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MISBEHAVIOUR

On Friday March 13 this year, Misbehaviour was released nationwide. On Tuesday 17, cinemas across the nation were forced to close their doors because of the Coronavirus outbreak forcing the premature withdrawing of the film. But thanks to the wonders of modern technology, this film is now available to rent on digital platforms, though whether it will see a re-release may be a bridge too far.

Set in 1970 and based on real events, the film focuses primarily on Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) a divorced mother eager to stand up for her gender and pursue an academic career in a male dominated industry rather than going down the path that the culture embedded previous generations. By chance, she becomes acquainted with Jo Ann Robinson (Jessie Buckley) whose militant style inspire Sally to join her radical feminist group that would become the Women’s Liberation Movement, hence becoming the poster girl for their campaign.

At the same time, the organizers (Rhys Ifans and Keeley Hawes) are preparing for the contests due to be held in London with the popular comedian Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) courted to present. The event finds itself in controversy early on with two candidates, one white one black, selected to represent apartheid-era South Africa,  the political side juxtaposed with the contenders becoming accustomed including the arrogant Miss Sweden, Miss UK and notably Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
Soon these paths collide when in an effort to make their movement heard, a plan is devised for the activists to hijack the actual ceremony, in spite of the reputational risks that Sally faces in doing so. 

Part of the film’s success is the ability to present an environment when everyday sexism was rife and leaving the viewer not so much with surprise but more relief that today’s society, though imperfect and still learning lessons from the MeToo movement, has at least improved. 

Look at the scene early on when Sally attends an interview to be accepted for her diploma, judged immediately on looks by the entirely male panel as they discreetly rate her marks out of ten and even query about her private life, aspects that could be career-threatening in today’s world. No holds are barred as the director shows just how difficult life was for women to be taken seriously and break away from the idea that society’s achievements were developed for men to solve, a testament to the strength of Knightley’s character alongside other women depicted.

By presenting two sides, the film is good at arguing for both views of the Miss World contest by showing not just its detractors but also showing the perspectives of the contestants who use the platform as a way of improving themselves. The filmmakers are careful to observe that there are both positives and negatives about the contest, and even as we side with the feminists, there are points on their opposition that ought to be looked at before judging the whole thing on a negative entirety. 

The film’s main intent is to be reactionary and it achieves that with flying colours, allowing us to see things that would be considered outdated today such as the ways in which the models chosen for the UK are spoken of for their assets and treated like objects. One could argue what else could be expected from a beauty contest but it also provides us with an open-mouthed response as to how judgmental these things were in the day. 
Involving Hope is also a brave move given the unsympathetic light he is placed under in spite of his status as an icon in comedy. Kinnear portrays him as a philandering comedian whose long-suffering wife (Lesley Manville) remains faithful to him despite knowing his affairs, whilst his stage antics are scrutinised in a manner which details how comedy commonplace then appears career-defining in today’s Twitter-police era.

The success is also largely down to the ensemble cast, a who’s who of established talent from Knightley and Mbatha-Raw to Ifans and Hawes. The person who comes out best from this is Buckley who as the activist with a touch of devil-may-care reminds us this was the same woman who did such a stellar job in Beast and Wild Rose and could be on her way to becoming high on the list of the world’s greatest actresses. 

It’s not so much a damning indictment on the people but more on the culture that supposedly endorsed what we see and there is no sense of patronising which is what elevates Misbehaviour as a quintessential British comedy that is both a lesson in history and in manners. It may go down as one of the unluckiest films, if not the most, of its time because of what its release coincided with but if one finds it on digital or DVD, Netflix or even a comfy slot on a terrestrial channel, its worth one’s time. 

OUT OF FOUR STARS: ***

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FIRE WILL COME

The seemingly-unbreakable bond between mother and son is explored in this often beautifully-shot Spanish drama in the Galician language that deals with themes such as rehabilitation, community and ambiguity in a suitably-paced manner.

