Movie reviews: Our Kind of Traitor, Everbody Wants Some!!, Angry Birds

Our Kind of Traitor 4/5
Everybody Wants Some!! 3/5
Angry Birds 3/5

The post-Cold War landscape in international espionage has made for some surprising bedfellows, a fact to which the title of Our Kind of Traitor (15A) alludes.

Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor) is a professor of poetics holidaying in Morocco with his wife Gail (Naomie Harris) when they are approached by a Russian, Dima (Stellan Skarsgård).

A money launderer for the Russian mafia, Dima fears for the lives of his wife and children as a result of a mafia turf war being fought out in Moscow. 

Can Perry act as Dima’s go-between with British Intelligence back in London, and secure the safety of Dima’s family in return for information about corruption that goes to the very heart of the British political establishment?

Adapted from John Le Carré’s novel by Hossein Amini and directed by Susanna White, Our Kind of Traitor is a bracingly cynical thriller that revels in its realpolitik — Hector (Damian Lewis), the handler who takes on Dima’s case, is as impersonal as a chess master as he shuffles his pawns around the board.

Where the recent TV adaptation of Le Carré’s The Night Manager ironed out that story’s wrinkles in favour of creating a glossy thriller, White and Amini celebrate the nuances in Our Kind of Traitor, and particularly in terms of character. 

Dima, played as a vodka-fuelled but poignant shaggy Russian bear by Skarsgård, is no one’s idea of an ideal defector, while Lewis’s Hector is deliciously amoral, a clipped and apparently emotionless rogue operator who tramples over international law in order to satisfy his own agenda. 

McGregor, meanwhile, is solidly convincing as a dim but true polar star on the movie’s moral compass in a story that simultaneously celebrates and mocks Dima’s endearing belief in the myth of British fair play.

Everybody Wants Some!! (15A) is set in 1980 at a Texas university, as the college’s baseball team comes together in the days leading up to the beginning of term.

Written and directed by Richard Linklater, the story follows the hi-jinks of the frat boys — among them Jake (Blake Jenner), Jay (Juston Street) and Willoughby (Wyatt Russell) — as they come to terms with the new freedoms and responsibilities of college life.

Each one a superstar in his respective high school, the ballplayers learn that the hard work is only now starting; meanwhile, being a jock — even a freshman — in college brings a whole new dimension to chasing women.

Linklater has fun with this gentle (and surprisingly genteel) exercise in nostalgia, the boys’ relentlessly macho pursuit of women in the pre-AIDs era undercut by their ridiculous moustaches, migraine-inducing shirts, and high-waisted slacks. 

There’s an innocence to it all that is characterised by Jake’s sweet fumbling in his courting of Beverly (Zoey Deutch), but the story never really delivers on its early promise.

There’s a stilted quality to the supposedly naturalistic banter between the baseball boys, and the scenarios, played straight and without irony, can feel flat in their delivery, or on occasion even clichéd, particularly when Linklater begins to shoehorn in some pithy philosophy rooted in baseball.

It’s also true that there are far too many characters clamouring for our attention; had Linklater chosen to focus more carefully on the burgeoning relationship between the very likeable Blake Jenner and Zoey Deutch, the story might well have developed an emotional connection with the audience it otherwise lacks.

Anger is an energy, according to PiL, and there’s plenty of anger and energy on offer in Angry Birds (G), a feature-length animation developed from the ubiquitous video game. 

Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) is a bird with anger management issues, but when his island is invaded by a host of green pigs led by Leonard (Bill Hader), Red’s hair-trigger temper becomes a virtue rather than a vice. 

But can Red really achieve the maturity required to lead his fellow birds to defeat the dastardly pigs?

Directed by Clay Kaytis and Irishman Fergal Reilly, Angry Birds is a frenetically paced movie that fizzes along as Red reluctantly befriends Chuck (Josh Gad), Terence (Sean Penn), and Bomb (Danny McBride), and marshals his troops for an assault on the pigs’ island.

It’s a solidly constructed tale, with much of the humour — fart and pee gags are very much to the fore — aimed at a very young audience, but while it’s kaleidoscopically colourful — again, expect a very young audience to be mesmerised — the dazzling visuals don’t entirely disguise the fact that Jon Vitti’s script lacks the quality of subversive inventiveness that has characterised the great animated movies of recent years.


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