Christian Bale

Hostiles

05/01/18

It’s often been said that, in times of political uncertainty, Hollywood revisits the Western – and it’s certainly true that this once moribund genre has recently enjoyed a bit of a renaissance, not least through Netflix’s superb series, Godless, which offers a refreshingly feminist view on the subject. Scott Cooper’s bleak and savage vision of the Old West seems designed primarily to remind us what an unpleasant era it was in which to eke an existence. Which is not to say that it isn’t a fascinating film. It is – even if it occasionally makes for uncomfortable viewing.

The film starts in New Mexico in 1892, towards the end of the infamous ‘Indian Wars.’ Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), a seasoned cavalry officer, finds himself presented with an assignment he really doesn’t relish. He is to escort his old adversary, a captive Cheyenne warrior called Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), to Montana. The old man is stricken with cancer and wants to return to his ancestral burial grounds to end his life. Blocker makes no secret of the fact that he hates Yellow Hawk and has no intention of burying an axe unless it’s in the back of the old man’s head, but the US President has decreed that he must fulfil his obligations, so he rounds up a detachment of men and sets off on the long and arduous journey. (Watch out for a cameo role from young Timothee Chalomet currently being talked up as a potential  Oscar contender for his role in  Call Me By Your Name.)

Soon, Blocker and his men stumble across a harrowing tragedy in the shape of Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), who has just witnessed her entire family being massacred by a Comanche war party. Blocker has no option but to take the widow along for the ride, hoping that he can drop her off somewhere safe along the way… but as the journey progresses and a series of disasters unfold, it becomes clear that Blocker and Quaid’s  lives are to become inextricably entangled.

Cooper paints an unpleasant picture of the West: a world where gunfire and rape seem to lurk around every corner; where most of Cooper’s men are suffering from what was then called ‘the melancholy’ but which we now label as PTSD; where irrational hatred begets ever more hatred; and where women are seen as a commodity to be taken and used at any man’s whim. Bale is excellent in the central role, managing to convey his internal agony with little more than a look and a shrug – whilst Pike, whose character goes through a living hell in this film, is also memorable.

More than anything else though, the film serves as a comment on what’s happening in Trump’s America right now. It helps you to understand the entrenched Republican values that makes Americans so resolute on the right to bear arms – and why the country is inevitably heading for such devastating sorrows.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

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The Big Short

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31/01/15

Another day, another Oscar nominated film. The Big Short appears to be a lot of people’s favourite to lift the best movie gong this year and it’s certainly accomplished. It takes a long hard look at one of the most shameful periods of recent American history – the years leading up to the American housing crisis and the subsequent crash of Wall Street’s biggest banks. More specifically, it homes in those individuals who saw the crash coming and made millions by betting that it would happen.

The first person to spot the looming bubble is Michael Burry (Christian Bale) an autistic Capital Hedge Fund Manager, who invests heavily on what he believes is a certainty. Others soon follow suit, including Mark Baum (Steve Carell) whose own self-loathing makes it difficult for him to exploit the opportunity, but he does it anyway, mostly at the behest of wheeler-dealer Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling). There’s even a couple of enterprising kids who want to have a punt and who call on ex-trader Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to get them into the game. The witty script does a great job of explaining complicated (and it must be said, quite boring) financial manoeuvres in a way that everyone can understand and I liked the way that characters often break off in mid conversation, in order to talk directly to the camera. But if there’s a major problem with the film, it’s this – it’s very hard to root for characters who are self-serving assholes looking to make their fortunes from the misfortunes of ordinary people. OK, I appreciate these are the nearest to ‘good guys’ we’ll find in this story, but they only seem reasonable because the bankers they’re up against are so utterly and irredeemably despicable. And if that concept rankles, then this may not be the film for you.

When the crash eventually comes, the fallout is terrible, but even worse is the fact that the guilty parties don’t go to gaol, as they clearly should, but instead pay themselves massive bonuses and then look for other ways to exploit their customers. The Big Short is doubtless an important film and one that hits its intended targets with ease, but it’s also a hard film to like. For the big prize, I’d love to see Mad Max: Fury Road (unlikely) or The Revenant take the best movie gong. Could The Big Short be the one to win it? Get your bets in now, before the odds begin to shorten.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Exodus: Gods and Kings

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30/12/14

Ridley Scott is perhaps the closest thing we have to a director of the stature of David Lean. Unabashedly old school he is never happier than when commanding armies of extras on a massive scale, so perhaps it was inevitable that he would eventually take on a biblical subject – the story of Moses. Here, the great man is played by a scowling Christian Bale who at the beginning of the film is fighting the Hitites alongside his ‘bessie mate’ Ramses (Joel Edgerton.) But when Ramses becomes pharaoh, word gets out that Moses is actually an adopted hebrew, a fact that gets him banished from Egypt and sent back to join ‘his people’ where before very long he is instructing them to seek their freedom.

There has already been some controversy about this film which features two caucasian actors in the lead roles and Scott’s reply (that it was all about getting funding and who would pay to see Mohammed Whatever in the lead role?) was understandably badly received, but I’m going to put that matter aside and concentrate on what’s on the screen, which really is a great big curate’s egg of a film. This being a Ridley Scott production, there are scenes of incredible cinematic splendour – the construction of the pyramids is amazing, the Plagues of Egypt are particularly jaw-dropping and the climactic parting of the waves is nail-biting stuff – but along the way we have to endure too many turgid scenes of people standing around in temples talking in (suspiciously contemporary terms) about fairly boring subjects. And one has to wonder why Scott bothered to engage the services of Sigourney Weaver when he wasn’t going to bother to give her anything to say. What I did like was the daring treatment of many of the accepted fantastical elements of Moses’ story. The parting of the waves is quite clearly a tsunami, we see Moses himself carving the ten commandments onto stone tablets and most contentious of all, ‘God’ is depicted as a scruffy kid with a bad haircut. Some will hate this, but what was the alternative? A white haired, bearded old geezer speaking in a stentorian voice? A bit too Life of Brian, methinks.

in the end, Scott does it his way and God help anyone who stands in his path. Overall, I enjoyed this, but those slow lengthy passages dragged down the final score somewhat. One thing is clear. When it comes to epic cinema, nobody else comes close to the majesty that is Ridley Scott. On a sad note, the film is dedicated to his brother, Tony, who took his own life in 2012.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney