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Saturday 10 December 2016

Movie Reviews: Glassland, Child 44 and A Little Chaos

Glassland
Glassland
Child 44
A Little Chaos

Jack Reynor goes low budget in Glassland, Tom Hardy fails to shine in Child 44 and A Little Chaos

Glassland

Drama, starring Will Poulter, Toni Collette, Jack Reynor, Michael Smiley, Joe Mullins, Harry Nagle, Jack Barrett, Gary O'Nualain. Dir: Gerard Barrett. Cert: 15A

Writer/director Gerard Barrett has been causing a commotion at various festivals in the past year, and with good reason. After sharing the Best Irish Feature accolade with Patrick's Day at last year's Galway Film Fleadh, Glassland went on to greatness at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

It also comes hot on the heels of Barrett's 2012 debt, the blistering Pilgrim Hill. Hopes are high for this film, in a word. The plot is the kind that creeps up on its audience unawares. John (Jack Reynor) is a taxi driver barely able to make ends meet. He lives with his mother Jean (Toni Collette), who is effectively drinking herself to death.

The drill is always the same; checking Jean is alive in her bed, scraping her off the doorstep, constantly making sure that her latest drinking binge isn't her last. John lives life on a knife-edge, albeit in the quietest, most stoic way possible. Finally, a solution is offered when, after her latest overdose, Jean is offered the chance to clean up in a private clinic.

Salvation comes at a high price, mind. Backed into a corner, John is forced to take a large job from a criminal element he has seemingly worked for in the past.

Anyone who has lived with an alcoholic is likely to find John's quiet desperation a rather uncomfortable and confrontational watch. He is a man grasping his final straw, and occasionally tempted to ditch the entire sorry fandango and emigrate with his mate Shane (Will Poulter). His devotion to his mother wavers on occasion, as well it might.

Jean is, to put it mildly, a handful. In Reynor's safe pair of hands, the audience will empathise keenly with John. There is genuine pain and conflict in those baby blues. Reynor picked up a Best Actor award at Sundance for his portrayal of John, and he manages a high-wire feat of stoicism and despair.

Amid the film, John has one spectacular blow-out (one senses it's been a long time coming), giving Reynor the chance to really show his chops.

Jean, meanwhile, is a character nicely fleshed out beyond the stereotypical addict. Jean has hysterical blowouts, too, but Collette rarely veers off into caricature. She does weepy spectacularly well, always has done… but it takes a special talent to bring a character like Jean to life.

Having abandoned her son Kit, who has Down Syndrome, in a residential home, Jean has the audience oscillating wildly between empathy and revulsion. In one scene, she admits that she rues the day she ever has Kit, and between the unflinching, brave dialogue and Collette's 1,000-yard stare, it's an astonishing scene. Another, where John and Jean drink together, is proof positive of Barrett's sleight of hand.

On occasion, Collette's Irish accent seems to straddle several counties at once, yet Poulter's truly magnificent Dublin accent bears mentioning. Shane, who treats his own devoted, highly functional mother with disdain, adds a touch of much-needed comic relief and lightness to the otherwise dour tapestry.

The measured, quiet pace of Glassland is smashed to smithereens in the final scenes. A shriek and swift blast of action almost threatens to derail the whole film, but it does at least make some of the pieces of the plot's puzzle fall into place.

Of course, making a drama about a man's unrelentingly bleak and dreary existence is tricky, not least because there's a very real risk of creating an unrelentingly bleak and dreary film. But there's something compelling and quietly powerful about the grim cycle that John finds himself in. Barrett uses stillness and an economy of scale to draw the viewer into John's hopeless dilemma.

It might have some audience members fidgeting in their seats for the first half hour, but it's more than worth the wait.

Rating: ****

Child 44

Crime/thriller, starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Fares Fares, Gary Oldman, Vincent Cassel, Paddy Considine, Joel Kinnaman, Mark Lewis Jones. Director: Daniel Espinosa Cert: 16.

And so from a whisper to a scream… or rather, a whole heap of noisy guns and fighting. Given that Ridley Scott is the producer behind Child 44, an expansive and impressive-looking film was already assured. But amid the bells and whistles and his epic scope, is his Cold War caper any cop?

Set in 1953 on the other side of the Iron Curtain, and adapted from the Rob Smith novel, Child 44 centres on Leo (Tom Hardy), a 'Soviet hero' MGB agent. Leo survived the Ukrainian famine, and has risen up the ranks to become one of the MGB's leading lights. He lives in a time when menace, distrust and suspicion are thick in the air, but so too is the maxim that 'there is no murder in paradise'.

So when a child's body is found naked and mutilated by the train tracks, Leo is thrown into a bit of a dilemma. Adding insult to injury, the boy is his godson, and son of his good friend Alexei (Fares).

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Child 44

Put in charge of the investigation by his superiors, Leo is forced to record the incident not as a murder, but as an unfortunate accident. A dilemma, certainly… but it pales in comparison when he is asked to investigate his own wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace). His refusal to play by the rules sees Leo demoted and sent to a grim outpost.

Ridley Scott has, somewhat predictably, managed to amass a glittering cast of dependable talents, among them Cassel, Fares, Rapace and Oldman. Hardy barely gets the chance to put some real meat on the bones of the character, but he is still highly watchable and compelling.

Much is being made of Rapace's star turn in this film, and Raisa's mix of steeliness and vulnerability certainly does show a new side to the actress. Oldman and Cassel, as the powers that be, are as devilish and menacing as usual. Nothing new there, but they're a welcome addition nonetheless.

Espinosa's attention to detail is pretty satisfying, too. Once you can get over those pantomime-thick accents, it's much easier to strap yourself in and enjoy the ride. The action unfolds deliciously, yanking the plot hither and thither.

Confusing at times, but as an audience member, it's infinitely more preferable to be occasionally confused than bored.

Rating **

A Little Chaos

Drama, starring Kate Winslet, Matthias Shoenaerts, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, Helen McCrory, Jennifer Ehle. Director: Alan Rickman. Cert: 12A.

Child 44 isn't the only endlessly lavish period piece to hit cinemas this weekend, but Alan Rickman's Versailles-based epic is a rather different beast entirely. The usual period tropes - court dances, eye-popping frocks, curtseys - are present and correct.

Winslet plays Sabine, a landscape gardener hired to bring some magic to the Versailles gardens of Louis XIV. Where she is earthy and passionate, the women around her are 'somebodies' - proper ladies who know how to conduct themselves in society.

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Kate Winslet

Winslet acts like her life depends on it, while Rickman is sufficiently majestic as Louis XIV. Tucci steals every single scene he's in as the king's campy brother, as does Joan Bergin's costume design.

Overall, A Little Chaos is watchable, if predictable. A feast for the eyes, but bird-seed for the brain.

Rating ***

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