Movie Reviews: Suffragette, Sicario, The Walk

Set in pre-WWI London, Suffragette (12A) is a stirring account of the campaign for women’s voting rights which was led by Emmeline Pankhurst (a very brief cameo from Meryl Streep).

But it centres here on laundry worker and reluctant activist Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), who becomes progressively radicalised as political developments impact on her personal life.

Directed by Sarah Gavron from a script by Abi Morgan, the film is a fictionalised account of the suffragette campaign of ‘words, not deeds’ to force the political establishment to deliver not only the vote to women, but to consider the possibility that ‘there might be a better way to live this life’. 

Gavron paints pre-war London in drab browns and greys the better to emphasise the grim conditions of everyday life for working-class women, a backdrop that also enhances the vivid performances by Mulligan and her co-conspirators Violet Miller (Ann-Marie Duff), Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) and Emily Wilding Davison (Natalie Press). 

Virtually all the male characters are villains of one kind or another, with Brendan Gleeson in compelling form as an undercover policeman and the suffragettes’ tormentor-in-chief, although Finbar Lynch puts in an understated turn as Edith’s husband Hugh, a man unusually sympathetic to the cause. 

Mulligan, however, is the real star, providing a complex, nuanced portrayal as she embodies the humiliations, brutality and personal sacrifices foisted upon the suffragettes as they staked their claim for equality by taking on men – who only listen to the language of war, as one character claims – at their own game.

Sicario translates from Spanish as ‘assassin’, or ‘hitman’, but the main protagonist in Sicario (15A) is FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), a principled idealist in the ongoing battle to stem the flow of illegal narcotics from Mexico into the USA. 

Co-opted to a special task-force led by Department of Defense adviser Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), with the stated aim of tracking down the notorious but elusive cartel boss Fausto, Kate very quickly discovers that her ideals of due process and justice are liabilities in a very dirty war. 

Written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Denis Villeneuve, Sicario is a movie that thrives on tension, as Villeneuve employs the thriller genre to examine the elements of corruption, double-dealing, vested interests and hypocrisy that all play their part in creating a war-zone of the border area between Mexico and the US. 

If the Mexican ‘Narcos’ are brutal and sadistic, the supposed good guys of the FBI and the DoD are equally capable of illegal – or certainly extra-judicial – measures in order to achieve their goals, not least of which is employing the sicario of the title – Alejandro, played by Benicio del Toro – to eliminate their targets.

Villeneuve sets himself a tough goal, which is to give the story a raw, rough-edged realism that also plays like a stylish Michael Mann thriller, but for the most part he succeeds, helped hugely by compelling performances from Emily Blunt as the movie’s liberal conscience and Benicio del Toro as its bluntly effective realpolitik, with Josh Brolin deliciously cynical in a strong supporting role.

Based on real events, The Walk (PG) tells the story of how, in 1974, French high-wire artist Philippe Petit (Gordon Joseph Levitt) strung a cable between the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Centre and walked across it into history. 

Adapted by director Robert Zemeckis from Petit’s own book of his dizzying feat, To Reach the Clouds, The Walk is an unusual mixture of tones: we initially get a kind of knockabout comedy account of Petit’s early years as a busker, magician and aspiring circus performer, with Levitt playing Petit as a kind of mischievous Charlie Chaplin figure. 

Spotting an artist’s impression of the Twin Towers in a dentist’s waiting-room, however, Petit realises his destiny, and soon the movie has morphed into a kind of heist flick as Petit and his accomplices – Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony) and Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), among others – set about putting in place the gear that will be required for the illegal, dangerous and subversive act that Petit declares will be ‘the artistic coup of the century.’ 

That sounds rather self-regarding, but the third act of the movie (yet another switch in tone) certainly lives up to expectations as Petit embarks on his high-wire walk – although, given the kind of performance he puts on whilst twinkle-toeing across a single cable 800 stories up, ‘walk’ is a shamefully poor description: the final 15 minutes of The Walk represents some of the most viscerally stunning cinema you’re ever likely to see on a big screen.


Lifestyle

March is the perfect time to take action when it comes to your lawn, writes Peter DowdallGrassroots campaign: Take action in your lawn

Robin Maharaj, director at Kilkenny Architectural Salvage and AntiquesRobin Maharaj: ‘If you take a longterm view you won’t go wrong’

Fond recollections of a legend, an industry titan comes to Cork, Grimes' new album impresses critics, and Cork French Film Festival announces its lineup, writes Des O'DriscollScene and Heard: ‘Fail we may, sail we must’

Irish Examiner arts editor Des O'Driscoll picks his top gigs from the weekend's event, at venues around Cork City.Right Here, Right Now: this weekend's highlights

More From The Irish Examiner