Staying alive… just
Gerald Aaron on an over-complicated fantasy about immortality and a powerful portrait of an amoral African mercenary
The Fountain (12A)
Darren Aronofsky earns points for trying, even if, in the final analysis, he does not really succeed in pulling off his visually dazzling, metaphysically clouded fantasy about one man’s quest for immortality so that nothing — even death — can part him from his beloved.
An easy-to-follow, linear narrative from the director of Pi and Requiem for a Dream was obviously unlikely. Instead, what we get is three interrelated, interwoven storylines. In the present, doctor Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman) desperately fights to find a cure that will save his wife Isabel (Rachel Weisz) who is dying of cancer.
In 16th-century Spain, conquistador Tomas (Jackman) seeks the legendary Fountain of Youth at the behest of his beloved Queen Isabella (Weisz) while, in the 26th century, shaven-headed astronaut Tom (Jackman again) sails through space in a giant bubble seeking answers to millennium-long mysteries.
Confused? Aronofsky’s complex screenplay and stylish direction do not go out of their way to enlighten you. If there’s a message (for all I know, there is not one, and even if there is, I may well have got hold of the wrong one), it is probably summed up in Jackman’s line, “Death is a disease like any other and there’s a cure. And I will find it”.
Nonetheless, there is much to enjoy — more on a visceral than on an intellectual level.
The imagery (Matthew Libatique’s atmospheric cinematography is a considerable asset) is frequently astonishing; Jackman and Weisz acquit themselves commendably; and Aronofsky’s staging of violent action involving bloodthirsty ancient Mayan warriors succeeds in hitting hard without descending to the sadistic level of Apocalypto. Blood Diamond (15)
Fortunately Leonardo DiCaprio’s laughably bad South African accent (or, to be pedantic, Zimbabwean accent) does not detract from his powerful portrait of amoral mercenary-cum-diamond smuggler Danny Archer.
He is obsessed with gaining possession of a priceless diamond hidden by poor fisherman Solomon Vandy (Djimon Honsou) during the horrific 1990s Civil War in Sierra Leone in exchange for helping Vandy find his son, who has been forcibly drafted as a boy soldier by the revolutionary forces.
Director Edward Zwick maintains a fast narrative pace and uses wellchosen African locations to add verisimilitude.
Thanks to Charles Leavitt’s strong screenplay, there is an effective balance between pulse-racing action, searing suspense, shaming scenes of the brutal exploitation of the innocent and the story’s disturbing moral centre — the rape of a country’s riches for the benefit of the heartless few.
DiCaprio’s amoral soldier-of-fortune is his finest performance to date (better, even, than The Departed). Honsou matches him in intensity and conviction.
Jennifer Connelly, as the idealistic American journalist Maddy Bowen who comes to Sierra Leone to expose high-level complicity in the bloody trade in diamonds and doubles as DiCaprio’s love interest, gives a convincingly three-dimensional performance in a role that could easily have been simply a cipher.
Blood Diamond is not easy to watch — Zwick rightly pulls no punches in illustrating the bloody brutality of the revolutionary forces — but it is exciting epic-adventure entertainment whose thought-provoking message needs to be delivered. Venus (15)
Seventysomething actor Maurice (Peter O’Toole) is dying, literally, on his feet as he continues to work, playing “a corpse, more or less” in a TV production and then a period fop in a feature film.
Keeping him alive is his love (and sublimated lust) for young and feisty Jessie (Jodie Whitaker), the grandniece of his testy elderly actor friend Ian (Leslie Philips).
You do not often see a (necessarily chaste) romance between two people with 50 years between them. O’Toole’s splendidly conceived and played characterisation (he does the full luvvie and does it beautifully) is Oscar-worthy.
Whitaker makes an impressively convincing screen debut and is likeable, even at the character’s most irritating moments — of which there are many — while Phillips poignantly plays against his familiar playboy persona.
Even if you didn’t know it was a Channel 4 film, you might guess from the proliferation of foul language in Hanif Kureishi’s screenplay which, like his previous Channel 4 offering, the overrated The Mother, was directed by Roger Michell. Venus succeeds splendidly as a star vehicle, notably for O’Toole, despite Kureishi’s not entirely convincing, ultimately depressing meditation on the nature of love and the painful impermanence of life.
Rachel Weisz as 16th-century Spanish Queen Isabella in The Fountain