Amsterdam (15)


There’re a lot of familiar faces in this new Amsterdam, it can become a bit much. The cast may not count as particularly star studded, when compared to say The Towering Inferno or A Bridge Too Far, but they were epic disaster/ war movies, not some knotty, off-beat period mystery comedy.

Yet in the second tier roles you find Chris Rock, Andrea Riseborough, Zoe Saldana, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, Timothy Olyphant and Taylor Swift.

So what is all this thespian talent doing in Amsterdam? Well, they are not kicking back and taking it easy. Almost every performer is going at it full on. Prosthetic scars, heavy makeup and odd accents are the norm. In this Amsterdam, you go large or you go home. Myers’s (rather marvellous) performance as a British MI5 officer posing as a glass manufacturer is in the vein of his general in Inglourious Basterds. Christian Bale is a WW1 veteran with multiple scars and a glass eye. That last prop seems to have guided his performance because at times I could swear he was channelling Peter Falk.

All this makes the film sound like a histrionic Oscar pleader, but the performances all work well within the framework of a plot which starts in 1930s New York with two army buddies, a doctor (Bale) and a lawyer (John David Washington) being framed for murder after trying to establish if their wartime commander (Ed Begley Jr) has been murdered.

From there Russell's script spins a giant conspiracy that touches on the poor treatment of WW1 veterans, the treatment of black regiments on the western front, America's growing addiction to painkillers, and the fascist-leanings of various American industrialists. If I'd ever managed to finish one, I’d say that this sprawling half-glimpsed conspiracy peopled by over-the-top figures is reminiscent of a Thomas Pynchon novel.

But, for a film about two people on the run from the law, the pacing is lackadaisical. The little surreal touches often fall flat or confuse, and voiceover narration betrays a fear that audiences won't be able to follow the plot. Towards the end, it becomes unnecessarily preachy and explicit about its contemporary relevance: the threat of fascism and the menace of the super-rich. The film definitely fumbles its ending, but for its ambition and wit, I'd say it's worth accentuating the positive.

Directed by David O. Russell. Starring Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Anya Taylor-Joy, Remi Malek and Robert De Niro. In cinemas. Running time: 134 mins.

The Woman King (15)


On a list of actors least likely to be cast as an historical warrior leader, I'd guess that Oscar winner Viola Davis would be quite close to the top - behind Julie Andrews, Rowan Atkinson and James Corden.

But here she is, late-50s and matronly playing the leader of a female band of warriors protecting a king (Boyega) and his kingdom in early-1800s Africa. That she hasn't dramatically gotten into shape for the role makes her more convincing; she looks authentically battle-hardened in a way buffed-up male action heroes never do.

An (almost) entirely black cast with predominantly female leads may look like something new, but this is in the tradition of the historical epic, though on a smaller scale than Braveheart and Gladiator. The pacing is leisurely by modern standards, apart from the restlessly edited battle sequences which look like they are being rattled through to make up for the underwhelming footage.

If the main thrust of the story can seem glib and corny, below that there is recognition of African complicity with the slave trade, and that the female empowerment here is simply brutal military indoctrination.

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. Starring Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, John Boyega, Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim. In Cinemas. Running time: 135 mins.

The Lost King (12A)


Ah, the English; so obsessed with class, even corpses have a pecking order. Richard III has been dead for five centuries with no known burial ground but, because he was the last of Plantagenets, we couldn't let him lie.

This is the story of office worker turned amateur historian Philippa Langley (Hawkins), whose research led to Richard's remains being dug up in a Leicester car park 10 years ago.

The film has some obvious flaws. The dramatic contrivance of having her talk to the spirit of Richard (despite Harry Lloyd’s charismatic portrayal) doesn’t work; it shortchanges her painstaking work by whipping through it in a few minutes and lazily turns it into a standard British underdog story.

A major theme is how Richard's image and reputation was trashed and distorted by the subsequent Tudor monarchs - aided by that craven suck-up Shakespeare. But this Based On A True Story does something similar. The real Langley is blonde, relatively tall and confident. Hawkins’ Langley is small and physically unimposing, with a Joan of Arc haircut, thus accentuating the angle of this being a feminist tale of an overlooked, undervalued woman battling complacent men.

Directed by Stephen Frears. Starring Sally Hawkins, Steve Coogan, Harry Lloyd, Mark Addy, Mark Ingleby, Amanda Abbington and James Fleet. In cinemas. Running time: 108 mins.

See for a review of the Criterion Collection release of Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.