Tag Archives: Domhnall Gleeson

Old Money, Old Problems

The Little Stranger

by Hope Madden

There were a lot of reasons to be excited about The Little Stranger.

The film is director Lenny Abrahamson’s follow up to his staggeringly wonderful 2015 film Room. It stars three of the most solid character actors you will find (whether you know the names or not): Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Will Poulter.

Who else? Oh, yes, Charlotte Rampling, who’s been a miracle of understated power since the mid-Sixties.

On top of all that, it may (or may not) be a period British ghost story, and who doesn’t dig that?

But something’s gone terribly wrong with The Little Stranger.

It looks stunning. Abrahamson’s camera captures postcard quality images of spooky old mansion quarters, lonesome countrysides, sparse bachelor apartments.

Gleeson’s performance is wonderful: restrained and proper to a degree that suits this particular character. Poulter (who is a marvelous and amazingly versatile actor) is underused, as is Rampling, although she cooly delivers enough decisive lines to make an impression.
Performances, too, are picture-perfect.

Wilson impresses most as Caroline Ayres, the put-upon sister in an old-money family that’s seen its share of heartache. She’s being courted, so to speak, by reserved country doctor Faraday (Gleeson), while she helps to care for her badly injured (inside and out) WWII veteran brother Roddy (Poulter), quietly helping him manage his responsibilities to the estate.

Caroline longs to be free. Longing is maybe the most palpable theme in the film, along with the underlying nod to classism. Unfortunately, by Act 3, you’ll be longing for some action of any kind.

Abrahamson’s film, adapted from Sarah Waters’s novel by screenwriter Lucinda Coxon (The Danish Girl), moves at an iceberg’s pace. Though the bumps, burns and bruises in the night are developed with the proper haunted house atmosphere, the resolution is so underdeveloped and slow in coming that the film cannot help but disappoint.

The reveal makes sense to a degree, and bravo to Abrahamson for expecting audiences to have paid enough attention to earlier dialog that we might fathom the conclusion. At the same time, with too much thought, that reveal can fall apart. So, if you’re not paying attention you will have no idea what just happened. Pay too much attention and the mystery’s resolution will disintegrate on you.

It’s unfortunate because there is an awful lot of talent and aesthetic going to waste here.

Behind the Bear

Goodbye Christopher Robin

by George Wolf

Even a story born to combat sadness can have a dark side, and Goodbye Christopher Robin explores one in a film that is perfectly acceptable without ever becoming truly memorable.

The story at its heart, of course, is Winnie the Pooh, the fantasy world A.A. Milne created for his young son which became a cultural touchstone that still thrives today.

Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) returned from service in WWI with recurring flashbacks and an ambition to move beyond writing light entertainment and produce a work that would persuade readers to fully appreciate the horror and folly of war.

Retreating from the bustle of London to the solitude of the English countryside with this wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) and son Christopher (Will Tilston in an incredibly cute debut), Milne finds no inspiration until the boy (known to the family as “Billy Moon”) asks his dad to write him a story.

Extravagant wealth soon follows, along with intrusive fame, bringing confusion and heartache to a little boy who doesn’t understand why he has to share his life with the world, or why a father would write about his son instead of for him. Comfort often comes not from his parents, but from the emotional closeness of his relationship with nanny Olive aka “Nou” (Kelly Macdonald).

Director Simon Curtis (Woman in Gold, My Week with Marilyn) wraps it all in a wondrous, often childlike sheen, but juggles too many contrasting themes to find a truly resonate focus. The script, from Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan, offers fly-by attention to war, childhood, celebrity infatuation and those stereotypically British stiff upper lips.

The entire cast is game, the execution workmanlike and the story endearing. But Goodbye Christopher Robin, much like the family it spotlights, too often settles for safety over emotional connection.


Plane Crazy

American Made

by George Wolf

In the late 1970s, Barry Seal traded in his gig as a TWA pilot for something more colorful. What began as missions taking aerial photographs of “enemies of democracy” in Central America turned into money laundering, arming the Contras, and cocaine smuggling for Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel. Among other things.

Seal’s is a resume that stands out, and American Made tells his story with just enough charm and swagger to keep it from being totally bogged down in the swamp of exposition necessary to sort it all out.

Much of that charm belongs to Tom Cruise, digging into a role perfectly suited to that roguish charisma he can deliver on autopilot. Whether keeping his CIA boss (an excellent Domhnall Gleeson) in the dark about his side hustles, spoiling his family with cash or buddying up to murderous drug lords, Cruise effortlessly carries the film.

Director Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow, Go, Swingers) brings the swagger, surrounding his star with enough lively pacing and entertaining presentation to avoid the usual trappings of Cruise vanity projects.

Landing somewhere between Wolf of War Street and War Dogs, American Made is a film that certainly could have dug for a deeper message, but delivers plenty of fun while it romps in the shallow end.