Film Review: Domino

Brian De Palma’s Domino is a curious little thriller. The narrative suggests a serious tone, which is contradicted by the style. 

Detectives Christian and his long-time partner Lars attempt to apprehend a suspect, but something goes wrong. Christian wants revenge for his critically injured partner, but terrorists and the CIA have other ideas…

Domino is a by-the-numbers thriller, focusing on that familiar avenging a fallen partner strand. Here, the action takes place in Copenhagen, with Christian attempting to uncover the web that is behind the criminal who has gravely injured his partner. The film gives a contemporary twist by involving the perpetrator with an ISIS cell in Europe. Screenwriter Petter Skavlan’s narrative is not particularly illuminating however. There is little to no nuance to most of the characters, with the antagonists appearing especially one dimensional. 

Moreover, the direction that the narrative takes is not particularly gripping. The presence of the CIA seems only there to paint the organisation in a bad light, as justifiable as this may be. As Christian and Alex track the perpetrators, the tension that should be present is absent. The twist gives an interesting angle, but the characters have not been sufficiently developed to move the audience. 

At odds with the serious plot is the style of Domino. A director known for his flair, Brian De Palma’s choices here certainly are interesting. The frequent cuts zooming ever closer to objects gives the film an overblown air. This coupled with the intrusive score makes the film feel more like a parody than a serious thriller. By juxtaposing a playful style with a serious plot, it is unclear what De Palma was hoping to achieve. Coupled with a bizarre climax, the film is a tonal mess. 

Domino features some very good actors, yet their performances are lacking here. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau seems ill at ease in the leading role, and Carice van Houten fails to convince. Guy Pearce meanwhile delivers an almost comical turn. 

Domino is undoubtedly one of De Palma’s worst efforts. Hopefully it is a blip in an otherwise commendable tenure.

Domino is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital HD from 5th August 2019.

Film Review: Brimstone

Brimstone

Martin Koolhoven’s film is unrelenting and unforgiving. Brimstone can be difficult to watch, but it enthrals nevertheless.

Liz provides a midwifery service, along with her young daughter, for the women in her village. When a new preacher arrives in town, Liz immediately fears that she and her family are in danger…

Brutish and bruising, Brimstone is a thriller that does not know when to quit. But make no mistake, this is a good thing. Writer-director Martin Koolhaven has created a opera of suffering, vengeance and retribution that takes no prisoners. The film is not for the faint-hearted.

Divided into four parts, Brimstone tells the story of a young woman, and the preacher that plagues her. The film is told in a non-linear format, with later chapters filling in the gaps in the story. The first part leaves viewers with a lot of questions. Koolhaven keeps his viewers hooked.

The narrative engages throughout. The film maintains an air of mystery for a significant portion of the duration. The later chapters give more context to the events of the first chapter. Whilst the air of mystery may dissipate by the final chapter, viewers will be rooting for the protagonist in the game of cat and mouse. There is a good deal of tension present in the film’s climax.

Koolhaven teases the audience with moments of false hope throughout the film. Liz has much to overcome, and elicits sympathy and admiration. Brimstone’s protagonist is thoughtfully depicted as a strong female. As the title suggests, the film has overt biblical overtones. The character of the preacher epitomises the hypocrisy of patriarchal, organised religion. Above this, he functions almost as the devil; there are some supernatural undertones to proceedings. Dakota Fanning gives a very impressive performance as Liz. Guy Pearce brings a frightening menace to his role.

Atmospherics in the film are potent, thanks to excellent art direction and sound design. Brimstone is a gripping thriller.

Brimstone is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.

Film Review: Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3

Lashings of humour make Iron Man 3 an enjoyable ride. This may not be what all viewers expect, but it is the aspect that makes the film so entertaining.

Following the success of the Avengers initiative, Tony Stark is compulsively working to improve his technology. When a new threat hits close to home, Stark realises that he must concentrate on what matters the most and protect America from a deadly threat…

Iron Man 3 does not reinvent the wheel as far as superhero tropes are concerned. Themes of identity, revenge and power reign supreme. Without the humour, Iron Man 3 would have been very standard comic book movie fare. Moreover, there is a lack of genuine tension in Shane Black’s film. Thankfully, the comedy makes up for this.

The Iron Man 3 script is peppered with humour; the film is almost as much a comedy as it is an action blockbuster. Pacing in the film is fine, although it lacks the feeling of building up to a big climax. The narrative is pretty much what viewers will expect this far along in a blockbuster franchise. Iron Man 3 features the requisite twists and ambiguous characters.

