The Family ★★✩✩✩
In Fear ★★★✩✩
The assassination of John F Kennedy in Dallas in 1963 was one of the most seismic events of the 20th century, but Parklands (12A), which is written and directed by Peter Landesman, sets out to document the immediate aftermath of the killing and its impact on the ordinary people the history books tend to overlook. The film opens with Landesman introducing us to people such as the Parklands hospital personnel Doris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden) and Dr Charles ‘Jim’ Carrico (Zac Efron), and the amateur filmmaker Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), as they go about their daily business; meanwhile, Landesman splices in black-and-white newsreel footage of JFK as he attends public events and makes his way towards Dallas. We also meet secret service agents and bodyguards, and Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale), the brother of Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong). Given that we all know what must happen next, the opening part of the film is surprisingly tense. Equally surprising, however, is how poignant are the events that follow Kennedy’s assassination. Landesman brilliantly conveys the sense of chaos, paranoia and incipient anarchy that follows on from the shooting, his characters bringing history alive with their largely inadequate and entirely human response to the enormity of it all. In the accretion of tiny detail from the many lives of those who had first-hand experience of John F Kennedy’s death, Landesman has created a fascinating, thrilling and very moving account of a story we all believe we already know.
Robert De Niro stars as Fred Blake in The Family (15A), although Fred is an assumed name. Once a cog in the Mafia machine, Giovanni Manzoni (aka Fred) turned State’s evidence and betrayed his Mob friends. Now he’s on the run, in a witness protection programme, along with his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and teenage kids Belle (Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo). The movie opens with the family arriving in a picturesque Normandy town, but they’re nowhere as low-key as their handler Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) would like: Fred starts writing his Mob-related memoirs, Maggie fire-bombs a local supermarket, while Belle and Warren set about manipulating the local kids and running the local school like their own fiefdom. Once a mobster, always a mobster seems to be both the theme and the main source of black humour in Luc Besson’s film, but the tone is wildly uneven. The Blake family seek our sympathy on the basis that they are likeable victims and undeserving targets of potentially savage Mafia revenge, but the blend of cosy domesticity and the family’s propensity for pulverising violence at the slightest provocation is extremely disconcerting. Indeed, it’s very hard to know if Besson is engaged in a spoof of Mafia movies or satirising the public’s fascination with the Mob, and matters aren’t made any clearer when De Niro’s character gives an on-stage interview after a public screening of Goodfellas, regaling all and sundry with stories about the Mafia’s glory days and — consciously or not — mocking his own roles in The Godfather II, Goodfellas, etc. Despite the implausibility of the plot, the performances are actually solid throughout, although quite why De Niro was intent on creating a perfectly pitched shambling parody of some of his finest career moments only he knows.
Set in Ireland, filmed in England, In Fear (15s) is a tense thriller that gradually evolves into a psychological horror. Tom (Iain De Caestecker) invites Lucy (Alice Englert) to a music festival in rural Ireland, and then informs her that he has booked them into a hotel for a night. The pair — who hardly know one another — stop off at a local pub to ask for directions to the hotel, but after they leave they find themselves lost on the narrow backroads, constantly circling back to where they’ve been before. Soon they’re tired and bickering, and growing increasingly paranoid that someone out in the darkness is playing mind-games. Allen Leech co-stars in Jeremy Lovering’s feature-length debut, a film that pays due homage to the classic British horror-thriller Straw Dogs while retaining a playful inventiveness all of its own, although the final act lacks the chilling claustrophobia of the expertly handled set-up as the horror genre conventions come to the fore.
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