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Date: 27 March, 2006
Steve Couch reviews films recently released on DVD.
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Lord of War
Guns. Lots of guns. But don’t be fooled by the marketing – Lord of War may feature more weaponry than a Rambo convention, but this is an intelligent, thought provoking expose on the realities of international arms dealing.
A quick look at writer/director Andrew Niccol’s previous work (Gattaca, The Truman Show) suggests that this wouldn’t be a vacuous by-the-numbers action thriller. Cleverly, Niccol puts a human face on the vast, global problem of international gun running, drawing us in to the story of Yuri Orlov (Nicholas Cage, who has rarely been better). Yuri is made human and likeable without becoming sympathetic. Although he lies through his teeth as easily as breathing for most of the movie, his unflinchingly honest narration adds balance to the drama and gives an outlet for Niccol’s editorialising.
Among a strong the supporting cast, Jared Leto brings vulnerability to the role of Yuri’s younger brother Vitaly and Ian Holm bristles contemptuously as old-school arms dealer Simeon Weisz.
The film isn’t afraid to push a particular message, but in a way that seems entirely appropriate to the developing storyline. Tellingly, the ending resists Hollywood sweetening, and the lack of redemption gives the film much of its bite – any compromise would have emasculated this impressive and powerful movie.
The extras are less impressive, with the usual range of (dull) deleted scenes and uninspired, heavily edited interviews. The featurettes offer a little more interest, particularly when the filmmakers admit just how far they had to get into bed with the arms dealers themselves in order to get the movie made.
There is an inside look at the international arms trade, which offers more information for those who want to take the arguments of the film further, but ultimately the whole package – film included – is better at shining a spotlight on the problem than on offering meaningful solutions.
Click here for the Damaris study guide for Lord of War.
The Constant Gardener
‘Big pharmaceutical companies, they are right up there with the arms dealers’. So says one of the characters in The Constant Gardener, which provides a not entirely contrived link from our first review to our second.
While Andrew Niccol sets his sights on the men behind the men of violence, Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles’ (City Of God) adaptation of Le Carre’s novel tackles the equally destructive world of pharmaceutical development. Meirelles is as partisan as Niccol, highlighting the skewed values of an industry which weighs the lives of its African guinea pigs against the profits of Western corporations. Like Lord of War, The Constant Gardener is a work of intelligence and righteous indignation which delivers a compelling argument and which never degenerates into trite cliché or propaganda.
Softly spoken, mild mannered diplomat Justin (Ralph Fiennes in top form) grows in stature as the film progresses, politicised and stirred into action by the conspiracy he uncovers while searching for the truth behind the death of his wife, Tessa (Oscar winning Rachel Weisz). It starts as a love story, hints at marital infidelity and ultimately reveals betrayal on a far wider scale.
As with any adaptation, much of the original Le Carre novel is left on the cutting room floor (a little of it re-emerges in the deleted scenes – part of an unexceptional package of extras), but this is still a challenging, provocative film which engages the audience in Justin’s quest for answers, and leaves us with more uncomfortable questions of our own. Excellent.
Click here for the Damaris study guide for The Constant Gardener
The Brothers Grimm
A marriage made in heaven: the dark fairytale world of the legendary German storytellers, as fashioned by Terry Gilliam, a latter day master of idiosyncratic dark visions.
This isn’t a biopic of the Grimm boys. Instead, the Grimms (Matt Damon and Heath Ledger) appear as characters in a typically twisted tale of fantasy, truth and delusion where all is not as it appears. Will and Jacob Grimm travel Europe staging elaborate cons, deceiving simple villagers and convincing them that not only are the folk tales they have known all their lives true, but also that only the bold brothers Grimm can save them. Predictably, things don’t run entirely smoothly for Will and Jacob, and they find themselves in the middle of what appears to be a genuinely spooky fairy tale which can’t simply be explained away with ropes, pulleys and mirrors.
Damon and Ledger are both cast against type, with Damon playing the more assertive, confident, womaniser Will and Heath taking the studious, hesitant, pliable Jacob. The chemistry between the brothers makes for a complex and believable relationship, and Gilliam surrounds them with a heady mixture of fantasy characters and exaggerated grotesques.
The double act between Richard Ridings and The Office’s Mackenzie Crook (fast becoming Hollywood’s quirky supporting oddball of choice) is particularly enjoyable. The blending of fantasy and reality bears classic Gilliam hallmarks, and while The Brothers Grimm may not be as complex or involved as, say, Twelve Monkeys, and the extras may be unexceptional, the film itself is still an enjoyable ride with hidden depths of feeling.
Sometimes less really is more. Bill Murray does a great deal while not doing very much in Jim Jarmusch’s tale of Don, an aging womaniser who is informed that he has a nineteen year old son.
Don sets out on a road trip to discover which of his old flames is the mother. Under Jarmusch’s expert eye, Murray and a high quality supporting cast take what could have been an episodic, formulaic road movie and shoot it through with genuine human experience.
From the beginning, Murray’s edgy stillness betrays Don’s sense of discomfort, and throughout we see a man peeling away the layers of his past and discovering where his past choices have taken him. The humour is wry and bittersweet, rather than laugh out loud funny. The conclusion manages to be poignant, infuriatingly unresolved and absolutely right all at the same time. As for the extras, sometimes less is less – this is one of those times. The film won’t be to everybody’s taste, but it’s a fine piece of work which is well worth your attention.
Click here for the Damaris Study Guide to Broken Flowers