Cinema Movie Review: Youth (2015)

largeAgeing poorly

They say that youth is wasted on the young; I say retirement is wasted on the old. No, I don’t really mean it – other than for myself, of course. In general terms, I mean that people develop a strong work ethic after slogging for many years and they have difficulty retiring. I would like to front-load my retirement and do it now, before it’s too late and my work ethic has been totally and irrevocably formed.

Which brings me to Youth (2015), a film by Paolo Sorrentino. It is about a retired composer and an unwilling-to-retire film director. I had never heard of the director Sorrentino, but had been very tempted – at least by the trailer – by La grande bellezza (2013), but I didn’t get round to seeing it. Have to say that, unless I hear to the contrary, I am really glad I didn’t bother going. Drawing links between a trailer of one film and another full film may seem unfair. Nevertheless, I was impressed by both the cinematography, the beautiful landscapes and what seemed to be a story outside the normal run-of-the-mill. Those benefits aside, I have to say that Youth is truly a very bad film.

It pains me to write this, but not quite as much as it pained me to sit through it – Youth is a very, very bad film (sorry, I may have already mentioned this). I was also a little flabbergasted and disappointed that the cast had signed up for it. For goodness sake, this film had Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and a few others including Rachel Weisz and Jane Fonda, FFS. How on earth were they persuaded to turn up for this gig? I imagine they all fancied a bit of a holiday in the Swiss Alps. At the beginning I thought this is going to be great, but it wasn’t. A particular low point was the appearance of singer Paloma Faith, who was there as herself – I had to look her up afterwards and find out who she is and, regrettably, she wasn’t misrepresenting herself.

I could tell you a bit about the story…but honestly, I really can’t be bothered, it was so unbelievably dull. I heartily recommend that anyone who admires and respects the afore-mentioned actors avoids this film.

118 mins.

The Lovely Bones (2009)

The Lovely BonesMurder most bland

A big-screen version of such a complex, fast-paced book was always going to be a challenge. Director Peter Jackson, he of Lord of the Rings fame, had his work cut out portraying the tale of a brutally murdered 14-year-old looking down from heaven on her shattered family, writes Emma Portier Davis.

While Alice Sebold’s novel spends much of its time exploring the devastated lives left behind, the movie pays scant attention to developing these all-important characters.

Mark Walhberg’s (The Departed (2006)) portrayal of the father of Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan, who dazzled audiences in Atonement (2007)) lacks depth, although he does a fine line in tortured, hurt looks.

Rachel Weisz, of The Constant Gardener (2005), who is usually a favourite actress of mine, barely resembles a ‘torn-apart mother’, and her decision to ‘get away from it all’ is hurried into the plot, almost as an add-on. Together, the couple are barely convincing as parents who have just experienced such unimaginable horror, and their relationship with Susie’s sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) features very little in the script.

McIver, to be fair, has her moments, coming dangerously close as she does to becoming the paedophile’s next victim but, in general, the family members have lacklustre roles and there’s always a sense that they are mere devices to keep the plot moving, rather than characters in their own right.

Jackson has chosen instead to focus far too much on Susie’s saccharine, candy-floss heaven (to my mind, it’s garishly hellish) with just a few glimpses of the truly horrifying reality of her death, allowing Ronan little scope to show her talent. Meanwhile, the nature of heaven, a philosophical cornerstone of the book, is dumbed down.

The goriest details – the discovery of Susie’s elbow – are glossed over. It’s only Stanley Tucci (What Just Happened? (2004)), as the paedophile George Harvey, who saves the film. In fact, he switches between kindly neighbour to evil monster so spine-creepingly well that he’s almost unbearable to watch.

For fans of the book, the movie, while watchable, falls disappointingly short.

135 mins.

The Constant Gardener (2005)

The Constant GardenerRaking up trouble

This is one I re-watched by accident the other night (and by ‘accident’ I mean that I was too lazy even to change the channel so saw it through to the end). A horrifying movie – in the truest sense of the word – it’s nonetheless a compelling and enlightening view.

With a cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Pete Postlethwaite and Bill Nighy to name but four, this could have so easily been a complete luvvie-fest, devoid of any sentiment or narrative. Not so, luckily. Bolstered by some very accomplished direction by Brazilian Fernando Meirelles (Cidada de Deus (City of God) (2002)), and written for the screen in collaboration with the original author (John le Carré), this is a fully rounded story with a lot to say, and it’s very well played by all concerned.

Something else that sets the film apart is the very tight and well-paced score by Alberto Iglesias. Kind of low-fi electro music, which, to be honest, I would have thought incongruous if I hadn’t seen for myself how well it sat in the frame of the movie. It’s fair to say that it’s a testament to how important the music is when you don’t actually hear it most of the time. It’s set so well that it becomes a part of the film, rather than an ‘add-on’.

The story is told in a non-linear format, but that really isn’t anything to worry about. I am well-known for my limited attention span, and I kept up – so I reckon you’ll be OK. The quiet and patient Justin Quayle (Fiennes) is a diplomat working for the British Embassy in Kenya. His pregnant wife Tessa (Weisz) is about as far removed from the ‘trailing wife’ as it’s possible to be. Tessa has her work to do as well – only hers just happens to involve investigating global phamaceutical companies and their crimes against the Kenyan people. Justin knows something is going on, and when Tessa starts spending a lot of time with a colleague, Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Koundé), fears the worst. The thing he fears would turn out to be a blessing in his case – if only things were that simple.

Tess loses her baby and throws herself into her work. She spends one night in a hotel with Dr Bluhm, and then he disappears, then she is found brutally murdered. Once the truth about Tess’s life comes out, Justin is shocked and outraged. He vows to continue her investigations, even though he is warned off by his diplomatic collagues. He knows there is a very real danger he could end up in the same situation as her very quickly, messing as he is with power, corruption and greed.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate Fiennes a lot more. His ability to play a variety of roles has impressed me greatly – it only took me about two minutes to forget that he wasn’t Harry Waters from In Bruges (2008) any more.

Weisz, in turn, is also very good and richly deserved the Oscar she won for her ’supporting’ role.

The film is a slow burn, in that you’re not force-fed all the details straight off the bat, they are left to slowly drip in. It’s a spy thriller of sorts, but you already know who the bad guy is (well, probably). Although the events are based on truth and “any resemblance to persons living or dead…blah blah blah” you can tell that the sort of thing being discussed in the movie is really going on every day in Africa.

If you’re a fan of a good car chase or a punch-up, I really wouldn’t bother with this. If, however, you like a carefully constructed script, some fine camera work and top-notch performances – and a hard-hitting story line to boot, you should probably consider giving this a go, if you haven’t already.

129 mins. In English, Italian, Swahili and German.