Where the streets have no shame
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.