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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Apted’

Never let it be said that this blog is unafraid to tackle the heavyweight questions of the day: for instance, is Orlando Bloom really an actor? Now, wait just a cotton-picking minute there if you think I am in any way casting aspersions on Landy’s abilities when it comes to the thespian department. No, the reason for my question is the simple fact that, for a major global celebrity, our man Bloom doesn’t really seem to turn up in many movies these days. I mean, there was his (I am tempted to say thankfully) brief cameo in the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but outside of his appearances in the Hobbit movies I can’t think of much I’ve seen him in in the last ten years or so.

Well, I believe the answer may partly lie in the fact that, in addition to his other activities, Landy has taken up being a film producer (why do I suddenly suspect that becoming a film producer is not as difficult as I always thought?). As any fule kno, being a film producer involves lots of meetings and calls and discussions about movies which most of the time end up not being made at all, despite hefty development fees changing hands. So you might say that Landy has hit upon a wheeze where people are paying him not to make movies (I wish he had come up with that idea about fifteen years ago).

The flaw in this arrangement, unfortunately, is that one of Landy’s films occasionally slips through the net and ends up going into production, but I guess that’s a possibility we have to live with. Even then, it does look like not all of these films actually make it into cinemas, as in the case of Michael Apted’s movie from this year, Unlocked. If this film got more than the most limited UK cinema release, I didn’t notice it at the time, and was totally unaware of its existence until someone gave me it on DVD (presumably on the grounds that they think I don’t watch nearly enough movies these days).

Unlocked is a not especially sexy title for what aspires to be a taut and exciting contemporary thriller. Indeed, it’s not really a particularly pertinent title, given what goes on in the plot, but on the other hand it is amongst the least of this movie’s problems.

Noomi Rapace brings clinical intensity, memorable cheekbones, and a suspiciously Swedish accent to the role of Alice Racine, a CIA agent who has spent the last couple of years working undercover as a Citizen’s Advice bod at a London community centre. Pyoiiinnggg! (That would be the sound of my disbelief being stretched beyond its natural limits, and we’re only in the first line of the plot synopsis. Let’s press on.) Alice used to be a top CIA interrogator but after a traumatic incident she has taken a step back, hence the community centre gig.

However, when another top CIA interrogator unexpectedly carks it in London just before beginning a vital job, Alice finds herself dragged out of semi-retirement. An Islamic terrorist has laid his hands on one of those them-there doomsday viruses, and is awaiting instructions on what to do with it. The CIA have nabbed the courier due to give him said instructions, and want him breaking down so they can send the terrorist false information and stop the virus being disseminated. How much more straightforward can things get?

Well, quite a bit, it turns out, as events prove the CIA has been compromised, and when the courier and a bunch of other agents end up getting killed, Alice is the chief person of interest. Inevitably she ends up going on the run from her own superiors, in search of the traitors, with her main ally being Jack, an ex-marine turned burglar who she caught breaking into her flat. Could it look any bleaker? Well, Jack is played by Landy himself.

Yup, that’s Landy Bloom as a lovably roguish ex-marine hard man. Pyoiiinnggg! (Sorry – it might be a good idea to wear protective goggles, or something.) To be honest, the main thing to be said about Landy’s contribution to Unlocked is how superfluous it feels – you almost get the sense that the script came across Landy’s desk, and he liked it so much he not only decided to make it, but also insisted it was rewritten so he could be in it (shades of that story about the millionaire buying the American football team and then insisting on playing quarterback). He comes into it quite a long way in. He doesn’t do a great deal while he’s there. And then, well before the climax, he vanishes out of the film in very peculiar circumstances indeed, with the fate of his character obscure, to say the least. Still, his face is nice and big on the DVD cover, anyway.

(Hmm – my usual slapdash research suggests Landy didn’t actually produce this film, despite the fact that one of the production entities is named ‘Bloom’. Curiouser and curiouser. Well, sort of.)

Landy’s contribution aside, Unlocked is basically a fairly typical modern thriller, very morally neutral and crissy-crossy, wanting to be one of the Bourne movies so badly it probably physically hurts – in a couple of places the music is so obviously ripped-off from that franchise that I’m surprised writs didn’t change hands. In addition to aping the style of a major blockbuster, it also looks like the movie has managed to land a major blockbuster cast – quite apart from Rapace and Landy, it features Michael Douglas, Toni Collette, and John Malkovich.

Nevertheless, this is really quite a dull movie – it’s competently written and assembled, I suppose, and when Rapace is actually doing her interrogating there are some interesting nuggets of tradecraft in the script. But once it all gets going and she has to go on the run, well, it all becomes at best predictable and at worst rather preposterous. There’s a major plot twist, for instance, that I spotted the instant it was introduced. And the motivation of the bad guy, when it’s revealed, is really and truly absurd – he’s orchestrating a major biochemical weapons attack on US citizens basically as a way of whistle-blowing the dangers of viral terrorism. I would suggest a strongly-worded memo might be a somewhat saner method of achieving the same results.

