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Posts Tagged ‘Charlie Cox’

You know, until I just looked it up, I would have said that Michael Caine had basically forsworn his once-notorious ‘I’ll do anything’ work ethic and had spent the last few years only doing cameo appearances in Christopher Nolan movies. But apparently not: twenty-one films in the last decade, more or less, which is not a bad average by anyone’s standards. Still, you don’t see the great man in really juicy leading roles very much any more, and the chance to see him in action in just this style was the main reason why I trundled along to see James Marsh’s King of Thieves.

Caine plays Brian Reader, a recently-widowed professional criminal (Francesca Annis, who plays his wife, manages to scrape a prominent billing despite carking it in the opening few minutes) who is feeling his age and perhaps looking for a purpose in life. Now, most people in his situation would probably think about taking up yoga or possibly bowls, but given his past and particular skill-set, Reader decides his last hurrah will be to knock off the vault underneath the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit building, stuffed with cash, gold, jewellry and diamonds.

He duly assembles a crack team, or – to be more strictly accurate – a crock team, consisting of Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Ray Winstone and Paul Whitehouse, in addition to the young security expert who is making the whole undertaking possible (a sop to the streaming generation in the form of Charlie Cox). Potentially employed as their fence is an incontinent fishmonger nicknamed named Billy the Fish (Michael Gambon).

Well, as you might expect, things do not go entirely to plan with a team of this calibre (and vintage) on the job, and the traditional heist-movie falling-out between the principals actually occurs before the robbery is even completed. Will the gang of crinkly crims get away with it? Will their clashing egos be their undoing? Or could the police prove to be rather more competent than anyone is giving them credit for?

You know you’ve made it as a British crook when they start making films about your exploits – this has been a flourishing subgenre of the Brit crime movie for many years now. And, before we consider King of Thieves as a piece of entertainment, we should remember that this is a film based on true events (and not even the first one purporting to retell this particular story – The Hatton Garden Job came out last year, and got rather unfavourable notices). All right, so it’s not quite on the same level as some of those jolly fantasies which seem to be just a bit too fascinated by Jack the Ripper and other serial killers, but still – stuff got nicked (most of which remains unrecovered as of the film’s being released). A company went bankrupt as a result. People lost their jobs. You know, just mentioning it.

The film really attempts to skate over this, and initially at least seems to be intent on making use of its cast’s undoubted credentials when it comes to comedy. It is a particularly black, deadpan kind of comedy, mostly revolving around the gang’s advanced ages and the inevitable impact on the execution of the robbery – the look-out keeps dozing off, they have to remember to pack enough of their various medicines and ointments for the duration of the job, and so on. It’s quite broad stuff, but with a cast of this quality it’s still very watchable and entertaining stuff. Even so, to begin with I found myself a little nonplussed: the plot seemed very linear and quite shallow. Would King of Thieves just prove to be another disposable piece of knockabout frivolity, elevated only by its performers?

Well, not quite, because as the film goes on it becomes rather more interesting. What starts off looking like a typical piece of romanticised nonsense glamorising loveable London gangsters actually acquires unexpected depth and grit, and has moments of genuine grit and drama. The gang fall out, in earnest – the cosy camaraderie which initially seems to exist between them is replaced by real tension, and the old saw about honour amongst thieves is shown to be a myth as they set about double-crossing each other with an enthusiasm that belies their years. And here the cast get a chance to show what they can really do: given some of his former roles, it’s hardly a surprise that Ray Winstone can be an effective heavy, but I find I am constantly surprised by Jim Broadbent’s range and ability as an actor. You always kind of expect him to be someone slightly vague and somewhat jolly, but here he turns out to be a genuinely menacing and nasty piece of work, quite capable of holding his own in a confrontation with Michael Caine.

Michael Caine is 85 and it is inevitably a little sad to see him somewhat diminished, physically, by the passage of time: he looks frailer, and it is noticeable that he doesn’t have quite the screen time one might expect; the film seems to have been sympathetically constructed to spread the burden amongst the whole ensemble. But he is still the indisputable guv’nor of this film, still one of the biggest names in British cinema, and he has lost none of his charisma or technical ability as an actor. This is a proper actor’s performance, finding the subtleties of the character and not afraid to be unsympathetic – as the film goes on there’s a suggestion that Reader isn’t just the loveable old burglar he’s initially presented as. This isn’t one of Caine’s best films, but this is still an excellent performance.

There’s nothing very original about King of Thieves, but it’s a pacy and engaging little film and a consistently entertaining one. The gear-change between droll black comedy and semi-serious crime drama is something it never quite manages to pull off as smoothly as it probably needs to, and as I say there is the whole true-crime-as-entertainment thing to consider. But it’s still worth seeing, if only for an excellent cast doing very good work, led by one of Britain’s greatest movie stars.

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The modern world being what it is, it’s quite hard to completely miss a movie that you genuinely want to see – unless you’re living in rural Sri Lanka or the wilds of central Asia, I suppose. But it can still be done. Towards the end of 2007, posters started going up in the language school in Tokyo where I was working at the time, advertising Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust (I’ve no idea why the school was promoting the movie – some sort of targeted Anglophile campaign, I expect), which was due out there early the next year. Due to leave Japan in December, I already knew that, due to the lengthy gap between the European and Japanese release of most non-blockbuster films (over 18 months in the case of Slither), I would already have missed Stardust in the UK. But such is life.