Fire Will Come focuses on a middle-aged man Amador (Amador Arias) who is released from prison after serving a sentence for arson. He moves back into the mountainous region of Galicia to live with his elderly mother (Benedicta Sanchez) to help out on their cow farm with glimpses of a positive future in sight.

Even though he is looked at by the townsfolk with an element of suspicion and mockery over his past behaviour and living virtually as a loner, he is still permitted to resume his life as normal. But a life-threatening incident of ambiguous connotations has the potential to change all that.

Though on for just 80 minutes, the film keeps the attention sustained at the hands of its director Oliver Laxe, who spends a portion giving notice of landscape, bringing to mind the works of Herzog and Malick. At times, he takes advantage of the geographical location to show us some breath-taking scenery punctuated by the sunny or misty landscape featured. It is a film that is very much imagery driven, notably in the opening sequences which appears as a montage of work being done at night in a forest and the lengthy depiction of the said incident presented.

The two lead actors, Arias and Sanchez, both make their debut roles with Sanchez deservedly winning the Best New Actress award in her native country’s Goya awards at the ripe age of 84. She delivers a quietly poignant performance as a mother whose dynamic with her son’s return is represented in a gentle and unrestrained manner throughout; a woman needing her son more than he needs her as he randomly turns up without protest, his crime clearly forgotten. A moment towards the end where she just shows an ordinary reaction at what occurs presents a touching performance in that she does not require words to make her status as a caring mother effective, notably given her old age.

It does not answer many of the questions the third act entails and the film ends before they can really be analysed, but the stance of ambiguity provided is part of the film’s success. What is asked is if people can be rehabilitated and what comes next if they are or vice versa. Are people driven to do things because of their inability to escape from their reputation, or is the reputation they’ve developed shamed them as such they really do escape from it? Is the film’s final act some sort of coincidence? Is it destiny? Whatever the answers are, the path taken to get there is solid enough as a piece of distinct storytelling. 

OUT OF FOUR STARS: *** ��

VIVARIUM

The phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’ is a cliched statement often seen in cinema and no more so than in Vivarium, a co-production of Ireland, Belgium and Denmark led by Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg.


Beginning with an unusual sequence involving cuckoos, we are introduced to schoolteacher Gemma and her husband Tom. Both are looking at buying a house and come into contact with an odd estate agent Martin (Jonathan Aris) who takes them to inspect a home on a street named Yonder where all houses look familiar and the area appears deserted. The fact that the house is no.9 may just be a coincidence given its similarity with Inside No. 9.
Before long, the estate agent vanishes and as they attempt to drive away, they realise to their puzzlement that wherever they drive to, they find themselves back at the home they inspected, effectively trapping them.


With their escape route seemingly blocked, they mysteriously find outside the home a baby who they are assigned to raise in exchange for their escape. As time progresses however and the baby rapidly ages, the surrogate family find themselves tested by a scenario that appears to have no alternative route and the psychological impact of dealing with the peculiar-acting child. 

For the majority of the film, the film centres on the three and the performances of the lead actors are what the film relies on. Poots delivers a good performance as a woman whose exhaustive state is highlighted vividly alongside a sense of frustration in scenes where her attempts at calming the sometimes-unbearable child are ignored. It is a performance that much betters Eisenberg’s who at times is written to the point that it is left to Poots to provide the responsibility of acting good enough and sustain belief in the performances.

The film is perhaps at its strongest when it presents the frustrations that this unexpected and equally unwanted lifestyle has on the couple, an example being when Tom throws a bowl of cereal against a wall, aware of how the child responds when not in receipt of his favourite snack. 
In hindsight with the exception of its final scene, the film is unpredictable and credit should be given for presenting overall with a film that leaves us short of correctly guessing what could come next. The problem however lies with the meaning of the film and what purposes the end product has with regards to motivation.

