It’s been a depressingly bland few weeks in the cinema, but fear not: as summer slowly approaches, so too do some decent movies. Deadfall, however, still falls into the mediocre pile. Its powerful opening sequence, in which brother and sister Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde), making a speedy getaway after a casino heist, hit a deer and careen into a snowy ditch, indicates the visceral brutality of future scenes, but the film is let down by its sloppy script and some unconvincing acting.
Deciding to split up and head for the Canadian border separately on foot, the criminal pair – who share a traumatic upbringing and some implicit incestuous feelings – encounter a variety of different people as they attempt to flee the country. Among them are Olympic winning boxer Jay (Charlie Hunnam), fresh out of prison and heading for his parents’ home for Thanksgiving dinner, and deputy sheriff Hanna (Kate Mara), desperately trying to gain her misogynistic father’s approval. There appears to be a running theme about fathers, portrayed as absentee, abusive, neglectful, and bullish, but the most interesting relationship is shared between Addison and Liza; he is unpredictable and sinister, ruthlessly killing any one who comes in his way, while she is impressionable, simple, and suffering from a severe case of hero worship. It is a shame then, that the two share so little screen time together. Instead, Liza develops a relationship with Jay, portrayed with half-hearted blandness by Hunnam.
Deadfall is alternately engaging and frustrating; much of its dialogue is unnecessary and too much is dedicated to exposition. While the multiple characters’ plots do converge in one final, tense sequence, some of the subplots feel rushed and need further development – Hanna’s relationship with her father is unexplained and unresolved, for example. Meanwhile, Liza’s actions in the final moments are disappointingly unbelievable. Yet Bana brings an intensity to his role, while the supporting cast, including Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson, add some credibility to what is otherwise an often convoluted, messy film.
Coincidentally, Mud is also about a fugitive on the run, but that’s where the similarities end. Set on the banks of the Mississippi in Arkansas, this is a delicate, meandering indie film that takes full advantage of both the beautiful calm of the landscape, and the impressive talents of Matthew McConaughey. The man once previously dismissed as another handsome romcom lead continues to transcend the stereotype; after his cold, calculating portrayal of a hitman in Killer Joe, and his dynamic performance as male stripclub owner Dallas in Magic Mike, Mud is the closest to his earlier roles, but oozes natural, unforced charisma and an understated touch.
Tye Sheridan is Ellis, a fourteen year old boy who, with his friend Neckbone (newcomer Jacob Lofland) discover a boat wedged high in a tree on an island. Claiming it as their own, they quickly realise that it has already become the refuge for Mud, on the run after killing a man. His crime was one of passion, however, the source of which is childhood sweetheart Juniper, played with equally understated authenticity by Reese Witherspoon. As the boys agree to help Mud get his girl and restore the ship to its former glory, a friendship grows between them. It’s a delightful coming of age story, in which Ellis gradually comes to realise that his idealistic, innocent view of the world is not always accurate.
McConaughey and the young leads share their screentime with an excellent supporting cast – Michael Shannon’s appearance is brief but memorable as Neckbone’s uncle. It’s a heartfelt film, slow but engaging, filled with the natural beauty of the deep south that provides the perfect backdrop to the relaxed, though not always easy, lives of the people in it.
Star Trek: Into Darkness
The most widely anticipated film of the day, JJ Abrams’ second foray into the world of Star Trek is suitably action packed and fast paced, but – for me – a confused, smug movie that takes too much advantage of the liberties vested upon it due to its “alternate universe” status established in its predecessor. I don’t want to reveal spoilers, so will keep plot to a minimum, but it is precisely the direction the narrative went that irritated, frustrated, and disappointed me so much.
As John Harrison, Benedict Cumberbatch is a far more worthy and sinister adversary to Kirk and his crew than Bana’s in the last outing. He displays a ruthless desire for revenge calmly, proving to be both intellectually and physically superior to the Enterprise’s captain and, for much of the film, his intentions remain shrouded. As Kirk, Chris Pine is adequate though lacks the charisma of William Shatner; Zachary Quinto continues to impress as Spock (one speech in particular is both poignant and insightful regarding the half-Vulcan’s struggle with emotion), while Karl Urban also deserves a mention for his gruff portrayal of Bones McCoy.
