The Hangover III **

If your idea of humour is a giraffe causing chaos on a motorway then continue… If, as Phil (Bradley Cooper) puts it, “what am I watching?” soon pops into mind, revisiting the Wolfpack on another trail of carnage may make you wish you’d stayed at home. In episode III, writer-director Todd Phillips tries in vain to rekindle some of the bromance of the first, with nods to moments in the first and second, as well as emphasis on the importance of good friendships. Sadly, this sorry saga offers one of the most farfetched story lines of the lot, with John Goodman attempting to pass as a baddie being less than convincing.

After Alan’s (Zach Galifianakis) behaviour gets more erratic and his family arrange an intervention, Phil (Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) volunteer to take their mate to get help. But on the way, the Wolfpack come a cropper with some bad guys who demand to know the whereabouts of Mr Chow (Ken Jeong) who has ripped them off. Taking poor Doug once more as collateral, gang leader Marshall (Goodman) gives them three days to find the ‘international criminal’ Chow or Doug bites the bullet.

The first film worked because it was clever in reversing the unravelling of events – in a sense it goaded us into finding out more and sticking with the outrageous to unveil the clues. The icing on the cake was we thought we’d got the whole picture only to be treated to some more during the end credits. The main problem with this film is the same as the second one: emphasis on Alan’s character to provide the majority of the laughs, especially as playing on his obvious disabilities in the second came across with mixed reviews and uncomfortable laughs. That’s not to say that Galifianakis does not play Alan with a lot of innocent charm and appeal that it’s hard not to endear to him, but it’s a tough call to drag this out over an entire course of another film. Indeed, Alan does do a bit of growing up in this and all comes good in the end, with a little bit of help from Melissa McCarthy who is wasted in this.

Phillips also tries to cash in on Mr Chow, the foul-mouthed little fellow from his first two films who has (somehow) now become Alan’s best pal. His short bursts of screen energy to match his crazed behaviour worked with the first, but being exposed to him for longer periods waters down his shock tactics in one of the daftest plots that we’re supposed to subscribe to. Even his potty mouth is not as funny this time.

With two of his characters losing their original appeal, there’s not much for Phillips’ other two (as Bartha is hardly used in this too) to cling to for laughs. Admittedly, it is a chance for Cooper fans to coo over their blue-eyed boy – and there are also some very strange male attraction references insinuated and peppered throughout that go nowhere. Even the reappearance of Heather Graham as Stu’s stripper ‘missus’, Jade, from the first film is shortlived and rather pointless in fact.

It all boils down to a very miserable finale to the ultimate party that ends where it began. It’s like being in the company of a once cool bunch of dudes who have run their course and worn themselves out. The funniest part is after the end credits that propels you straight back to your very first feelings watching the original film and the fun had at witnessing the pieces of the puzzle fit together. The trouble is you have to pay your money to sit through the former. That said it’s warmly nostalgic to say goodbye to the guys but it’s anyone’s guess if they’ll be back – preferably in a far better written scenario.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Star Trek Into Darkness ****

It is thrusters on full and warp speed ahead for this much anticipated Star Trek reboot sequel which was always going to prove a tall order to pull off successfully.
But J.J. Abrams has boldly gone where few men (or women) have gone before by making a standalone film which will appeal both to the staunch fans and to non Trekkies.
Taking the directing helm once again Abrams delivers another visually exciting, riveting action packed adventure in 3D which captures the spirit and the humour of Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek television series.
Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew embark on a manhunt to capture John Harrison, a one man weapon of mass destruction, played superbly by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Pine, who at times seemed to be channelling William Shatner, comes into his own as James T. Kirk while Zachary Quinto transforms effortlessly into Spock. There is no question that he was the perfect choice to play the inimitable half Vulcan half human who struggles with his dual heritage. The film flirts with his romantic ties with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) but their relationship is never fully explored. Meanwhile Karl Urban becomes the bemoaning Bones we all know and love who is beginning to find Spock and his cold blooded logic exasperating.
Simon Pegg reprises his role as Scotty but his funny one liners and manic outbursts are thankfully kept to a minimum while Alice Eve joins the Enterprise as Carol Marcus who was Kirk’s old flame in The Wrath of Khan.
This is one of many nods and winks to the franchise which will delight fans but will make little to no difference to those who aren’t as familiar with Star Trek.
The 3D doesn’t really add anything extra to this gripping adventure but Abrams deserves much praise for continuing to breathe new life into this franchise and steering her to even more box office success.

