Film

Things Heard and Seen

08/05/21

Netflix

Many films can be accused of not having enough going on but, in the case of Things Heard and Seen, there’s the opposite problem. There’s so much happening here the movie’s creators can’t seem to make their mind up exactly what they want this to be. In its early stages, it looks like it’s setting out its stall as a straightforward haunted house tale – but, as the convoluted storyline unfolds, it becomes much more than that. And really, this should be a positive development, because, let’s face it, there’s hardly a shortage of those. Ultimately, however, it’s TH & S’s ambition that makes it overreach itself.

It’s 1980 and Catherine Claire (Amanda Seyfried) is working happily as an art restorer (though she’s experiencing an ongoing battle with an eating disorder). Then her husband, George (James Norton), qualifies as a lecturer in fine art and promptly lands a job in Chosen, upstate New York. Almost before Catherine knows what’s happening, the couple and their young daughter have relocated to a remote farmhouse, one that by all accounts comes with a sinister backstory. Catherine feels isolated here, but is determined to make the best of things. The couple have the house renovated and even find part time jobs for Eddie Vayle (Alex Neustaedter) and his younger brother, Cole (Jack Gore), who actually grew up in the house – though George keeps this fact a secret from his wife.

George starts his classes and is an instant hit, both with his young female students and with his department head, Floyd DeBeers (F. Murray Abraham), who, it turns out, has a bit of a passion for the occult. Catherine starts experiencing troubling visions in the homestead – flashing lights, eerie whispers and glimpses of a sinister woman. And then it emerges that George might not be quite the charming, artistic academic that Catherine has always believed him to be…

Writers/directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini never seem quite sure which direction they want to head in next, and opt instead to veer left and right, trying to cover all the bases. The acting is mostly good (Norton in particular is deliciously villainous) and even minor characters are afforded plenty of characterisation, right down to Karen Allen’s realtor, Mare Laughton and Rhea Seahorn’s inquisitive neighbour, Justine. And, to the film’s credit, there are some scenes here that are genuine surprises.

But somehow the overall story arc fails to gel and several of the plot developments we’re asked to accept are frankly pushing credulity a little too far.

As it thunders headlong into its final third, all credibility has pretty much gone out of the window, and the last scene demonstrates a conceit that must have been in the author’s mind from the very beginning. It feels shoehorned in and makes for a disappointing conclusion to what has mostly been a decent enough entertainment. 

2.8 stars

Philip Caveney

The Mitchells vs the Machines

06/05/21

Netflix

A sinister organisation enslaves the planet Earth and the only surviving family must fight to free humankind.

It sounds like the plot of a po-faced, dystopian nightmare, doesn’t it? But in the hands of animation veterans, Lord and Miller, what emerges is an irresistibly good-natured romp, replete with funny one-liners and a whole stash of movie references. You’d have to be pretty dour not to enjoy what’s on offer here.

The Mitchells are essentially a family of misfits. Eldest daughter, Katie (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) is a movie-mad teenager (though with that name, you might reasonably have expected her to be more of a theatre fan). She spends every spare minute making films on her phone and is looking forward to going to college in California, where she can study the beloved art full time. Her little brother, Aaron (Michael Rianda), is dinosaur-obsessed and incapable of talking to girls. Mother, Linda (Maya Rudolph) is the family peacemaker, while her husband, Rick (Danny McBride), is so out of touch with the changing times, it hurts. Ask this man to send a simple text message and he struggles helplessly – and his idea of trying to bond with his daughter, as she prepares to leave home for college, is to set up an across country family drive to California, so they can all reconnect.

But, en route to their destination, an unexpected problem occurs. Like most other people in America, the Mitchells use PAL as their provider of all things digital – a brief look at one of the company’s pompous launch events tells you that we could easily substitute the word APPLE or FACEBOOK. Helmed by young social media impresario, Mark Bowman (Eric André), PAL is a complex system that can run every aspect of a human’s life. But, when Mark decides it’s time for an upgrade to a more sophisticated version, PAL doesn’t appreciate being made redundant and decides to initiate a coup. Almost before humankind knows quite what’s happening, they are being becoming slaves to their own creation.

