Movie reviews for this week

The Gunman ***
Home ***
Insurgent ***

 

Sean Penn stars as Jim Terrier, the eponymous anti-hero of The Gunman (16s), which opens against the chaotic backdrop of the ongoing civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006. A mercenary sniper, Jim murders a government official on behalf of a shadowy organisation; in his scramble to evacuate the country, he leaves behind the love of his life, Annie (Jasmine Trinca).

Eight years later a repentant Terrier is working as an engineer with an NGO in the Congo when he narrowly avoids an assassination attempt. Determined to discover who is targeting him, and why, Terrier embarks on a globe-trotting mission to track down his former colleagues Felix (Javier Bardem), Cox (Mark Rylance) and Stanley (Ray Winstone).

Adapted from Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel and directed by Pierre Morel, The Gunman is an unusual thriller — Penn, for example, is the kind of cerebral actor we don’t normally associate with Jason Bourne-style action-adventures.

He’s convincing in the role of Terrier, buffed and toned and suitably cynical and hardnosed when laying waste to the hordes of would-be assassins who attempt to kill him in the Congo, London and Barcelona.

But the juxtaposition is a jarring one; for a film that lays claim to gritty realism in terms of its backdrop of black ops and geo-politics, the protagonist’s lethal resourcefulness strains credibility, as if James Bond had popped up in the middle of a John Le Carré adaptation.

That said, it’s a pacy, punchy tale that is very slickly produced, and Penn gets very strong support from his co-stars, particularly Ray Winstone.

Home (G) is the latest Dreamworks animated movie, and features the voice talent of The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons as Oh, an alien creature who arrives on Earth as the Boovs, led by Captain Smek (Steve Martin), invade our planet.

Given that the Boovs’ main talent is for ‘running away and skedaddling’, their method of invasion involves the gentle relocation of humans to a non-Boov part of the planet — all of which proceeds to plan until Oh accidentally broadcasts the Boovs’ whereabouts to their deadly enemy.

Allying himself with human girl Tip (Rhianna), who is trying to track down her relocated mother, Oh sets out to save his species — and in the process discovers the meaning of the word ‘home’. Directed by Tim Johnson, Home is a vividly illustrated animation that leans heavily on Jim Parsons’ quirkiness for its appeal (along with the expected humour involved in Oh coming to terms with his new world and its customs — Oh has a delightfully mangled take on basic syntax and grammar).

In this it largely succeeds, as Parsons invests a fairly straightforward story with enough diversionary comic moments to make it worth our while accompanying Oh and Tip on their round-the-world road-trip in a slurpy-powered hover-car.

Kids will likely love the super-bright colours, funky soundtrack and regular outbreaks of dance routines, but adults may feel that this is one road-trip in which Dreamworks have elected to take the road more travelled.

A sequel to last year’s box-office smash, Divergent, Insurgent (12A) finds teenage revolutionary Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) on the run having discovered, in the first film, the totalitarian ambitions of sinister leader Janine (Kate Winslet).

Janine is determined to wipe out Tris and her fellow renegades — including Four (Theo James), Peter (Miles Teller) and Caleb (Ansel Elgort) — who have disrupted the Faction system that has kept the population docile until now; meanwhile, Tris and her Factionless comrades plan to assassinate Janine.

Then Janine discovers a message from the Faction system’s founding fathers, a message that can only be unlocked by a true divergent, one such as Tris, who embodies all the virtues expressed by the various factions.

Directed by Robert Schwentke, Insurgent is an incident-packed sci-fi thriller set in a post-apocalyptic world, a kind of Lord of the Flies on an industrial scale or The Matrix in a minor key.

The twists and turns come thick and fast, as various minor characters swap sides and reveal unexpected identities, and matters become even more complex as the characters find themselves in simulated realities where identities are further blurred and reversed.

If the tale itself is exhilarating, the performances are less so: Theo James puts in an impressive turn, and Kate Winslet revels in hamming it up as the unapologetically evil Janine, but Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller are rather wooden, their performances curiously remote and uninvolving given the extremes of betrayal, double-cross and killing in which they are engaged.


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