The Irishman – Review

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Rating: 15
Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Stephen Graham, Ray Romano and Harvey Keitel.
Directed by Martin Scorsese.
Written by Steven Zaillian
Length: 209mins

Perhaps his most ambitious film to date, Martin Scorsese’s 2019 release, ‘The Irishman,’ delves once again into the mafia sub-genre that he is so often defined by. Bringing back to the screen many of the same actors and cinematic styles we have seen Scorsese work with before, this time the director explores the consequence of an aging generation of hitmen and mob-bosses. The story follows that of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a lorry driver drawn into the world of crime by the knowledge that he will now be able to provide for his family. His experiences are defined by the characters he meets and the jobs he carries out, but most importantly his relationship with the influential union-leader, Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).

It’s difficult not to describe this film without mentioning its length. Sitting at three and a half hours, not only is this Scorsese’s longest film, but it’s one of the longest in mainstream cinema from recent years. Many people may be turned off by such a run-time, but the film never lets itself to be defined by such a factor, and the pacing allows for a story to develop which is consistently engaging and intriguing throughout. Typical of the mobster-genre, the film dedicates a large portion to the introduction and development of key characters. Due to the film’s length we are able to properly understand the motivations each character has and the role that they play within Scorsese’s world. As a result of this, later scenes which feature conflict between characters have a greater amount of tension and complexity as a result of the relationship which has been built not only between the characters within the film, but between the viewer and the performers also.

Commonly known for his intricate characters and brilliantly quotable dialogue, Scorsese approaches the story of the ‘The Irishman’ in a way which almost subverts his self-implemented definitions of a gangster story. Though there are many personalities who wouldn’t appear out of place in one of Scorsese earlier works, the way in which these people are presented is approached in an entirely new and refreshing manner. Whilst Henry Hill was constantly seen evading capture throughout 1990’s ‘Goodfellas,’ for Frank Sheeran capture never appears to be a major concern, instead focussing on what he will do when he grows old – a direction which Scorsese hasn’t previously confronted. Perfectly captured in the environment in which De Niro’s character finds himself, and contextually relevant to the nostalgic look back on the careers in which many of the performers and the director himself finds themselves, the tone of the film considers what is left behind when all others have moved on. Even in a world of crime, where all the characters are defined by antagonist features, pathos is still created for those who lose their friends and family to time. Relevant to the films length, the context of the creators and the subject of the story itself, Scorsese understands that this is the greatest theme of the film, and works all elements of its production in such a direction.

‘The Irishman’ is a brilliant story, and at the hands of one of modern cinemas most influential filmmakers, the on-screen portrayal of such a story is intricately woven through an array of well-executed characters and cinematic techniques.

The Gentlemen – Review

Rating: 18
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, Henry Golding and Hugh Grant.
Directed by Guy Ritchie.
Written by Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies.
Length: 113mins

The Gentlemen is, on the surface, exactly what you expect it to be – it’s a Guy Ritchie, fast paced, gangster movie about the British drug industry. Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) is right-hand man to the UK’s biggest weed dealer Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey). When Raymond gets home late one night he finds Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a sleezy journalist who’s waiting for him. Fletcher has a story he’s ready to sell to the highest bidder involving Mickey, drugs, violence, and more, and as we watch that story unfold it serves as an introduction to a mixed bag of characters who’s stories intertwine whether they want to or not…

The 18 certificate is undeniably down to the sheer level of bad language and violence. I don’t mind either of these elements as long as they are telling a truthful story, if it’s all within context. I felt like some of the language in this movie was just thrown about and wasn’t necessary which tainted the overall experience. What surprised me was the carefully considered story line which was executed really well. The viewer experiences most of the narrative through the lens of Fletchers blackmailing story which was really effective, it doesn’t feel like it disjointedly jumps between the present and the past, it’s much more smooth which also reflects the characters and their natures.

The film is well formed and pretty to look at. While that’s aided by the brilliant cast, credit is deserved for the cinematographer Alan Stewart and costume designer Michael Wilkinson. Every scene has an air of class about it in both the way its shot and the wardrobe giving each character their own sense of style and purpose. They’re clear in our minds even before the characters have opened their mouths to speak, and their outfits become an extension of the kind of men they are at heart. From the beautiful suits to the leather jackets to Farrell’s track suit, it assists in the overall telling of the story.

