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

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - David Stratton

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

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