Movie reviews for this week

Run All Night ****
Suite Française ***
Goodbye to Language 3D **

 

A washed-up Irish boozer with a lethal streak a mile wide sounds a lot like typecasting for Liam Neeson in the wake of his post-Taken renaissance, but in Run All Night (15A) Neeson gets to stretch himself a little bit more than he has needed to do of late.

Formerly a hitman for his best friend, Irish-American mobster Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), Jimmy Conlon (Neeson) is a joke to his former comrades and a shameful memory for his estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman).

But when Mike, a limo-driver, witnesses a murder committed by Danny Maguire (Boyd Holbrook), and then kills Danny in self-defence, father and son are reunited for a desperate flight through the streets and alleyways of New York, as Shawn Maguire vows a terrible revenge on his former friend and his extended family.

Despite the contemporary setting, there’s an old-fashioned air to Jaume Collet-Serra’s thriller, a movie that could easily, given its pulp-noir tone, have been set in the 1940s or 50s. Packed with incident, murder, double and triple-crosses, it’s a lean and finely honed tale of loyalty, betrayal and the erosion of out-dated masculine values.

Neeson, broken and bedraggled, summons the cracked intensity of a Biblical prophet stranded in a desert, while Ed Harris plays the part of vengeful nemesis as if he’s mistaken the script for a particularly bloody Greek myth.

Despite the veterans’ experience, Joel Kinnaman more than holds his own with a sharply observed turn as a young father determined not to be tainted by his father’s sins, while there’s also a fine cameo from Nick Nolte.

Surprisingly, given Collet-Serra’s taut direction, Brad Ingelsby’s script wanders into irrelevance for the last ten minutes or so, but until then Run All Night is as punchy a hard-boiled noir thriller as we’ve this year.

Adapted from Irène Némirovsky’s novel, Suite Française (15A) opens in 1940 as the German army arrives to occupy a small French village. Living with her domineering mother-in-law Madame Angelliner (Kristen Scott Thomas), the naïve Celine (Margot Robbie) is instructed not to speak with the charming Bruno van Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts), the German officer billeted at their house.

Soon, however, Celine and Bruno discover a common love of music — she plays, he composes — and it isn’t long before romance begins to blossom.

The fact Irène Némirovsky died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942 undoubtedly gives Suite Française a tragic undertow, but the story, as conceived by screenwriter Matt Charman and director Saul Dibb, is rather clumsily done.

The characters are drawn with very broad strokes — the Germans are brutal, the upper-class French snooty, the good German is sensitive, handsome and a classically-trained composer — and the performances rarely rise to the challenge of fleshing out the caricatures.

Kristin Scott Thomas is as impressive as always, although wasted in a one-note role of waspish frustration, and while Matthias Schoneaerts provides a quietly dependable presence, there is virtually no romantic chemistry between he and Margot Robbie — although, to be fair, Robbie is struggling to deal with a character who is so impossibly meek and vacuous that Celine threatens to evaporate at any moment.

It’s beautifully produced, and Saul Dibb certainly makes the most of the fabulously rustic setting, but for the most part Suite Française is a staid and conventional WWII romantic potboiler.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language 3D (15s) opens with a quote from Plato, asserting that truth is beauty, before introducing us to an experimental narrative that offers twin stories about a similar pair of couples (Héloïse Godet and Kamel Adbeli, and Richard Chevallier and Zoé Bruneau) and the trajectories of their relationships.

It’s an obliquely told story, to put it mildly: spliced into the non-linear narrative of the couples’ journeys are snippets of old newsreels and black-and-white film, all of it edited with deliberate crudeness, complete with overlapping sounds drowning out dialogue and scenes cut halfway through.

To hammer home the point, much of the film appears out of focus, with the film occasionally running upside down, and the 3D element appears to be employed as much as a barrier between the audience and the film’s subject as anything else.

Meanwhile, the characters fight, woo and philosophise in an unending stream of elliptical, gnomic pronouncements that specialise in the cheap rhetoric of paradox. It all unfolds as an unwittingly hilarious parody of the worst excesses of art-house cinema, although it’s unlikely that that is the point Godard is trying to make.

It’s hard not to admire the veteran director’s irreverent dismissal of conventional form, certainly; but it’s equally difficult to admire the film itself.


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