Where the streets have no shame

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY DON­ALD CLARKE DON­ALD CLARKE

LON­DON ROAD Di­rected by Ru­fus Nor­ris. Star­ring Olivia Col­man, Tom Hardy, Anita Dob­son, Kate Fleet­wood. Club, QFT, Belfast, 91 min Fans of The Simp­sons may well re­call the time when Mr Burns poured scorn on Smithers’s dream of writ­ing a mu­si­cal based on a doll: “Why not write a mu­si­cal about the com­mon cat, or the King of Siam?” Who knows how he might have re­sponded to Lon­don Road?

It would be wrong to call Lon­don Road the “Ip­swich Rip­per” mu­si­cal. Ru­fus Nor­ris’s new film, in com­mon with the award-win­ning 2011 Na­tional Theatre pro­duc­tion, does in­deed open as the po­lice close in on the se­rial killer Steve Wright. The fo­cus, how­ever, for this ver­ba­tim mu­si­cal is not the per­pe­tra­tor but his neigh­bours.

Writer Alecky Blythe spent four years in­ter­view­ing the

Tom Hardy as the cab­bie

res­i­dents of the epony­mous street. Her su­perb book and Adam Cork’s clever mu­sic draw on di­alect, in­to­na­tion and the lan­guage of vox-pop: “Ev­ery­one is very, very ner­vous, um, and very un­sure of ev­ery­thing,” goes one prom­i­nent re­frain.

Writ­ing an ear­worm-packed goes well, it will have the thrills of Dirty Harry, the hu­mour of The African Queen and the poignancy of City Lights.

Oh dear. It seems as if The Long­est Ride is the latest adap­ta­tion of a Ni­cholas Sparks atroc­ity. You know what that means. It has the thrills of The Bridges of Madi­son Coun­try, the hu­mour of Es­cape to Vic­tory and the poignancy of, erm, what­ever Char­lie Chap­lin’s least poignant film is.

It would not be fair to sug­gest that Mr Sparks has only one plot. He has as many as three, but he’s got a favourite to which he keeps loy­ally re­turn­ing. As in The Notebook and that one with James Mars­den, The Long­est Ride switches be­tween a ro­mance in the present and a par­al­lel re­la­tion­ship in the past. mu­si­cal while pre­serv­ing the me­ter and pitch of the orig­i­nal record­ings is, in it­self, a trick worth the ad­mis­sion price. But all the con­ver­sa­tional asides and off-the-cuff re­marks grad­u­ally co­a­lesce into a work that has im­por­tant and chill­ing things to say about jour­nal­ism, pros­ti­tu­tion and the pet­ti­ness of the pe­tite bour­geoisie.

From the out­set, the res­i­dents seem far more con­cerned that pros­ti­tutes are work­ing in their area than about the five sex work­ers who have been mur­dered. “They’re foul­mouthed slags,” notes one. “I feel sorry for their fam­i­lies but not them,” says another.

One res­i­dent is cheered when the po­lice cordon off the street four days be­fore Christ­mas: af­ter all, a bobby on ev­ery cor­ner is a dream come true. “No one stole our fes­tive wreath this year,” he mar­vels. A taxi driver (Tom Hardy)

Scott East­wood plays a pro­fes­sional bull rider who, while re­cov­er­ing from a par­tic­u­larly bru­tal de­bulling, meets up with a fine arts stu­dent played by Britt Rober­ston (whose fam­ily have no ap­par­ent con­nec­tion to Hol­ly­wood’s golden age).

Driv­ing home from a fling, they en­counter an el­derly man (Alan Alda) in a burn­ing car. As he is pulled from the ve­hi­cle, the geezer ges­tures to­wards a box, which, as stu­dents of Spark­siana won’t need to be told, con­tains letters that bring us back to an ear­lier ro­mance in a sim­pler time.