But the Mitchells are not ones to give in easily…

Wittily scripted by writer/directors Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe, TMVTM takes off at a gallop and rarely pauses to stop for breath. The state of the art animation is cleverly interwoven with more simplistic flourishes, clearly designed to mirror the style we’re shown in Katie’s homemade animations and there’s a sprightly rock soundtrack against which a frantic series of chases and punch ups plays out. For those seeking a little more depth to the proceedings, there are also visual references to famous movies mixed into the formula. I spotted half a dozen on the first watch, and I’ve no doubt repeated viewings would unearth many more. Be warned, some of them are pretty obscure. (Look at the pattern on Katie’s socks, for instance. Do they remind you of a carpet in a famous movie hotel?) Seriously, movie nerds are going to have a field day with this.

The master stroke though, is having the villainous PAL voiced by Olivia Colman. Hearing her sweet tones wrap themselves around some very nasty commands is probably worth the price of a Netflix subscription all by itself. Oh and the Mitchells are also the owners of an amusing dog called Doug the Pug. Win, win.

Okay, so TMVTM does have a broad sweep of sentimentality running through its core, though it never feels too overdone. While this animation might not be on punching terms with the top rank of Pixar productions, it’s nonetheless a welcome slice of exuberant escapism with a serious message at its core.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Stowaway

04/05/21

Netflix

There’s a familiar shaggy dog story which concerns four passengers on a stricken airplane, who discover that they have only been issued with three parachutes and must therefore decide which of them is going to have to make do without one. Will a passenger do the decent thing and volunteer? Or will they simply opt to push one of the others out of the door? I wonder if writer/director Joe Penna took his inspiration from that same tale? At any rate, what we have here is a futuristic version of the same conundrum. In space.

Three astronauts embark on what will be a two year mission to Mars. They comprise Captain Marina Barnett (Toni Collette, for once given free rein to employ her native accent), biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) and wide-eyed medical researcher, Zoe Levinson (Anna Kendrick). The actual details of their mission are somewhat nebulous, but that’s not the main concern of this story, which is far more interested in moral dilemmas.

The plot kicks in when the three crew members discover an injured man lying inside one of the er… hatches. He is engineer Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson) who – in equally nebulous circumstances – has ended up wounded and unconscious onboard. He is quickly patched up by Zoe and, despite being somewhat bewildered to discover he’s not going home for two years, seems a nice enough fellow, determined to fit in with three strangers. But his presence on the spaceship has caused complications, not least of which is the fact that his prone body has somehow damaged a vital bit of equipment and… there will now only be enough oxygen to allow three people to reach Mars safely.

In short, one of them needs to die, fairly promptly. Unless of course, they can come up with a better er… parachute.

Stowaway is an unashamedly low budget affair and, while it manages to make the interior of the ship thoroughly believable, whenever the characters are required to step outside of it, the result looks like a less convincing version of Gravity. This is particularly evident in an extended sequence where David and Zoe undertake a perilous space walk along a constantly rotating structure in order to reach some oxygen tanks. While it manages to exert a degree of genuine suspense in the telling, this idea has been done before and, it must be said, more convincingly than here, most recently in George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky.

It’s nicely acted by Kendrick and Anderson, who make an appealing double act. Dae Kim and Collette have rather less to do and are mostly required to sit around looking glum. Understandable, under the circumstances.

More importantly, perhaps, that central moral dilemma is never satisfyingly explored and the story’s resolution does feel like a bit of a cop out. Still, this isn’t a total dud. It keeps me reasonably entertained throughout and it’s perhaps only afterwards that I start to seriously question some aspects of the plot. I can only say that Hyperion – the company that organised this mission to Mars – needs to take another look at its safety procedures.

And they should definitely start by providing more parachutes.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Black Bear

30/04/21

Curzon Home Cinema

Of course, my primary purpose here is to review Black Bear. But, before I do, let’s take a little look at Curzon Home Cinema. Why, I’d like to know, are there still no subtitles available for English language films on this platform? I try my best, where possible, to support indie endeavours over the major franchises, but this lack of accessibility is becoming something of a deal breaker. I can watch a film without subtitles; I just prefer not to. There are many, many people who simply can’t. Come on, Curzon. This needs to be resolved.

And so to Black Bear, sadly one of the most disappointing films I’ve seen in a while. It’s not half as clever as it keeps telling us it is; even the fabulous Aubrey Plaza can’t save this one for me.

