Movie Reviews: Allied, Bad Santa 2, Paterson

Allied (15A) opens with Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachuting into French Morocco in 1942 before linking up with French resistance veteran Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard) in Casablanca, where they plot the assassination of the German ambassador. 
Movie Reviews: Allied, Bad Santa 2, Paterson

Bullets fly, romance blossoms, and the besotted pair escape to London. But is Marianne all she appears to be?

Written by Steven Knight and directed by Robert Zemeckis, Allied aspires to old-fashioned elegance in spinning its WWII espionage yarn (it’s no accident Max reads a Graham Greene thriller in bed at night), and it is undoubtedly a handsome film as its gorgeous leading pair swan around swilling cocktails and trading in secrets and lies.

There’s a patient, stately pace to Zemeckis’s storytelling which gives Pitt and Cotillard plenty of time to establish their on-screen chemistry, and the fact that they don’t entirely succeed has much to do with a plot that grows increasingly improbable once the characters move from Casablanca to London and the villainous spooks in the British secret service start casting aspersions on Marianne’s motives.

Marion Cotillard is in sparkling form here, a vivacious blend of sharp wit and cutting realism, but Brad Pitt is oddly subdued, his dull-eyed performance only redeemed by a belatedly passionate awakening in the latter stages.

Charming at times, implausible at others, Allied might have been a more exciting thriller, and offered a more engrossing emotional dilemma, had the makers used that Graham Greene thriller for research rather than set decoration.

Billy Bob Thornton returns as Willie Soke in Bad Santa 2 (16s), the booze-sodden, foul-mouthed and unrepentantly nasty antithesis of cheery Saint Nick.

The movie opens with Willie at rock-bottom at Christmastime, when he fails to commit suicide by sticking his head in an electric oven.

Soon, however, Willie is on his way to Chicago with his old partner and foe Marcus (Tony Cox), where they don Santa Claus and elf outfits, respectively.

There they hook up with Willie’s mom Sunny Soke (Kathy Bates) and scheme to steal $2 million from a charity devoted to underprivileged kids run by Diane (Christine Hendricks) and Regent Hastings (Ryan Hansen).

Written by Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross, and directed by Mark Waters (none of whom were involved in the original movie), Bad Santa 2 sorely lacks the charm and occasional moments of redemption that gave the original its heart.

Kathy Bates gets all the best lines, although that may well be because she delivers them with an old pro’s expert comic timing — Billy Bob Thornton simply sneers his way through proceedings, while Tony Cox is given little of real wit to play with.

The sheer chutzpah of the early stages earns a few sniggers, but the relentless abuse and constant stream of puerile, offensive one-liners first grows irritating, then monotonous.

Brett Kelly, playing the simple-minded youngster Thurman Merman, provides moments of light relief with his unshakeable faith in Willie’s good nature, but even this gentle soul is a figure of fun, his many kindnesses merely a set-up for yet another sloppily-delivered punchline at the expense of the Christmas spirit.

Paterson (15A) stars Adam Driver as its eponymous hero, a bus driver and unpublished poet who derives inspiration for his verse in the humdrum details of his hometown, Paterson, NJ.

Quiet and unassuming, Paterson appears to be the polar opposite of his girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), a mercurial and ambitious woman who fizzes with creative energy as she bounces from one project to another.

The scene appears set for a clash of wills, but this character study from writer-director Jim Jarmusch is by no means a conventionally structured story.

Told over the course of a week, it revels in Paterson’s mundane routine as he walks to work, listens to his passengers’ conversations on the bus, scribbles poetry on his lunchbreak, and returns home to hear Laura’s latest life-changing idea.

Meanwhile, the town of Paterson is as much Jarmusch’s main character as the poet himself, the camera constantly roaming away from the action to focus on apparently random details of this rundown, blue-collar burg.

Adam Driver is deliciously deadpan as the amiable, thoughtful poet, although Golshifteh Farahani steals the show with her zesty portrayal of unbridled (if frequently misplaced) optimism.

The mood overall may be downbeat, and the story overly contrived, but Paterson and Laura make for a delightfully offbeat partnership, and we celebrate with them their tiny victories over monotony and quietly cheer their refusal to accept that their ordinary lives cannot be transformed into something extraordinary.

Allied 4/5

Bad Santa 2 2/5

Paterson 3/5

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