Ultimately unfulfilling Elmore Leonard adaptation from Shakespeare In Love director John Madden. Mob hit man Blackbird (Mickey Rourke) teams up with psycho dimestore cowboy Joseph Gordon-Levitt, together they cause grief to separated husband and wife Thomas Jane and Diane Lane. That’s about it. Some decent enough performances, just all tries too hard to be a bit quirky.
Firstly the bad: just what is the accent of J (Andrew Howard) supposed to be? Who thought ex-This Life lawyer Jason Hughes should put on a mockney voice and don an Oldman-in-Leon wig as mid-level dealer Charlie?
Now the middling: bloke (Gilly: Louis Dempsey) leaves prison and wants to turn straight, but is sucked straight back into the game by mate, J. Being a gangster is mostly dull, stupid and unprofitable. Only a few big guys make any money out of gangsterism (Max: Adrian Dunbar, and Jackie Junior: Gerard Butler). Successful crime lords live in modernist palaces and edge towards minimalism. Henchmen say little or nothing.
And finally, the good: despite the voiceover shtick, it plays out well. The ending is strong and dare I say it, pretty powerful (though maybe I took my eye off the ball to not see it coming). The script, from leads Howard and Dempsey, plus Harry Brown scribbler Gary Young, is well above average for a low budget British crime film. The relationship between J and Gilly is complex and interesting. Despite occasional lapses into overused tropes (abandoned warehouse lairs, waterside apartments, etc), some excellently-realised scenes.
Going Off Big Time
Neil Fitzmaurice (Ray Von from Phoenix Nights writes and stars as an ordinary Liverpudlian bloke forced by happenstance into criminality. Standard tropes throughout, some recycling of urban legends, a moderately interesting framing device (royally fucked up by Sarah Alexander being so hammy), and some likeable performances. Nothing special, but neither is it lamentable. Directed by Jim Doyle.
The Great Escape
Classic wartime prison camp breakout picture from John Sturges. Not a foot wrong throughout.
The Dogs Of War
John Irvin’s first big picture after helping the intricate mini-series of John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and a very competent staging of Frederick Forsyth’s mercenary novel it is too.
The original book is nine-tenths about detailed explanations of arms buying, logistics and transportation; thankfully Irvin condenses all of that down and concentrates instead on how fucked up our main merc, Jamie Shannon (Christopher Walken) is.
Once we get to the actual coup attempt, it’s all rather ordinary – lots of grown men running around in the dark making bang-bang – but you do get a sense of the rush these killers-for-hire are searching for, especially when it’s over so quickly, and then followed by the quiet, the corpse-strewn battlefield, the flies and the hum and the steam from the bodies left out in the sun.
The politics of it all are brushed aside, obviously – though there’s a strain of ‘hey, we might do the dirty work, but we’re simply honest professionals; it’s the pricks that hire us who are the real bad guys’ self-justification to it that like the casual racism throughout is rather contemptible.
Tedious take on the ‘ageing mobster tries to reconnect with son’ story, which inexplicably seemed to attract awards and big names to its cast. Former stunt coordinator Jesse Johnson directs, with Raymond J Barry as the titular hit man and Michael Weatherly (the joker from NCIS) as the fruit of his loins. Everyone seems out of his depth here, clutching at film clichés instead of finding true character motivation, except Steven Bauer, who plays a sleazy mob-connected club owner, Tom Berenger as Valentine’s parole officer, and Keith David (briefly) as an elderly confederate. Dull, hackneyed, doesn’t go anywhere interesting.
On paper a great idea – a low(ish) budget New Zealand splatstick comedy, in the vein of Peter Jackson’s early work, in which a an ‘ovinephobic’ former farm boy, Henry (Nathan Meister), is forced to face his fears when the genetic experimentation of his dickhead older brother Angus (Peter Feeney) turns a flock of grass-munching woolgrowers into vicious killers with a taste for human flesh.
In reality, though, it’s slow-going, and not neither very funny or scary. Too much of it is played out in shadows, which obscures the action; the big set piece An American Werewolf In London-inspired ‘becoming’ scene is placed right at the end of the film (after we’ve already seen loads of partial transformations); and there’s never really any point to anything.
Plus we lose one of the most interesting characters (Tammy Davis’ farmhand Tucker) near the start, and the whole eco-activists (whose actions set off the whole thing, à la 28 Days Later) angle is weak. Overall a decent enough debut from writer-director Jonathan King (no, not that one), just far less good than it could have been.
Old-fashioned wartime adventure from Belgian director Étienne Périer, following up his English-language Alistair Maclean spy novel adaptation from the year before, When Eight Bells Toll, with this tale of a First World War officer (Michael York) sent on a dangerous espionage mission. Dirigible airships feature large. Pretty gripping fluff, with obligatory romantic subplot (though one played imaginatively).