Tatiana Maslany



This film makes an interesting companion piece to Patriots Day, in that both movies cover the same event – the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon. But where Peter Berg’s offering concentrates on the hunt for the perpetrators of the crime, Stonger opts to focus on one of the bombing’s victims: twenty six year old Jeff Bauman, who had the misfortune to be standing too close to the rucksack that held one of the homemade explosive devices.

When we first encounter him, just days before the bombing, Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal) has recently split from his girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany) and is doing everything he can to encourage her to come back to him. When he hears that she is planning to run the Boston Marathon, he dutifully turns up on the day carrying a homemade placard to show his support… and moments later, loses both his legs in the bomb blast. When Erin spots his blood-spattered face on a TV report, she hurries to the hospital, where Jeff’s dysfunctional family, headed by his mother, Patty (an almost unrecognisable Miranda Richardson) are already gathered, waiting for him to come back to consciousness. Erin finds herself inexorably drawn into being his carer/companion, even moving into the little apartment that he shares with his mother – but as his long, slow recovery begins, it’s apparent that Jeff still has a lot of issues to come to terms with; and it doesn’t help that the people of Boston constantly  want to celebrate him as a homegrown hero…

David Gordon Green’s film expertly walks a perilous tightrope. This powerfully affecting story could so easily have descended into pure corn, but the fact that it doesn’t is only one of its many strengths. The script (by John Pollono, based on Jeff Bauman’s book), refuses to turn its lead character into the hero figure that the people of Boston so evidently want him to be. There’s no rose-tinted glasses here. Jeff is presented as a feckless, often selfish individual, with a self-destructive personality – and a similar ‘warts-and-all’ approach is taken with the various family members who weigh in to lend  their support with all the finesse of a herd of stampeding elephants.

Gyllenhall’s performance is superbly affecting (here’s yet another movie which I viewed mostly through a fog of cascading tears), while anyone who has watched her assay multiple roles in Orphan Black will know what to expect from the very talented Maslany. Miranda Richardson’s turn as the boozy, hapless Patty is also beautifully judged. Suffice to say that the various mutterings about the film’s Oscar potential may not be entirely misplaced. But who knows? Oscar can be a notoriously fickle beast.

Stronger is ultimately a film about the process of healing. I loved its honesty and passion and though it keeps its most shocking images for later on in the proceedings, when they do arrive, in a series of brilliantly edited flashbacks, it doesn’t hold back.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney


Woman In Gold



One of those real-life tales that would seem highly unlikely if presented as a piece of fiction, Woman In Gold tells the story of Maria Altmann, (Helen Mirren) an elderly Austrian-born woman living in California, who after the death of her sister contacts a young lawyer, Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to ask his advice about a painting – a very famous one. Known to the world as The Woman In Gold, it was painted by Gustav Klimt, was commissioned by Maria’s father and is actually a portrait of her late Aunt. Looted by the Nazi’s during the Second World War, it now hangs in Vienna’s most famous art gallery and is widely regarded as Austria’s most quintessential piece of art. What chance would there be, wonders Maria, of having the painting returned to her?

The story looks at the long series of meetings, negotiations and court cases that the two leads have to go through in order to obtain justice. Mirren is on great form as the cantankerous Maria, (though it must be said that for a supposed octogenarian, Mirren looks distinctly healthy), while Reynolds, always an underrated actor, makes an adept transformation to the quietly-spoken but determined lawyer, prepared to take an entire country to the supreme court. The Altmann’s tragic history is shown through a series of assured flashbacks with Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany looking surprisingly convincing as a younger version of Helen Mirren.

In a story like this it would be all too easy to slip into schmaltz, but Director Simon Curtis manages to keep everything reined  in enough to tug at the heartstrings without losing control; and this is, after all, an emotional story of cruelty, dispossession and greed, that will make all but the stoniest individuals shed tears. A decent and absorbing film.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Orphan Black



It’s always a joy to discover a new, long-running series and Orphan Black has been our big discovery of 2015. Hard to categorise (a scientific thriller, perhaps? A conspiracy mystery?) and even harder to anticipate, the first series gripped from the very first moments and kept us in it’s clutches right up to the final shot, then left us with a cliff hanger that almost defied us not to check out Series Two. This one took the lovingly crafted ball created by John Fawcett and Graeme Manson and ran with it, proving if anything to be even more riveting than the original.

Steet-wise hustler, Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) finds herself in a sticky situation at a New York tube station one night. On the run from people who she owes money too and being sought by her low-life drug dealing boyfriend,Vic (Michael Mando) she witnesses a suicide. A woman jumps in front of a train, but not before Sarah has seen that the stranger is her exact double. Without time to think, Sarah grabs the woman’s handbag and runs off with it, intending to assume her identity and thus get herself out of trouble. But she soon discovers that the jumper was a police woman and that she wasn’t the only double that Sarah has out there. In fact there are a lot off them. Aided by her cheeky, rent boy foster brother, Felix (Jordan Gavaris) Sarah sets about unravelling the mystery… and begins to discover how deep this particular rabbit hole can go…

There’s so much to enjoy in this series, not the least Maslany herself who proves to be an exceptional actress, confidently playing at least six main characters (and quite a lot of minor ones) and managing to give each and every one of them a different persona – in a scene where one character is impersonating another, there’s never any confusion as to who is who, while her performance as uptight ‘soccer mom’ Alison, often had me laughing out loud. Gavaris’s turn as Felix is also priceless – so much more than just comic relief, he manages to convey everything with a withering look and a sarcastic one liner.

The writers keep up incredible momentum, thrusting us from one thrill ride to the next, constantly keeping us off balance and repeatedly pulling the carpet from under our feet. Furthermore they venture into areas where few other companies would dare to tread. Also this is Paranoia Central. Just when you think matters are in danger of flagging, the next conspiracy comes lurching out of the wings to hit you square in the kisser.

Moreish? Oh yes. Try it. Go on, we dare you. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. Meanwhile, a Series Three is on it’s way…

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney