LFF 2012: Sightseers ****

Never, ever underestimate the power of the open road – it does things to a person to release their inner being, good or bad. Ben Wheatley’s black comedy of hilarious proportions, Sightseers, about a couple who caravan around Northern Britain’s more unusual sights with deadly consequences is full of creepiness, delicious surprises, shocks and irony.

It has that unique Brit comedy quality; finding humour in the bleakest of situations, delivered with deadpan precision. As with any ‘road movie’, the fun is also in the wonder at where the travellers will end up? Will lessons be learnt? Will it all be worth it? Ever thought of campers as an oddball bunch that shirks off far-flung foreign holidays in favour of a dreary UK break? Sightseers does little for the image but will have you thinking twice about messing with that slow trailer on the motorway.

Writers Alice Lowe and Steve Oram play Tina and Chris, a newly united couple from the Midlands who plan a week-long break to such places as Ribblehead Viaduct in North Yorkshire and the Keswick Pencil Museum in the Lake District. Dowdy thirtysomething Tina lives with her obtuse mother whom morns the loss of her dog after an accident instigated by her downtrodden daughter. Chris who believes the world never gives him a break offers Tina some chance of happiness, before being left on the shelf for good. Along the way, a freak accident charts a new course on the couple’s journey, leading to all kinds of misdemeanours and a questioning of Tina and Chris’s true personalities.

Lowe and Oram’s pin-sharp writing is sometimes so brilliant that a lot of the observational humour associated with it demands a second viewing to capture all the punchlines and the nuances with which it’s delivered. This film has elements of the ridiculous to it – like Carry On Camping (there are skimpy garments involved) – but with sinister undertones, moving effortlessly between farce and gravity. What is far more intriguing is the couple’s warped justification to their acts that challenges deep-hidden desires in all of us to put rights wrong – kind of an extreme social experiment explored on film, so to speak. This dark comedy would also not work without that time-old Brit institution of class that features heavily in the characters’ thinking and being.

Wheatley makes sure that all the acts the couple are involved in are not gratuitous but have some misguided significance in Tina and Chris’s own little existence, even trying to appeal to the viewer’s sense of truth. Sometimes things get quite graphic – more so than an exploding bomber in Four Lions, a Brit comedy in a similar vein; so be prepared for some grizzly moments as it’s not for the faint-hearted. Sightseers is certainly another unique piece of Brit filmmaking that’s definitely worth a look for those wanting something new to sample this week at the box office. Both naught and nice, it’s an immensely satisfying watch.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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LFF 2012: End Of Watch ****

Those who favour the ‘cops on camera’ TV shows can expect much the same style of ‘caught of camera’ thrills and spills from Harsh Times and Training Day director David Ayers’ gritty and affecting End Of Watch. Ironically, as well as hooking you in from the start and sparking curiosity as to where the story is going, the mockumentary-style, ‘found’ footage is also an Achilles Heel of the film from the offset: It becomes rather confusing as to exactly whose point of view we’re watching, although the cop banter and games from its leads, street-smart cops Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña), are supposed to make that apparent.

We follow the two officers on their patrol through various rough South Central LA neighbourhoods, trying to keep some form of law and order. We watch as they spend work and play time together, including all the teasing and tomfoolery that goes on both inside the patrol car and out. However, after confiscating money and firearms from a notorious cartel during a routine traffic stop, both officers are placed on a hit list.

The main strength of End Of Watch is the key central relationship between two cops – one of Irish decent, the other Spanish – that is allowed to develop and solidify, once the initial bilious caught-on-camera footage is played out. Coupled with some truly outstanding and memorable performances from Gyllenhaal and Peña who really get under the skin of their characters, you start to get to know and second-guess their actions before they happen – crucial for the full impact of the finale to work.

The script is full of starkly poignant and laugh-out-loud moments of irony and frank observation that almost feel completely non-scripted and improvised at times, giving the whole affair an even greater realism than merely the cop-camera footage alone could hope to do. As with this genre, such a film is always going to have elements of déjà vu theatrics, but the relationship keeps it fresh and centred, so that it becomes more character-driven than anything else and a highly rewarding watch.

4/5 stars

By @Filmgazer

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