Jeffrey Wright

The Batman

04/03/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Director Matt Reeves’ modest ambition for The Batman was to make ‘the best Batman movie yet.’

Well, he hasn’t done that – but he’s certainly made the longest. Weighing in at a bum-numbing two hours and fifty minutes, it brings to mind the conviction that while ‘less’ is often ‘more’, ‘more’ usually equals ‘less’ when it comes to movies. And, while this just about scrapes four stars in its present bloated form, it would have scored much higher with some judicious editing. I mean, like, excising fifty minutes.

What is it about Batman that makes directors keep returning to that oft-plundered well? The fact that this is a comic-book hero who doesn’t have any super powers is always appealing, and there’s that delicious interplay between the vigilante who takes the law into his own hands and those misguided fools who see him as a hero. In this regard, The Batman feels a lot more nuanced than many of its predecessors, but it’s also sobering to think that the best film of the franchise is the one that he doesn’t even feature in.

Joker, thanks for asking.

Mind you if you thought Christopher Nolan’s depiction of Gotham City was dark, prepare to turn the palette down several notches. Reeves’ Gotham (shot in studios all over the UK) is filmed in tones of obsidian and anthracite. In this Gotham, it never seems to stop raining and the city is ruled by corrupt public officials, who gleefully take bribes and exploit the working classes for their own enrichment. (Remind you of anywhere?)

It’s Hallowe’en and a masked villain called The Riddler (brilliantly played by Paul Dano, though we don’t actually see his face until late on in the proceedings) is gleefully murdering those in power, who have allowed their standards to slip. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson), though hated by most of the police force, is invited to investigate the crimes by Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), the only cop who trusts him.

The Riddler is leaving cryptic clues at the scenes of the crime and Batman is good at deciphering them. In the course of his investigations, he comes into contact with Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), crime kingpin, Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), and The Penguin (an unrecognisable Colin Farrell, hidden beneath layers of latex and sounding for all the world like Robert De Niro).

As the proceedings unfold, it becomes clear to Bruce that his own father, whose murder initiated Bruce’s transition into the Caped Crusader, might not have been as innocent as his son has always supposed. Batman also comes to realise that there are many people out there who follow his vigilante tactics with relish – and who would really like to be him.

And, as loyal butler, Alfred (Andy Serkis) is quick to point out, Bruce’s father might have done the wrong thing – but for very sound reasons.

There’s a lot here that I really like. It offers a much more interesting vision of DC’s premier hero than we’re used to seeing – but too much time is spent wandering along dark alleyways that don’t advance the plot enough. It’s only as I’m starting to grow impatient with the film that it finally coalesces and ramps up the suspense, as it heads into a vaguely apocalyptic climax that is weirdly prescient and also, in a strange way, uplifting. Reeves has already proven his worth with the likes of Cloverfield and his astute retooling of the Planet of the Apes trilogy – but, inevitably, The Batman just feels too long for its own good.

This is a shame because Pattinson really works in the lead role (for once, I actually believe that nobody would suspect his Bruce Wayne of being Batman, since the two personas are so different). Kravitz is also compelling in the Catwoman role, and I fully expect to see her return to it. A nifty coda shows us exactly where Reeves plans to go next and, given the projected casting for the next lead villain, I have to confess I’m suitably intrigued.

But please, Matt, next time around… can we just have a bit less?

4 stars

Philip Caveney

The French Dispatch

23/10/21

Cameo, Edinburgh

The word ‘quirky’ could almost have been invented for Wes Anderson. Since his breakthrough with Bottle Rocket in 1996, the director has relentlessly followed the path less travelled. Along the way, he’s dallied with stop-frame animation and, in his live-action features, has developed a visual style used by nobody else in the business. Take off a blindfold in a movie theatre and watch ten seconds of any one of his films and, chances are, you’ll recognise his style instantly.

Now here’s the much-delayed The French Dispatch, a portmanteau made up of three short films, linked by a framing device. It probably has a valid claim for being the most Wes Anderson-like film yet as it employs all of the tics and, yes, quirks we associate with him: those bizarre doll house vistas; jarring cuts from colour to monochrome; weird frozen tableaux of action scenes – and characters that are as eccentric as they are amusing. And, of course, there’s also the WA repertory company, a seemingly endless supply of big-name actors, who seem perfectly happy to put their famous mugs in front of the camera, even if they’ve not actually been given much to do.

We begin at the offices of the titular publication, a New Yorker-style literary magazine that is itself an offshoot off a newspaper in Kansas, yet somehow has its headquarters at the top of a ramshackle building in the sleepy French town of Ennui-Sur-Blasé. It’s from here that editor Arthur Howitzer Jnr (Bill Murray) sends his various critics around the country to seek out and document stories of interest – and we are subsequently treated to three of them, all set in the 1960s.

First up we have the tale of convicted murderer, Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), who, inspired by his love for prison warden – and sometime model – Simone (Lea Seydoux), decides to express his love, by creating works of modern art in tribute to her. He inadvertently becomes a cause celebre. Next there’s the story of journalist Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) and her dalliance with dashing young revolutionary, Zefferelli (Timothée Chalamet), whose rebellion against authority is played out as a literal game of chess. Finally, there’s the story of writer Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), assigned to write a piece about celebrated prison chef, Nescafier (Steve Park), only to find himself caught up in a kidnapping drama involving the adopted son of the prison’s Commisaire (Mathieu Almaric).

The stories are dazzlingly told and the main theme here seems to be one of affection for an age that’s largely gone – a yearning for old-school journalism, when editors cared more about the writing than the money it might generate. Anderson – who co-wrote the story – also has much scorn to heap on the world of art, mocking the ways in which commerce waits greedily in the wings to get its hooks into the next big thing, qualities evidenced by Adrien Brody’s ruthless art dealer, Julien Cadazio. There’s some evident homaging going on here too. The second piece eerily captures the look of French new wave cinema – and did I imagine that little salute to The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling?

I have to say that I admire The French Dispatch enormously, rather than love it. There’s always an element of grandstanding about Anderson’s work, a celebration of his own uniqueness that can sometimes feel a little too arch – and the parade of characters unleashed here are essentially caricatures rather than people I can believe in. Perhaps that’s entirely the point, but it’s a quality that can polarise audiences.

Suffice to say, if you’re a fan of the director, you certainly won’t be disappointed by what’s on offer here. This is Wes Anderson turned up all the way up to 11. And, in the unlikely event that it’s the first of his films you’ve seen, then enjoy the trip.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney