Posts Tagged ‘Aidan Gillen’

Yes, wait no longer – it’s the news you’ve been holding your breath for: have they or have they not improved the rake in the smaller screen at the Phoenix Picturehouse in Jericho? Well – er, no. But I have managed to find the cupholders, they’re now fixed to the back of the row in front in what, it must be said, is not a terrifically convenient position. Ah, life.

A few years ago I saw the well-received documentary Man on Wire and very much enjoyed it, and in the last few days I have been catching up with what the folk responsible have been doing. The producer’s latest offering is The Imposter, currently doing storming business in the UK (by documentary standards, anyway), while director James Marsh also has a new film out: he has returned to the world of narrative with the drama Shadow Dancer, adapted from the novel of the same name by its writer, Prince William’s Mate.

Prince William’s Mate was for some years a journalist in Northern Ireland and the film returns to the closing years of the armed conflict there to find its setting. Andrea Riseborough plays Colette McVeigh, an IRA member (though her dedication to the cause is not absolute). Sent to London to plant a bomb on the underground, she is taken by British security forces and brought to the presence of down-at-heel Five officer Mac, who’s played by the always-watchable Clive Owen. This is quite a small movie and Owen is still quite a big star, and so he qualifies to have his name at the end of the castlist, preceded by ‘and’. A similar thing happens with Gillian Anderson, who plays his boss, except she gets ‘with’.

Owen’s character has been planning this for some time and has the information and leverage he needs to persuade Colette to turn informer on her brothers and their associates, who are also all active in the IRA – this means running a deadly risk, for the Republicans are ruthless with traitors to the cause.

And, of course, if the British do anything with the information McVeigh provides, there’s always the chance she will be identified as the source – they know this, and so Mac is mystified when his superiors appear to be unforgiveably reckless with her safety. Is there a deeper game in progress? And all the time, Colette must do her best to nullify the suspicions of the IRA’s internal security…

Well, I suppose Shadow Dancer is open to the criticism that its story is a period piece – it’s startling to realise that 1993 is nearly two decades ago – and I’m not sure how universally applicable most of its themes and emotions are. This is a film rooted in a very particular time and place, after all. But it has a certain technical polish and achievement which is worthwhile in and of itself.

Chief amongst the film’s qualities is the strength of its performances – Owen is always good, Domhnall Gleeson is typically impressive in a small roll, David Wilmot plays another scary psycho and Aidan Gillen doesn’t quite get enough to do (he’s still in this more than The Dark Knight Rises, though). Ahead of all these, however, must come Andrea Riseborough, who’s rapidly acquiring a reputation to conjure with. I’ve seen Riseborough in a few films now but I still don’t have very much idea what she looks like or how she behaves or speaks: she has an extraordinary chameleonic quality and usually manages to vanish utterly into her characters. Even in a very bad film she is effortlessly impressive, in a very competent one like this she absolutely shines.

The film manages some moments of genuine tension and suspense, and is filled with nasty, telling details – cars endlessly having their undersides checked for bombs, plastic being rolled out to cover the floor prior to interrogations – but the focus on performances is significant. You could probably argue that any story coming out of Ulster in the seventies, eighties or early nineties is ultimately a horror story, but beyond this, Shadow Dancer is much more of a character-based drama than a true thriller. The tone is consistently low-key and naturalistic, and the film carefully portions out its moments of action: these are few and far between. The pace is also not what one would expect from what’s being advertised as a spy movie.

But, having said that, the film is mostly successful: I found the dubious shenanigans going on within MI5 rather familiar, in atmosphere if not specifics, and certainly less engrossing than the depiction of life within the Republican community. This has a rather oppressively claustrophobic quality, but is nonetheless convincing all the same. Despite this, the film never really comes to life as an actual thriller, but its need to obey thriller conventions means that the drama feels like it’s being led around by the nose towards the end. I found the actual conclusion vaguely dissatisfying, in that the characters who genuinely appear to suffer in the denouement are the ones who least deserve to, but then again this is hardly unrealistic, especially in this situation. A more concerted attempt to genuinely give the audience some excitement might have resulted in a much more memorable movie – but as it stands, Shadow Dancer‘s insistence on being first and foremost a naturalistic character drama does not necessarily work to its best advantage.

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Courtesy of a minor coincidence, two action movies set in modern London have got a release in consecutive weekends – but while Attack the Block perturbed some critics (including your correspondent) with its ambivalence towards young criminals, Elliot Lester’s Blitz takes a slightly more straightforward approach: three of them get a damn good hiding with a hockey stick before the opening credits even roll.