One cannot review the film for its flaws properly for giving the plot twists away, but when looking at how the film feels by the end, the term that fits best is anti-climactic. A certain sequence in the third act appears acceptable but does not allow to explore how things got to that and what sense of resolution it could bring.

The main issue is that for too long, the film is slow and does not present enough moments with the ability to engage. The idea of how these two can’t escape is intriguing and suggests a work that has the potential to work with its two actors clearly trusted to help with that but the story lacks in consistency. At times, small bursts of interest pop up but they are preceded by scenes that drag on or are succeeded by sequences that fail to build upon sufficiently.

The conclusion feels like a lazy way of not taking the story to a more worthy and adventurous, feeling like its halfway to something worthwhile before venturing down into its underwhelming result. 


Maybe it needed more characters as the structure doesn’t feel enough with the material given or a feeling of being more daring than it is. It is convincingly acted, particularly by Poots, and it has a mild amount of interest but overall, Vivarium is a disappointing attempt at thrilling with the resources it possesses. 

OUT OF FOUR STARS: **1/2

THE OCCUPANT

Only a short time after the release of the wonderful Parasite, the idea of home infiltration returns courtesy of Netflix with this Spanish thriller The Occupant (Hogar), a study of struggle, deceit, blackmail and ruthlessness. 

For a year, Javier Munoz (Javier Gutierrez) has been struggling to find work since he left his advertising executive position in search of a challenge, gaining job interviews but leaving with no luck despite his resume. The opening scene sees that, with one reason for his failings coming down to being an older man in a young person’s world. With a son’s tuition being prioritised, his wife suggests they save money by leaving their luxurious modern apartment and to a smaller place until their finances are stable. 

Javier can only bite his lip (or dent his car via kicking) and accept the current scenario, until by chance, he finds the keys to his old apartment in his car, thrown at him as he let go of his distraught cleaner. While the new occupants, a family of three, are out, Javier lets himself in to his old space, making himself at home and then doing some research into the husband Tomas (Mario Casas).

He discovers he is a recovering alcoholic and inserts himself into a recovery meeting to befriend Tomas as part of an elaborate ruse to involve him in his life and go to desperate lengths to better his own. 

At the hands of directing brothers Alex and David Pastor, we observe from the outset the struggles of the character of Javier. The themes are reflected by the Spanish translation of Hogar which means home. His situation is unwelcoming but he is not at the end. Somehow, there is still enough in him to cling on to his car and family but the loss of the apartment is what triggers his obsessive nature. 

It is in some way a character piece about a man who just needs a break, but finds himself facing obstacle after another. The directors show something looking positive for him, such as when it appears he has finally found a job. But they cruelly present a twist in the tale when it turns out the job requires a three-month unpaid trial, something the acquainted interviewer hides from him believing its a bargain. 

The subsequent kicking of the car in frustration is almost similar to the behaviour of Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck where circumstances leave this man unable to catch a break and lead him down a path (on a different scale) in contrast to where we first see him. Javier’s character arc is crucial to the film as we see how the desire to return to an idyllic life sees him go from law-abiding career man to a ruthless individual, in a way defending his behaviour with a tinge of vigilantism. 

With the first half playing as a gradual study in character, the second half steps up a gear as it becomes darker and develops into a solid thriller, punctuated by a set of suspenseful sequences which see Javier’s plan threatened with discovery. As is classical within the genre, the aims of the lead character are provided with obstacles, as if his plan is not challenging enough, including a subplot involving Javier being blackmailed by a local paedophile gardener. 

The act of keeping one’s cover from being blown is what makes the film entertain as it does and in some way, we root for Javier the more we invest in him because of his relatable aims at wanting the best for himself. It’s not going to end up as one of the great thrillers of this decade, but The Occupant is a welcome invitation into the dark recesses of ambition and a vindication on Netflix’s part for investing in it. 

