Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Renner’

Autumn is upon us, schools and universities are back in session, the last of the big summer tentpole movies have been and gone, and in the pause before the onset of serious awards-bait, we have a chance of a slightly more interesting and intelligent type of genre movie. This is also an opportunity for people who get their biggest pay-checks for appearing in movies about killer robots and giant monsters to show that they still have what it takes as credible actors and not just the basis for action figures. Thus, we find Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen appearing in Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River.

Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a US Fish and Wildlife Service Officer who is also a lethal rifle shot (nice to see that Renner shows no sign of becoming typecast – I can think of at least a dozen movies where he plays a sniper, a special forces operative, an assassin, or something similar). He describes himself as a hunter, but one of the things the film quietly suggests is that the difference between a hunter and a sniper is basically down to where you happen to be pointing your gun. Lambert is on the Wind River Indian Reservation, on the trail of a mountain lion, when he comes across the half-dressed corpse of a young woman, frozen solid inside a snowdrift.

The authorities are summoned, including happened-to-be-in-the-area FBI agent Jane Banner (Olsen) – Banner originally hails from Florida, so the wilds of Wyoming in the depths of winter are not exactly her comfort zone. A medical examination takes place, and many blood-curdling details relating to exactly how one dies of exposure when underdressed in a blizzard are passed on to the audience, but the most significant one is that, although she was attacked, the girl’s cause of death was technically exposure, not actual murder, which means Banner will not be given the full support and resources of the FBI as she works on the case – the local Tribal Police Chief (Graham Greene) is not surprised.

Still, Lambert is willing to pitch in, which is probably just as well, as the answers to the mystery of the girl’s death lie somewhere out in the snowy wilderness. Many grim truths about the inhabitants of Wind River threaten to come to light, provided Lambert and Banner survive to discover them – the land itself here can be as deadly as any criminal…

I really should keep better track of my up-and-coming American writer-directors. All the way through Wind River I found myself thinking that there was something about this film, the strength of the writing and dialogue, the sense of time and place, the elegant unfolding of the plot, which put me rather in mind of Hell or High Water from last year. And, of course, that was another Taylor Sheridan movie – if you want a smart, tough thriller set in the wide-open spaces of the US of Stateside, Sheridan is turning into a very good bet.

Once again, it’s a little tricky to pin down exactly what kind of movie this is – there are elements of the investigative-procedural, of course (visits to the path lab and so on), but also sections with a strong western vibe to them. Renner spends a fair chunk of the film in a cowboy hat, and while he isn’t strictly speaking a lawman, his character is definitely out for justice in a certain very specific way.

Ordinarily, films which give house room to the notion of (for want of a better expression) frontier justice make me rather uncomfortable, as it strikes me as a very dubious message to putting into a piece of entertainment. Wind River manages to get away with it, much to my surprise, probably because it contextualises the idea so thoroughly and seems to be presenting it fairly dispassionately. It’s inevitably a bleak idea, but then this is a largely bleak film. It is, I would say, normal for films in this kind of setting to engage in a little social commentary on the lot of the inhabitants of reservations, and Wind River is no exception – the icy setting reflects the death of hope which has come to afflict so many of the film’s characters, and emphasises that this is a place profoundly different from America’s urban centres – this is a place from which only the strong can emerge unscathed.

To be honest, the murder-mystery element of Wind River’s plot is not particularly complex or challenging, but then the film is about other things – as mentioned, the loss of hope, and the corrosive effects of grief and guilt. The film needs considerable heft for this to work, and gets it mostly from Jeremy Renner, who gives a really impressive performance, achieving that neat trick of revealing everything about a character who really doesn’t speak much or show real emotion in the usual course of events. Olsen is also very good – one hopes she will break out of the genre ghetto at some point. Then again, this is a film with consistently strong performances from a mainly unknown cast (although Jon Bernthal pops up for a brief cameo at a crucial moment).

On the other hand, the film also contains some well-staged action, and what I took away from it was not really much to do with the characters or plot but a general sense of people struggling to find reasons to live – and, of course, the magnificent landscape of Montana in winter.

I suspect I’m making Wind River sound like an incredibly bleak and joyless experience, and while it’s not completely bereft of lighter moments, in general this is a serious and thoughtful film. And while it is true that the film does not shy away from the repugnant nature of some of the crimes involved, I think that’s infinitely preferable to a film in which people are casually blown away by the dozen and sexual assault is treated mainly as a seasoning element to make a film just a little bit more piquant for the jaded viewer.

