Oh, those Russki crims

The Weekend Australian - Review - - FILM REVIEWS - David Strat­ton

The Equal­izer (MA15+) Na­tional re­lease The Skele­ton Twins (M) Na­tional re­lease In Bloom (Grzeli Nateli Dgeebi) (M) Limited re­lease

AC­CORD­ING to a bru­tal and almost com­i­cally un­con­vinc­ing thriller, the Rus­sian mafia is so deeply en­trenched in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety that only a lonewolf hero can save the day. Th­ese heav­ily ac­cented vil­lains, armed with im­prob­a­bly elab­o­rate firearms, have cor­rupted Amer­i­can po­lice and have com­pletely taken over all forms of crime, from pros­ti­tu­tion to drug-run­ning to arms deal­ing. They have ware­houses filled with mil­lions of dol­lars in cash, and in an emer­gency can al­ways count on bring­ing well-armed re­in­force­ments in by pri­vate plane from Moscow, no ques­tions asked. They seem in­vin­ci­ble, but they make one mis­take: they come to the at­ten­tion of Robert McCall (Den­zel Wash­ing­ton).

The film, scripted by Richard Wenk and based, rather loosely, on a late 1980s tele­vi­sion se­ries that starred Ed­ward Wood­ward, isn’t very clear as to McCall’s place in the scheme of things. He lives alone in a small, ob­ses­sively tidy apart­ment in Bos­ton, works in a large hard­ware store, and is charm­ing and help­ful to fel­low em­ploy­ees. He reads the clas­sics and suf­fers from in­som­nia, so most nights about 2am he walks down to a 24-hour cafe for a cof­fee. That’s where he meets Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young pros­ti­tute. They have con­ver­sa­tions about the books McCall is read­ing ( The Old Man and the Sea, Don Quixote), but it’s clear that she lives in fear of her pimp. When Alina is bru­tally beaten and winds up in hos­pi­tal, McCall de­cides to take ac­tion.

Sud­denly this or­di­nary Amer­i­can is trans­formed into some­thing close to a su­per­hero, able to kill half a dozen nasty Rus­sians, us­ing a va­ri­ety of lethal weapons that in­clude corkscrews, with­out any ef­fort what­so­ever.

And that’s only the start of the may­hem; as the film pro­ceeds we gather that McCall has a back­ground with some un­spec­i­fied gov­ern­ment agency, and that he’s mourn­ing the loss of his wife. But whether he’s work­ing un­der­cover or sim­ply driven to ac­tion by his friend­ship with the un­for­tu­nate Alina re­mains un­clear. At any rate, his ob­ses­sively vi­o­lent cru­sade even­tu­ally leads him to Moscow (Putin be­ware).

It’s sad to see a star of Wash­ing­ton’s stature re­duced to this sort of trash, just as it’s sad to see

The Skele­ton Twins,

The Equal­izer, the tal­ented Mar­ton Csokas play­ing the un­usu­ally sadis­tic vil­lain. Di­rec­tor An­toine Fuqua han­dles it all with jaded skill, and at in­or­di­nate length (two hours and 10 min­utes) but the film’s com­bi­na­tion of silli­ness and ex­treme bru­tal­ity is de­press­ing. MAG­GIE and Milo, the twins por­trayed by Kris­ten Wiig and Bill Hader in

are not at all close ge­o­graph­i­cally (they live on the op­po­site sides of the coun­try) or emotionally. Yet strange bonds link them. In the open­ing se­quence of Craig John­son’s ex­cel­lent in­de­pen­dently made fea­ture, both have reached the point in their lives where sui­cide is an op­tion. In Los An­ge­les, Milo, gay and deeply de­pressed, a fail­ure both pro­fes­sion­ally (he’s an out-of-work ac­tor) and per­son­ally, slits his wrists, while his sis­ter, whose mar­riage isn’t sat­is­fy­ing her, con­sid­ers tak­ing a fist­ful of sleep­ing pills. Both sur­vive — in fact, Milo’s sui­cide at­tempt brings them to­gether after a 10-year sep­a­ra­tion, and he agrees to re­turn to his roots and to stay with Mag­gie in the com­fort­able home in up­per New York State where she lives with her hus­band, Lance (Luke Wilson).