OUT OF FOUR STARS: ***

SYSTEM CRASHER

There are quite a few words that can be used to describe the German debut feature of Nora Fingschiedt, System Crasher. Harrowing. Brave. Intense. Uncomfortable. Moving. Those of just some of what comes to mind upon viewing this consistently engaging drama that pulls no punches with its memorable lead character’s actions. 
Nine-year old Benni  (Helena Zengel) is the definition of a problem child. She has behavioural issues which involve foul-mouthed outbursts and violent assaults and as a result, has been separated from family and placed in care facilities. Her unpredictable behaviour has also seen her expelled persistently from schools, much to the exasperation of those around her. One notable feature is her uncontrollable violent behaviour towards anyone who may accidentally touch her face, the result of trauma caused by implied past abuse. 
With the child protection laws preventing her from a permanent placement because she is under twelve, the care facility are forced to put up with her whilst they explore what realistic options are available. Underneath all this, Benni is seen as a girl who in spite of her problems seeks stability with those in her life, something the film examines as circumstances make such a wish virtually impossible to come true. 
From the opening minutes, the film makes no secret of showing how unique this character is going to be. Her fearless attitude towards the adults in charge of her is demonstrated as she hurls objects at windows and escapes from them. For a short time, she takes advantage of her freedom with a rebellious series of activities, mocking a wheelchair user, robbing a little girl and entering a fashion shop where she pushes a toddler as a distraction to steal a bag. Remember, this is a nine-year old and its only the first five minutes and already there is compulsiveness with viewing the film, even as we do so frequently with a feeling of unease and temptation to watch through our fingers. 
Zengel is unforgettable in an emotionally demanding role where seeing her act so violently makes observing her in a calm and happy manner calm difficult to get used to, knowing her short-fuse and inability to take discomforting news is bound to reappear. Whether she’s ferociously banging her head against a car window or making a point by urinating outside a fed-up care worker’s door, it seems that in all scenes she’s in, she can do no wrong. It’s not just about swearing and spitting with this performance; there is depth and a caring manner deep down shown. 
At the centre of her ambitions is the idea of being reunited with her mother, something made challenging because of the fear her mother has of her daughter, plus the knock-on effect it threatens to have on her siblings. The flaws of the mother are clear given her choice of boyfriends which supposedly has a profound effect on Benni, as demonstrated when she breaks free from the care facility to return home, enjoying being with her siblings only for all hell to break loose when the mother arrives with the boyfriend she clearly disapproves of. 
Most people seem to incur the wrath of Benni with a short number of notable exceptions, particularly kind-hearted care officer Mrs Bafane (Gabriela Maria Schmeide). The arrival of Micah (Albrecht Schuch) as her somewhat reluctant school escort initially seems doomed to fail when on their first day together, she assaults a pupil who dares to insult her reading. Overtime they mutually accept one another, even going as far as staying in a log cabin near a farm without electricity he often brings his teenage clients to, the trip bringing both positives and negatives whilst illustrating arc of the two characters, particularly Micah. 
The film is at its most engaging when it details the hard-hitting situations that befall not just Benni but others too in that when something appears to be going well, the carpet will be pulled and an uncomforting occurrence will take place. That is why the film works in that it keeps us on edge, unsure of what Benni’s behaviour as well as that of others will equate to when both collide. 
I was reminded of Xavier Dolan’s Mommy where like the problematic youth in that film, the lead character runs the risk of self-destruction as a result of uncontrollable behavioural activity. As with Mommy, it highlights the effects the lead’s irrational behaviour has on those around them who fight an often relentless losing battle. 
Though Zengel dominates the film, it sees some first-rate acting from Schmeide who perhaps delivers the film’s best acting in a particular sequence where the pressures and cruelties of the case reach breaking point and Benni being the one who becomes the shoulder to cry on. 
Though its final shot will leave the viewer scratching their head as it did mine, the two hours spent watching the story of this nine-year old troublesome individual is as rewarding as it is uncomforting, well-acted as it is an informative story of a dilemma that affects not all but enough to take notice. 
OUT OF FOUR STARS: ***

LOST GIRLS

Based on true events, Amy Ryan is the determined mother whose no-nonsense attitude leads police to a shocking chain of discoveries in Lost Girls, an imperfect but nonetheless effective drama courtesy of Netflix.