Wind River is not a light or frothy film, but it does pretty much everything you would want from a film of this type – the drama and thriller elements complement each other flawlessly, the performances are good, the atmosphere is almost palpable, and the theme of the film is clear without the audience being beaten about the head by it. This is a very fine film.

Read Full Post »

I suspect that if you chose the right ten people and asked each of them to name a great SF film, then you might not just end up with a list of ten different films, but ten films so wildly different they might not even seem to belong to the same genre, let alone all be exemplars of it. I’m not suggesting that any or all of these people would actually be the kind of morons who think Transformers actually qualifies as an SF film, but simply that you can honestly believe that Primer is the kind of film that epitomises great science fiction, and not be wrong, while someone else can opt for a film like – I don’t know – Gamera: Advent of Legion, and equally be taking a completely defensible stand.

I offer this to you not as some great new insight – the final paper edition of the Encyclopedia of SF had an entry on ‘Definition of Science Fiction (Difficulty of)’ – but because you should, of course, be wary when someone informs you that a new movie is ‘the best SF movie in years’ or something of that ilk. This sort of cachet is being widely applied to Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, and I would have to say that it is by no means entirely unjustified. But, you know.

arrival

Amy Adams plays Louise Sands, a top linguist and translator whose life, along with that of everyone else in the world, is thrown into turmoil by the appearance in the skies of the planet of twelve vast alien objects, their origins and intentions unknown. The alien presence remains inert and enigmatic, and Louise’s special skill set and a pre-existing connection with the US Department of Defence results in her being recruited to a special project: she is flown to the site in Montana where one of the alien craft has (nearly) touched down, and put in charge of a team attempting to either decipher the aliens’ own baffling language or teach them to communicate in English. Working a parallel project is top physics boffin Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) – yes, it’s a miracle, Jeremy Renner is in a film with a military element and he’s not playing a special forces soldier – and the two forge a close working relationship. But their de facto boss (Forest Whitaker) is desperate for results – other world powers are working equally hard to make contact with the aliens in their own territory, and there will be obvious political and military advantages to the first nation that succeeds…

Arrival kicks off by playing with one of SF’s killer ideas: they arrive. It’s a mesmerising notion, not least because, well, you never know. They may really be coming. They may be here tomorrow, or next week, or… and if they do, well, no-one really knows what will happen next. You could probably do a whole movie just on the ramifications and details of how that event plays out.

However, the movie doesn’t just settle for that, but goes on to tackle a whole range of other concepts, most of which are slightly stronger meat than you generally find in what is laughingly referred to as a Hollywood SF film: the neuro-linguistic hypothesis, the nature of our perception of time, free-will and determinism, and the nature of xeno-linguistics. I mean, I can ask the way to the bathroom in Klingon, but even so, I still thought this film wasn’t afraid to be a bit thinky.

Lest all this should make you blanch, I would advise you not to worry. At least, not much. All of the above is folded into a properly impressive and actually slightly spooky tale of vast, incomprehensible, quasi-Lovecraftian extraterrestrials, that often feels – and I don’t wish to appear to be slighting Villeneuve – very much of a piece with Christopher Nolan’s excursions into the SF field (and regular readers will know that is meant as the highest of compliments).

Of course, part and parcel of this is the way that the film gets rather tricksy and clever with the narrative structure of the story, because not all that’s going on is quite as it first appears. The movie achieves one magnificent, quintessentially science-fictional coup about two thirds of the way through, when the true nature of what’s been going on suddenly becomes clear, and the sense of conceptual breakthrough is dizzying. (However, this is very difficult to talk about in detail without ruining the plot, so I shall move on.)

In short, if you’re starting to get the impression that this is a film with a notable lack of chase sequences and upbeat music cues on the soundtrack, you’re absolutely right: while it certainly seems to be set in the same sort of narrative space as old-school charmers like Close Encounters (lots of people in rubber suits and numerous scenes of the army getting grumpy), it probably goes even further in terms of sheer thoughtfulness and… well, maturity’s not quite the right word, but I’m struggling to find the right one that doesn’t have an off-putting connotation to it. Arrival is a film with a lot of cello music and many moments of the lead character silently contemplating both the value of their life and the nature of existence, which I know is not some people’s idea of a relaxing night’s entertainment.

