Tag Archives: Colin Farrell

Everything Adults Do

Voyagers

by Hope Madden

If you have ever wondered what Lord of the Flies might look like in space, Neil Burger thinks like you.

The generally mediocre director (The Upside, Limitless, Divergent, etc.) follows a manned vessel in search of the next planet we can ruin. Or not. Maybe our better natures will win out.

Voyagers is the journey toward that new home. The crew doesn’t really know Earth—they were the result of specifically engineered donors, raised indoors so they wouldn’t miss open spaces, and will spend their whole adult lives on the ship. Their children will, too. But their grandchildren will be the first generation to see the new planet.

Naturally, this is only going to work if nothing kills them and they don’t kill each other before future generations can exist.

Scientist and father figure Richard (Colin Farrell) will shepherd them through as much of the journey as he can, but the future of the human race is in the hands of these young people.

Essentially a YA space fantasy, Voyagers is not without its charms. Tye Sheridan and Fionn Whitehead lead a cast of convincingly naïve geniuses. The conflict is obvious (especially for those who read Golding), but Burger zigs and zags enough to keep your interest. The director’s knack for encapsulated action and his sharp cast’s baser instincts create some B-movie thrills.

The nature versus nurture argument gets a quick nod, but Burger (who also wrote) isn’t especially preoccupied with the why. The immediacy of the fact that it just is requires more attention.

Science fiction tends to be heavily allegorical and heavily borrowed—Voyagers is certainly both of these. Although the execution feels a bit like a neutered version of Claire Denis’s brilliant 2018 cosmic horror High Life, the story itself looks to the distant future to illustrate our present (and very, very recent past).

Oceans Apart

Widows

by Hope Madden

There are few films I have been more geeked to see than Widows.

Co-writer/director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Shame) and co-writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects) update a British miniseries from the ‘80s about a heist.

Wait, Steve McQueen made a heist movie? A filmmaker so punishing you watch a little Lars von Trier to lighten the mood?

He totally made a heist movie. It is a layered, deeply cynical, wildly faceted take on politics, organized crime, familial grief and the plight of a powerless woman. So, OK, maybe not your run-of-the-mill Liam Neeson flick. But Liam Neeson is in it.

Neeson is Harry Rawlings, top man in a group of criminals who hit vaults around Chicago. This last hit went south, though, and the bad men he fleeced need that cash back. Poor Mrs. Rawlings (Viola Davis, glorious as is her way), is handed the bill.

McQueen has not made an Oceans 11. Widows is not fun. It is smart, riveting entertainment, though.

McQueen’s Chicago landscape is peopled mainly with folks desperately in need of a change: the criminal trying to get into politics (Brian Tyree Henry), the career politician with daddy issues (Colin Farrell), but mostly the widows of Harry’s crew (Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki), all left as cash-strapped as Mrs. Rawlings.

It does not pay to marry a criminal.

Every member of the enormous ensemble runs with the opportunities this script allows, no matter how much or how little their screen time. Daniel Kaluuya relishes every sadistic moment he has as an enforcer, while Jacki Weaver establishes one character’s entire history with her two fascinating minutes onscreen.

But it’s Viola Davis who anchors the film. She is the grieving heart and the survivor’s mind that gives Widows its center and its momentum. She wastes nothing, never forgetting or allowing us to forget the grim reality of her situation.

There is a heist, don’t get me wrong. There are double crosses, flying bullets, car chases, explosions—genre prerequisites that feel like new toys for the super-serious director. McQueen proves a versatile a filmmaker, though he has certainly left his own distinctive mark on the action flick.






Trouble Man

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

by George Wolf

Roman J. Israel is a character. And Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a fine character study, one that can’t quite use that device for all the resonant insight it’s aspiring to.

Last time out, writer/director Dan Gilroy rode a very similar formula to spellbinding heights with the brilliantly slick and cynical Nightcrawler. Though Gilroy’s writing is often just as sharp in this legal drama, a third act buoyed by sentiment and idealism weakens the film’s overall effect.

Sadly, Denzel Washington is wildly miscast as the titular Mr. Israel.

Objection!

Sustained. Of course, Washington is characteristically terrific as a savant-like attorney with decades fighting for civil rights amid the “dominant tendencies of society.” Slowly, he’s seduced by the dark side, succumbing to the high-rolling lifestyle that comes with working for the suave and successful George Pierce (Colin Farrell).

As Roman moves from one world to another, Gilroy rails nicely against the systemic inequalities of our justice system, with Washington’s seemingly effortless brilliance bringing the nuance needed to make Roman’s moral waverings feel authentic.

They do, and the film has a nice groove going until Gilroy needs to find himself and Roman a way out of what they’ve boxed themselves into. Suddenly scenes are feeling padded and resolutions a bit tidy, and you’re waiting for the dreaded grand courtroom speech that’s destined to torpedo all these good intentions.