However, I was delighted to see that Stardust was one of the featured in-flight movies on the plane from Narita to Copenhagen. I hate flying long-haul and this promised to take the edge off the eleven-hour journey. Unfortunately, I had reckoned without the idiosyncratic way SAS organise their onboard entertainment. Most airlines have a system where you choose the movie, push a button, and it plays from the start for you. Not our Scandinavian friends: each movie played on a continuous loop on its own channel throughout the flight, and to see the whole thing in the right order you had to be lucky and tune in at just the right moment when the film was starting. Needless to say luck was not with me that day, and not only did I miss seeing Stardust, I missed seeing it about five times. This has rankled with me ever since and I was recently pleased to finally catch up with the damn thing.

This is not so much a fantasy movie as a full-on fairy tale. Charlie Cox plays Tristan, a young man of unusual parentage living in Victorian England. His village adjoins a gateway to another world, but everyone seems to take that in their stride. But when a girl with whom Tristan is infatuated (Sienna Miller) reveals she is planning to marry another, Tristan vows to enter the other world and retrieve a fallen star (which has taken on the form of Claire Danes), in the hope that this will make her choose him instead.

However, the star has fallen as part of the machinations of the dying king of the other world (Peter O’Toole, briefly), who is setting a challenge to determine which of his sons will succeed him – the wise money is on the ruthless Septimus (hardest working man in showbiz Mark Strong). Whoever finds the star will be the new king. As if that weren’t enough to worry about, the star is also being hunted by a trio of witches led by the vicious Lamia, played by Michelle Pfeiffer – for me this piece of casting had the same whiff of ‘British movie imports slightly past-it American star’ about it as, for example, Andie McDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral, simply because Pfeiffer doesn’t work very much these days, but I’m probably being unfair. That’s her choice, after all: she’s certainly perfectly fine here.

Well, would anyone be really shocked to learn that as they get to know each other in the course of their adventures, Tristan and the star find their initial distaste for each other considerably mellowing? Thought not. I found Stardust to be a fun film, and sometimes very funny indeed, but difficult to get a grip on. The combination of classic fairy tale tropes with a modern rom-com structure is just one example of the way in which the film slips and slithers about, never quite being what you expect from one moment to the next.

This is, of course, based on a Neil Gaiman novel (he’s also credited as producer). I am, mutatis mutandis, a fan of Gaiman’s work, and the writers of Stardust (Vaughn and Jane Goldman) have worked hard to ensure it sits easily within the canon. Gaiman’s schtick, to the extent that he has one, is to combine classic story themes and ideas with a modern, often knowing sensibility – taking them seriously but not often sending them up. But while it’s smart and funny, Stardust is really lacking in the darkness it probably needs to convince as a genuine fairy tale – much of the time it’s desperately whimsical, occasionally bordering on the twee. It should really be as annoying as hell and the fact that it isn’t is to Vaughn’s credit.

So it’s not quite a parody – the makers of this film are quite probably sick of having it compared to The Princess Bride, but that’s the closest thing to it. I suppose there are also elements from Terry Gilliam films in there too, and I wasn’t surprised to learn he was involved with the project at one point. If Matthew Vaughn doesn’t quite put his own stamp on it, he still does a good job both as writer and director, for this is a film with a definite vision.

Quite who it’s aimed at, I’m not sure – I suspect young children will find some of the story a bit dull and not get many of the jokes, while adults may find the whole thing a bit too sweet and precious and silly for their tastes. I imagine it will probably do very well with a certain type of teenage girl.

Perhaps I am overstating this, as there are lots of good things here for all kinds of people to enjoy: a satisfying, understatedly clever plot, good art direction, and there are some brilliantly orchestrated sequences – the voodoo swordfight being a particular standout. Most of the acting is, shall we say, not especially nuanced, but none the worse for that, with only a few performances that really make you grimance – Robert de Niro takes an axe to his own reputation once again with a deeply peculiar turn as a gay transvestite pirate (another weird tonal choice), Ricky Gervais is, well, Ricky Gervais, as usual, and, above all…

Well, look, I haven’t seen Claire Danes in a lot of stuff – just Romeo + Juliet and Terminator 3 (and I had to check her filmography for both of them) – but I don’t remember her being too bad in either film. Here, though, she gives a strangely over-animated performance that’s deeply distracting. There’s a moment where she has to deliver a lengthy monologue declaring her undying love to a small furry animal, and it’s one of the oddest pieces of screen acting I can recall – eyes rolling, eyebrows waggling, emphasising the dialogue a bit too much. It’s a bit like watching Al Pacino at his least restrained, or the Haitian puppet theatre.

In the end, though, Stardust was worth the wait. The whole thing is as light and insubstantial as a feather, and probably wholly unbefitting of serious analysis (please disregard previous 1182 words), but it’s fun and clever and only infrequently irritating. I would be interested to see a Neil Gaiman movie that was true to the darker elements that feature in his work, but in terms of handling the notes that come from his upper register, Stardust does a pretty good job.

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