Set in the South Shore of Long Island in 2010, the film opens with a young woman being pursued at night by an unseen figure. When Mari Gilbert’s estranged daughter Shannan promises to visit, she awaits in anticipation. When she doesn’t turn up though, what to her may be a case of typical letting down appears to be something more concerning. Mari shares her concerns with the authorities, coming across belligerent officers but particularly a more empathetic commissioner approaching retirement (Gabriel Byrne).

Though the investigation struggles to yield any clues to Sharran’s case amid Mari’s insistence that not enough is being done, it takes a horrifying turn when over the course of the film, the bodies of young women are found on various shores who appear to be victims of a serial killer dating back 15 years.

Soon Mari and her daughters become acquainted with a group of the victims’ relatives, including a prostitute whose sister was murdered, as they navigate towards finding what became of Shannan, these unlikely people bought together by unimaginable tragedy.

Looking at the storyline, one could be forgiven for assuming this has a Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri-style narrative, given the similar traits on display of the main character. It is not that kind of film but one can see similarities with Ryan’s lead character;

white, working-class, strong, imperfect, female on a one-woman crusade against the male-dominated authority with a particularly ignorant A-hole of an officer  (Dean Winters). Byrne’s much more considerate investigator provides the moral backbone of the department, making for a welcome performance as the man bound to perform his duty based on what has been uncovered but crucially a much-needed figure.

Ryan and Byrne go well together in scenes which demonstrate the strength of Mari’s character, notably during a prickly encounter earlier when she storms to his office doing her own Three Billboards-style protest, stapling posters of Shannan to reflect each day she’s been missing and chastising him for referring to her, innocently, as a prostitute to the media, in full view of his colleagues. Neither character are perfect as highlighted in another scene when both remind the other of their flaws; how Shannan ended up in foster care suggesting neglect from Mari’s part while she retorts with his almost being fired for mismanagement.

The film comes across at times as an attack on the relevant authorities, with the most damning coming when Mari queries on several occasions how it took an hour for the police to arrive at the location where she was last seen but can arrive for other cases. Making light that the bodies of the missing women matching the same profile lay undiscovered after being dumped over so many years has the film looking like a difficult questionnaire for them.

The structure appears unoriginal though with the film guilty, but not fatally, of familiarity; the discoveries, the involvement of possible suspects, interrogations, confrontations, the basis of community, the idea of family. Despite its simplicities, it is a true story that respects the facts and makes no attempt to disguise the cruelties of this world and the tragedies of those affected.

By choosing to make its primary focus on Mari Gilbert, the film is restrained but its expression of power is clear at times, boosted by good casting choices and an appropriate display from the heart.

OUT OF FOUR STARS: **1/2

THE INVISIBLE MAN

123 years after its first publication, H.G. Wells’ infamous novel The Invisible Man is adapted for the 21st century though this time as a veiled reflection of the MeToo movement headlined by a stellar lead performance from Elisabeth Moss.

Moss plays Cecilia, a victim of domestic abuse who one night succeeds in escaping from the home of her millionaire scientist boyfriend Adrian Griffin. Taking shelter with her childhood friend Lucas, she is stunned to discover several weeks later that her boyfriend has committed suicide and left her an inheritance of $5million.

As she begins the process of rebuilding her life, a series of mysterious events take place which leads her to believe that her supposed dead ex-boyfriend is still alive and responsible, stalking her under the guise of invisibility. With the events ranging from cruel to the downright sinister, Cecilia faces an uphill battle to regain her reputation, sanity and even freedom from an enemy one step ahead of her. 