As John­son ex­plores the lives of th­ese dam­aged sib­lings over the next few weeks we grad­u­ally dis­cover more about them and what brought them to this point. Both were deeply af­fected by the death of their fa­ther in cir­cum­stances that are only hinted at, and nei­ther one is close to their mother (Joanna Glea­son), an an­noy­ing woman whose New Age philoso­phies are alien to her chil­dren.

Lance is an in­ter­est­ing character. At first he seems to be a thought­less jock whose in­ter­ests barely coin­cide with those of his wife, but grad­u­ally we see him as a de­cent, kindly man and re­alise that first im­pres­sions can be very mis­lead­ing.

That’s enough plot de­scrip­tion, as this is a film whose ef­fec­tive­ness de­pends on the grad­ual rev­e­la­tions of past and present trau­mas. Suf­fice it to say that Milo’s re­la­tion­ship with Rich (Ty Bur­rell), an older man, and Mag­gie’s with her scuba-div­ing coach (Amer­i­can ac­tor Boyd Hol­brook with a dodgy Aus­tralian muddy the wa­ters con­sid­er­ably.

The sur­pris­ing thing about this above-av­er­age re­la­tion­ship movie is its sense of hu­mour, some­thing you wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily ex­pect from a drama that starts with at­tempted sui­cide. Hader and Wiig are both vet­er­ans of the TV com­edy show Satur­day Night Live, and their con­sum­mate per­for­mances here in­habit the char­ac­ters of the twins and make them painfully, won­der­fully hu­man. Not that The Skele­ton Twins is a com­edy, far from it, and not that it doesn’t have a cou­ple of plot con­trivances; but Hader and Wiig are mar­vel­lous in their roles, and Wilson is their equal.

John­son’s achieve­ment is that he makes you care about all the main char­ac­ters, whose prob­lems and hang-ups en­twine dur­ing the course of this in­tel­li­gently made drama.

ac­cent), FILMS from Ge­or­gia (the coun­try, not the Amer­i­can state) rarely find their way to our cin­e­mas, so the award-win­ning is par­tic­u­larly wel­come. It’s the story of the close friend­ship be­tween two 14-year-old school­girls in Tbil­isi in 1992; the Soviet Union, of which Ge­or­gia was a part, has im­ploded, and fight­ing is tak­ing place not far from the city. But for shy Eka (Lika Bablu­ani) and her more so­phis­ti­cated friend Na­tia (Mariam Bok­e­ria) life is for the most part un­touched by the dra­matic events oc­cur­ring around them. They have to cope with the usual prob­lems of teenage girls. Eka lives with her mother and ob­nox­ious older sis­ter; her fa­ther is in prison, for un­spec­i­fied rea­sons. Na­tia lives in a crowded apart­ment and her par­ents are con­stantly fight­ing. Na­tia is the pretty one, and un­wit­tingly be­comes the source of vi­o­lence be­tween ri­val suit­ors and the vic­tim of what to us seem strangely me­dieval cus­toms, es­pe­cially given that the events de­picted are un­fold­ing lit­tle more than 20 years ago.

The film, di­rected by Nana Ekv­timishvili (who also scripted) and Si­mon Gross is small in scale but dra­mat­i­cally most sat­is­fy­ing. This pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety, lo­cated mid­way be­tween Europe and the Mid­dle East, is a mess of con­tra­dic­tions, both so­phis­ti­cated and prim­i­tive, and the place oc­cu­pied by th­ese girls, who are de­ter­mined to stand up for them­selves, is re­veal­ing. Beau­ti­fully pho­tographed by the dis­tin­guished Ro­ma­nian cin­e­matog­ra­pher Oleg Mutu, the film del­i­cately evokes the beau­ti­ful but crum­bling old city, its back­streets, its clut­tered apart­ments, its di­verse in­hab­i­tants.

Bablu­ani and Bok­e­ria are com­pletely be­liev­able as the two teenagers who have to grow up very quickly, and a long, un­in­ter­rupted scene in which the for­mer dances, alone, at her friend’s wed­ding is a high­light of an ex­tremely en­gag­ing movie.

Bill Hader and Kris­ten Wiig in

above; Den­zel Wash­ing­ton in

be­low

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