Be warned: there are spoilers ahead.

There’s a remote house by a lake. It’s owned by a couple, Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon), who market it as a retreat for creative people. Blair is pregnant. Gabe is a failed musician. Along comes Allison (Plaza), a film-maker. She’s here to write, but spends most of her time sitting staring at the lake dressed in a red swimming costume. They’re all horrible. Blair and Allison become jealous rivals on sight. Gabe is a Lawrence Fox type, who thinks he’s being edgy by saying that feminism is the cause of society’s collapse. Blair says she’s a feminist, shrieks for a while and then cries. Allison sits dead-eyed, agrees with Gabe, then says she’s only joking. And fucks him.

I don’t know what writer/director Lawrence Michael Levine is trying to say here. It’s very muddled. Of course, characters don’t speak their author’s thoughts, but Gabe is given a suspiciously long time to expound his anti-feminist views in excruciating detail.

And then we have a switcheroo, sort of, except nothing really changes. Now we see that they are all making a film: Gabe is the director, Allison and Blair are actors. But instead of Blair and Gabe being a pair, it’s Allison and Gabe. But Allison and Blair are still jealous of each other, because… why? Because of Gabe? Because they’re two women in the same house and that’s just what happens? It’s a curiously old-fashioned view of female relationships.

The bear rustles in the undergrowth, a big unsubtle metaphor. When we see him, just twice, he looks passive, almost cuddly.

There are moments here that glimmer with promise. The deliciously uncomfortable conversation in the first act, where Gabe and Blair undermine everything each other says. The frantic chaos of the film set: the prompt (Jennifer Kim) who can’t find her page; the runner (Paola Làzaro) who’s got the runs.

But there’s a cruelty at the heart of this story that just doesn’t sit well, a mean-spiritedness that seems to pervade everything. The performances are flawless. But the story is a mixed-up mess.

2.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema

28/04/21

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Picture this.

I am twelve years old and I am somewhere in darkest Lincolnshire, sitting in the front row of a cinema, gazing open-mouthed up at the big screen. It’s 1963 and the film I’m watching is Jason and the Argonauts, which I have been lured to after watching a very enticing trailer on television. As I sit there, entranced, Jason and his armoured pals are doing violent battle with a bunch of creepy-looking skeletons, brandishing swords and shields.

And the thought that’s uppermost in my mind is, How have they done this?

Thus far, my experience of movie monsters is mostly actors lurching about in shonky rubber suits… or some latex tentacles held up with lengths of (clearly visible) fishing line. But this is different. This is stop-frame animation. And yes, of course I’ve seen King Kong on the telly, and it’s been kind of explained to me how it all works, but that’s an old black and white effort while this is in technicolour and… it’s something entirely new in my experience, something so thrilling that it sets my burgeoning imagination on fire. This, it turns out, is the work of Ray Harryhausen. He is going to be an influence on my own writing in years to come, but I don’t know that yet.

Over the years, I watch all of his films – and somehow they always belong to him, rather than to whoever happens to be the director. I catch up with his earlier efforts on TV, or on video when that becomes a thing, and I watch each successive new release on the big screen, right up to Ray’s swan song, Clash of the Titans, in 2010. It’s very rare for a special effects man to have his name on the movie poster, but for Ray Harryhausen, they always made an exception. I think it’s fair to say that I am a major fan of his work.

So you can imagine how excited I am when I learn about a forthcoming exhibition. I have it marked in my calendar a full year ahead of time. And then… well, you know what happens next. Covid. Lockdown. End of.

So, here I am, much later than anticipated and finally… FINALLY, it’s deemed safe for me to visit The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. As I step through the doorway, I’m thinking: this had better be good.

It is good. In fact, it’s VERY good, a comprehensive exhibition that follows Ray’s story chronologically from room to room, covering his early days as assistant to King Kong animator Willis O’Brien, his ‘Puppetoon‘ series for George Pal, his friendship with Ray Bradbury (coincidentally, my writing hero), and then into the glory days of his partnership with producer Charles Schneer – Jason and the Argonauts, the Sinbad films, One Million Years BC...