With this story, we get a unique twist where the emphasis is on an original character affected by a new version of the titular character whose appearance is secondary but highly pivotal. For the film to work in part, it requires a convincing and solid performance from its lead actress, which Moss delivers with apparent ease. As the abuse victim trying to return to her life, she conveys the confusion and frustration convincingly as a victim to a force that has the upper hand over her due to the unbelievability of her claims, a metaphor for the MeToo movement.

The opening scenes in which the character makes her escape are directed in a tense manner by Leigh Whannel with a camera and car alarm playing a part in building suspense, the sequence concluding with the discovery of an item that plays a vital part in the film’s plotting.

The adaptation allows for some twisted storytelling which detail how miserable her life is becoming at the hands of the mad genius, such as a job interview which goes disastrously wrong to a false accusation of violence. The highlight however comes in an unexpected sequence at a restaurant with a knock-on effect that is reminiscent of a key scene from North by Northwest. 

It is far from perfect though as the film does act as cliched at times and the supporting characters come across as second-rate, blown out the water by Moss’s performance. It also come across as slow at times and with the narrative and opportunities it has, it requires a more consistent energy, something the first half lacks at times. At two hours, one is left mulling if the film would have been better if it was shortened by fifteen minutes. 

Consistency is an issue and the overall result could have been better, but a more entertaining and chilling second half redeems and makes The Invisible Man a better film than if it had a much bigger budget. 

It offers something distinctive to the genre and at just $7million shows that studios don’t have to spend tens and tens of millions on explosive spectacles to make a very successful return. With that, it joins an ever-expanding list of profitable recent horrors like Get Out and A Quiet Place which prove how lucrative and effective such moderately-budgeted films can be.

OUT OF FOUR STARS: **1/2

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE

In recent years, Celine Sciamma has struggled to justify her position as a reliable director in French cinema. Tomboy though noble in its intentions appeared to be missing something to help it stand out and Girlhood was a dull attempt at attempting to identify with an underclass. 
With her latest work, the winner of the Best Screenplay award at Cannes last year Portrait of a Lady on Fire, she atones for her past errors with a beautiful and heartfelt period drama depicting the relationship between two young women in 18th century France. 
Marianne (Noemie Merlant) is an artist hired to travel to an island occupied by a young woman Heloise (Adele Haenel) who upon leaving the convent is resigned to marriage. Prior to the wedding, Marianne is asked by the mother (Valeria Golino) to paint a portrait of the bride-to-be, but with a catch; she must keep secret about her assignment due to her ardent refusals to sit for one previously.
Marianne proceeds to observe her subject, studying her whilst they engage in walks around the island but over time, the reason for her appearance is revealed although it is forgiven and leads to Heloise unusually agreeing to sit for the artist. This eventually leads to the two beginning a discreet affair despite the inevitability of what the future holds. 
There are times when Sciamma expertly directs moments to express the relationship between the two women. In the first scene that Haenel appears in, she is covered by gown, her movements studied by the artist whose motives initially have to remain discreet. Before long, she runs towards a cliff edge, suggesting an attempted suicide, pursed by a desperate Marianne only to stop at the last moment and turn around declaring she had no desire to do what it is implied her sister had done in events only discussed prior. 
Sciamma presents her observations by having Marianne narrate how the cartilage of an ear should be carefully noticed in a scene which shows via close-up Heloise walking up stairs followed by the artist. Precision is key in an artist’s work and the film is strongest when it gives an insight into analysing the challenges of the assignment, often punctuated by scenes showing Marianne doing the painting from memory; the painting shots expressing the detail that goes into it.   
At times, the film risks looking like an excuse to just stare at Haenel’s face as she walks and sits, but it is really a beautiful and well-directed method of making the viewer gain a clear understanding into the artist’s intentions, an art lesson of some sort. 
Both Merlant and Haenel suit each other’s parts and display a solid chemistry with a relationship that begins as professional and mysterious followed by friendly and respectful developing into love. The first sign that the two form a connection is when Marianne introduces Heloise to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, describing what the piece represents whilst learning of her pessimism to the forthcoming life in Italy that awaits her. 
This is referenced in the film’s final moments which play as a showcase for the talents of Haenel, a culmination of the journey she has been on that leads up to the moment of bravura acting, filmed in an uninterrupted take that will go some way to establishing Haenel as one of Europe’s most entertaining actors. 

