The Forgiven (15)


Confession. I watched this under a marvellous McDonagh misapprehension, thinking it was the work of younger brother and playwright Martin who made In Bruges and Three Billboards, rather than the older brother, JMM, who made The Guard and Calvary.

Martin rankles with me because I'm still wondering how I was hoodwinked into writing a 5-star review for Three Billboards. JMM though had enough credit in the ledger from those first two films that forgiveness is not remotely an issue, even though his previous film War On Everyone, a nihilistic buddy cop film parody, was atrocious. This remains the case with this latest failed effort, a kind of Tui package holiday version of The Sheltering Sky.

Adapted from a novel by Lawrence Osborne, it's a clash of civilisations drama set in the Moroccan Sahara. Fiennes and Chastain are a bickering couple on their way to a weekend party at the remote castle home of couple Jones and Smith. (Oh Matt, I'm afraid my favourite Doctor is becoming quite the big screen Jonah.)

On the drive through the desert at night, Fiennes hits and kills a young Arab boy. After the boy's father arrives to collect the body, he is obliged to go off and make amends. Meanwhile, his wife and the rest of the guests drink, snort, cavort, enjoy the lavish hospitality that has been laid on for them and largely forget about Fiennes and his plight. The local staff watch them with a mix of disgust and indifference.

Fiennes is dependably splendid in the main role, gradually peeling away the layers of upper-class, public school boy caricature to reach the tormented person beneath. None of the other performers is offered the chance to dig deeper; the inference being that there is no depth to these people other than empty wretchedness. The superficiality of the film’s vision is summed up by the party scenes in which a few girls in bikinis wiggle around by the poolside. Surely, only in hip-hop videos is this anyone’s idea of a good time.

But it's the weaselly Western self-hatred that really annoys. Here all Westerners are debauched drunk parodies while the Arabs are wise onlookers who converse solely in witty, pithy aphorisms.

Directed by John Michael McDonagh. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Matt Smith, Caleb Landry Jones, Said Taghmaoui and Christopher Abbott. 117 mins.

Fall (15)


This is one of the rare occasions when you wish the special effects were less effective.

Fall strands two young adventurers at the top of a very tall (2,000 metres, or two Eiffels), very narrow, very old and very rickety TV tower in the middle of the desert, and though you know they aren’t real, those views downward do look mighty convincing. Considering this is basically what used to be called a B-movie, made independently for $3 million, it is a very slick production. (After the distributors picked it up, they spent some more money on it: digitally removing some profanities.)

This is the return of the minimalist survival tale, a genre that was quite popular a few years back with tales of people stuck on a ski lift/ adrift in shark-infested seas or Ryan Reynolds buried in a box.

This is one of the best. Granted, there’s something slightly mechanical about waiting to see how all the little hints dropped in the first half will play out in the second, but it’s exciting and very satisfying. Though the story has its soppy moments, these are balanced out by some gleefully callous reversals.

Directed by Scott Mann. Starring Grace Caroline Currey, Virginia Gardner, Mason Gooding and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Running time: 107 mins.

The Gold Machine (PG)


This fictional documentary meshes two opposing worlds: the dreamy, indulgent world of high-brow, fiction, and the brutal, merciless reality of colonial exploitation.

Its central figure is one Andrew Norton, a construct of Byrne’s face, Dillane’s voice, and famed psycho-geographer Iain Sinclair’s words. A solitary windbag, he rattles around in exile in the decaying art deco splendour of Marine Court on Hastings seafront, fretting about the legacy of his great grandfather Arthur Norton, a Victorian botanist sent to Peru to scout for locations for coffee plantations.

Meanwhile, his daughter Frane is in Peru, retracing his steps and interviewing the Asheninka people about their historical exploitation at the hands of the Peruvian Corporation.

Got all that? I was so consumed by trying to work out what I was watching that I barely engaged with its thesis on how railways, Christianity and coffee were used to exploit the local population and enrich London. Shamefully, I was more interested in the posy seaside intellectualism than the earnest socially concerned travelogue.

What level of first-world privilege is it to utter lines like “The Hastings seagulls, which used to remind me of Virginia Wool?” An outrageous slur: these poop spraying chip stealers are are neither snobbish nor anti-semitic.

Directed by Grant Gee. Featuring Stephan Dillane, Michael Byrne and Farne Sinclair. Running time: 93 mins.

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