Tag Archives: Johnny Flynn

Ordinary People

One Life

by George Wolf

Back in 2015, Sir Nicholas Winton passed away at the age of…106.

Healthy diet? Lots of cardio? Maybe, but One Life lets us know Winton could have subsisted on little more than whiskey, smokes, and the unlimited good karma from his days as a young man on a humanitarian mission that put faith in “ordinary people.”

In the years before World War II, “Nicky” (Johnny Flynn) was a London stockbroker. But as Hitler and the Nazis marched across Europe, Nicky committed himself to saving as many Jewish children as he could, spearheading a committee to place the children with foster families in the U.K.

Years later, the older Nicky (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife Grete (Lenas Olin) begin cleaning out their house, which brings him face to face with an old briefcase. Inside the satchel are the records from Nicky’s refugee network, and he begins to wonder if the story might be of interest to the local press.

It is.

Veteran television director James Hawes and the writing team of Lucinda Coxon and Nick Drake adapt the book by Winton’s daughter Barbara as a standard take on an extraordinary story. Have plenty of tissues handy, which is a testament to the sheer power and timely urgency of Nicky’s life-saving work.

The flashback scenes are satisfactory, but lack the cinematic style and structure to find a unique voice amid the holocaust dramas we’ve seen in just the last several years.

It is the later narrative thread – with, unsurprisingly, a truly touching turn by Hopkins – that allows One Life to leave its mark. Overdue accolades only seem to increase Nicky’s despair over the lives he couldn’t save, and Hopkins is able to craft the haunted man with a nuance that underscores all the good that can come from turning care into action.

The film’s final act puts the effect of Sir Nicholas’s work in very specific, very human and very public terms. And even if you remember hearing about the goosebump-inducing way the “British Schindler” finally got his flowers, One Life makes sure those goosebumps will come again.

Clothes Make the Man

The Outfit

by George Wolf

The opening minutes of The Outfit give us a master tailor named Leonard (Mark Rylance) describing his process. We see him measuring fabric, cutting and sewing while he outlines his skill in sizing up customers to give them what they most deserve.

Wait..is he still talking about suits?

Maybe, maybe not.

The setting is Chicago in 1956, where Leonard and his dreaming-of-a-better-life secretary Mable (Zoey Deutch) conduct business while local mobsters use Leonard’s shop to retrieve messages from a nationwide crime syndicate known as the Outfit.

One night after a shootout with a rival mob, gangsters Richie (Dylan O’Brien) and Francis (Johnny Flynn) barge into the shop in need of help and refuge. Richie, the son of local boss Roy (Simon Russel Beale) has been shot, and soon most everyone involved will have to fight to survive the long night.

Oscar-winning screenwriter Graham Moore (The Imitation Game) adds directing duties this time as well, for a nifty big screen debut that often homages early Kubrick and classic Hitchcock.

Essentially a two-room chamber piece, the film leans on a terrific ensemble to roll out a steady stream of delicious twists, relishing the nimble noir wordplay and skillfully keeping Moore’s sleight-of-hand from tipping its hand too early.

Fellow Oscar-winner Rylance (Bridge of Spies) is the perfect choice to bring Leonard to life, displaying a seemingly casual excellence right in line with who Leonard seems to be. Will underestimating the quiet shopkeeper prove to be a deadly mistake? Or is it Leonard who will learn a painful lesson tonight?

Rylance peels back the layers slowly, and Moore has good instincts for the pacing that allows for maximum fun. Deutch proves again that she’s a natural, making the most of a more limited role that still boasts an impressive ratio of secrets-to-screen time.

Despite getting a little too cute for the room come finale time, The Outfit is a solid directing debut for an acclaimed screenwriter. And while you can’t help feeling that this salute to the brainy introvert may be a personal one for Moore, it’s artful and engaging enough to rope in anyone who loves untangling a well-fitted suit of clues.

Digging in the Dirt

The Dig

by Hope Madden

Indiana Jones made archeology look thrilling and dangerous. Director Simon Stone’s The Dig makes it look positively British.