Where to be­gin with this ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble film? With the bull-rid­ing, small town ro­mance and coun­try mu­sic, the pro­ject is, as with all Sparks’s work, so soaked in turned am­a­teur pro­filer sketches out the killer’s bi­og­ra­phy be­fore any­one has been ar­rested.

Else­where, in the storm of media at­ten­tion, re­porters at­tempt to find pre-wa­ter­shed syn­onyms for “se­men” and de­liver triv­ial de­tails (“wear­ing a white shirt”) in a som­bre, sala­cious sing-song.

In the af­ter­math of the ar­rest and trial, the com­mu­nity re­sponds with a hang­ing bas­ket con­test and street party. “We just wanted to share our flow­ers with ev­ery­one,” trills busy­body-in-chief Ju­lia (the won­der­ful Olivia Col­man, who de­liv­ers the nas­ti­est line you’ll hear all year). A lone sex worker wan­der­ing through the ju­bi­lant street trum­pets the cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance.

It’s a shame that such a siz­able achieve­ment has been given such a tiny the­atri­cal re­lease. Amer­i­cana you feel as if you’ve been re­peat­edly vom­ited upon by a bald ea­gle. Mind you, he has, on this oc­ca­sion, moved away from the Wasp world to in­clude some more ex­otic im­mi­grants.

Jack Hus­ton and Oona Chap­lin play the old man and his girl­friend as kids. Whether you can buy these two as east Euro­pean Jews de­pends largely upon your ca­pac­ity for cre­ative self-de­cep­tion. The strat­egy of re­lat­ing their story through letters is ham­pered by its re­quire­ment for the char­ac­ters to end­lessly tell each other stuff they al­ready know.

Oh, and there’s the ti­tle. This may, of course, be a prob­lem only in Ire­land. But they may as well have called it The Big­gest Mickey. Sorry.

LES COM­BAT­TANTS Di­rected by Thomas Cail­ley. Star­ring Adèle Haenel, Kévin Azaïs, An­toine Lau­rent, Brigitte Rouan, Wil­liam Le­bghil, Thibault Ber­d­u­cat. Club, lim­ited re­lease, 98 min Hap­pily, the plans to mar­ket Thomas Cail­ley’s highly orig­i­nal French ro­man­tic com­edy as “Love at First Fight” seem to have been shelved and the pic­ture can jour­ney out with the ti­tle un­der which it played to much suc­cess at 2014 Cannes Film Fes­ti­val.

There are some cute meet­ings. A few lessons are learnt. But Les Com­bat­tants has the dis­tinct ad­van­tage of look­ing and sound­ing like very few films in its de­based genre.

Kévin Azaïs plays Ar­naud, a young man fight­ing to main­tain a car­pen­try busi­ness with his more in­ter­ested older brother fol­low­ing the death of their fa­ther.

In the open­ing ex­changes he rubs up against Madeleine (Adèle Haenel), the re­bel­lious daugh­ter of a mid­dle­class fam­ily, whose only am­bi­tion is to join the army.

Ini­tially, they don’t much get on, but sparks be­gin to fly when he fol­lows her to a com­mando-train­ing course in a for­bid­ding part of the coun­try.

It’s a nice idea for a com­edy – a touch of role re­ver­sal – and the di­rec­tor finds tasty di­ver­sions to place at the film’s edges. The cou­ple be­gin to bond over a lost fer­ret to whom the ruth­less Madeleine brings frozen chicks.

Ar­naud’s brother de­spairs at the younger man’s lack of com­mit­ment. Azaïs is con­vinc­ing as a man who can’t quite process his own emo­tions. Haenel is rather bril­liant as a woman con­ceal­ing her own vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties be­hind a wall of ag­gres­sion.

Les Com­bat­tants does, how­ever, take some time to reach its proper des­ti­na­tion: an ad­ven­ture in the scorched wilder­ness that springs from an en­tirely dif­fer­ent sort of film. The change in tone is welcome. We have seen more than enough French comedies that de­clared their des­ti­na­tion in the open­ing frames.

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