Assassins in a comic hit
A comedy crime caper that’s better than Tarantino; and Mike Leigh surprises with his own feelgood factor
WRITER-DIRECTOR MARTIN McDonagh’s blackly comic debut feature leaves few politically correct sacred cows unstoned. Hitmen Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) have been sent to the medieval Belgian town of Bruges to lie low while they wait to be contacted after pulling off a hit in London. Ken enjoys sightseeing, Ray hates the place, and their constant verbal sparring fuels a highly enjoyable odd-couple relationship.
It adds considerably to the sardonic flavour of a crime caper which manages to be funny, shocking and memorably tasteless. The lively, cynical climax, involving the duo’s London boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes, committing a cruelly accurate send-up of Michael Caine at his most cinematically Cockney) leads to a gunfight. “Why don’t you both put your guns down, and go home?” asks a hotelier as Harry and Ray exchange bullets, only to be put down by Harry’s contemptuous response: “Don’t be stupid! This is the shootout.”
McDonagh’s high-spirited, low-intentioned film has been compared to Tarantino. Fortunately it is far more disciplined and much better than that.
I T IS time to break out the thesaurus for Mike Leigh’s blithe new comedy. It is not just eponymously happy, but also joyous, joyful, cheerful, life-affirming and feelgood, as well as being his finest and funniest film to date. And it is blessed with an unforgettable, deservedly award-winning performance by Sally Hawkins as Poppy, a kooky young primaryschool teacher.
Leigh is not preoccupied with plot here. No matter. Instead, he offers a wonderfully observed, constantly entertaining slice of life as it follows free-spirited Poppy, introduced riding her bicycle through London with a radiant, spiritraising smile that instantly raises your spirits.
The bike is stolen after her comical encounter with a morose bookseller, but she refuses to be disheartened. After commenting wistfully: “I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye,” she gets on with making bird costumes for her pupils and enjoying nights out with flatmate Zoë (Alexis Zegerman).
In what is Leigh’s funniest sequence since the unforgettable rehearsal scene in Topsy Turvy, Poppy accompanies a colleague to flamenco lessons run by a droll Spanish instructor (Karina Fernandez), whose breakdown when she admits she was cuckolded by a “Swedish bitch” is a tour-de-force.
Poppy’s driving lessons with hectoring, uptight Scott (a landmark performance by Eddie Marsan) are hilarious, and, Scott’s obsession with his pupil forms a major and believably moving narrative strand.
It would be all too easy to heap praise on Leigh for his acute characterisation, crackling dialogue and perfect casting. Easy, but nonetheless appropriate.
(15) ALCOHOLIC LOS Angeles cop Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) goes to the line and well beyond it to rescue two kidnapped young girls at the start of this hard-edged and bloody thriller. “We’re the police,” he says, “we can do whatever the hell we want.”
Which is exactly what happens when, while being investigated for alleged wrongdoing by cynical Captain James Biggs (Hugh Laurie, doing an enjoyably grumpy riff on his moody medico in television’s House), he seeks revenge and sets out to clear himself.
Just about every brutal genre staple is here — gory gunplay, a high body count, unlovely well-used LA locations and a long list of familiar characters (an avenging policeman, duplicitous superiors, violent criminals). It is topped off by a knowingly sceptical screenplay (co-written by James LA Confidential Ellroy) and driven hard and fast enough by director David Ayer to keep you watching even when the action is unconvincing.
Reeves, who appears finally to have grown up, is suitably morose and murderous as Ludlow, Naomie Harris overcomes heavyhanded dialogue to make a good impression as the widow of Ludlow’s former partner, and, having won his Oscar playing Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, Forest Whitaker goes well over the top as Ludlow’s venal commanding officer.
(12A) TREASURE HUNTERS Ben (Matthew McConaughey) and Tess (Kate Hudson) have just divorced. The reason for the split is revealed by Tess’s sardonic divorce lawyer who observes: “You married the guy for sex and expected him to be smart?”
But the couple reluctantly join forces again to find sunken Spanish treasure off the coast of Florida (played here, quite convincingly in fact, by the coast of Queensland, Australia).
It sounds silly, and that is what this comedy adventure certainly is. But it is also fun, and just the job if you are looking for a glossy and deeply unde- manding evening’s entertainment.
The film raises many questions. Will the villains win out in the end? Will Ben and Tess end up together at the final fade? Will McConaughey ever put on a shirt? Will Donald Sutherland, playing a somewhat fey English-accented billionaire, be able to maintain a straight face in the face of the dialogue? And perhaps most pertinent of all, what on earth accent is Ray Winstone using for his overplayed villainous role?
Happily, all these questions (apart from Winstone’s contribution) are answered by a light and frothy confection that would make a perfect inflight flick.
Silly but fun: Kate Hudson in the entertaining Fool’s Gold
Ill-matched hitmen Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell star in Martin McDonagh’s blackly comic In Bruges