Back in 1938, as England sat on the precipice of WWII, an informally trained excavator named Basil Brown unearthed an ancient Saxon ship in a mound around back of the widowed Edith Pretty’s land. Journalist/novelist John Preston’s aunt Margaret Piggott was part of the larger archeological crew at Sutton Hoo that would mine the site for its cultural riches. Many years later, Preston would mine that story for a novel.

Refined and marked by the proper restraint of the English, Moira Buffini’s adaptation of the source material remains keenly interested in the difference between what we unearth and what we leave buried. Stone’s film shadows two romances and the emotions they choose to excavate as well as those they do not.

Brown and Pretty are played by Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan, respectively. Fiennes finds a sweetly vulnerable center to Brown’s guarded stoicism. Meanwhile Mulligan reminds us again of her limitless range, playing essentially the opposite character of her bitingly brilliant Cassandra in Promising Young Woman.

Watching the gentle dance these two impressive talents engage in as their characters come to understand one another is hypnotic. There’s rarely an excuse to miss the opportunity to see either Mulligan or Fiennes act, and their delicate chemistry here is gorgeous.

Stone flavors his film and this relationship with notes of longing and melancholy that balance the overall theme of discovery. And then a sudden development—the arrival of Basil’s amiable and thoroughly loyal wife May (Monica Dolan, irresistible)—does more to sever their tale than complicate it.

This odd second act shift – just when we’ve really begun to invest in the primary relationship – turns Mulligan and Fiennes into supporting players in their own movie. Johnny Flynn and Lily James take it from here, he the attentive young RAF man in waiting and she the spunky archeologist/unsatisfied newlywed.

Both actors are solid, as is the entire and sizable ensemble of support, but the film feels out of sorts the moment the youngsters arrive.

It’s a lopsidedness The Dig never quite recovers from. Of course, had Mulligan and Fiennes not shone quite so brightly, it may not have been a problem at all.



by Cat McAlpine

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition…had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

So begins Jane Austen’s final novel, and so too starts Emma., with text across the screen that almost seems to smirk. We find Emma as she is described: beautiful, put together, and just mischievous enough. She is also vain, childish, and compulsive in a way that mysteriously endears you to her. Anya Taylor-Joy (The VVitch, Thoroughbreds) delivers a masterful performance that is always on the verge of a laugh or a tear, depending on which way the day goes.

Well matched in chemistry and in his ability to show an astonishing depth beneath the veneer of decorum is Johnny Flynn as George Knightley. I have loved Flynn since Lovesick was titled Scrotal Recall (yes, really), and his performance in Emma. is earnest and authentic as always.

The character growth, across the cast but most importantly for Emma and Knightley, is masterfully done by both and makes this one of my most favorite period pieces. There are no nonsensical professions of love, you can see every spark light and burn – even in the slightest nods and prolonged bits of eye contact. Josh O’Connor so well telegraphs his nervous and misplaced intentions as Mr. Elton, that it’s even funnier that Emma is in the dark ’til the end.

Supporting the hilarious, heartfelt journey is a cast of wild and weird characters with impeccable timing, namely Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse, Mia Goth as Harriet Smith, and Miranda Hart as the unfathomably lovable Miss Bates. In fact, it is the background of Emma.’s tapestry that makes the story so vibrant. So rarely do the wealthy find themselves truly alone, and director Autumn de Wilde capitalizes on the presence of society members and household staff alike—often out of focus but still on screen—to mine even more comedic opportunities.

In her first full length feature, de Wilde deftly uses the camera to double down on subtext and deepen the most important moments. Her use of camera emphasizes the screen as its own type of narration and honors the story’s origin as a novel. Eleanor Catton’s debut screenplay expertly weaves the multitude of characters and circumstances. Neither de Wilde nor Catton is afraid to slow down and strike a vignette, but the pacing is only occasionally labored, as the gorgeous cinematography and costume design alike provide plenty to gawk at.

