroism do not immediately signal the traditional Hollywood ending. Her job gets even harder when the government hijacks the film to subtly goad the United States into helping the war effort – primarily through the addition of American actor Carl Lundbeck, a  blonde bombshell of machismo played with spunk by Jake Lacy. Before WikiLeaks, this was how covert influence worked. (I like this way a lot more.)

Gabby Chiape’s screenplay balances more than just a straightforward tale of film production in wartime. “Their Finest” also includes a significant feminist slant concerning women’s contribution to the war effort and their mounting preemptive fears about men relegating them back to the home as soon as combat ceases. That tension plays out in the dimly lit government buildings where Catrin toils over a typewriter with the charming curmudgeon Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) as well as at home with her husband Ellis (Jack Huston), a disabled veteran whose “brutal and dispiriting” paintings don’t exactly jive with the national mood. This central tenet of the film bobs back and forth between serving as subject and subtext, and after nearly two hours, Chiape and Scherfig never quite figure out where it belongs. Between that and an enjoyable B-plot featuring Billy Nighy’s washed-up character actor Ambrose Hilliard, “Their Finest” simply fights on one too many fronts to come out on top. B-





REVIEW: The Disappearance of Alice Creed

7 08 2010

In “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” two kidnappers (Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston) hold the daughter of a rich businessman hostage for a hefty ransom.  It goes all according to plan in the first stage, but it all seems to go wrong after that due to a series of blunders.

Funny enough, our reaction to the movie echoes all the plot developments.  The movie is gripping for the first thirty minutes, particularly as we watch the kidnappers set up for the abduction and the period following.  There’s something very chilling about how meticulously organized their process is, and it’s made even more eerie by their silence.

In typical minimalist indie fashion, we don’t see the actual kidnapping, but the aftermath is just as scary.  They bring Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton) into a soundproofed apartment where they quickly strip her, gag her, and tie her to a chained-down bed.  And once they have her securely in their grip, the movie starts to lose its grip on plausibility.  The respect that we had built up for it slowly begins to diminish for the next hour until the thriller practically devolves into a comedy.

Just when we expect the movie to wow us with originality, it takes a series of bizarrely typical twists of the genre.  There are all sorts of hackneyed gimmicks designed for a quick thrill.  The situations are robbed of any suspense because we’ve seen it done a million times, and the ultimate unintended result is laughter at their predictability.  In a summer where laughs have been hard to come by, I’ll take them where I can get them.

Really, the unexpected relationships between the characters are the only things unique about the movie.  There are literally three people in it, no extras, no voices on the telephone, no random people in the background.  Just Marsan doing the same old cantankerous villain, Arterton baring it all while getting away from her 2010 tentpole action movies, and Compston making a blip for the first time on my radar.  These aren’t three random people, as we find out.  But for the same of keeping the atmosphere of a thriller in “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” maybe they should have been.  B /