Nevertheless, it stays very watchable throughout, mainly due to confident, unflappable direction – Villeneuve doesn’t allow himself to be rushed into wheeling on his aliens, and the slow gravity-warping journey into the heart of their craft acquires enormous tension as a result – and very intelligent performances from Adams, Renner, and Whitaker, who carry most of the movie between them. Like nearly all of the film, they are of the highest quality without seeming overly flashy or pleased with themselves – this is a really classy film, the kind of thing that might well win Oscars if it wasn’t saddled with the usually-insuperable problem that it’s obviously science fiction. (The Academy hates science fiction.)

Of course, one way in which Arrival is very much of a piece with numerous pieces of great SF from the past is that it is not exactly a barrel of laughs. It’s not totally po-faced or lacking in warmth, but I thought that the main thrust of the story and particularly the conclusion was not an optimistic statement about the ineffable pleasures of living in the moment, but carried a rather bleaker message about what it means to be a conscious living entity. Yeah, like I said: not exactly your classic popcorn movie, this one.

Still, I’m on record as bewailing the near-disappearance of the classic intelligent SF movie, and so of course I’m not going to complain when something like Arrival comes along. Let’s not worry about its place in history just yet, and settle for saying that this is an extremely thoughtful and inventive SF movie made for grown-ups who aren’t afraid to use their brains, but at the same time aren’t totally out of touch with their emotions. If that sounds like your sort of thing, this film is pretty much an unmissable treat.

Read Full Post »

Things change. Once upon a time I was somewhat given to commenting on the rather languid pace at which the makers of the Mission: Impossible movies produced their wares: six year gaps between instalments not being unusual. These days, however, they’re coming out nearly as often as Bond films – though, again, the once regular-as-clockwork schedule of Eon’s franchise has rather slipped in recent years.

Even so, nineteen years on from Brian de Palma’s original movie, they’re still only up to number 5, or Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (he of The Usual Suspects renown, should the name occasion a tinkle). This time around, the story is – well, to be perfectly honest, it’s very much like the story in the last couple of films in its general tone and so on, but the particularities are as follows.

Following a preposterous sequence with Tom Cruise hanging off the side of a plane in flight (this is the one you may have seen in the trailers and so forth; it has virtually no connection to the main plot), the Impossible Mission Force’s government overseers come to the not-unreasonable conclusion that Cruise is raving mad and shut the whole agency down. However, Cruise has come across the existence of a secret organisation dedicated to counter-intelligence, terrorism, revenge, and extortion, though it’s obviously not That One, and refuses to be packed off to the padded cell the CIA have got ready for him. (Cruise goes on the run from his own bosses with such tedious regularity in these films that it’s practically his standard operating procedure.)

Six months pass, with, we are invited to infer, Cruise leading the ham-fisted regular spooks a merry dance around the world, while back home his usual associates (primarily Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Ving Rhames) take a lot of stick from the new boss (Alec Baldwin) on his behalf. Anyway, Cruise invites Pegg to the opera in Vienna, not for a cultural night out but because he believes beastliness is afoot.

Of course Cruise is right and there follows a preposterous sequence in which no fewer than five people try to either shoot or blow up the Austrian Chancellor, and it seems like every loose object in the opera house contains a concealed weapon of some kind. Cruise and Pegg make contact with enigmatic British agent Rebecca Ferguson (the only female main character, and the only one required to do a scene in her pants, in case you were wondering), and this leads to the obligatory sequence in which an impregnable bank vault must be robbed. It is, naturally, preposterous.

There is a motorbike chase and then a preposterous climax based around Cruise and the gang sticking up the British Prime Minister (the PM is played by Tom Hollander as a vague and comical figure, though of course he doesn’t approach the wretchedness of the genuine article), and then… well, let’s just say that Lalo Schifrin’s classic theme gets played a lot.

It is all, in case you hadn’t noticed, very preposterous stuff, but then that’s what people seem to want, as it is raking in the readies and Mission: Impossible 6 is already on the drawing board. This series has become the purest of popcorn entertainment, owing no great loyalty to Bruce Geller’s classic TV series: people just go along to see each new film because it’s big and slick and loud entertainment, and it’s got some reliable, familiar faces in it.