The love story element is built upon, occurring later than assumed but done at the right pace because it gives us time to focus on the characterisations and story before that storyline can arrive. As viewers, we suspect that given the social setting, this is not going to end the way we desire it to, making the subsequent third act at times heart-wrenching to see. A particular scene on a beach provides us with the pained expression of reality, detailing how circumstance can be so cruel in the face of love.  
With two lead actresses at the top of their game and boosted by the often voyeuristic direction of Sciamma, this is a moving yet solidly-crafted and confident examination of society, art and love that entertains from beginning to end. Films that warrant repeat viewings are rare as one can see from a first view that it won’t increase in enjoyment but this indeed has the capability of achieving that as the year progresses. It is also a lesson that no matter how disappointing a director does with one film, it does not mean their next film will be the same. 
OUT OF FOUR STARS: ***



DARK WATERS

Through his career, Todd Haynes has presented stories such as the trials of a married mother in Far from Heaven, depictions of random personas of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There and lesbianism in 1950s New York with Carol, crafting a deserved reputation in the industry.
His latest project Dark Waters sees him take on the true-life story of a defence attorney whose moral conscience guides him to take on a chemical company accused of dumping chemicals and pursuing profit at the expense of the health and welfare of ordinary citizens. 
Mark Ruffalo portrays Robert Billet who works for an Ohio-based law firm whose life changes when he is approached by a West Virginia farmer (Bill Camp) who believes that the deaths of his cows are linked to supposed chemical spills and seeks justice to the Dupont corporation he firmly holds responsible.
What appears to be a favour escalates in a quest that stretches from 1998 to 2015, with Billet staking his professional career, his marriage and even his health as he strives to uncover evidence of the powerful company’s ruthless activity for the sake of those affected.
Ruffalo delivers a good performance as ever in a role which see him progress from almost being proud to defend such corporations to becoming the moral crusader motivated by the fears that his own family could be affected by the company’s behaviour. He also has decent support from Anne Hathaway as his long-suffering devout Christian wife who often finds herself torn regarding the support of his career and her status as a wife with his children.

Haynes usually makes good films but with this, his attempt to tell a true life story fails to offer anything new. At times, the film enters into conventional methods, presenting supporting characters who encounter resentment from fellow citizens and the threat of life even indicated. These traits end up falling flat because it practically copies other films and is too obvious in its attempts to act as a thriller. 
Another problem is the film’s emphasis on suggesting the threat of life towards Billet’s character as demonstrated in a scene where he hesitates in turning the ignition of his car, something cliched and shown recently in a scene in The Irishman. 
Take Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict, a film that worked so well because the film started as a drama and remained a drama within its David vs Goliath narrative. With Dark Waters, what we get is a drama that tries once too often tries to be a thriller, instead of just retaining focus on the drama aspect. 
The film seems a cliché at times, not just with its lead actor’s character arc but also the pitfalls that are endured pursuing the case, with setbacks and long-gestating periods of waiting depicted. It is also guilty of telling us something we already suspect having Billet start on friendly terms with the corporation’s lawyer he’s acquainted with (Victor Garber) who officially becomes his nemesis at an awkward dinner once facts are uncovered, leaving us void of any surprise. 
It works on some levels with scenes depicting the case testing Billet to the limit, such as when he sifts through literally boxes of documents and his conversation with his boss (Tim Robbins) where he is informed his prolonged pursuit will result in another pay cut. It does modestly well at paying tribute to the lawyer who could have carried on what he was doing but put his heart first in spite of the challenges would do. 
Haynes seems to be in a position where the talent he displayed in the 2000s with Far from Heaven and I’m Not There appears to be waning somewhat. One has to argue if he was the right director for this project and if he would have benefitted from a different project entirely. There are some moments which work but all it does is make us wonder when something memorable and unique is going to happen, which it doesn’t, made all the more unfortunate given the talent on display.
OUT OF FOUR STARS: **1/2