Finally, I would be remiss to leave out the score, which has its own humor and cagey attitude to support the litany of other masterful elements. The entire production has a beautiful, rhythmic choreography to which all things, movement, people, and intentions, inevitably adhere.

I often both benefit and suffer from being sporadically read. As George Knightly muses, “Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old.” Me too, bud. I’ve never read Emma, or seen an adaptation, so I can’t tell you how well this holds up to the source material. Based on the reactions of the mostly middle-aged female audience in my showing, it holds up marvelously. Based on my own viewing, this is a charming, funny, and soon-to-be-classic viewing experience for anyone.



by Hope Madden

An outsider love story, a chilly whodunit, a psychological thriller—Beast is all and none of these.

This remarkably assured first feature from writer/director Mark Pearce keeps its focus on Moll (Jessie Buckley), the highly-scrutinized woman living with her parents in a small island community.

We open serenely enough on an angelic church choir rehearsing, a peace that’s harshly broken by the choir leader’s remark: I need more from you, Moll.

Geraldine James is haughty Hilary Huntington, the choirmaster; Moll is her grown daughter.

Soon a rugged stranger draws Moll out of her unhappy life, makes her feel awake and seen. She is destined to love this boy regardless of the string of missing girls in her village, regardless of his shady past, and in spite of the warnings of the smothering community.

Pearce’s skills keep you entranced, no matter the tropes he so easily picks up, throws off or reinvents. Sunlight, shadow, earth, sea—all these serve the visual storyteller’s purpose, while angles and frames keep you off kilter as you puzzle through the tale at hand.

You’re as invested, cautious and curious as Moll, but it’s actually Buckley’s performance—her depiction of Moll’s internal conflict—that is the most compelling and mysterious. As Moll changes demeanor, exploring her own identity becomes more important than determining her lover’s.

Johnny Flynn impresses as well as the local no-account presumed guilty, sharing a misfit chemistry with Moll that is both primal and tender. Tenderness is not what she’s used to from her severe mother, an epic James.

Together with the washed out colors of the characters’ bleak world, the film offers a harsh backdrop for Moll’s dizzying grasp on her own reality. The conflict, duality and self-discovery in Beast cannot help but draw you in, asking you about your own inner beast.

Without hitting a single false note, no matter the choir leader’s opinion, Buckley ushers us through a moral quagmire with a fire and authenticity that is gorgeous to behold.

Song Sung Blue

Song One

By George Wolf

Song One is a lot like the indie folk music that permeates it: pleasant, well-intentioned, and a bit bland.

Anne Hathaway stars as Franny, an anthropology student working overseas who must rush back home to New York after a family tragedy. Her brother Henry, an aspiring musician, is struck by a cab while walking in traffic, and Franny returns to find him in a coma, fighting for his life.

Searching Henry’s apartment for familiar items that might help revive him, Franny finds concert tickets to see a folkie named James Forester (Johnny Flynn). She attends the show, and waits in the autograph line to tell Forester about her brother’s admiration for him. The conversation sparks a sweet friendship, and James is soon visiting Henry and hanging out with Franny and her ex-hippie mom (Mary Steenburgen).

Will friendship turn to romance? Will James find inspiration to cure his songwriter’s block? Bet you can guess.

It’s the debut feature for writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland, and predictability is not what ultimately keeps Song One from resonating. Yes, the terrain is plenty familiar, but this love letter to the power of music suffers most from contrivance and precious few powerful moments.

Flynn’s performance is tender but tentative, and though is he obviously a talented musician, the original songs elicit little more than the nod you give that guy at a party who suddenly finds a guitar. He’s in way over his head alongside Hathaway, who dials it down but can’t keep her natural talent from casting a big shadow over her co star.

There is some promise here. The film is well shot and Barker-Froyland often seems to sense how thin the drama is, pumping it up with enough good intentions to keep any eye-rolling at bay. When her storytelling talent catches up with her technical skills, then she may have a hit on her hands.