Movie magic at Mages­tic

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The Din­ner

CATE Blanchett in­tended to make her de­but as a fea­ture di­rec­tor with this film adap­ta­tion of Dutch au­thor Her­man Koch’s chill­ing best­seller.

When she parted ways with the project, screen­writer Oren Mover­man stepped up.

Since no of­fi­cial ex­pla­na­tion has been given, it’s tempt­ing to at­tribute Blanchett’s de­par­ture to cre­ative dif­fer­ences.

Surely Blanchett’s ver­sion of The Din­ner, about two cou­ples who meet at an exclusive restau­rant to dis­cuss their sons’ heinous-but-thus-far un­de­tected crime, would have gone straight for the nar­ra­tive jugu­lar.

Mover­man, who di­rected Richard Gere in his crit­i­cally ac­claimed pas­sion project Time Out of Mind (2014), is more squea­mish.

As a film­maker, he skirts around the edges of the book’s mis­an­thropic bru­tal­ity, fo­cus­ing on the back story of its un­re­li­able nar­ra­tor Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan) in­stead.

Mover­man sig­nals Lohman’s psy­cho­log­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity from the get go when, in an early scene with wife Claire (Laura Lin­ney), he be­comes stuck in a repet­i­tive thought loop.

It’s a strong per­for­mance from Coogan – an ac­tor with a knack for mak­ing the most un­sym­pa­thetic char­ac­ter com­pul­sively watch­able.

Hu­mour is one of his tools of trade. Since there are pre­cious few laughs in The Din­ner, the role amounts to a con­sid­er­able dra­matic stretch. Lin­ney keeps a tight rein on his con­trol­ling wife Claire.

And round­ing out the strong en­sem­ble cast is Gere’s suc­cess­ful Se­na­tor Stan Lohman, who in­fu­ri­ates Paul even fur­ther by keep­ing his cool in the face of his brother’s con­stant hec­tor­ing, and Re­becca Hall as Stan’s younger, tro­phy wife, Kate­lyn.

But Mover­man’s de­ci­sion to flesh out his story with flash­backs and ex­po­si­tional di­gres­sions wrests Koch’s lean, mean thriller out of shape.


WHILE the box of­fice con­tin­ues to be dom­i­nated by block­busters, one mod­estly bud­geted movie has man­aged to pen­e­trate the heart of Amer­ica.

Gifted, the story of an unortho­dox Amer­i­can fam­ily strug­gling to keep it­self to­gether, has touched thou­sands, mak­ing al­most $25 mil­lion (A$31m) in the US.

Much of the film’s suc­cess comes down to di­rec­tor Marc Webb, who made the leap from in­die com­edy 500 Days of Sum­mer to The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man back in 2012.

One of the script’s many strengths is the fam­ily around which the film is based. Chris Evans – known for his role as Cap­tain Amer­ica – plays a sin­gle man who looks af­ter his in­cred­i­bly in­tel­li­gent niece. Their neigh­bour, played by the ever-won­der­ful Oc­tavia Spencer, acts as an­other parental fig­ure.

“That’s what hap­pens in cen­tral Amer­ica,” Webb says, ex­plain­ing why he wanted to de­velop a fea­ture fo­cused on a non-tra­di­tional fam­ily.

“It’s a sweet movie. It’s not a cin­e­matic mas­ter­piece but it cel­e­brates good things. It’s got a big heart, and it was fun to make. It’s a dif­fer­ent facet of Amer­i­can cul­ture in a re­ally pos­i­tive way.”

One of the main rea­sons Gifted con­nects with au­di­ences so well is be­cause of Evans. “We needed some­one who had a lit­tle bit of dark­ness while also hav­ing some hu­mour, plus a lit­tle sar­casm, all of which fit Chris per­fectly.”

Evans, Webb says, has some­thing most other Amer­i­can ac­tors lack at the mo­ment: a cer­tain mas­culin­ity. “It’s a weirdly tricky thing to find young, male, Amer­i­can ac­tors like Chris. As a di­rec­tor, it’s an in­ter­est­ing thing to go out and search for those ac­tors. Maybe Amer­i­cans come off as a lit­tle sen­si­tive, I don’t know.”

Webb di­rected both The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man and its se­quel. The stu­dio was ex­pected to launch a Spi­der-Verse to com­pete with Marvel’s very own Avengers.

How­ever, both projects have since been shelved by the stu­dio, which in­stead de­cided to team up with Marvel to pro­duce Spi­der-Man: Home­com­ing.

Whether the di­rec­tor re­turns to big-bud­get pic­tures or not, no doubt his op­ti­mistic out­look will seep onto the screen.

– From Screen Life, with The In­de­pen­dent’s Jack Shep­herd.

For full timetable go to­jes­tic­cin­e­mas

SWEET: Oc­tavia Spencer, McKenna Grace and Chris Evans in Gifted. PHOTO: ROAD­SHOW FILMS.

Laura Lin­ney, Steve Coogan, Richard Gere and Re­becca Hall.

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