And I am in a sort of heaven, transported back to my childhood days as I move from exhibit to exhibit in a state of something suspiciously akin to wide-eyed wonder. Oh look! There’s the actual Mighty Joe Young! And there’s the Kraken! And those pesky skeletons, looking exactly as they did back in 1963, swords raised, ready for action.

But there’s much more than just miniature figurines. There’s a really useful set up that shows exactly how the stop-motion system works, arranged in transparent layers that pop up one by one. There’s a sequence showing just how patient and exacting Ray’s working process must have been as he manipulates a figure through a series of poses. There are rarely seen early attempts at animation, put together in his garage, and there are the meticulously rendered storyboards that would put most contemporary efforts to shame, all of them showing the influence of Ray’s main inspiration, Gustave Doré. And right at the end, there’s a green screen set up where you can stand on a cross and be transported into an exotic location, where you will be menaced by some of those iconic monsters from Ray’s fertile imagination.

When you’ve waited a long time for something to happen, the result can often feel anti-climactic. Not so here. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art have this gem on show until the end of August, so you’ve plenty of time to book your places. Everything fells very safe, with masks and social distancing scrupulously observed. Go along and marvel at one man’s incredible accomplishments.

5 Stars

Philip Caveney

Six Minutes to Midnight

21/04/21

Now TV

Eddie Izzard is well known these days for running marathons, so it’s perhaps appropriate that she spends much of this film’s screen time sprinting headlong across the countryside with vengeful Nazis in hot pursuit. Six Minutes to Midnight is an old-school espionage potboiler, very much in the tradition of The 39 Steps, where stiff-upper-lipped Brits take on Hitler’s double agents in plucky and indomitable style. Co-written by Izzard, the tale is set in the exotic location of Bexhill-on-Sea and is loosely based around a true story.

Izzard stars as Thomas Miller, applying for the role of English teacher at a boarding school for German girls on the eve of the Second World War. The twenty girls in residence – who seem to spend much of their time working on their deportment – are presided over by headmistress, Miss Rocholl (Judi Dench), and by the sole other teacher, Ilse (Carla Juri), who seems thoroughly charming. Miss Rocholl is doubtful about Miller’s abilities, but she’s in an awkward position, as the former English teacher has recently gone missing under mysterious circumstances, so she agrees to a trial period.

It’s not long before Miller has his German pupils merrily singing It’s A Long Way to Tipperary, which is an unusual approach to English, to say the very least – and it comes as no great surprise to discover that Miller isn’t really an English teacher at all…

As the story progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that hardly anybody here is quite who they appear to be. Is Charlie (Jim Broadbent) really a happy-go-lucky bus driver? Is Captain Drey (James D’Arcy) actually a British secret agent or something decidedly more sinister? And what is the significance of the film’s title?

To be fair, Six Minutes to Midnight makes a decent fist at generating a little mystery, but never really gets up a proper head of steam when it comes to the action sequences – and whenever the story stalls, it’s treated as a cue for Eddie to start running again. Poor Judi Dench has little to do but utter some of the lamest lines in history, as events spiral towards an underwhelming climax.

This is decent enough, but nowhere near as gripping as it needs to be.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

Promising Young Woman

20/04/21

Now TV

Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman is a remarkable debut, at once fresh, funny, terrifying and compelling. Starring Carey Mulligan, it tells the tale of Cassie, a med-school dropout with a mission. Cassie is thirty, but she still lives at home with her parents; she works part-time in a coffee shop and has no friends at all. Something calamitous happened back in her uni days, and Cassie wants revenge…

Except she doesn’t; not really. I keep reading that PYW is a ‘rape revenge movie,’ but Cassie doesn’t seem to want revenge at all. Instead, she confronts people with a metaphorical mirror, so that they can’t help but see how shitty their behaviour is. The ‘nice guys’ who approach her with dispiriting predictability when she pretends to be drunk and alone in nightclubs, offering to ‘help’ by getting her home; the girls who slut-shame their peers; the figures of authority who brush sexual attacks under the carpet – Cassie just wants them to acknowledge that they’re wrong. She wants to effect change.