Chief amongst those is, of course, Tom Cruise, although the confusion amongst some commentators as to what exactly’s going on with Tom Cruise’s face is not without foundation – he may well be in alarmingly good shape for a man of his age, but his face does seem, um, variable at different points of the film. Nevertheless, this remains at heart a Tom Cruise vehicle, with all the baggage that comes with it – scenes where characters exclaim that he’s a deranged obsessive take on a whole extra meaning, for instance. Early on someone says of him, ‘I’ve heard the stories. They can’t all be true,’ which again suggests someone somewhere is being a bit playful. Regardless, the godlike essence of Cruise and his character is ultimately confirmed – he is, apparently, ‘the living embodiment of destiny’, or words to that effect, and this is said by someone who doesn’t even like him very much. (One wonders whether the increased frequency of Cruise’s Impossible excursions may be at all linked to a slight but definite fading in his star power.)

Business as usual continues elsewhere, with much of the film’s heart and warmth coming from supporting bananas such as Pegg and Renner. Rhames gets a couple of nice moments but it’s hard to shake the sense that he’s mainly there to provide a link with previous films. There is the faintest sense of this being something of a greatest hits package, incorporating as it does a number of bits very reminiscent of previous films – bike chases, locations, and so on. There are also possibly-ominous signs of the undertaking running out of ideas – there’s a long scene expositing the plot in the third act, and I caught myself thinking ‘that guy there is going to whip off a rubber mask and reveal himself to be Tom Cruise in a minute’, and – lo! – it came to pass pretty much as I expected.

Possibly the only real innovation this time is the fact that we are back in a position where the bad guys are British. Well, not everyone from the UK turns out to be a bad guy (and the question of what someone as audibly British as Simon Pegg is doing working for the CIA is never really addressed), but the British authorities are presented as being variously corrupt, ruthless, foolish, and self-centred. All very charming I’m sure, and perhaps in some way indicative of the fact that various companies in the Middle East and Asia co-financed this movie.

But, as I believe I said, this movie is preposterous, so it’s quite difficult to get genuinely annoyed with it. It’s a good kind of preposterous, anyway – you don’t actually question the plot while it’s slipping by so agreeably, and if you won’t remember the details of the plot a couple of weeks later, so what? It’s undeniably fun while it’s in front of you, but not much more.

 

Read Full Post »

There are some film-makers whose fondest dream is to oversee a franchise of billion-grossing summer blockbusters and, basically, retire to their own solid gold private island. Others seek gold of a different kind – they are the ones more interested in credibility, critical acclaim, and the odd gong. The very lucky ones amongst this latter group find their way into what I call the Gong Club: that elite group who, it seems to me, are permanently under observation by the people who decide the awards shortlists.

Tom Hanks has been in the Gong Club for a couple of decades now; others, like Judi Dench, Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, and so on, are similarly long-term members. A recent addition to their ranks seems to be the writer and director David O Russell – 2010’s The Fighter did terribly well, 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook landed a Royal Flush of the acting Oscar nominations, and his new movie American Hustle is generating serious buzz for this year’s awards.

amhustle

Various familiar faces from his previous movies show up here, starting with Christian Bale. Bale plays late-70s con man Irving Rosenfeld, who embarks on a breathless romance with ex-dancer Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). They are initially very successful in persuading people to simply give them money as non-refundable application fees for non-existent savings opportunities, but this particular good thing comes to an end when they are busted by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper).

However, Richie offers them a deal: if they help him entrap and arrest enough corrupt businessmen and politicians, he will let them go free. Irving and Sydney have serious misgivings, but eventually realise they don’t have much choice. And so begins a frankly bizarre sting operation, involving a fake sheikh, millions of dollars of the FBI’s money, the mayor of New Jersey (played by Jeremy Renner), and Irving’s loose-cannon wife (Jennifer Lawrence)…

American Hustle has, for the most part, received extremely positive notices, and I can sort of see why: it does bear more than a passing resemblance to several other very respectable films. The true-life con-job angle, not to mention the late 70s setting, inevitably recalls the very successful Argo (and, indeed, Ben Affleck was attached to this project as director for a while), while another major focus of the plot – the lives and relationships of people caught up in criminality of different kinds – brings with it a definite whiff of Scorsese (Russell’s deft handling of a classic pop and rock soundtrack adds to this).