4/5 stars

By Maria Jose

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist ****

“Looks can be deceiving. I am a lover of America,” Changez Khan, a young Pakistani professor suspected of being a terrorist, tells American journalist Bobby Lincoln in a heaving tea house in Lahore.
That remark and subsequent interview reflects the mutual suspicions between the two men who symbolise the tensions between East and West in the wake of September 11.
Based on Moshin Hamid’s acclaimed novel award winning director Mira Nair’s new film explores the roots of both religious and economic fundamentalism.
During his interview Princeton educated Changez (Riz Ahmed) tells Bobby (Liev Schreiber) how he embraced the American dream becoming a brilliant business analyst with a glittering future in Wall Street due to the support of his boss and mentor Jim Cross (Keifer Sutherland).  Also how he found the perfect girlfriend in the beautiful and sophisticated photographic artist Erica (Kate Hudson).
Yet in the aftermath of the attacks on the Twin Towers Changez’s life and mind-set is shattered as he is suddenly treated as an outsider and a pariah.  Completely disillusioned he returns to Pakistan a changed man.
No one are what they seem in this fascinating and gripping suspense filled drama which is told from Changez point of view.
It is a race against time as Bobby tries to extricate from Changez the whereabouts of a kidnapped American academic whose life is under threat.
Nair very skilfully builds up the tension by intercutting the interview with compelling flashbacks.
This is a film which challenges the West’s idea of a fundamentalist by putting a human face to him.
You can’t help but empathize with Changez as you watch the appalling treatment he endures at the hands of xenophobic and gunho Americans but also due to Ahmed’s charismatic, intense and honest performance which is by far his best to date.
The question is is he or isn’t he a fundamentalist? The film very cannily leaves it up to you to decide.

4/5 stars

By Maria Jose

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Mud ****

The innocence of youth set against the sweltering heat of a hot and humid summer in the American south is captured beautifully in this slow and hypnotic drama.
It centres on two fourteen year old boys who encounter a dangerous but charismatic fugitive called Mud (Matthew McConaughey) who is hiding from bounty hunters on a remote island on the Mississippi. After striking up a friendship they agree to help him evade his pursuers whilst trying to reunite him with his one true love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).
It is as though time stands still in this slow burning Mark Twain style adventure written and directed by Jeff Nichols.
Whilst Nichols last film, the Cannes Grand Prize award-winning Take Shelter, focused on fear this one is about love although it also deals with sacrifice and forgiveness reflecting themes in Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Teenaged Ellis (Tye Sheridan) is desperately searching for an example of enduring love and one that works and fervently believes Mud and Juniper are the real deal. So with his trusted best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) they pull out all the stops to ensure the pair meets up again. But youthful exuberance and optimism inevitably leads to disappointment and heartbreak as reality fails to live up to expectations.
Sheridan, who received his acting break in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, and newcomer Lofland are the true gems of this film. They are captivating to watch delivering natural and unaffected performances. You believe in their candour and optimistic intent and root hard for their happy ending.
They steal every scene from McConaughey who is splendid as Mud a charming but lethal man on the run and which is easily his best portrayal to date.  In typical McConaughey fashion he takes his top off and shows off his six pack but the character’s lucky yellow shirt seems to have special powers of its own turning Mud into the boys’ protector and hero.
Witherspoon is initially unrecognisable but is terribly convincing as white trailer trash Juniper who can twist any man round her little finger and persuade them to do her bidding.
The rest of the fabulous supporting cast includes Sam Shepard and Michael Shannon in this his third Nichols film along with the natural landscape which took on a life of its own.
Masterfully directed by Nichols and full of characters that you grow to care for this is an enthralling and intelligent potboiler which ends in a nail-biting showdown.
But it is one of those films that makes you yearn for a simpler and more innocent time while making you mourn the loss of innocence and guileless youth.