As I say, most of the performances and so on are fine (although Noomi Rapace is perhaps a bit too much of a Proper Serious Actress to be entirely comfortable in the role of ass-kicking babe, which is basically what’s required of her here), but I strongly suspect that in a couple of days’ time I will have forgotten almost everything about the plot of the movie. It’s not actively bad, most of the time, but it doesn’t really do anything to distinguish itself from the dozens of other recent movies made with a similar style and ethos. If you haven’t seen another thriller this century, then Unlocked may prove to be a pleasant surprise, but even then, I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 25th October 2001.

Mick Jagger’s cinema career has met with (let’s be charitable) mixed results. He didn’t exactly set the screen ablaze in either Ned Kelly or Freejack and, while he was famously very good in Performance, playing a drug-addled millionaire pop star may not have been an enormous stretch for him. Jagger has now boldly decided to build on his lack of success and become a producer, and his first movie is Michael Apted’s Enigma.

Enigma is (not surprisingly for a British film) a period piece based on a novel. In terms of mood and tone it’s (also not surprisingly for a British film) bloody miserable. Both these things should make it very attractive to certain cinemagoers (Daily Telegraph readers, for example). Based on Robert Harris’ novel, it’s set in the UK at the height of the Second World War. Atlantic convoys are crucial to keep the Russians and British in the war, and their success depends on successfully decoding German U-boat radio traffic. The Germans encode it using the titular Enigma machines, which have 15 million million possible settings (more or less; whatever, it’s a bloomin’ big number, okay?). A select team of boffins and assorted weirdos has been assembled at Bletchley Park to crack the codes and win the war (and also any Scrabble tournaments held in the area).

As the story begins a morose mathematician with the implausible name of Tom Jericho (a perpetually hangdog Dougray Scott, from Mission Impossible 2) returns from sick leave to find the Germans have changed their codes just as the biggest convoy in history has set sail. The ships are now heading into an ambush and the boffins have only four days to decipher the new system and save the war effort! You may find this interesting and challenging but, unfortunately, screenwriter Tom Stoppard clearly didn’t as this situation is then almost completely ignored and the bulk of the rest of the film is taken up by a melodramatic plot about Jericho’s search for AWOL old flame Claire Romilly (Saffron Burrows), his romance with her supposedly dowdy housemate Hester (Kate Winslet, whose dowdiness is signified – in classic movie style – by sticking a pair of specs on an otherwise very attractive woman), a traitor in the boffins’ midst, Ukrainian mass graves, lots of boy’s own style investigating, and low-octane action sequences.

Jagger and co were clearly aiming for a kind of cerebral Bond movie with a bit of historical gravitas. The director also helmed the outstanding Bond film The World Is Not Enough, and they’ve recruited 007 veteran John Barry to do the music. He provides an anonymous strings-and-woodwind score instantly recognisable to fans of Roger Moore’s last few outings in the role. They don’t manage it, simply because the action sequences are rubbish – not badly executed, just intrinsically dull. Gasp! as Jericho drives a bit too fast down a country lane. Stare! as he has to run for his train. Look at your watch! as he jumps off a pier into a not-very-fast-moving boat.

Apted would have been better off stretching his actors further. Jericho spends the entire movie in a strop, getting increasingly Scottish as time goes by. Winslet similarly gets very little to do – but does it rather well. Well-known British faces pop up from time to time, but few for very long. I would’ve liked to have seen more of Corin Redgrave as the top brass from the Admiralty, Michael Troughton as a lecherous junior boffin, and Edward Hardwicke as a signals officer – but I didn’t. The star turn in the movie is Jeremy Northam as Wigram, a suave spy hunting the Bletchley mole – he plays it rather like a extremely caddish and nasty version of Steed from The Avengers. The film improves hugely whenever he appears – but, once again, that’s not often enough.

So given it leaves a bit to be desired as an action movie and a character piece, what’s Enigma like as an intellectual thriller? Well… it’s okay, but certainly not much better than that. Some of the plot convolutions seemed a bit suspect to me, but then it’s that sort of film. There are two real problems here: firstly, the film’s climax is pure Boy’s Own magazine stuff, which completely torpedoes the credibility of the rest of the plot (torpedoeing is probably a suspect metaphor for a movie about shipping losses, but never mind…).

The second and more serious problem is that all the stuff about Burrows’ disappearance and Scott and Winslet’s sleuthing isn’t nearly as interesting as the B-plot about saving the convoy and cracking the German cyphers. It’s as if the writers wanted to tell the story of the Bletchley Park station but realised that this would involve lots of rather complex stuff about cryptography, and make the lead character a manic-depressive homosexual. So they decided to hedge their bets and liven it up a bit by including all this wholly fictitious stuff about traitors and romance and running around waving service revolvers. I thought this was incredibly patronising: it’s like making a film about Anne Frank but giving her a kooky, wise-cracking best mate to liven up the attic a bit.

The scenes about the mechanics of code-breaking, the morality of sending sailors to near-certain death in order to secure a greater good, and the pioneering work on symbol-shifting computation done at Bletchley Park are far and away the best parts of Enigma. There’s a great film waiting to be made about the station’s contribution to the winning of the Second World War – but this isn’t it. Still, that’s what you get for underestimating the audience’s intelligence. Better luck next time, Mick.

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