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Posts Tagged ‘Jack O’Connell’

When you give your movie a name like Chaplin or Ali, there is an implicit assumption involved that your subject is so famous and significant as to need no further introduction. There are multitudes of people in the world named Ali, and quite a few with the surname Chaplin, but it’s taken for granted that people are going to know who you’re on about. With both the films mentioned above, it’s a fairly safe bet, but there really are relatively few people with the same kind of mononymic recognition factor. It helps if you have a fairly distinctive name to begin with, of course.

Which brings us to Benedict Andrews’ Seberg. The name is certainly not a common one, but on the other hand its owner – the actress Jean Seberg – is a relatively forgotten figure these days, who stopped making movies in America nearly fifty years ago. I doubt many people could even name a Jean Seberg movie: I probably know a bit more about obscure old movies than the average person, and I would have really struggled. To be honest, I knew virtually nothing about Seberg (or Seberg) before going in to see the movie; I thought Jean Seberg was French, and that I would be in for something stylish and possibly a bit pretentious about French New Wave cinema of the late 1950s.

Mais non. The film takes place about a decade later, in a milieu vaguely similar to that of Tarantino’s last movie (I would imagine; didn’t see it), primarily Hollywood in the late 1960s. Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart) is flying back to the States from her home in France, ostensibly to make Paint Your Wagon – but, rather to the despair of her agent, she is tired of just being decorative in dumb commercial movies and wants to use her celebrity and wealth to achieve something more worthwhile. On the plane she encounters Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), a radical civil rights activist and sometime associate of the Black Panthers.

Seberg is attracted to the cause – and, not to put too fine a point on it, Jamal himself – and becomes a donor to the various programmes and other good causes he oversees. The two also begin an affair. However, Seberg’s involvement with a political radical brings her into the crosshairs of the FBI, which is in the process of implementing J Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO programme of targetting and disrupting domestic political organisations deemed to be subversive. Seberg is initially surveilled, then later finds herself persecuted by the agency, even as the agent in charge of leading the surveillance against her (Jack O’Connell) finds himself doubting the morality of the orders he is given.

So, not so much a floaty art-house thing about the French New Vague and Jean-Luc Godard as something verging on being another movie about the Plight of Black America (I get the sense there are a few of these imminent). Some of the publicity for Seberg describes it as a ‘political thriller’, which strikes me as pushing it a bit, but there are political themes here, as well as story elements which are often to be found in thrillers. That said, it’s also about Jean Seberg as an individual, and key events of her life, handled very much in the time-honoured biopic fashion.

Whatever else we say about this movie, I think the time has come for the world to stop squabbling, take a moment, and agree that Kristen Stewart is a very capable and charismatic performer. Yes, she started her career in the Twilight movies, but everyone has to take the breaks they’re given: Steve McQueen was in The Blob, Sandra Bullock was in Bionic Showdown, and Scarlett Johansson was in Home Alone 3, after all. I have been as guilty as anyone of yielding to a little internal ‘uh-oh’ moment when Stewart’s name appears near the top of a movie’s cast list, but as often as not she has turned out to be one of the best things in it. The same is true here: this is a serious and committed performance. Stewart is perhaps lucky that Seberg has really slipped from the collective memory, so she doesn’t have to go all out and attempt an actual impersonation, but this is still good work.

Better, perhaps, than the movie deserves. This is a potentially very interesting story, still quite timely and yet (I would suspect) relatively obscure. The early sections of the movie, when it resembles a thriller much more strongly, are genuinely involving and well-paced, asking all kinds of questions – not least about Seberg herself and what motivates her. Is she really trying to use her fame to further the common good, or just a restless young woman making a rather oblique cry for help? (I have to say that if there is any irony in Kristen Stewart playing a photogenic movie star who eschews mainstream work in favour of more personal projects, the movie does not really seem aware of it.) To what degree is her fascination with Jamal political rather than simply physical? The movie leaves the question open.

However, as it goes on the film becomes much more internalised and also slower – definitely more of an autobiographical drama than anything else. It handles the shift in gears moderately well, but the film becomes a lot less engaging. Throughout all this there is also the subplot about O’Connell’s decent FBI agent and his wife (Margaret Qualley), and the strains his assignment – not to mention some of his colleagues – place on their relationship. It breaks up the narrative a bit but doesn’t feel like its contributing a huge amount. I should add that the performances here are never less than perfectly fine, and occasionally rather better than that: Vince Vaughn appears as a veteran FBI agent who is also a prejudiced thug, and is completely convincing in the role – his transformation into a reliable character heavy seems to be complete.