4/5 stars

By Maria Jose

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Fast & Furious 6 ****

Like the characters in the franchise, director Justin Lin reassembles his trustworthy team of writers Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson to pen another episode of the adrenaline-pumping, big-action smashing and testosterone-dripping Fast & Furious mayhem that throws reality and caution to the wind in Version 6. Rio’s favelas played host last time in 2011 and got royally destroyed.

This time it’s London’s city skyline and tourist spots’ turn in 2013, completely farcical for supposed high-speed car chases, considering the usual gridlock on the capital’s roads, whatever the hour and especially around Piccadilly Circus, but utterly enthralling once you’ve suspended total disbelief. Maybe it’s the arresting sight of the ever-increasing muscle mass of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson who reappears as beefcake lawman Luke Hobbs, or Vin Diesel’s ever-loyal, brooding and likeable Dominic Toretto’s vow to find out the truth behind lover Letty’s (Michelle Rodriguez) death that helps dispel what is in fact ‘nonsense’ if contemplated about too much. It’s definitely all of the above, plus a heady combination of sexuality, violence and petrol fumes, as well as the promise of more jaw-dropping, tight scrapes the cars/drivers take – oh, and a passing tank.

Now retired on their multi-million-dollar loot from the Rio heist, Toretto and Brian O’Conner (an older, wearier-looking Paul Walker) decide family is too important to continue in their risky line of speedy business, especially as there is a new edition to the extended Toretto rabble. Something big would have to entice the exiled criminals out of their Spanish bolthole. Hobbs pays Toretto a visit, showing him a photo of a ghost who has been resurrected, his ex, Letty, supposedly working for another motor-racing criminal gang headed by ex-military man Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Hobbs asks Toretto for help in bringing down Shaw’s crew before they get hold of a multi-billion-dollar military asset. The prize is the promise of full pardons and rescuing Letty, hence reuniting the car-crazed family.

Bigger, bolder and more gravity defying than ever, Lin pushes the speedometer round further in this, with some astounding set pieces, including Spider-Man-style action leaps that hold no boundaries in thrill value. Daft as the script may sound in places – though it does perfectly compliment the walking, dunderhead bulk of Hobbs and Toretto in some of their deadpan exchanges with highly amusing results, Version 6 also offers up some exhilarating London shots and concrete-exploding decimation, plus memorable girl-on-girl action that would make any Tube commuter dive for the nearest tunnel/platform exit.

Diesel, Johnson and Walker aside – the latter of whom seems to blend into paler significance against the other two this time, and can only just rely on his baby blues to stand out among a charismatic bunch of characters, including the entertaining childish bickering from Tyrese Gibson as Roman and Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges as Tej (“can you smell baby oil?”), it’s really the girls that finally pack the biggest punch. Kickboxing Gina Carano who made her impressive mark in 2011’s Haywire is copper Riley who thumps, kicks and pounds Rodriguez ‘s snarling Letty into touch, like some female re-run of the old Toretto-O’Conner rivalry. If their supple physiques are not enough to whet the appetite, the bevy of Gal Gadot as Gisele, Jordana Brewster as Mia, Elsa Pataky as Elena and Clara Paget as bad girl Vegh should satisfy no end as the girls take no prisoners on their own steam, while handling a steering wheel better than their male counterparts at times. Girl power oozes from every pore and is as infectious as Diesel and Johnson finishing off each man-mountain obstacle placed in their path. There’s even a hot-pant appearance from songstress Rita Ora below the arches of Admiralty Arch to enjoy.

