Sunday 19 November 2017

Movie reviews: Suffragette, Sicario and Regression


Suffragette is a superb historical document, Sicario is a bloody affair and Regression lives up to its name


Drama. Starring Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Ben Wishaw, Helena Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleeson, Romola Garai, Anne-Marie Duff, Natalie Press. Director: Sarah Gavron. Cert: 12A

Whether or not the world still needs feminism appears to be a topic up for debate - even today. But whatever your thoughts on the issue, there was little debating the status of women at the turn of the century.

Effectively treated as second-class citizens, women couldn't vote and were often in a quiet stranglehold in their own houses, where husbands or fathers had sovereignty. As audience members, we have a vague idea that this was the case, but Sarah Gavron's direction - not to mention Abi Morgan's script - brings the horror of the period into sharp, unforgiving focus.

The hallmarks of a lavish period piece are all present and correct in Suffragette, from the detailed sets to the vivid costumes. But the struggle of Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) and her peers, all lobbying for the right of women to vote, is anything but genteel.

Maud works in a Bethnal Green laundry, and has done for years. There are whisperings of abuse on the job, but what we do know is that Maud worked at the laundry ceaselessly from an early age, just as her mother did. She is married to the inoffensive Sonny (Ben Wishaw), in a marriage that's less domestic bliss and more an economic sanctuary. The misogyny and placement of women on a lower social tier is so all pervading, it is barely noticeable to her anymore.

One day, Maud stumbles onto a protest where women are partaking in acts of civil disobedience to put their case for women's suffrage across. But, in a nicely subverted cliché, the scales don't immediately fall from Maud's eyes. Far from seeing red and joining the cause in a froth of sisterly spirit, Maud is almost accidentally caught up in the rip tide, an unwilling and unwitting participant.

As Maud joins the cause, the blowback is immense. Shunned by neighbours as a sort of transgressive slattern, her husband can barely believe her wickedness, and things aren't much better at the laundry.

Her plucky ally Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) doesn't fare much better, getting beaten senseless by her husband for stepping out of line. Only the patrician women with means and education - pharmacist Edith, played by Helena Bonham Carter, and political wife, played by Romola Garai - fare a little better in society. But not by much.

The intriguing thing about Suffragette is that the film doesn't play out quite as one might have expected. The movement's most famous moment - the day Emily Davison threw herself under the King's horse at the Epsom Derby - is little more than a passing moment in the movie. That Davison -played by the ethereal Natalie Press - wasn't a more central and more fleshed-pit character is a great shame.

Similarly, Emmeline Pankhurst (played by Meryl Streep), appears for no more than five minutes, and only as a rousing speech-maker (sadly, it's not one of Streep's more memorable turns). Rather, the film focuses on the more faceless, voiceless members of the movement, and specifically on Maud's journey from innocent bystander to political activist.

Mulligan, who appears to do period quite well, makes Maud a multifaceted, passive and conflicted character, and the film is all the better for her performance.

Such casual and indifferent sexism might seem shocking to some viewers. Women of course got the right to vote, but as the film's endnotes attest, the feminist movement is, in many respects, far from over.

That home truth, subtly presented, might well enrage some viewers… which is probably no bad thing.

Rating: ****




Action/Crime. Starring: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, John Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Hank Rogerson. Director: Denis Villeneuve. Cert: 15A

Sicario's opening weekend may well benefit from the gentle shove of Oscar-worthy buzz, but beyond that, the film, and its various components, are overflowing with sizzling tension and bleak unease. Set against a palette of muted reds, sunset oranges and beiges, it's a wonderful combination.

Located on the border between Arizona and Juarez, Sicario explores the bloody war between Mexican drug cartels and the US government. It's a story that's been committed to celluloid time and time again - in fact, the 'nacro-thriller' is pretty much a genre of its own now - but on Denis Villeneuve's watch, the war is bloody indeed. The body count is high, and the freeways are littered with violence and mayhem.

Kate Macer (Emily Bunt) is an Arizona FBI agent who joins a secretive task force. Their mission is to square up to the infamous Sonora cartel, fronted by Rafael (Raoul Trujillo). But as Kate learns very early on, thanks to her colleague Matt (Josh Brolin) and the mysterious ally Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), this ongoing war happens well outside the confines of the law.

Del Toro and Blunt are match fit; the former is sufficiently intense and menacing, while the latter shows her chops as a believable toughie. A lot of the action and narrative unfolds, leaving the audience uncertain and confused.

You may not know what's going on half the time, yet in Villeneuve's eminently safe hands, it's best to assume that this is by design rather than by accident.

Rating: ***




Thriller. Starring: Emma Watson, Ethan Hawke, David Thewlis, Dale Dickey, Devon Bostick, Kristian Brunn. Director: Alejandro Amenabar. Cert: 15A

The year is 1990 and in the God-fearing town of Hoyek, Minnesota, mechanic John Gray (David Dencik) makes a nervous confession to police chief Cleveland (Peter MacNeill) that he sexually abused his 17-year-old daughter Angela (Emma Watson) during a satanic ritual.

Gray claims to have no clear recollection of the incident, which irritates lead detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke), who wants to close the case in a timely fashion. He enlists the services of British psychoanalyst Dr Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis) to piece together the truth from John and Angela’s fractured memories.

These testimonies, and the recollections of Angela’s outcast brother Roy (Devon Bostick), cast a dark shadow over the close-knit community and force

Kenner to interrogate Angela’s grandmother Rose (Dale Dickey) and one of his own police colleagues.

Meanwhile, Reverend Murray

(Lothaire Bluteau) cares for Angela at the Joy Of Salvation Church and whips his congregation into a frenzy with dire warnings about hell and damnation.

Director Alejandro Amenabar touches upon themes of collective hysteria, devotion and self-sacrifice but becomes too bogged down in the mechanics of trying to scare us.

— Damon Smith

Rating: ***

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