Several of the actors fall into their comfort zones with these characters and that is not a negative comment, it’s exciting to see people do something they’re so good at while wrapped up in a story that could take a different route at any point. Charlie Hunnam is both smooth and terrifying all at once with a real sense of danger in every slight gesture while maintaining a gentlemanly front, McConaughey is just brilliant, as he always is, commanding the attention of each scene. But the biggest surprise for me was just how wonderful Hugh Grant’s portrayal of Fletcher is. He’s the total opposite to the charming, awkward leading man we’ve seen so many times before but is so committed to this funny little character. I found it both hilarious and captivating and really enjoyed seeing him play out of his typical casting type. I also enjoyed Michelle Dockery’s portrayal of Mrs Pearson – again the complete opposite of her role which shot her to stardom in Downton Abbey, she settles into the role naturally and doesn’t over compensate, she still carries a classy nature while expressing a believable link to the criminal world with flashes of danger that she carries both independently and in communion with her on screen husband.

This film seems to have gone slightly under the radar. I’m not sure whether that’s down to it’s certification or the fact it’s not a part of a mega franchise but it really is one to watch if you enjoy a good gangster movie. The intelligence of the story gives it more layers than just guns and egos and while painted with a classic sweep of Guy Ritchie it’s exciting and captivating with dashes of humour.

1917 – Review

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Rating: 15
Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, George Mackay, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden.
Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Length: 119mins

‘1917’ tells the story of two soldiers who must deliver a message to a battalion set to advance on the German front. The story may at first appear quite simple, but with time against them, land that no other soldier dare cross ahead and desolate areas of war which no longer feature any nature, but rather the cold wiring and metal of human influence, the narrative of ‘1917’ presents its own complexities and terrors.

Perhaps best described as an ‘anti-story,’ the events which occur throughout the narrative of ‘1917’ all work against the outcome which both the audience and the protagonist wish for. Rather than a piece of entertainment, the film presents itself as more of a dutiful respect to those who endured the horrors of war. Every step in the necessary journey which Schofield and Blake must carry out is another step towards our conclusion, and any event which distracts them from this is only a greater enemy to the overarching resolution of this story. Put simply, the audience desires to see them reach their goal before time runs out.

It would be unjust to describe ‘1917’ as simple. Of course, the narrative does remove many of the complexities which are found within a typical drama, but this is necessary for the sake of the realism which is created. Director Sam Mendes allows for a clear distinction between the goal-oriented plot and the wider thematic story. A multitude of relevant topics are touched on throughout the film, as our two leads articulate their approach to honour, family and trauma in ways which any two young men would. They don’t deliver any elegant monologues on what should be owed to those who lay down their lives, because that isn’t what their character would do. Instead, short anecdotes and simple sentences build a basis for what they feel is right in a world of conflict.

There are two key elements of film form which build on such an idea of personal perspective – the cinematography and the sound. Roger Deakin’s deserves all the praise that he has received for his contributions as the cinematographer of the film. Not only is the illusion of the ‘one-shot’ perfectly executed and used in a manner which is relevant to the story, as it allows for the narrative to develop in a way which can build tension or hold a moment of beauty with apparent ease, but also the ideas conveyed through the visuals compliment the message of each scene excellently. Composer Thomas Newman also provides another layer to the film, with an accompaniment which feels not only articulate but necessary. Each scene is developed as a result of his contributions. I also appreciated his decision to abstain from any leitmotifs – a recurring musical idea which accompanies a greater theme or idea – as this would lack relevance to the diegesis. Once these characters leave for the mission, their entire purpose is deliver the message they carry. Every second is a further exploration into the unknown, and the composition reflects this.

‘1917’ is an experience which brings to light many ideas. Not only from a film making perspective, but also in the way we remember and appreciate the sacrifices given by these young soldiers, with so many just wanting to do the best that they could for those around them, and those that they love.

Jojo Rabbit – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell
Directed by Taika Waititi
Written by Christine Leunens (Novel) and Taika Waititi (Screenplay)
Length: 108mins

Jojo Rabbit is loosely adapted from Christine Leunens’s novel ‘Caging Skies’. The story unfolds during the Third Reich’s final days, when 10-year-old Jojo Betzler (Griffin Davis) dreams of fighting for the Nazi regime. What appeals to Jojo is the thought of spending time with Hitler himself – and for the time being, he makes do with an imaginary-friend version, played by Waititi. The story looks at the home life of Jojo, his relationship with his mother (Johansson) and the discovery of the young Jewish girl that his mother is hiding from the Nazi’s.