Evans as Shaw makes for a far more believable and level headed despot in this too, away from the usual larger-than-life rogue, where high-tech technology and mind games certainly rule. This easily digestible Brit-born baddie nicely sets up the next for the forthcoming sequel, with help from Sung Kang as Han recklessly blazing around Tokyo, in a post-credit thrill not to be missed that possibly got the biggest applaud on the night.

That said fans of the franchise have a whole number of vehicles at their disposal to cheer at throughout, including ‘batmobile’ styled kit cars, a thundering tank and a climatic finale involving a large cargo plane and what seems like the world’s longest runway, as adversaries square up to each other in the hold. There is never a dull moment, even though Lin, similarly to that of The Transformer’s Michael Bay, may be guilty of employing too much colourful, whirling balls of CGI metal at times to recreate high-speed carnage. Also, there is the tedious dialogue of English gentrification that even defies the stereotype that the writers seem to believe is funny, including a supposed gag involving a runt of a toffee-nosed car salesman, Hobbs and Tej that could be a lot funnier but falls flat.

Fast & Furious 6 turns the franchise up another notch, injects more nitrate and lets rip, but lovingly, never ventures far from its familiar bonds that hold its assortment of mongrel characters together. As action films go, it races to the top of its league as events get more and more ridiculous and outrageous, but altogether, more satisfying. As newly installed director James Wan takes over the helm for Fast & Furious 7, he certainly his work cut out to top what Lin has accomplished with this one.

4/5 stars

By FilmGazer

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The Liability ***

It seems cameraman-cum-director Craig Viveiros fancies himself as a bit of a ‘British Tarantino’ with his second feature, The Liability. He even employs the services of one of Pulp Fiction and Resevoir Dogs’ actors, Tim Roth, to evoke that clever magic. Indeed, at the heart of this road movie is a more superior, darkly comedic thriller itching to unfold. Thankfully, due to the central and intriguing father/son relationship between ageing hit man Roy (Roth) and his haphazard apprentice Adam (Jack O’Connell), this commendable attempt at deadly humour does not fall short, even though there are other, more daring possibilities Viveiros could have explored to make his film feel less déjà vu in plot.

After trashing his step-father Peter’s car, 19-year-old Adam is forced to pay off the damage by the sinister, violent gangster (Peter Mullan) by driving a mysterious associate of his called Roy across country in an ageing Ford Granada. Something that should be simple enough to accomplish gets highly curious Adam deeper into murky waters with Roy, until the older man’s grizzly line of work is revealed. Short of silencing the teenager, Adam is fascinated by Roy’s profession and becomes his eager but accident-prone apprentice or ‘liability’. After Adam’s initiation job goes horribly wrong, the pair are left to clear up the bloody pieces, leading the lad further into a nightmarish world of murder, sex trafficking and revenge.

Viveiros wants us to laugh then grimace at events simultaneously, so much so that he has no qualms about using shock tactics right near the start to set the scene and give an insight into Peter’s disturbed mind. Mullan is as callously deviant as ever in this part but is also notably absent from most of the film. Hence, this snippet of Peter’s foul depths is necessary to tie up the finale, even though its origins are never further explored beyond surface value: The focus is quickly switched to Roy and Adam and their journey ahead.

Here, the filmmakers create a compelling and ever-present danger to the Roy-Adam relationship that’s like witnessing an older mammal toying with a younger one, ready to extinguish its life, unless it becomes more interesting and useful. O’Connell is quite hilarious as the annoying Adam who picks away at Roy’s resolve with endless childlike questions, yearning for the father figure he can aspire to in some tragic, desperate fashion. Roth as Roy commands their next moves entirely as we hang on his every stony-faced reaction and subsequent word to determine where things will go next. In this respect, it’s nothing new for this genre, but it allows Roth to deliciously tap into his Tarantino past to deliver thrills from the most mundane of everyday observations.

