Hoping for Unicorns

Zone 414

by Hope Madden

“Do you know what rich people want? Everything.”

True enough. And in lesser hands, that line might feel trite, but Andrew Baird’s SciFi neo-noir Zone 414 boasts a very solid ensemble. Mostly.

The actor delivering that line, the always formidable Olwen Fouéré (The Survivalist), joins reliable character actors including Jonathan Aris, Ned Dennehy, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Fionnula Flanagan (The Others) to populate this low-rent Blade Runner.

Which Blade Runner? Either one — although the beauty in a wig with blue bangs suggests Baird leans more recent. She’s Jane (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Revenge), a sexual synthetic living in the upscale seedy utopia Zone 414, where meat (humans) pay lots of money to spend time doing whatever they want with the likes of Jane.

But that’s not why David Carmichael (Guy Pearce) is in the zone. The super-wealthy mad hatter who designs these high-end toys, Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel), hired Carmichael to find his runaway teenager. Veidt’s daughter wishes to be synthetic so she doesn’t have to feel anything.

Yes, all the neo-noir tropes. None missing.

What Bryan Edward Hill’s script lacks in originality, Baird tries to make up for with world-building. It works to a degree and is aided immeasurably by the committed turns from his supporting players. Pearce is as reliable as always, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much. He turns down about as many roles as Bruce Willis or Nicolas Cage. Zone 414 is not one of his best.

It’s not one of his worst, either, but he does have a couple of problems. One is that his big, dramatic scenes tend to pair him not with the exceptional supporting talent, but the weaker leads. Lutz carries off the superficial damsel in distress well enough, but when the film asks her to get a little Ex Machina on us, she flails.

Worse still is Fimmel’s mad genius. That make-up and fat suit don’t help. I’m sure he’s not meant to be comic relief, but it’s hard to see him any other way.

Much of this is redeemed by a few intriguing scenes, but the writing fails Baird a few times too often.

Zone 414 tries really hard. It often fails. But not always.

Family Ties

The Shadow of Violence

by George Wolf

Just how Irish is The Shadow of Violence?

Well, it’s got enough of its Irish up that hearing “Whiskey in the Jar” play on a barroom jukebox feels like being part of an inside joke. And that’s about the only funny business in a film that fuses multiple inspirations into one searingly intimate rumination on a life defined by violence.

Douglas “Arm” Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis) was once a promising Irish boxing champion, but left the gloves behind for the reliable income and familiar treatment offered by the Devers crime family. As their chief enforcer, Arm is feared, which often hampers his relationship with his ex Ursula (Naimh Algar) and their autistic son Jack.

The delicate co-existence of Arm’s two worlds is a constant struggle, but when family patriarch Paudi Devers (Ned Dennehy) finally orders Arm to kill, it becomes clear there is room for only one set of loyalties.

Director Nick Rowland and screenwriter Joseph Murtagh adapt Colin Barrett’s short story “Calm With Horses” with a tightly-wound sense of tension and brutality that propels a fascinating curiosity about the lasting effects of violence on the ones dishing it out.

While recalling films from the classic (On the Watefront) to the underseen (The Drop), Rowland’s feature debut carves out its own rural identity thanks to an instinct for detail (watching two Irish gangsters debate the wisdom of fleeing to Mexico is perfection) and a marvelous cast.

Jarvis makes Arm an endlessly sympathetic brute, providing a needed depth to Arm’s slow awakening about who is and isn’t worth his trust. Much of that trust is given to Paudi’s heir apparent Dympna, an unrepentant manipulator brought to menacing life by Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Dunkirk), who again shows why you don’t want to miss any film with him in it.

But it’s Arm’s time with Ursula and Jack (Kiljan Moroney) that reminds him of the kind of man he wants to be, one that knows the difference “between loyalty and servitude.”

These moral complexities of a man questioning his sense of the world are what gives The Shadow of Violence its voice, one that speaks most eloquently in the spaces between the bloodshed.