Movie reviews: Glassland, A Little Chaos, The Salvation

The best of what’s hitting the cinema this week.

Movie reviews: Glassland, A Little Chaos, The Salvation

Glassland ****

A Little Chaos ****

The Salvation ****

Dublin taxi driver John (Jack Reynor) lives the proverbial life of quiet desperation in Glassland (15A).

He’s the sole carer of his mother Jean (Toni Collette), an alcoholic whose mercurial mood-swings have her vacillating between aggressively haranguing matriarch and fun-loving, irresponsible teenager.

Helpless to reverse her lifelong downward spiral, and lacking the funds to ensure Jean receives professional treatment, John takes a short-term loan from a local criminal and quickly finds himself immersed in the murky underworld of human trafficking. Written and helmed by Irish director Gerard Barrett (Pilgrim Hill), Glassland is a haunting tale of life lived in the margins.

John’s is a shabby and sordid world, and Reynor provides a mature, brooding presence (one reminiscent of a more iconic movie, Taxi Driver), as he struggles to keep his family on an even keel.

Barrett’s storytelling is patient and assured as the tension gradually mounts, and he is rewarded with subtle but vivid performances from Reynor’s co-stars, including Will Poulter as John’s friend and Michael Smiley as a social worker, but particularly Toni Collette, who is superb in a very difficult role as Jean scrapes the bottom of the barrel of addiction.

It’s an unusual story in many ways, one that quietly explores the consequences of poverty and its criminal backdrop without recourse to histrionics or crude depictions of violence; instead it’s a compelling rumination on how circumstance contributes to thwarted love and crushed lives, all of it observed dispassionately, as if through a glass, darkly.

Set during the reign of ‘The Sun King’, Louis XIV, A Little Chaos (15A)

stars Kate Winslet as Sabine De Barra, a landscape gardener who is commissioned to design part of the gardens at Louis’s fabulous new court at Versailles.

Working under the aegis of genius landscaper André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts), Sabine finds herself thrust into the labyrinthine world of the royal court and its political and sexual intrigues, and even coming to the attention of Louis XIV (Alan Rickman) himself –— although Sabine is most intrigued by André, an artist who is financially and politically dependent on his unfaithful aristocratic wife, Madame Le Notre (Helen McCrory).

The romantic and philosophical tensions between Sabine and André provide A Little Chaos with most of its narrative drive, which is reflected in their opposing views when it comes to landscape gardening: he believes in classicism and order, while she believes in allowing for an organic chaos.

Meanwhile, the fine ensemble cast— Stanley Tucci and Jennifer Ehle also co-star –—deliver deliciously arch performances entirely in keeping with the Versailles project, which Louis XIV intended as a ‘new garden of Eden’ for a world of cynics, rakes and raddled old roués.

Rickman, who also directs, allows Sabine and André’s relationship plenty of time and room to flower, while further broadening out the story to allow for the court’s petty squabbles, infighting and flirting, cleverly juxtaposing sharp contrasts — the lush gardens that arise from precise engineering, say, or the meticulous public manners that belie the aristocrats’ grubby private behaviour –— to create a sumptuous historical drama, one laced equally with humour and lust.

The Salvation (15A) opens in America in the 1870s, as Danish farmer Jon (Mads Mikkelsen), welcomes his wife Marie (Nanna Øland Fabricius) and young son Kresten (Toke Lars Bjarke) to the Old West. When Marie and Kresten are murdered during the stagecoach ride home, former soldier Jon takes his revenge, which in turn incurs the wrath of Colonel Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the brother of one of the killers.

What follows is an escalating tale of brutal violence and bloodletting on a grand scale, as Danish writer-director Kristian Levring pays homage to the Western movie in virtually all of its incarnations.

Mads Mikkelsen makes for a terrific Western anti-hero, a monosyllabic unstoppable force of nature who prefers to let his guns do the talking, and he gets wonderful support from Eva Green as the mute, scarred Madelaine; Mikael Persbrandt as Jon’s loyal brother, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan in scenery-chewing form as the irredeemably evil Delarue.

And what scenery there is to chew – the blend of Scandinavian minimalism in terms of dialogue and characterisation is perfectly blended into the vast, bleak landscape of a particularly rugged Old West. Stunningly lit and shot by cinematographer Jens Schlosser, The Salvation is a hugely satisfying and unashamedly old-fashioned Western.

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