The Roy/Adam cat-and-mouse dynamic gives the film its human element and black soul, so it’s only natural that things feel a little off kilter when Adam gets kidnapped by a savvy and tough Eastern European girl (Talulah Riley) looking for her lost sister, with Adam ending up under lock and chain in a Freddy Krueger-style iron basement. Viveiros veers off track here – presumably, so that he can tick the body beautiful box and inject some sexuality, using a buffed O’Connell. Wisely, he returns the balance and the sardonic side reappears for the big-hearted reveal that bonds the unlikely pair further. In this sense, the film points more to a chalk-and-cheese character study under the bleakest of circumstances rather than a potentially darkly comedic thriller. Whatever, it still feels a little safe following along the same tropes.

If nothing else, The Liability offers some well-rounded performances from Roth, O’Connell and Mullan, amidst a kooky but believable premise, suggesting Viveiros’s enthusiasm for the genre and its black comedic tendencies, along a Tarantino vein. Sadly, it offers nothing beyond the usual markers of such a coming-of-age film and ends up feeling highly clichéd and conventional at the end, lacking in that spark of innovation.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Great Gatsby ***

You can imagine that a literary adaptation set in the self-indulgent Roaring Twenties about a fateful love story that’s given the Baz Luhrmann touch would be as extravagant as ever. Think Moulin Rouge. Indeed the flamboyant director does not hold back with his version of The Great Gatsby and even tries to shoehorn in a modern-day urban music style from the likes of rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West into the equation. The result is a decadent, burlesque-style, 3D theatre piece with a pounding soundtrack and bursting with colour, but the emotive part of the novel is only saved by a mesmerising turn from its star, Leonardo DiCaprio as the enigmatic Gatsby.

Would-be writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) arrives in New York in the spring of 1922 to follow his dream in a world of ‘anything goes’, the Roaring Twenties, where moonshine bars and loose morals prosper. Living next door on Long Island is a mysterious, party-throwing multi-millionaire called Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio ) that nobody ever sees but all attend his glitzy, wild parties every night. One day, Carraway receives an invitation to attend and his absorbed into this colourful world. However, Gatsby has a motive: to woo back a long lost love that is Carraway’s cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who is unhappily married to her philandering, wealthy husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Carraway bears witness to this tragic love triangle and pens a tale of impossible love.

Like it or not, but such a tale is made for a Luhrmann touch, and what the director simply does is bring it to 21st Century consciousness for a broader cinematic audience – hence the music overhaul which feeds into the hedonistic style of the time, but also sits uncomfortably with it too, especially as there is a distinct lack of jazz that you come to expect. Having a lone trumpet player tickle the brass over the Big Apple skyline just doesn’t satisfy either. Still, the soulful sound of Jay-Z’s work does suit nicely in hindsight.

As for the visual spectacle, it’s Luhrmann all over: colour, glitter, soaring movements, an almost cartoonish urgency to it – especially as the Gatsby motor ploughs through the roads and dirt tracks like something alive and out of Roger Rabbit film. Luhrmann’s sumptuous theatrical world, shot as a whirlwind experience, mirrors the great love affair it illustrates. The director does turn things down several notches at times, using his trademark, ethereal quality of billowing curtains to make Daisy’s glamorous entrance to the screen – one of the most memorable shots of the film. The dark sense of the original novel from F. Scott Fitzgerald that suggests the seedier side of the fallout of the decadence is done away with on the surface, and only really gets released to highlight a sinister moment. Fans of the literary work will not find too much comparison but may be appeased by the magical charm exuded from DiCaprio.