In the end, Seberg is a film with lots of potential that is never completely realised. Perhaps it just assumes a little too much interest in and familiarity with the main character on the part of the audience – there’s something a little odd about this, given that it’s the comparatively little-known nature of the story that provides much of the movie’s appeal. As it is, it’s well-played, but not especially well-written or directed, and ends up feeling a little tonally awkward as a result. But the first half is very watchable – it just runs out of steam as it goes on.

 

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It feels like a bit of a coincidence that Jodie Foster’s Money Monster should turn up on UK screens the week after A Hologram for the King, because these are both essentially star vehicles about businessmen having existential crises, with the subtext of the story pretty heavily informed by the aftermath of the financial crisis. Together with The Big Short, I make that three films on the topic this year alone. None of them are actually bad, and I did enjoy The Big Short very much, but why has it taken seven or eight years for Hollywood to get around to addressing this stuff? They were rather quicker off the mark when it came to the September the 11th bombings and the subsequent unpleasantnesses.

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Hey ho. Money Monster is certainly the most generic of the three films I’ve mentioned. George Clooney plays Lee Gates, a gonzo stock market commentator and financial tipster who fronts a (quite tacky) daily show on a (presumably fictitious) TV network. He is, as you can probably guess, a deeply flawed, cynical human being, thoughtless towards his co-workers (mainly his director, played by Julia Roberts), full of himself – in other words, ripe for a transformative experience.

And lo, one comes along with immaculate timing, as the show is hijacked by angry viewer Kyle (Jack O’Connell, another instance of that weird thing where someone off Hollyoaks or Emmerdale somehow manages to land a sizeable part in a proper movie). Kyle is not pleased, because having followed Lee’s advice scrupulously, a freak meltdown has wiped out his $60,000 life savings and he would like an explanation. Surmising, probably correctly, that people like him are not often listened to by wealthy financial players, Kyle sticks Lee in a suicide vest and threatens to blow him up unless chapter and verse on what went wrong is forthcoming…

You see what they’ve done there? They’ve come up with a way to have a film which has lots of potentially fruitful character stuff, and addresses important contemporary world issues, but is also built around a time-honoured dramatic staple – in this case, a hostage crisis. All the bits and trappings of this sort of story get wheeled out – the police turn up and start talking to each other using words like ‘perimeter’ and ‘clear shot’, people in bars notice what’s happening on the TV and gather round to watch, you know the drill. A bit of wrinkle this time round is that a lot of this peripheral stuff happens on a global scale – places like Iceland, South Africa, and Korea – and I initially assumed Foster was making a point about the interconnectedness of the modern world. It turns out to be something more specific to the plot, but I think this is still left implied.

Foster orchestrates the story very adroitly, keeping all her plates spinning – there’s the stuff in the studio, the police operation to resolve the situation, and another plotline about an executive (played by Caitriona Balfe) at the company where the freak meltdown occurred trying to discover exactly what happened and getting more than she bargained for. Just for a touch of flavour and to keep things from being too worthy, Foster introduces an element of black comedy into the story that I honestly hadn’t expected – various attempts to sort everything out, which you might expect to have some traction in this kind of film, spectacularly fail with darkly funny consequences.

And it’s all very solidly done – the actors are all on form, the genre elements are well-handled, and the social comment stuff is pertinent without feeling too preachy. To be honest, it kind of feels like the film cops out a bit on this aspect – rather than sticking with the idea that the financial system is inherent flawed and that sooner or later things will fall down and people will suffer as a result, Money Monster reveals that the mini-crash driving the plot has a rather different origin. But then this is a mainstream picture from a big studio, it was never going to be in agreement with the manifesto of Occupy.

The climax of the film strains credulity a bit, and it is perhaps a shame for some elements of the conclusion to be quite so predictable, but on the whole this is an entertaining film with just enough intellectual chewy bits to make you feel good about yourself for watching it. It’s unlikely to go down as a career highlight for any of the major talent involved, but it passes the time very agreeably.

 

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