Movie reviews

There are many different kinds of violence explored in writer-director Dan Turner’s The Man Inside (15A), as boxer Clayton Murdoch (Ashley Bashy Thomas) negotiates the perilous labyrinth of crime-ridden inner-city London.

The son of a wife-beating murderer, Clayton struggles to subdue his inner demons as he strives to protect his brother Jay (Lenox Kambaba), pregnant sister Kia (Zara Oram) and God-fearing mother Elizabeth (Jenny Jules) from the horrors of domestic violence, knife attacks and gun crime. It’s a timely thriller that has the courage to engage with some weighty issues, but Turner’s story is simultaneously convoluted and simplistic, with characters popping up in implausible scenarios simply to advance the polemical plot. Matters are not helped by the fact that most of Turner’s cast lack the subtlety of craft displayed by Peter Mullan, who plays a grizzled boxing coach. Thomas gives a powerful performance that incorporates pent-up rage, self-hatred and a frustrated nobility of purpose, even if his boxing chops are not quite what you might expect from a real prospect. It’s all very worthy, certainly, but you may finds yourself on the ropes by the end, praying for the final bell.

There are moments, particularly during the early stages, when Searching for Sugar Man (PG) feels like an elaborate spoof. How else to explain that a talent as singular as Sixto Rodriguez — whose songs sound as if Bob Dylan had been raised in a Detroit ghetto and reared on the blues rather than folk — might disappear so completely from music history? Rodriguez, according to Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary film, recorded two superb albums in the early 1970s, both of which failed to chart. His anti-establishment songwriting struck a chord in apartheid-era South Africa, however, where Rodriguez not only became the soundtrack to the revolution but eventually became so popular that he outsold Elvis. His status in South Africa, meanwhile, derives from his martyrdom. Did the singer really immolate himself onstage in protest against his creative failure? Or is he still out there somewhere, a ghost in the rock ‘n’ roll machine? It’s an intriguing and heartbreaking story, told for the most part by talking heads from South Africa’s music community, with contributions from Rodriguez’s family and friends. Rodriguez is arguably as elusive at the end of the film as he was when it began, but given the subject matter, that represents a creative triumph rather than a failure of the imagination. And the soundtrack is superb.

Another quixotic quest underpins Silence (G), a film from Pat Collins about an Irish sound recordist, Eoghan (Eoghan Mac Ghiolla Bhride), who leaves Germany to travel to his home county of Donegal, commissioned to record the ‘silence’ of nature at its most pure. “You’d want to be careful,” a barman cautions. “Too much of that would drive a fellow mad.” Certainly Mac Ghiolla Bhride has the looked of an obsessed prophet, sallow and bearded, brooding on how deeply he can penetrate a lost culture as he travels beyond the deserted parts of remote Donegal to the offshore islands. Collins aims for a documentary-style realism and a loose narrative that is barely sufficient to sustain anything remotely approaching ‘plot’ — essentially, Eoghan’s perambulations bring him into contact with locals who talk about their own experiences. It’s a haunting film, though, not least because it feels like a rare indulgence, allowing yourself the tactile pleasure of stepping outside the blare of the day’s rat-run to wallow in the luxury of hush, space and stalled time. It’s as if the entire film is one long Pinteresque pause, a deep drawing of some life-giving breath, and for that alone it’s a hugely enjoyable experience.

Red Desert (Il Deserto Rosso, 1964) (12A) was Michelangelo Antonioni’s first colour film, and this restored version — programmed by the IFI to mark the centenary of the director’s birth — does full justice to his then radical use of a vibrant palette. Monica Vitti stars as an emotionally vulnerable woman who drifts into a relationship with her husband’s business associate, played by Richard Harris.

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