The actor is dazzling in the role, balancing a swell of emotions at any single moment and a dark side to his nature that only comes to light in panto-style glances from his turret tower or when he loses his rag at Buchanan’s goading. DiCaprio breathes new fire into the character and charms the lot of us, as is necessary to feel his lonely, ill-advised plight and radiant sense of hope. It could be argued that Maguire’s is an uneventful performance, but his observational role merely allows DiCaprio as Gatsby to reflect and document the others actions in this torrid love story. It’s unfair to say that Maguire does little in this, though he does come across as less punchy than we would have liked such an important character to be at times.

Edgerton is brilliantly cast as the cad opposite Mulligan’s often insipid Daisy, a pathetic creature at times, rather than an emotionally torn heroine who Luhrmann’s camera seems to love but is allowed little else than to look alluring in an asexual way. Still, Mulligan’s casting is more apt than what was being considered – the too spiky Keira Knightley and too sultry Scarlett Johansson.

Sadly, Isla Fisher comes off the worst as the tragic Myrtle, barely making her mark before character’s demise. Fisher does kooky and energetic like no other actress, but her wings (and scenes) are clipped in a disappointing fashion, and even her demise is little more than momentary madness on her part to enhance the lavish spectacle of Gatsby’s gleaming yellow motor in slow-mo murderous fashion. In fact, Luhrmann’s production design often swallows up the characters in the story so that the human element fights for recognition. That said the costume design is magnificent as are some of the 3D effects.

Luhrmann is not trying to recreate the themes of the novel about great social change, however he does dip his hat to them, and certainly portrays the dizzy highs and crashing lows of the American Dream while we are hypnotised by another baby-blued-eyed performance from DiCaprio in a role that was made for him.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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A Hijacking ****

Having not necessarily seen the poster, the film title automatically assumes a plane takeover at several thousand feet, like so many films before. However, this is a story of ‘terrorists at sea’ with writer-director Tobias Lindholm of recent The Hunt fame putting to bed the romantic notion of swashbuckling pirates with a frank and tension-pounding pseudo-documentary account (based on real events) that is remarkably chilling to say the least.

Cargo ship chef Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbæk) only has a few days left at sea until he returns home to Copenhagen and sees his young family. Unfortunately for him and his fellow crewmen, Somali pirates board the ship and demand a multi-million dollar ransom to free both crew and ship from the Danish parent company. Cool businessman and company CEO Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling) hires an expert to help negotiate with the pirates thousands of miles away, believing he can control the situation as efficiently as he normally does, only for things to escalate with possible drastic consequences.

You can actually feel the mercury rising in the negotiators’ cramped, white-board-adorned room, as well as aboard the doomed vessel, and smell the deteriorating living conditions. Brilliantly imagined, Lindholm captures a startling sense of claustrophobia as events escalate and the tit-for-tat game of numbers draws out. This is incredibly powerful film-making that refrains from using visual displays of graphic violence on the whole, hence forcing your mind to fill in the gaps between stolen glances from the anxious characters.

There is also a deliberate and equally excruciating real-time delay to the plot momentum as each side plays the waiting game. In between exchanges, Lindholm makes sure the bad guys are not necessarily caricatures and completely demonised – in a sense, trying to show both sides of the bigger economic picture from both separate needs. There are also parts where captives and captors bond and are deemed to be ‘having fun’, but still with that ever lurking danger simmering beneath that things could switch at any moment and spiral out of control.

Lindholm has a nice array of characters at play, never totally black and white in reaction, from the amicable, easy-going Mikkel that Asbæk compellingly portrays, to the steely, rigid manner of Ludvigsen by Malling who is almost as egocentric as pirate negotiator Omar (Abdihakin Asgar). Every main character gets to portray different sides to their personality, and as the tension mounts, it’s anyone’s guess how each will act, keeping things more absorbing.

