Movie reviews: Captain America: Civil War, Demolition, Son of Saul

Captain America: Civil War 3/5
Demolition 4/5
Son of Saul 4/5

 

Captain America: Civil War (12A) opens in much the same way as The Incredibles (2004), with the superhero members of the Avengers called to account for the numbers of civilian lives lost during their ‘vigilante’ battles against sundry villains. 

Issued with an ultimatum that involves the Avengers agreeing to operate under the aegis of the United Nations, the crime-fighting team splits down the middle: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr) agrees that the superheroes would benefit from guidance and support, whilst Captain America (Chris Evans) believes that the Avengers needs to be non-partisan and answerable only to its collective conscience. 

Meanwhile, Zemo (Daniel Brühl) seeks to take advantage of the Avengers’ dispute by reprogramming the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and setting him on course to destroy the Avengers forever … Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, Captain America: Civil War offers (largely undeveloped) hints that the story is a vehicle for metaphorically exploring America’s self-appointed role as the world’s policeman, with the Avengers’ main spokespersons outlining hawkish and dovish arguments when it comes to unilateral action against threats to humanity. 

It’s a pacy story regularly punctuated by brawls and dust-ups, although there are so many superheroes vying for our attention that no one character emerges to truly engage the emotions (Tom Holland, in his brief appearance as a callow Spider-Man, steals the show with his blend of naivety and irreverence). 

Solidly constructed, and liberally peppered with in-jokes, the movie will likely satisfy the die-hard Marvel fans, although viewers entering the Marvel universe for the first time might find themselves a little bit bewildered.

Demolition (15A) Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Davis, who is at first stunned and then increasingly unhinged by the death of his wife Julia (Heather Lind) in a car accident. 

As his relationship with his father-in-law and employer Phil (Chris Cooper) begins to unravel, Davis finds solace in demolition, volunteering for a wrecking crew for the sheer animal joy of physical destruction. 

Written by Bryan Sipe and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, the film is an offbeat but hard-hitting exploration of grief. 

The central motif – Davis is engaged in destroying himself rather than the objects he demolishes – is initially a tad heavy-handed until matters are further complicated by Davis’s growing realisation that he never loved Julia. 

Compounding his struggle to act appropriately grief-struck is his growing attraction to Karen (Naomi Watts), who is herself finding it difficult to relate to her teenage son, Chris (Judah Lewis). 

Gyllenhaal is excellent in the leading role, playing a complex man who appears to be numbed into existential ennui by his trauma, although it’s equally possible that Davis was emotionally frigid (he appears to be something of a benign sociopath) long before his wife’s death. 

Cooper provides strong support as the grieving father (a man can be a widower or an orphan, he explains, but there’s no word to describe the status of surviving your child), and Watts, although criminally underused, is as self-effacingly brilliant as always in playing a woman who finds herself in a dilemma that is every bit as fascinatingly complicated as Davis’s.

Son of Saul (15A) opens with Saul (Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian Jew, working as a Sonderkommando in the gas ovens at Auschwitz. 

Due to be ‘liquidated’ at any moment, Saul takes on an impossible task: to find a rabbi to perform a proper burial on a young boy who survived the gas ovens only to perish soon after. 

Written by László Nemes and Clara Royer, with Nemes directing, Son of Saul is as sombre in tone as its storyline suggests, a film that doesn’t flinch from depicting the worst kind of Nazi atrocities. 

Nemes employs a palette of browns, greys and blacks to convey the hopelessness of Saul’s prospects; there is, noticeably, no soundtrack score, the soundscape filled instead with faintly heard screams, the dull trudging of feet, and the repeated guttural refrain of ‘Burn the pieces!’ (i.e., the corpses of the dead prisoners).

Much of the story, which takes place over two days, finds Saul in close-up, with the barbarity taking place behind him, or off-screen, as Saul sets about his bleakly quixotic mission of salvaging one last sliver of humanity from his hellish existence. 

Röhrig is simply stunning in the central role, his face carved from something ancient, the features warped by the burden of surviving and giving nothing away, to his gaolers or fellow prisoners, but his performance is all in the eyes, dark and hooded but ineffably expressive of a quality of mercy that is for Saul, even in the charnel house of Auschwitz, not strained.


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