Movie reviews

TILDA SWINTON is a very fine actress who has forged a career from playing cold, androgynous and cerebral characters, from Orlando (1992) to the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia, which suggests that she’s perfectly cast as Eva in We Need To Talk About Kevin (16s).

Reluctant to get pregnant, and unable to bond with her son (played at various stages by Rock Duer, Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller) once he is born, Eva experiences motherhood as something of a waking nightmare, even before the teenage Kevin goes on a killing spree in his high school. Director Lynne Ramsey captures the nightmarish quality of Eva’s existence very well, presenting her story in multiple flashbacks and inter-cutting Eva’s reality with dream sequences and imagined scenarios. Tortured by the story’s central question — was it the lack of a maternal bond that created a monster, or was Kevin born evil? — Eva withdraws from all human contact. Swinton is superb at illuminating the extent to which Eva lives at one remove from the world, in a performance that is worth the price of admission alone. Unfortunately, Swinton succeeds a little too well: with Kevin portrayed as irredeemably bad from the very beginning, and John C Reilly shoehorned into playing a one-dimensional role as Eva’s irritatingly misguided husband Franklin, the film allows for little by way of audience empathy. The fact that Kevin is simply bad to the bone further undercuts any attempt at exploring the nature-versus-nurture conundrum.

CONTAGION (12A) presents a gripping premise, and a timely one, as a host of characters struggle to cope with a lethal virus that sweeps the globe. Director Steven Soderbergh has assembled an impressive cast, including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Jennifer Ehle, to illustrate the impact of the epidemic on various strata of society. Scientists struggle to understand and contain the outbreak; media-savvy bloggers foment anarchy; ordinary people die like flies. Fast-paced and very neatly edited, the film has a propulsive momentum, and Soderbergh’s referencing of recent epidemics such as SARS, bird flu and so forth gives the events a timely edge. In large part a conspiracy thriller, as Soderbergh takes us behind the official headlines to observe scientists, politicians and various secretive agencies manipulating the truth for their own ends, the story is entirely enthralling as an intellectual exercise in what-iffery. Oddly, however, the longer the movie goes on, and the more lethal the epidemic becomes, the harder it becomes to care. This is largely due to the number of central characters, all of whom are vital to the story, but doesn’t allow the audience build any meaningful emotional connection with any of them. It’s all very expertly put together, but it’s hard to resist the feeling that Contagion is a Soderbergh polemic delivered from a lectern, complete with slide-show illustrations.

IF YOU’RE looking for a ray of sunshine to penetrate this week’s doom ‘n’ gloom, Monte Carlo (G) is a bright and breezy slice of escapism set in the south of France. Directed and adapted by Thomas Bezucha from the novel Headhunters by Jules Bass (which featured four middle-aged women on the rampage in Europe), it stars teenage superstar Selena Gomez as Texas waitress Grace, who dreams of seeing the cultural wonders of Paris. Her mundane guided tour of the City of Lights is interrupted when Grace is mistaken for snooty English heiress Cordelia Winthrop Scott (also played by Gomez), and Grace, her friend Emma (Katie Cassidy) and her step-sister Meg (Leighton Meester) are whisked off by private jet to Monte Carlo and into a whirl of charity balls, polo matches and royal romance. The intent, presumably, is to establish Gomez as a tween-friendly Audrey Hepburn, but her rising star is outshone by two winning performances from Cassidy and Meester.

It’s a light, frothy confection aimed squarely at young girls, who are unlikely to complain too much about the plot-holes and the rather starchy acting displayed by Gomez.

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