Mis­sis­sippi turn­ing

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Movies - LEIGH PAATSCH

the pic­ture en­tirely. Skil­fully adapted from the Kathryn Stock­ett best­seller of the same name, The Help is set in 1963 – a touch­stone year in the evo­lu­tion of US civil rights.

In the all-too-typ­i­cal south­ern town of Jack­son, Mis­sis­sippi, we meet the three women who will go on to take a stand against the racism rife in their close-knit com­mu­nity.

The qui­etly-spo­ken Ai­bileen ( Vi­ola Davis) has been a maid since her early teenage years. Her salary has never bro­ken the dol­lar-per-hour bar­rier.

The loud and proud Minny ( Oc­tavia Spencer) is Ai­bileen’s best friend. She is also a ‘‘ lifer’’ maid, and is widely renowned for her skills in the kitchen.

Then there is Skeeter ( Emma Stone), a young white jour­nal­ism grad­u­ate who has re­cently re­turned to her home­town of Jack­son to get a writ­ing ca­reer go­ing.

Awak­ened to the night­mar­ish treat­ment of black do­mes­tic work­ers by the ter­ri­ble be­hav­iour of a for­mer school friend ( Bryce Dal­las Howard), Skeeter de­cides to write a book that ex­poses the hypocrisy of her peers ( and in one par­tic­u­lar case, her own family) once and for all.

To do so means burn­ing her bridges in Jack­son for­ever. But Ai­bileen and Minny have much more to lose. Skeeter only gained the back­ing of a pub­lisher by promis­ing a col­lec­tion of sto­ries told from their point of view.

So each time she se­cretly gath­ers more ma­te­rial, Skeeter is plac­ing the lives and liveli­hoods of the maids of Jack­son in great dan­ger.

Though The Help some­times gets close to be­com­ing an up­pity pan­tomime, the film al­ways cor­rects it­self at such mo­ments, thanks to an un­fail­ing moral com­pass. And also – rather sur­pris­ingly – some jolts of comic re­lief.

The Help has been de­signed to forge a con­nec­tion with the viewer on a purely emo­tional level. This it does with a sen­si­tiv­ity that guar­an­tees both its heart and head re­main in the right place at all times.

THIS bril­liant Irish pro­duc­tion is a shifty, cun­ning and glo­ri­ously of­fk­il­ter af­fair.

First-time writer-di­rec­tor John Michael McDon­agh clev­erly steals from sev­eral tired gen­res in­clud­ing, but not lim­ited to, the buddy com­edy, the action thriller and the last­good-cop-in-a-bad-town drama and passes off the lot as some­thing new. It isn’t, of course. But The Guard is so com­pelling and en­ter­tain­ing that you just could not care less about how it gets the job done.

Bren­dan Glee­son has the star­ring role of Sergeant Gerry Boyle, a self­con­fessed mav­er­ick po­lice­man work­ing a back-blocks beat in ru­ral Ire­land. This is a man who has been left to his own de­vices for too long to do any­thing by the book.

A stun­ning open­ing scene staged on a lonely coun­try road – the de­tails of which can­not be re­vealed here – en­cap­su­lates Boyle’s un­ortho­dox read­ing of the let­ter of the law.

It does take a while to get a han­dle on the true na­ture of Boyle’s char­ac­ter, largely be­cause of the ran­dom man­ner McDon­agh has driz­zled need-to-know in­for­ma­tion over his screen­play.

In weaker hands, this would be an open in­vi­ta­tion to draw re­ac­tions of im­pa­tience and worse from an au­di­ence. Not so with McDon­agh’s strong and supremely con­fi­dent work here.

Away from Boyle, the story has a happy knack of splin­ter­ing off in un­pre­dictable di­rec­tions.

The sud­den ar­rival of a hard­line FBI agent ( Don Chea­dle) on Boyle’s home turf is one such tan­gent worth fol­low­ing.

An­other, con­cern­ing a nasty trio of in­ter­na­tional drug smug­glers ( led by Rock­nRolla ’ s Mark Strong), sup­plies the movie with a high com­ple­ment of great punch­lines and shock­ing de­vel­op­ments.

TELLING TIMES: Emma Stone with Oc­tavia Spencer and Vi­ola Davis; and with Al­li­son Jan­ney ( in­set).

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