It opens with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) sprinting through a jungle being pursued by a primitive tribe, a homage to 1930’s pulp matinee classics given some added vim by the fact that Spock (Zachary Quinto) is suspended inside a volcano that’s about to erupt. The story then segues into a rather more serious tale that draws heavily on the 9/11 narrative, as Star Fleet headquarters is attacked by Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), a former ally who has turned on those who nurtured his lethal skills. The subsequent bid to track down and eliminate Khan — who hides out on a remote Klingon planet — provides Abrams with plenty of opportunities for expertly executed action sequences, while further developing the personal relationships of the characters we first met in the Star Trek reboot in 2009. Central to the plot is the growing friendship between Kirk and Spock, which lends the frenzied pace a measure of thoughtful intimacy, although Cumberbatch steals the show as the dead-eyed megalomaniac Khan. What saps the story of its tension, however, is the wider context. Despite all the sound and fury generated, it’s impossible to take any threat of the crew’s annihilation seriously — indeed, as a cameo from Leonard Nimoy as ‘Spock Prime’ confirms, even Khan must survive to fight another day. Slickly produced and enjoyably self-referential, Star Trek Into Darkness boldly goes where it has already been.
Matthew McConaughey’s rebirth as a serious character actor continues apace with Mud (12A), in which he plays the eponymous hero, a man on the run hiding out on an island in the Mississippi River. With the help of two local boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), Mud plans to refloat a boat he has found wedged high in the trees and sail off into the sunset with the love of his life, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, the film plays out like the early stages of Great Expectations given a Southern gothic flavour. McConaughey and Witherspoon get star billing, but the story is a coming-of-age tale as told by Ellis, a 14-year-old who experiences a rather stormy rites of passage when he makes the fateful decision to trust in the outlaw Mud rather than his father, who has had his independence undermined by the law. Excellent performances from Sheridan, Lofland and McConaughey contribute to an electric first hour or so, but Nichols’ script loses focus in the final act.
Deadfall (15A) opens with a pair of casino heisters, siblings Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde), killing a policeman just shy of the Canadian border. Forced to split up, the pair take off on foot into the teeth of a blizzard. Eliza is picked up by ex-convict Jay (Charlie Hunnam), who is on his way home for Thanksgiving to his parents, June (Sissy Spacek) and the former cop Chet (Kris Kristofferson), and the scene is set for a climactic showdown. Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky from a script by Zach Dean, Deadfall is a deliciously old-fashioned road movie in the same vein as Bonnie and Clyde and Thieves Like Us. What gives it added spice is the creepily intimate relationship between Addison and Liza, but in broadening out the story to give Hunnam, Spacek and Kristofferson more screen-time, Ruzowitzky neglects to focus on the most compelling aspects. Bana, playing a tender-hearted killer and self-confessed ‘angel from the storm’, is by far the most intriguing character on show, and the movie flags in his absence.
Another set of warring siblings, Dorothy (Judy Davis) and Basil (Geoffrey Rush), feature in The Eye of the Storm (15A). Returning to Australia from Europe when informed that their mother, Elizabeth (Charlotte Rampling), is dying, the pair are forced to reassess their failings in life. Fred Schepisi’s film, which is adapted from the novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Patrick White, offers strong performances in the main roles, but it’s the mischievous maid Flora (Alexandra Schepisi) who steals the show. A collection of character studies that benefits from a black sense of humour, The Eye of the Storm is an affecting piece that confronts the indignity of dying.