And in many ways American Hustle lives up to the standards of the films it is trying to imitate. This is a big, ambitious movie with a lot going on in it, and Russell marshals the various strands of the story with considerable skill – it works both as a caper comedy-thriller and a serious drama, if never quite both at the same time. The cast is largely made up of very talented performers really going for it with meaty, rounded parts, and there are many great moments, some visually arresting, some funny, some surprisingly gripping – a brief cameo from a thankfully on-form Robert de Niro is genuinely chilling.

On the other hand, I couldn’t quite shake the impression that this is a film going for it just a little too much, just a little too often. A 70s setting is a well-worn backdrop for a certain kind of American movie, and here the trappings appear to be getting a little out of control. At the start of the film, we meet the main characters and their defining features – Bale (insanely elaborate comb-over), Cooper (ostentatious perm), Adams (wardrobe slashed to the navel and beyond), Renner (gargantuan quiff) and Lawrence (huge hair). All of these things were just a bit too OTT to be completely credible, for me; the film seemed to be waving them in my face somehow. There’s quite a serious scene developing the relationship between Adams and Cooper, but both of them have their hair in curlers throughout, which inevitably undercuts it. Some of the performers also occasionally give the impression of getting stuck into their roles with a bit too much relish, as well – their characters are frequently as grotesque and unlikely as their personal grooming.

Perhaps there’s a touch of this in the plotting, too: as I said, it’s a sign of the film’s ambition that it sets out to fuse a fairly complex thriller plotline with an ensemble character drama, but I even got a sense of wild abandonment on the part of the film-makers here as well – an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, with moments of comedy, romance, and drama piling up on top of each other as the story continues.

This is an enjoyable film, but not really one notable for its sense of restraint. I found watching it to be not entirely unlike my visit to the breakfast buffet of a major Las Vegas casino hotel several years ago – there’s nothing wrong with eating eggs and bacon, nor with eating waffles, nor with eating cowboy biscuits, or sausages, or pancakes. Eating large quantities of all of them in one sitting, on the other hand, is likely to produce distinct and not always pleasant sensations. So it is with American Hustle‘s let’s-do-everything-and-do-it-A-LOT approach. At least this time I don’t have myself to blame for it. A good film, I think, but not really disciplined enough to make the best use of its various assets.

Read Full Post »

The first trailer for a new movie has a grave and very significant  responsibility, quite simply because – for people who are anything like me – it can be the main factor in deciding whether or not a film ends up on my ‘to see’ list. By this standard, the first trailer – or teaser –  for Tony Gilroy’s The Bourne Legacy did a supremely good job, managing to be atmospheric and memorable while playing on the audience’s memories of and fondness for the original three films. However, expectations in our house have seldom crashed quite so far or so fast as they did when the second trailer came out – because all that seemed to promise was a far-fetched and ferociously convoluted action runaround.

(Interesting to contrast the situation regarding Bourne Legacy with that of Dredd, another film I’m looking forward to seeing: despite a very positive buzz around this film coming from people who’ve seen previews, I can’t shake the impression I got from the trailer, which is that this is just going to be a grimy CGI-heavy SF twin of The Raid.)

Hey ho. I wonder what it says that, upon buying my ticket for this film, I found myself asking for one to see The Bourne Thingummy? Probably nothing very cheerful about me or it. The main thing about this film is kind of tipped off by the title, from which you might surmise that Bourne himself is no longer with us. You would be absolutely spot on in this, as Matt Damon has declined to return, along with director of the last two installments Paul Greengrass.

And so instead we have a narrative dealing with the consequences of events in the previous film, with the action running in parallel for some of the time (I was wary of this trick until I recalled they did something vaguely similar with the ending of Bourne Supremacy turning up halfway through Bourne Ultimatum). The details will probably be utterly unintelligible and also quite dull to anyone not with a detailed recall of the previous trilogy. Basically, Bourne’s whistle-blowing activities against his former masters cause panic amongst elements of the defense establishment well above the CIA, resulting in ruthless puppetmaster Eric Byer (Edward Norton) ordering all associated programmes which could be linked back to them permanently shut down and all details obliterated.