The effects in the film are faultless. The finale does play out on a big scale, production-wise, although again it is lacking in the suspense viewers may hope for. The 3D looks fine, but fails to add significantly to the film.

Iron Man 3 sees Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle reprise their roles. Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley are good additions to the film.

Iron Man 3 is a good end to the trilogy, if this is all the Iron Man films there will be in this current series. Ardent fans may be surprised  by the direction taken by Shane Black, but it is a most entertaining movie.

Film Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

With the intention of increasing night light sales, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark offers the traits of a vintage horror. In terms of creepiness, the film is pretty effective.

Sally is a young girl who is sent to live with her father and his partner in New England. Architect Alex and interior designer Kim intend to renovate the house they are working on. The property gives Sally ample opportunity to explore. However, it appears that Sally is not alone when she hears voices calling her name…

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is effective on a creepy level, rather than being all out terrifying. There are some jumpy moments in Troy Nixey’s film, but less so than a film such as Insidious. Instead, Don’t Be Afraid takes a different tact, opting for a more subtle, unsettled feel.

Loosely based on the 1973 television movie of the same name, Don’t Be Afraid features a screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins. The film treads a rather familiar narrative path; featuring a child who sees supernatural things while the adults think it is all in her mind. Nevertheless, the film does not head entirely in the direction one may think; there are a few small surprises.

Much of the film is concerned with Sally; the audience is often made to identify with her with the choice of camera angles. In this way Don’t Be Afraid is most effective. Viewers should be able to empathise with the fear felt by the little girl, as well as her frustration when no one believes her. The sequences that take place in Sally’s bedroom are particularly persuasive in conveying the childlike terror that the film preys upon.

Despite some scares, Don’t Be Afraid does not tap into childhood fears and anxieties quite as Joe Dante’s The Hole. Dante’s film had a power and effectiveness that is missing from Nixey’s production. However, the special effects in Don’t Be Afraid are excellent, and the location, set and lighting combine well to create an atmospheric film.

Bailee Madison is excellent as Sally. Her performance is integral to the success of the film, and she does a fantastic job. Katie Holmes is also good as Kim. Guy Pearce, meanwhile, does not get to show much range as Alex, which is a shame as he is such a talented actor.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark may disappoint those looking to be petrified, but it works well on a more subtle level.

Justice Trailer

Justice is a new thriller staring Nicolas Cage, Guy Pearce and January Jones. I’m not sure if Nicolas Cage and January Jones would be married in real life, but that’s not really the point. From the trailer, the plot appears fairly predictable. However the film looks like it could be a lot of fun. And Guy Pearce is always good, so that’s a bonus. Justice is released on 18th November 2011.

Film Review: Animal Kingdom

The message that violence begets violence is rarely illustrated more clearly than in a film such as Animal Kingdom. David Michôd’s drama is compelling, and brimming with great performances.

After Joshua ‘J’ Cody’s mother dies of a drug overdose, he goes to live with his grandmother and her family. J becomes trapped between his criminal family and the detective who is after them; whichever path he chooses is dangerous…

Animal Kingdom is rather slow moving, but is compelling for audiences willing to give it a try. The narrative unfolds gradually; at the beginning it is unclear exactly what kind of direction the film will take. In exploring the family dynamics and J’s discomfort, Animal Kingdom is engrossing.

Animal Kingdom focuses on the character of J. The majority of scenes feature the protagonist, and viewers certainly identify with the teenager above all other characters. It is through his eyes that the audience sees his extended family, and the dynamics of their relationship. J’s difficulty in knowing how to react to situations with them and their dealings is something that most will be able to empathise with.

The dialogue in Animal Kingdom appears very natural. The characters interact in a very believable manner. The picture painted by Michôd is convincing in its depiction of crime and policing in Australian suburbs. Although the violence can be shocking, it is never really unrealistic.

Performances are great all round. James Frecheville is well cast as J. He acutely captures the awkwardness of the character. Ben Mendelsohn is great as Pope, conveying the character’s creepy exterior. Guy Pearce is solid as police detective Leckie, although his high billing is solely down to star name rather than the size of his role. Stealing the show, however, is Jacki Weaver as family matriarch Janine Cody. Weaver is excellent in the role, which is more complex than it originally seems. As the film progresses, it becomes clear just what a pivotal role Janine plays in her family’s affairs. Weaver is fantastic in Animal Kingdom, and thoroughly deserves the praise she is receiving.

Animal Kingdom is tragic in a number of ways, not least the fate of young J. It offers a negative but not improbable view that those who grow up with troubled backgrounds are doomed to repeat what they see. The entire Cody family is tragic, but it is of their own making. Animal Kingdom is an affecting film, one that is certainly worth the watch.