Jack O Connell

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

22/02/18

Once again, NT Live offers us the chance to see a noteworthy production we’d otherwise be consigned to reading about. For David Lan, who has stepped down from his role as the Young Vic’s artistic director, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a triumphant swan song, elegantly directed by Benedict Andrews, and beautifully performed.

The audacious casting certainly pays off. Sienna Miller’s Maggie is a standout, all bravado and desperation: strong but vulnerable; gorgeous but unloved. She really is like the titular cat, prowling the room, unsure how to function in a world where everything has changed. Brick refuses to acknowledge her, whatever she says, whatever she does. She talks incessantly, needling and provoking, removing her clothes, painting her face. Nothing works. She’s lost him. It’s a bravura performance, a faultless incarnation of a classic role.

Jack O’Connell also gives an impressive turn as Brick, the handsome football-star-turned-alcoholic, traumatised by his best friend, Skipper’s suicide, unable to accept his own homosexuality. Brick is a complex character, at once the most honest and the most duplicitous in the play. He refuses to indulge the ‘happy family’ façade, makes no secret of his drinking, doesn’t care who hears him rejecting his wife. But he lies to himself about his feelings for Skipper, even when Big Daddy offers him absolution; his own prejudices too ingrained to allow him to face the truth. O’Connell imbues Brick with dignity, despite his obvious descent; it’s a clever, nuanced portrayal of a truly tortured soul.

Colm Meany is suitably awful as the tyrannical Big Daddy, a Trump-like figure whose only redeeming feature is his willingness to accept his favourite son’s sexuality. But it’s Lisa Palfrey as Big Momma who really intrigues me: she plays the matriarch as an infantalised neurotic, who has to be protected from realities she can’t stand. Big Daddy openly despises her, calls her fat and stupid; she responds in a high-pitched, lilting, little-girl voice, her ‘He doesn’t mean it’ lines imbued with the rhythm of a fingers-in-the-ear-la-la-la denial. It’s a very different interpretation of the character from any I’ve seen before, but it absolutely works.

There’s not much to criticise here, although I do think more could be done to create the sense of sweltering heat and claustrophobia inside the house. It’s all there in the dialogue, but I never really feel it. The modern setting means there are none of the traditional plantation shutters and whirring fans, and that’s okay – I like the set – but I think I’d like the ice to melt, to know that the water in the shower is cold, to understand why Maggie is wearing tights when it’s so hot. Still, these are mere quibbles.

If you haven’t seen this yet, there’s sure to be an encore screening soon. I urge you to catch it.

4.9 stars

Susan Singfield

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Money Monster

MoneyMonster

03/06/16

Some actors are happy to stay on their side of the lens and some, like Jodie Foster, occasionally like to swap positions and try their hands at directing. She’s done a pretty decent job of it here. Money Monster tells the story of Lee Gates (George Clooney) a cheesy corporate TV presenter who finds himself in jeopardy when ordinary Joe, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’ Connell) loses pretty much everything he owns on one of Lee’s ‘surefire’ investment tips and invades the studio with a gun and a belt stuffed with Semtex, intent on finding answers to some rather difficult questions. It’s left to Lee’s seasoned producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) to talk her team through the resulting ordeal and to try to ensure that nobody gets killed in the process. In an attempt to preserve his own skin, Lee starts asking timely questions about how an investment  company called Ibis, could possibly have lost its investors $800,000,000  in one day. The answers all seem to lead towards the company’s head honcho, Walt Camby (Dominic West) and some dodgy dealings in South Africa…

Money Monster is a taut little thriller that asks some pertinent questions about the world of share dealing,  though perhaps it never delves quite as deeply into the subject as it might have. Still, it cooks up a fine head of steam as a straight ahead thriller and there’s plenty of good performances here – this might be Roberts’ best showing in quite a while. Rising star, O ‘Connell acquits himself well and gorgeous George handles his role with consummate ease. It’s not in the league of say, Dog Day Afternoon, but then, few films are and this makes for a decent hour and a half of entertainment.

The earth won’t move but if you’re looking to distract yourself, this is a decent investment.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

 

’71

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10/10/14

Yann Demange’s cinematic debut takes us to the hostile streets of Belfast in 1971, in the company of young squaddie, Gary Hook (Jack O’ Connell, consolidating his impressive performance in Starred Up.) Gary and the rest of his squad are raw recruits, thrown headlong into a hellhole of sectarian violence, where danger lurks around every corner and nobody can be trusted. They are hated by everyone they encounter and unable to return fire in the most pressing circumstances. Sent out on his very first mission, Gary finds himself cut off from his companions and left to survive as best he can…

’71 isn’t going to figure high in the rankings of the Belfast tourist board but this is verité cinema, that feels absolutely authentic. The city is depicted as a brutal and deadly place and poor Gary is the sacrificial lamb, sent to the slaughter. Neither does the film paint an appealing picture of the British army. The recruits live in squalid conditions and are betrayed at every turn by their own officers. But it works best as a thriller. From the moment that Gary finds himself abandoned, the story switches into chase mode, at times generating almost unbearable tension and at others, throwing the viewers into distressing scenes of violence and mayhem – a sequence depicting the accidental bombing of a pub is bleakly brilliant, but not recommended for the faint-hearted.

Apart from the occasional uneasy shift in point of view, this is an assured debut by Demange who clearly knows how to ratchet up the tension to number eleven. One of the most effective cinematic thrill rides of recent years.

4.7 stars

Philip Caveney