Thankfully, Gilroy’s instincts are better than that, leaving Roman J. Israel, Esq. with his integrity still intact, just a little dented.

 

 





No One Is to Blame

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

by Hope Madden

What if God exists and he’s an awkward adolescent boy?

That’s not exactly the point of Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, but it’s maybe as close a description as I can muster.

Lanthimos’s work (The Lobster, Dogtooth) does tend to balk at simple summarization, none more so than Sacred Deer. The film offers a look inside the life of a successful surgeon (Colin Farrell), whose opthamologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two children (Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic) are, well, perfect.

It’s the kind of perfect you might find in a Stanley Kubrick film—cold, clean, sterile. In fact, from the framing to the violently intrusive score to the thematic suspicion of intimacy, Sacred Deer leans heavily Kubrick.

But Lanthimos brings with him a particular type of absurdity all his own. He hints at it with the memorable opening shot and deepens it with the now-characteristic stilted, oddly detached dialog.

But the filmmaker’s unique tone finds its perfect vehicle in Barry Keoghan (also wonderful this year in Dunkirk). Unsettlingly serene as Martin, the teenage son of a patient killed on the surgeon’s table, he controls the film and its events.

With Martin, Lanthimos is able to mine ideas of God, of the God complex, of the potentially ludicrous notion of cosmic justice.

All the while he sends up social norms, dissecting the concept of the nuclear family and wondering at the lengths we will go to avoid accountability.

Sacred Deer, though certainly absurd, lacks the comedic flourish of 2015’s The Lobster. This film’s comedy is ink black and subversive in a way that’s equally likely to break your heart as draw a chuckle. This is particularly true as Anna and her children begin bargaining for their lives in scenes that are astonishing in their insight.

Nicole Kidman is chilly perfection in a surprisingly unlikeable role. The uneasy chemistry she shares with Farrell helps the film balance its weirdness with moments of authenticity. She and Farrell shared the screen earlier this year in the also engrossing The Beguiled, a fact you may almost forget as they trade in the steamy tension of the first relationship for the frosty, antiseptic nature of this one.

As was true with The Lobster, Farrell comfortably shoulders lead responsibilities in Lanthimos’s weird world. His scenes with Keoghan, at first treated as if some kind of illicit affair, give the film its unsettling power.

Their karmic battle strangely told will be hard to forget.





Wolf in the Hen House

The Beguiled

by Hope Madden

In a mist-laden Virginia woods, pre-adolescent Amy (Oona Laurence) mushroom picks her way to uncovering a wounded Union soldier. Sure he’s a bluebelly, but she can’t leave him there to die, can she?

Amy helps him back to Miss Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies, the isolated boarding school where she, Miss Farnsworth, one teacher and just a handful of pupils are waiting out the Civil War.

The Beguiled marks a return to critical favor for writer/director Sofia Coppola, who won best directing honor at this year’s Cannes Fest Festival for her adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s novel.

Few frame delicate, ornate beauty quite like Coppola. She has found quite a palette with this film – the draping trees, columned porches, foggy woods, the tender grace of the school’s inhabitants.

The film is a study in restraint, and probably the most conventional film Coppola’s made. She abandons the sexual hysteria of Don Siegel’s pulpy 1971 adaptation, creating instead a chamber piece lush with decay and longing.

From his first words at the school – “Corporal John McBurney, 66th New York, grateful to be your prisoner,” – Colin Farrell’s wounded deserter is a likeable mystery. Is he earnest or manipulative? A good guy, or a wolf in the hen house?

Clint Eastwood’s performance (easily the best thing about Siegel’s version) was immediately creepy and scheming. Farrell’s slightly more of a blunt instrument. He’s less conniving, more primal –vulnerable and explosive, sometimes in the same breath.

He’s met his match, though, in Martha Farnsworth – Nicole Kidman. Coppola’s script is crisp, and no one delivers a passive aggressive barb quite as skillfully as Kidman.

Like her girls, Martha carries a lived-in weariness that weakens her to this attractive distraction from the war. But she is a survivor, an instinct she hopes to bring out in her charges as well.

The cast is uniformly wonderful – Kirstin Dunst, in particular. Coppola is fascinated by the internal power struggle as well as the morphing moral and emotional factors at work here. As patriotism battles Christian compulsions in the beginning, so competition for the Corporal’s attention evolves into fear.

The film makes a sharp turn with the inevitable explosion of impotent male dominance. As sudden as it seems, Coppola’s languid approach earlier in the film ensures that each character’s inner motivations and interpretations are clear – without the hackneyed flashback or interior monologue Siegel resorted to.

The result is a bewitching film – beautifully acted, gloriously filmed and haunting.

Verdict-4-0-Stars