Then again, this is no more than one would expect from a movie which is essentially a vehicle for the underappreciated British action star Jason Statham, who wields the sporting implement in question. In this outing Statham gives us his portrayal of wild-man South London copper Brant, who in real life would be a figure of urban nightmare: a brutal, uncontrollable thug, only partially redeemed by the fact his heart seems to be in roughly the right place. He prefers beating up juvenile offenders to arresting them. He conducts his interviews down the local boozer. He bullies the service psychiatrist into certifying him fit for duty, even when he is self-evidently a violent sociopath. (It says something for Statham’s considerable charisma that Brant – just! – remains a likable anti-hero for most of the movie.)

However, Brant is in for a shock as a previous recipient of one of his exercises in community policing has emerged from hospital with something of a chip on his shoulder, and sets out on a cop-killing spree. Shocked by the deaths of their own, the top brass of the police install thoughtful by-the-book-ish detective – implausible name alert! – Porter Nash (Paddy Considine) to handle the case and stop the murderer, who’s taken to calling himself ‘the Blitz’, and to this end Brant and Nash forge an uneasy alliance…

Well, if you’re anything like me, the news that Jason Statham and Paddy Considine are in the same film will have provoked bemusement and confusion – I was sitting there during the trailer for Blitz thinking ‘Statham? Considine? Together?!?? Isn’t there a law against things like that…?’ Still, the pairing promised something a bit different from the usual fare either of them turn up in, and the presence elsewhere in the cast of people like David Morrissey and Aiden Gillen suggested this could be an intelligent and gripping movie.

Sadly, I must warn you not to be fooled, as this is very much a Jason Statham movie – and a particularly savage one at that – in which Considine and the others occasionally make an appearance. Normally, I am an enormous fan of Jason Statham’s body of work, whether it be when he’s in steely martial-artist mode in the Transporter franchise, or doing his berserk psycho turn in the Cranks, but Blitz is not, to be perfectly honest, one of his better outings.

It’s a much darker and more realistic movie than most, with considerably less action: it’s over an hour into the movie before Statham gets to chase anyone around, he never takes his shirt off, and he doesn’t end up fighting a dozen people simultaneously in a garage either. This in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, as it does focus your attention on Jason Statham’s performance – which, as usual, is perfectly fit-for-purpose – but it does mean the film has to rely on things like script and direction in order to succeed.

This is really where Blitz’s problems lie. The ‘rogue cop vs psycho killer’ plot inevitably recalls Dirty Harry, but Blitz isn’t remotely in the same class. Much of the dialogue is very perfunctory and clichéd, and the story itself is flabby, with a lengthy subplot about a female copper (Zawe Ashton) with a drug problem. Ashton’s performance is great, but it has virtually nothing to do with the main plot and drains tension from it as a result. Sensational details are dropped in, purely for effect (Considine’s character is gay, but other than allowing Statham to crack some bracingly non-PC jokes this has no bearing on anything that happens). Worst of all, the story is riddled with improbable coincidences and glaring holes – there were numerous moments where I found myself thinking, ‘Hang on a minute, why don’t they just…?’ The film didn’t do enough to earn the right to make those sorts of demands on my credibility.

And, in the end, the climax – such as it is – is unsatisfying on all sorts of levels. Earlier on, two main characters have a conversation which appears to reveal which way the story is going to go. It doesn’t go this way. It goes exactly the way the conversation indicated it wouldn’t, and this is supposed to constitute a clever narrative twist. The film-makers may call this playing with expectations, but I call it cheating.

In retrospect, the substance of the final scenes – obviously the need to avoid spoilers prevents me from going into too much detail – is very much in keeping with the whole tone of the movie, but they still left me feeling somewhat uneasy. Blitz sets out to depict a world with a bleak and ambiguous morality – and a horribly grimy world it is too – but the climax seems to show Statham and Considine yielding to this, and accepting that they can’t hope to impose anything better upon it. We could probably argue at length about whether or not this is realistic, but I don’t go to the cinema to see that kind of defeatist realism, I’m afraid, and as a result the whole film left a bad taste in my mouth.

Blitz is a fairly competent film with some significant talent involved, and an attempt at exactly the kind of commercial entertainment that should be the lifeblood of any domestic movie industry, and I would really have liked it to be a commercial and creative success (quite why it’s been released when Norse thunder-gods and OTT pirates are hoovering up the bulk of audiences is a mystery – I suspect a real-life cop-killing spree in the UK may have forced a delay in the release date). But, performances aside, it’s just not quite good enough in any department to really be anything memorable.

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