This involves the cold-blooded slaughter of numerous American operatives throughout the world, and high on Byer’s target list is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), an agent whose physical and mental abilities have been boosted through genetic modification (provided he keeps taking his agency-supplied medication). As luck would have it, Cross survives the initial attempt on his life, but in order to maintain his supply of drugs he is forced to go in search of one of the doctors who has handled his case, Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). However, her own connection to the project means she is on the government’s death list  too…

Even when Greengrass and Damon were still on board, I was a bit dismayed to learn that a fourth Bourne movie was in the works – simply because I couldn’t see how they could keep up the standard they had established for themselves, and also because Ultimatum concluded with such a strong sense of finality and closure. Legacy works hard to make the viewer believe that this is a valid continuation of the same story – it opens with a man’s body floating in water (a repeated image in the original films), Joan Allen, David Strathairn and others have tiny cameos, and ‘Extreme Ways’ plays over the closing credits – but nevertheless the sense that this is a film cobbled together simply because the Damon series made $945,000,000 is virtually inescapable.

Like Supremacy and Ultimatum, Legacy concludes with a barnstorming vehicular pursuit with many spectacular stunts. And when it came on, I thought, ‘Oh, this is a bit like the climaxes of the last two. Is this the climax of the story already? Gosh.’ Frankly, I was a bit surprised the story was reaching a climax because so far as I could tell the story hadn’t actually started yet.

Or, to put it another way, there’s an awful lot of plot in The Bourne Legacy – huge amounts of exposition have to be laid in introducing the new characters and their relationships, then Cross and Marta have to be guided into meeting each other and then go on the run, etc, etc – but very little story. I think The Bourne Identity is a fun thriller, but what makes the Paul Greengrass films so exceptional is how far they manage to blend being terrific action movies with other things – Supremacy has a remarkable emotional story at its centre, while Ultimatum is an astonishingly angry and political film. And they’ve both got very smart and engrossing stories, of course.

In this one we’ve got two people being chased by shadowy government forces and some business about genetic viruses, and not much more. There’s a lot of stuff about the use of drugs to condition and modify agents, but it just feels like it’s here as a hook to hang the plot on, not something the director really cares about. There’s some material suggesting Cross is effectively addicted to his medication, but this doesn’t really go anywhere – except, perhaps, to some plot developments which are weirdly reminiscent of Flowers for Algernon.

I should say that both Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz are very good in sadly undemanding parts – Renner is cooler, harder, and less obviously earnest than Damon, while Weisz… I have to confess I was just thinking ‘Wow, she’s so beautiful… how old must she be?!?’ Even here, though, the film seems to be playing it very safe: gorgeous boffin in peril is pretty much Rachel Weisz’s stock-in-trade, while Jeremy Renner – charismatic though he be – seems to do nothing else but play sharpshooting military specialists and/or spies. And, apart from Renner’s considerable charms, we’re given scant reason to engage with him as a hero. He’s a man who’s chosen to go into a vicious, brutal world, and – prior to his bosses deciding to have him killed – he appears to have been pretty sanguine about this. There’s a tiny fig-leaf of a scene suggesting he’s had some sort of moral qualms in the past, but that’s all. He’s not trying to find himself, or right a wrong, or avenge a death: he’s just trying to stay alive and intact, nothing more.

Come the end of The Bourne Legacy, despite some decently put-together action and acceptable work from the leads, I was still suffused with an overwhelming feeling which I could articulate only as ‘So what?’ It doesn’t come close to the quality of any of the previous films and tells me nothing about this world or these characters that I actually cared to learn. Further outings promise only to actively slime the memory of one of the best action franchises ever made: for pity’s sake, knock it on the head now.

Read Full Post »

Haven’t watched any Olympics so far, don’t feel this has blighted my life, didn’t watch the opening ceremony either – if you really must know, I came across a copy of Gamera the Invincible on the internet and found the prospect of watching that far more appealing. Nevertheless, from all I hear I Love Wonder was a great success. Spiffing; hopefully now Danny Boyle can get back to making horror movies as only he can.

I am of course particularly anticipating Boyle getting to work on 28 Months Later, and I suppose this is a little surprising as I seem to recall being a bit lukewarm about 28 Days Later when it first appeared in 2002. I didn’t think it was a bad film, I just wasn’t as impressed as many other people clearly were. Nevertheless, despite my usual policy of not buying films on DVD unless I’ve already seen them and know they’ll reward many viewings, I bought the box set of it and its sequel, which I missed at the cinema, the first chance I got.