This is a very specific style of movie, straight away some people will love it and others wont. I expected to enjoy this film but not be blown away and that’s where I landed. The trailer expresses humour that feels somewhat tongue in cheek but is bizarrely appealing; to see how a brilliantly funny and creative director might push some boundaries of what is acceptable to mock while still dealing with one of the biggest atrocities in the worlds history.

Visually the film is great; it’s easy to follow, artistic and vibrant perhaps in a way which most war time films are not. This emphasises the childhood innocence of our lead character and helps to carry some of the humour through the story. My main issue is that, although I personally enjoyed a lot of the jokes, the majority are at the beginning of the story. I found myself watching and waiting for the next punchline or absurdly amusing situation rather than allowing myself to connect with the characters. As the story takes a more serious tone I found myself desiring that connection which, therefore, impacted my reaction to the rest of film.

Any negative press, for the most part, has been about how the film fails to cut to the dark heart of the matter around how Jews (amongst others) were treated and the light-hearted approach which simply dabbles with the atrocities of the third reich. I understand these feelings but can also see very clear creative choices in doing this – whether everyone warms to it or not. I was uncertain when I first heard about the movie’s age rating, I thought that a 12A would naturally limit what they could express on camera, which obviously it does, but actually think that allowing a slightly younger audience into the experience might actually be of benefit, to encourage education around the importance of loving each other and caring for people who you might not understand or are different to you.

My rating is down to my personal enjoyment of this film. It really is one to watch and make up your own mind. I would advise watching the trailer and attempting to grasp whether this particular style of film and humour is one that you would enjoy. If you find that you don’t enjoy the film stylistically, then there are definitely still specific moments or performances that you might find entertaining and fulfilling.

Little Women – Review

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Rated: U
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep
Directed by Greta Gerwig Written by Louisa May Alcott and Greta Gerwig
Length: 134 mins

Adapted from the brilliant work of Louisa May Alcott, and directed by Greta Gerwig, ‘Little Women’ follows the story of four sisters who come-of-age in the USA in the 1860’s, a time when every household was affected by the civil war that divided the country. The story mainly follows how these four women adapt to this world, as they must quickly learn to support themselves and their own family.

‘Little Women’ has drawn much attention from the wide-array of successful actors within the feature, with the story led by Saoirse Ronan as Jo March, who provides a captivating performance. Attempting to balance a life of supporting her family whilst also making a successful career as a writer, Jo finds herself encountering romances, drawbacks from her writing and issues due to her gender. Ronan approaches all of these events in a way that truly embodies the character, and she appears on screen truly as Jo March. Though the clear lead of the narrative, Ronan’s time on-screen is well balanced between the rest of the characters, allowing for significant development between the sisters and those around them, whilst also leaving space for a satisfying conclusion that focuses on Jo’s own story.

Florence Pugh also delivers an excellent interpretation of Amy March, the youngest of the four sisters. With a narrative that frequently changes between the present and a previous series of events, the duality between Amy’s earlier adolescence and her later intelligence and maturity is brilliantly portrayed through not only the performance, but the film’s direction also. Her status as an aspiring artist puts her experiences into a similar vein as Jo March’s, and through often times nuanced and subtle mannerisms Pugh does an excellent job of expressing her struggles as someone who is often considered to be second-best.

The supporting roles within this film are also well-balanced and serve the narrative exactly as required. Timothée Chalamet performs as Theodore Laurence – the grandson of the March’s wealthy neighbour – dancing between all of the sister’s stories and influencing each in a unique way. Furthermore, the performances from Laura Dern, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper all provide their own voice to the story through the small quirks and subtle expressions of their characters, and only further develop the relationships of the film’s little women.

This film is beautifully shot, and the idea that each frame should tell the story visually is one that Greta Gerwig is highly successful at throughout. The use of 35mm, each scene’s composition and framing, as well as the set and costume design all build to moments of cinema that eloquently display the narrative rather than tell it. The musical composition is light when necessary, but also further explores the emotions of the film without the need to be pronounced. There are also a few scenes of more-experimental direction, such as characters reading their letters and notes directly into the camera in a setting that is removed from any other scene. Reminiscent of Spike Lee’s ‘Do the Right Thing,’ these shots only further benefit the conversation that this film explores, with themes linking to gender and equality in equal measure.

Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Women’ is a powerful piece of feminist literature, and Greta Gerwig continues to tell the story with further exploration into the status that women have in our world, in both the story’s setting and present day. In the film, Amy March says that “I want to be great, or nothing.” For Gerwig the same appears to be true, and with ‘Little Women’ she has created something truly great.