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Thursday 14 December 2017

Secrets and lies in the Big Apple

A week after the cataclysmic events of 9/11 were hijacked to justify the mawkish sentiment of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, we have another film which draws on that day for part of its narrative backdrop but does so far more subtly and to much greater effect.

Alas, studio wrangling and rancorous disputes regarding the final cut mean that we only get to see Margaret now, a whole seven years after it finished shooting.

This is a terrible pity, as it's a haunting film which features an amazing performance from Anna Paquin (who would surely have received at least a nod from the Academy had the film come out when it was supposed to) as a teenager trying to make sense of the world in the wake of a terrible accident. Paquin plays Lisa Cohen, the daughter of actress Joan (J Smith-Cameron) who one day distracts a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo), causing him to run a red light and knock down a pedestrian (Allison Janney) who then dies in Lisa's arms.

Lying to the police that the light was green, Lisa enters a moral maze of guilt and self-doubt, with Lonergan's at times dazzling script leading the viewer on a weaving trail which encompasses Lisa trying to get the police to believe what really happened, contacting relatives of the deceased and having to deal with the trauma of her parents' divorce.

If Margaret at times seems a tad fractured that's probably because Lonergan's initial cut ran to over four hours and here it's been trimmed to a more manageable 150 minutes. However, don't let that daunt you as this film draws you in to its story of its characters coming to terms with unforeseen circumstances. HHHHI

SAFE HOUSE Thriller. Starring Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Robert Patrick. Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Cert 15A

The influence of the Bourne trilogy is all over this generic actioner, from the jumpy, grainy camerawork (courtesy of Bourne cinematographer Oliver Wood) to the notion that government agencies, specifically the CIA, might not exactly play by the rules. Gosh, who would've thought?

The story is basic enough, with rogue operative Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) giving himself up and brought to a safe house in Cape Town for a 'debriefing'. Shortly after he arrives, the location is swamped by armed men who kill most of the occupants leaving Frost and rookie field agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) to go on the run in order to hand over a microchip containing devastating information. And that's pretty much it really. Oh, and if you can't spot the bad egg in the CIA within the first 15 minutes, then you shouldn't be allowed out on your own. HHHII

RED DOG Comedy/drama. Starring Josh Lucas, Rachel Taylor, Luke Ford, Arthur Angel, Koko the dog. Directed by Kriv Stenders. Cert PG

You wait years for an outstanding canine performance to hit the screen and then two come along within the space of a couple of months. Uggie is deservedly being lavished with praise for his turn in The Artist but Koko, a red kelpie, isn't too far behind him in this entertaining movie which was a massive box-office success in its native Australia.

Based on stories by Louis de Berniere around the fact that a tiny mining community in Western Australia actually erected a statue to a beloved bowler, the film is set in the 1970s and weaves the legend of Red Dog into the various tales of the miners' lives. It's unashamedly sentimental, frequently funny and beautifully photographed. Good doggie.HHHII

HADEWIJCH Drama. Starring Julie Sokolowski, Karl Sarafidis, Yassine Salime, David Dewaele. Directed by Bruno Dumont. Cert 15A

The nature of religious fanaticism is the core subject of this sombre and quite pretentious arthouse drone, in which a very naïve young woman from a wealthy Parisian background (newcomer Julie Sokolowski) is dismissed from a convent for being too devout and somehow winds up embracing Islamic fundamentalism. There are some lovely visual touches but ultimately Bruno Dumont's film takes an awful long time to go nowhere in particular. HHIII

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