For 28 Weeks Later Boyle stepped back from the director’s position and let Juan Carlos Fresnadillo have a go, although I’ve been told he handled the opening sequence personally. This is not surprising as it’s one of the most visceral and disturbing parts of the film. Here we meet Don (Robert Carlyle), an average family man who’s taken refuge from the outbreak of the Rage virus in a country farmhouse. (This section is set during the same timeframe as the first movie.) However, he and the people he is with are discovered by a pack of infected and he is forced to flee, the only survivor – his desperation to escape making him commit a genuinely shocking act.

Months later, as suggested by the end of the first film, the infected have died of starvation leaving mainland Britain ruined and empty. Refugees who escaped the quarantine are being repatriated by a US Army task force, based at an enclave in central London. Two of the latest arrivals are Don’s kids Andy and Tamsin (Mackintosh Muggleton and Imogen Poots – yeah, like those are their real names!) – despite the fact that the presence of children does not sit well with chief medical officer Scarlett (the lovely Rose Byrne).

Scarlett’s concerns prove well-founded when the kids slip out of the compound and discover someone who has survived the outbreak of the Rage. The problem is that they have done so due to a genetic anomaly, which makes them an asymptomatic carrier of the virus: they carry inside them the seeds of a second outbreak, and one which could potentially be even more dangerous than the original…

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking if you’ve seen this film: the recap above presents the facts of the story rather idiosyncratically, but this is only because I want to preserve some of the shocks and surprises built into the plot. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure the focus on Don and his family completely works as the film progresses – given what we saw of the virus and the infected in the first film, the way that some characters behave in the later stages of this one is a little bit startling. (The issue of why the infected don’t simply turn on each other becomes an even more clouded one.)

I suppose one could be accused of taking a very gory zombie movie a bit too seriously by even worrying about this sort of thing, but both these movies are smarter than you’d expect and thus deserve serious consideration. It seems to me that both these films are, on some level, about fear of the mob and the innate human capacity for savagery, but 28 Weeks Later adds a new layer to this by being much more openly political. The repatriatees live in a ‘Green Zone’, while the US Army have, possibly prematurely, declared a formerly hazardous area safe.

It’s very clear that the US Army’s occupation of London is intended, on some level, as a satire on the occupation of Iraq, which adds a new subtext to latter scenes, in which their general (Idris Elba) orders his troops to fire upon civilians to stop the Rage spreading. It’s an interesting idea, and allows for some stunning images – the Isle of Dogs being firebombed, helicopter gunships attacking civilian vehicles in central London – as well as (of course) allowing some American stars to appear in the cast (Jeremy Renner and Harold Perrineau are the most prominent). But I still don’t think this subtext of the film completely makes sense, not least because – on one level – the general is clearly justified in taking whatever measures are necessary to stop the virus spreading.

Nevertheless, this angle, and the fact that as a result this is much more of an action-chase movie than the first one, definitely give it its own identity. I think part of the reason for my subdued response to the Danny Boyle film was that it did seem to me to be an obvious mash-up of two sources I already knew very well (Night of the Living Dead and The Day of the Triffids). I’m not saying 28 Weeks Later is a better film, but I think I’ve watched it more often, quite simply because it is more original.

That said, I did respond rather negatively to it the first time I saw it. Quite apart from the ungallant treatment meted out to the lovely Rose Byrne, I was repelled by the overwhelming, nightmarish bleakness of the film’s atmosphere and story, and especially its ending (as is common, the original doesn’t really leave obvious material for a sequel – this one goes out of its way to allow the story to continue, but of course the rights then got tied up, leaving the third installment in limbo). But now it seems to me that this is the horror of the film, as much as in the splatter and gore – unsympathetic though he is, the general’s ruthless approach to the crisis is ultimately proven to be the right one. It’s the human sympathy and affection shown by many of the main characters which is misplaced and ultimately results in catastrophe (I suppose you could also argue it’s all Don’s fault, but spoilers await). Compassion and empathy, in this film, are what wind up getting you killed, and that’s not a comforting message.

As I said, the ending is left wide open for further episodes (although I’m not sure what they can do with the titles after 28 Months Later – entering the realm of years and decades stretches credibility somewhat), the main challenge being simply to match the level of ingenuity and originality set by this first follow-up. I hope they manage it; this is a superior sequel and a memorable horror movie in its own right.

Read Full Post »