This is a zippy, witty piece of writing, that often feels surprising, and Mulligan is on fine form here. She’s perfect for the role: one minute she’s all sweet vulnerability, the next a steely avenging angel. Writer/director Fennell makes important points about the way our whole society protects and enables those who perpetrate assault whilst punishing their victims, but the film never feels preachy or didactic; she has an admirable lightness of touch. The bubblegum shades and kitsch soundtrack give us hints of rom-com (the scene in the pharmacy, where Cassie and her new boyfriend, Ryan (Bo Burnham), dance to Paris Hilton’s Stars are Blind is a particular delight), but Fennell repeatedly pulls the rug out from under our feet and takes us to some unexpected places. The bold references to Charles Laughton’s classic Night of the Hunter, for example, work well to underscore the bleak reality the story unveils.

The violence, when it comes, is shocking in its understatement. There is no blood and gore here, but neither is there any let up – I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that what we witness is a deliberate, protracted act. It works though, and I applaud Fennell for eschewing the salacious prurience that often dominates such scenes (Paul Verhoeven’s Elle being a case in point, a movie spoiled for me by its focus on the very acts it claimed to rail against).

It’s easy to see why Promising Young Woman has made such a splash, and appears to be a real Oscar contender. If Fennell wins, it will be well-deserved.

4.7 stars

Susan Singfield

Run

18/04/21

Netflix

The title of this film is surely meant as an irony. What does a potential victim do when they are unable to run away from imminent danger? How can they hope to survive? Well, they must use their ingenuity of course – and this central premise is what fuels a tightly directed thriller from writer/director Aneesh Chaganty, who some will remember from his 2018 offering, Searching. Yes, it’s slightly schlocky, and you might not want to think too closely about some of the background details, but it spins a gripping and suspenseful yarn that never lets up until it hits its final frame.

Chloe (Kiera Allen) is a teenager beset with a whole host of health issues. Just to make sure we appreciate how many there are, they are spelled out over the opening credits. She has asthma and eczema , she has to make herself vomit every morning and, most punishing of all, her legs are completely paralysed. Luckily, she has a mom in a million. She is Diane (Sarah Paulson), a woman who has devoted her life to caring for her daughter’s needs, teaching her at home, medicating her, cooking, cleaning, the whole shebang.

But a change is coming. Chloe has applied to go to University and she’s confidently awaiting offers of admission. Diane is taking it all in her stride. When asked by other carers how she’ll cope when her baby finally flies the nest, she assures them she’ll be just okay. Why, she’s actually looking forward to a little relaxation.

But… is she really as laid back as she appears?

It would be a crime to reveal any more of the plot. Suffice to say that there are some genuine surprises waiting in the wings to step out from cover and smack you in the kisser. Paulson is always good and she excels here as a cunning and deceitful character, able to mask everything behind a matronly smile. Allen too is utterly convincing as her daughter, who, over the space of a few days, has to come to terms with the fact that everything she’s believed since childhood needs to be drastically reassessed – and who is ingenious enough to find solutions to pretty much every problem that’s thrown at her.

There’s probably little point in mentioning any other actors because this is essentially a two hander – though I think an honourable nod should go to Pat Healy as ‘Mailman Tom,’ who certainly manages to make his brief appearance a memorable one.

So yes, this is well worth one hour and forty-eight minutes of your time.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Sound of Metal

13/04/21

Amazon Prime

Sound of Metal has been making waves at film festivals around the world and has recently garnered multiple nominations for both BAFTAs and Oscars. It’s easy to see why it’s earned such acclaim. Despite that pugnacious title, this is a surprisingly gentle and reflective film and it’s also, I think, rather unique. It’s fair to say that I’ve never seen another movie quite like it.

Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is a drummer in a heavy metal duo, providing the beat for his singer/guitarist girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke), to vocalise over. The two of them are in the middle of a big tour, driving around America in Ruben’s RV and looking forward to the releasing of their new album. From the brief performance we witness over the opening credits, it’s clear that Blackgammon devote considerably more attention to their amplification than they do to their songs – but they do manage to create a thumping, propulsive sound that has stirred up a sizeable following.

Ruben and Lou are both former drug addicts, and are just about managing to stay clean, despite all the temptations they encounter on tour.

And then, just before going onstage one night, Ruben suffers a sudden and catastrophic loss of hearing. He has to get through the ensuing performance on autopilot, but it’s evident to Lou that something isn’t right. Afterwards, he confesses his problem to her, and she insists that they contact their sponsor, Hector, to see what can be done about the situation. Meanwhile, Ruben visits a hearing specialist, who advises him that he needs to avoid loud noise at all costs – tricky, to say the least – and also mentions the possibility of cochlear implants, an operation that costs thousands of dollars, but which could give Ruben back some degree of hearing.