Into Darkness provides something for both those familiar with the vast canon of Star Trek and those new to the franchise; there are plenty of nods to the Original Series, from one character’s obvious dismay at being told to put on a red shirt, to a reference to Nurse Chapel, but as the film progresses it becomes more remake than homage, twisting familiar storylines in a way that is both repetitive and irksome. Visually, it is bright and crisp, although there is a distracting overuse of lens flare made all the more obvious through the pointless 3D. At times the action is too fast-paced and filled with rapid jumpcuts and zooming camera movements to be properly appreciated, but it is dynamic and entertaining. Whether or not you approve of the narrative arch will be down to personal preferences; personally, I was less than overwhelmed.
The Big Wedding
The Big Wedding boasts an impressive cast – Robert DeNiro, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, Robin Williams, Amanda Siefried, Katherine Heigl, and Ben Barnes – but fails to deliver anything particularly interesting or engaging. Deriving all its humour from awkward sex gags, the opening scene, in which DeNiro says “cunnilingus” repeatedly before initiating said action with Sarandon on a kitchen counter, is an indication of the tired, uncomfortable humour running throughout.
Barnes is Alejandro, adopted son of since-divorced Don (DeNiro) and Ellie (Keaton); Sarandon is Don’s current girlfriend and Ellie’s former best friend. Preparing for his wedding, Alejandro has invited his Columbian birth mother to his parent’s home but, because of her strict Catholic views, has neglected to say they are no longer married. Cue some wacky lies and similarly wacky situations that arise from the original fib.
With such acting talents on show, everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, but not really trying very hard. It’s all rather generic; the comedic situations never manage to be entertaining and, while the characters are all likeable, none are memorable. Williams, as a recovering alcoholic priest, delivers the best lines, but they are rooted in stereotype and Catholic clichés. Don and Ellie’s daughter Lyla develops most throughout the film, but any sensitivity with regards to her is then destroyed by the contrasting confused “growth” of her brother, a thirty year old virgin who abandons his noble decision to wait for love as soon as Alejandro’s biological sister appears. In essence, he becomes nothing more than a desperate, horny teenager, offering romantic gestures solely to get into her knickers. While The Big Wedding is inoffensive, it often feels inappropriate and misguided, and its excellent cast is let down by both the script and their own half-heartedness.
The latest Brit flick appears to be another generic gritty gangster movie, but after its opening scene, in which a man is murdered in his car, it becomes a much more subtle odd couple story, as unflappable hitman Roy (Tim Roth) has his patience, and success, tested by his new driver Adam (Jack O’Connell). Adam has been forced into the job by his hideous stepfather (Peter Mullan) after a joyriding incident resulted in the destruction of the latter’s £60 000 Mercedes. The nineteen year old is a typical teen – easily distracted, spontaneous, and prone to moments of unthinking stupidity. He provides a perfect contrast to the careful, well spoken assassin, whose careful plans are systematically destroyed through Adam’s idiocy.
John Wrathall’s screenplay is simple but effective, allowing Roth to dominate as the quietly personable murderer. There are some moments of subtle black humour, and the intriguing introduction of a witness, the silent, beautiful and ambiguous unnamed girl (Talulah Riley), whose involvement signals the beginning of a curious cat and mouse chase. O’Connell is utterly convincing as the dimwitted teen, more interested in his iPod’s safety than his own, seemingly incapable of doing anything successfully – while this could be over-exaggerated and dip into slapstick, it is instead exasperatingly believable. It’s not difficult to figure out how the whole thing will end, but there are enough unexpected additions to maintain interest. In contrast to the recent formulaic Brit gangster flicks, The Liability steps out of the generic box and delivers a professional, engaging buddy movie.