Like lambs to the slaughter
Lions for Lambs National release 30 Days of Night ( MA15+) National release An Old Mistress Limited national release Tell No One ( M) ( R) ( MA15+) Limited national release
DURING the past few weeks several films have been released in the US that deal with contemporary political events, Rendition , Redacted , In the Valley of Elah , Grace is Gone among them. So far, audiences have shown little interest and the Australian release of at least one of these films has been postponed for several months.
Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs is typical of this series of films only in that it’s a frontal attack on the policies of George W. Bush’s administration and the complicity of the mainstream media.
Most of the film, which is handsomely made, takes place during the same time frame but in three locations.
In Washington, DC, Jasper Irving ( Tom Cruise), an ambitious Republican senator and Bush ally, gives a personal interview to veteran television journalist Janine Roth ( Meryl Streep), revealing a bold new strategy to win the war in Afghanistan. He hints that action will be taken against Iran and that the government will do ‘‘ whatever it takes’’ to prevail.
At the same time, in Afghanistan, the assault begins and two young soldiers ( Derek Luke, Michael Pena) find themselves trapped on a mountaintop with Taliban forces approaching them, and in far- off California Stephen Malley ( Redford), the man who taught the two soldiers, is interviewing a brilliant but disengaged student ( Andrew Garfield).
Audiences will react to the timely political message contained in Matthew Michael Carnahan’s screenplay according to how they feel about present US policy. The problem with the film is that it’s overwritten and, frankly, dull. It feels like a play rather than a movie ( the scenes in Afghanistan even look like a stage set), and the predictable cutting back and forth between the three sets of characters becomes tiresome. The Californian scenes are murkily motivated; the Afghan scenes are unconvincing.
The best scenes by far are those between Streep and Cruise, and later between Streep and her boss; here you get a taste of what this contrived polemic might have been.
* * * THE vampire horror movie holds considerable fascination for filmmakers partly, I imagine, because it has been done so many times before that it represents a challenge to breathe new life (!) into the genre.
David Slade, British- born director of 30 Days of Night, rises to the challenge. Slade, who cut his teeth on TV commercials and music videos, came to attention with Hard Candy , the edgy film in which a girl turns the tables on a sexual predator. His new film, based on a graphic novel, covers basically familiar territory, but Slade gives it a whole new look.
The setting is Barrow, Alaska, the most northern city in the US ( although the movie was filmed almost entirely in New Zealand), and much is made of the fact that during midwinter when there’s no daylight the city is cut off from the outside world. And that’s when a bloodthirsty tribe of vampires invades the place, first killing the dogs, then attacking the humans.
Led by an unrecognisable Danny Huston, this is a formidable and seemingly unstoppable enemy, as sheriff Josh Hartnett and his estranged wife, Australian actor Melissa George, soon discover. You can pick numerous holes in this scenario — for example, the passing of time is never very clear — but there’s no doubt that the film succeeds entirely in what it sets out to do, which is to give horror addicts a very scary ride.
* * * AN Old Mistress is based on an early 19th- century novel by Jules- Amedee Barbey d’Aurevilly about a hedonistic young man who, even after his marriage to a beautiful, virginal bride, can’t abandon the pleasures of his mistress. This material seems at first unusual for director Catherine Breillat, whose films before now have not only unfolded in contemporary settings but have gone much further than most in exploring matters of sexuality.
Her first costume picture is, however, successful, mainly thanks to Asia Argento, who plays the resourceful mistress Vellini with posed wit and considerable sensuality. The result is an elegant and at times provocative comedy in which, despite creditable performances, Roxane Mesquida as the wronged wife and Fu’ad Ait Aatou as the unfaithful husband are overshadowed by Argento’s femme fatale.
* * * TELL No One, an award- winning success in France, is a contemporary thriller, based on a novel by Harlan Coben, in which Francois Cluzet plays a doctor whose wife is murdered, apparently by a serial killer. Eight years later new evidence is discovered that suggests the serial killer was not responsible and that the wife may still be alive.
It’s an intriguing yarn, but writer- director Guillaume Canet takes too long to tell it. The film is further hampered by the leading actor, who wears the same look of grumpy bemusement throughout. Luckily there’s a strong supporting cast, including Kristin Scott Thomas, Nathalie Baye and Jean Rochefort, and the plot, despite the lethargic pace, holds interest.
Contrived polemic: Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise create some of the best scenes in the antiGeorge Bush film Lions for Lambs