In the meantime, he is despatched to a rural shelter for deaf, recovering addicts, run by the taciturn Joe (Paul Raci), who lost his own hearing in the Vietnam War. Joe insists that Ruben can only stay at the retreat alone – or not at all, should he decide to have those implants. Joe is adamant that deafness is not a handicap and that surgery is the wrong approach. He advises Ruben to sit alone, to learn sign language and to experience his own ‘stillness.’

Ruben struggles to engage with the latter and though he starts to make progress at the retreat, he is still torn about the thought of those implants… and he thinks he can see a possible way to pay for them.

Sound of Metal is full of unexpected delights, one of which is – ironically – the soundtrack. Not the song that Blackgammon play, mind, but the incidental effects, which it took fifteen technicians to create. Elaborate soundscapes are featured throughout the film, alternating between the rich textures of nature and the weird, twisted versions that Ruben receives as his hearing begins to deteriorate. The most vivid example is at Lou’s birthday party, hosted by her musician father, Richard (Mathieu Almeric), where the sound cuts from a pretty duet performed by Lou and Richard, to the desecrated travesty that Ruben can actually hear. It’s the film’s most poignant moment.

It’s more than just the sound, though. Ahmed (who currently appears to be one of the busiest actors in the business) does a terrific job of portraying Ruben’s mounting terror as the thing he loves most in the world – the music that he and Lou create together- is cruelly taken away from him.

This won’t be for everyone – and that misleading title doesn’t really help – but it’s well worth the watch.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Concrete Cowboy

12/04/21

Netflix

There’s nothing innovative about the plot of Concrete Cowboy. The ‘troubled teen learns to better himself by caring for an animal’ trope is very well worn, with shining beacons such as Kes and Old Yeller really making their mark. But writer/director Ricky Staub’s movie is nevertheless well worth watching, because it’s hard to tire of redemption tales, and this one shines a light on a little-known community: black cowboys in Philadelphia.

This isn’t just my ignorance; the movie spells it out. Most of us don’t know black cowboys exist; they’ve been whitewashed out of history. In fact, we don’t expect to see poor black Philadelphians on horseback at all, but there they are, eking out a living from their urban stables.

Caleb McLaughlin is Cole, and he’s in bother. Again. Expelled from yet another Detroit school, Cole is running out of options. His mum, Amahle (Liz Priestley), knows she needs to do something radical. And so, despite his protests, she packs Cole’s bags and drives him to Philadelphia, telling him he has to spend the summer with his dad, Harp (Idris Elba). Cole is not at all keen on the idea, especially when he realises just how unconventional Harp’s living arrangements are. Sleeping on a sofa isn’t such a big deal, but sharing a room with a horse is beyond the pale.

It’s not easy. Harp is kind but very strict, and Cole doesn’t take well to discipline. And there is temptation in Philadelphia too, in the form of Cole’s childhood friend, Smush (Jharrel Jerome), who’s risking everything by double-crossing the drug dealers he works for. Cole goes along for the ride – and for the fancy new trainers – but he soon realises the danger he’s in…

But he doesn’t need to follow Smoosh, because he has a horse, Boo: a wild, unbroken animal that only he can get close to. What will he do?

McLaughlin delivers a fine performance; it’s easy to empathise with the moody teenager he portrays, to understand his conflicting emotions. The ensemble cast are great too, notably Lorraine Toussaint as stable owner, Nessie, and Ivannah-Mercedes as love interest, Esha. But my favourite thing about this film is the exposé of the cowboys’ precarious situation. They rarely own their stables; as renters, they’re vulnerable to eviction, if a landowner can make money by selling to property developers as an area gentrifies, for example. It seems so wrong that their entire way of life can be threatened like this, and so short-sighted. All Smush wants is to earn enough money to move to the countryside and live on a ranch; if people are denied opportunities, of course they turn to crime.

So, no, it’s not original, and yes, you can see every plot turn a mile away, but Concrete Cowboy is still a fascinating watch.

3.7 stars

Susan Singfield