It’s not so much about the dialogue than the body language that is also fascinating, as well as the enclosed feeling when windows and doors show exit routes to the outside world. Oddly enough, perhaps the most entrapped character is actually Ludvigsen as the fate of the captives is already determined: Witnessing his mood swings is sometimes more riveting than what is going on, on the ship, as his cool exterior melts. The ending throws up a tragic surprise, with Lindholm’s final, parting shot suggesting more is at stake now than before. This is more satisfyingly and realistic than a happily-ever-after conclusion as first expected, further fuelling the docu-style ambiance.

Fledgling director Lindholm tackles a different perspective of capture with A Hijacking and its repercussions on man’s psyche and his forced adaptation to a gruelling situation, to his gritty 2010 prison-based film R, also starring Asbæk. That said what keeps things stimulating that both films share is a genuine sense of reality and how much of your own perception is invested in what you are watching. These qualities coupled with a remarkably astute writing talent make for exciting writing-directing prospects for future projects ahead from the Danish film-maker.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Dead Man Down ****

With the success of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (the original version) under his belt, plus the chance to work with leading lady Noomi Rapace once more, it was never going to be long before Danish director Niels Arden Oplev tried his hand at Hollywood revenge to further demonstrate his film-making skill.

More exciting is how Oplev could potentially channel some of that eerie, austere atmosphere of the 2009 hit film into this one, Dead Man Down, helped by one of cinema’s ever-brooding bad boys Colin Farrell who mirrors his turn in London Boulevard as self-reflective, man of few words, ex-con Mitchel, trying not to fall for the girl.

This time Farrell plays Hungarian Victor, a hired gun with an axe to grind much closer to home than his crime boss (played less than convincingly by Terrence Howard) would like or suspect. His chosen profession is sussed out by his disfigured but pretty neighbour, former beautician Beatrice (Rapace) who not only finds him strangely alluring but also wants revenge on the drunkard who caused her injuries. She propositions Victor, threatening to expose his seedy ways, unless he does her deadly deed. Victor starts losing control over his own personal objective, as well as his feelings.

Dead Man Down might be a revenge movie on the surface, but it’s a modern-day, edgy love story at heart that must overcome the most difficult of beginnings and the worse odds of success. The onscreen dynamic between Farrell and Rapace is highly believable, an engaging oxymoron in a sense: dangerously innocent as it tentatively progresses in a somewhat sweet fashion, partly due to Isabelle Huppert as Beatrice’s quirky French mother. It’s this core fledgling relationship gives the thriller its substance and soul, allowing you to forgive the uneven (and in parts, woodenly acted) opener, and really settle down to see where things lead.

Both actors manipulate their characters’ personas well, keeping them intriguing and unwittingly mysterious. Like Lisbeth Salander, Beatrice is emotionally scarred but far from a victim. This defiant survival attitude that Rapace embraces effortlessly combines sumptuously with Farrell’s natural despondency to make for a hypnotic watch. The plot’s catalyst is not necessarily Victor’s apparent exposure at any moment, thanks to the beady eye of fellow hit man Darcy (amicably portrayed Dominic Cooper), but Beatrice’s passive aggressive nature as she lures Victor out of the darkness he inhabits.

The climatic ending that brings the house down is pretty spectacular – as collateral damage and body count go: Though nothing new, it’s beautifully realised and shot. Short of changing the pace of the introspective affair, this finale may jar a little, but it’s perhaps a visual consequence of Victor’s pent up frustrations – like the storm following the calm. When the despicable truth behind Victor’s grievance is revealed it naturally requires a bloody revenge of grandeur, especially to prevent history repeating itself and allow old wounds to heal. Oplev merely delivers what is a must with some panache.

Dead Man Down allows Oplev to comfortably make his English-language debut doing what he has done best before: serving up sweet revenge, but never forgetting to explore the emotion behind the reaction as the primary goal. In turn, this makes for a more satisfying watch than your average, bloody revenge thriller and widens the usual box office appeal of such a genre with the prospect of a forbidden love affair at the helm.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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