A TRIBUTE TO MAX VON SYDOW: 10 FILMS

I found out the death of the great Swedish actor Max von Sydow late this afternoon. 90 years old, I found myself amongst my sadness thinking back to what an extraordinary career he had. From his works in the 1950s and 1960s with the man who arguably pushed his career Ingmar Bergman, to his works with American directors such as William Friedkin and Steven Spielberg, few European actors had a career quite as diverse. His involvement in foreign cinema and blockbuster movies from various parts of the world was a testament to how respected he was in so many quarters. His versatility was all to see in so many different projects and here lie 10 films that presented Sydow as a titanic presence of world cinema, and one who will be sorely missed.

The Virgin Spring (1960)

One of his collaborations with Bergman saw him portray Tore whose daughter is raped and murdered and seizes the opportunity to kill those responsible when they stay at his home by chance. His killings of the perpetrators and the young boy accompanied by them is relentless to view and Sydow’s vengeance-hungry Christian Per was as worthy of discussion as his Antonius Block.

Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Though not one of Bergman’ strongest works, this deserves an honourable mention for the acting of Sydow. Sydow’s character’s wife is suffering from a mental illness when she comes home for the summer and the toll of her uncertain future results in a world-class performance from him in one notable scene. He makes his excuses from a lunch and hides in an upstairs room breaking down in tears, one of the most intensely acted sequences from a Bergman film.

The Exorcist (1973)

Arguably the role most people will remember him, his Father Karras was a key part of one of the most infamous and finest horror films of the 20th century. His career was grand enough that he did not need to be known primarily for his role as the tragic priest bought in to free the demon from Linda Blair in this, but his characterisation was essential to the film’s success. With his presence key to the film, Sydow contributed to one of the most iconic posters in cinema history.

Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Sydow was just as adept at playing the villain as he was the hero of the story and in one of his more menacing performances, he portrayed a bespectacled hitman trying to kill Robert Redford in this conspiracy thriller.

Never Say Never Again (1983)

Sydow’s involvement here as Blofeld in Sean Connery’s unofficial Bond film was mainly down to Connery’s determination to secure the best cast for his comeback film, a sign of his value within the industry within his peers. Sydow was quietly sadistic as the SPECTRE chief who in a calm and at one point cheeky manner outlines his plans to steal nuclear weaponry for extortion purposes.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

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Woody Allen’s ensemble piece about relationships included Allen himself, Michael Caine, Mia Farrow and Dianne Weist and Sydow’s involvement was just as worthy as the dull artist whose younger wife played by Barbara Hershey leaves him. Their break-up sequence is both uncomfortable and honest to watch as infidelity is gradually revealed, guided by an emotionally-charged Sydow, a sequence which would go some way for justifying Allen’s victory for the Original Screenplay Academy Award. 

Pelle the Conqueror (1987)
Receiving a Best Actor Academy Award nomination, Sydow portrayed an aeging widower who guides his young son as they seek a more prosperous future outside of economically-deprived Sweden for prosperous Denmark. Fighting off the bullish activities of the management in the farm they end up working on, the film is less a story of survival and more of a testing of a father-son bond, the result being a deserved winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Europa (1991)
One of Lars von Trier’s earlier works featured Sydow in a role as a narrator in this pastiche of post-World War II Germany. His voice is chilling to listen to in the film’s denouement as the main character drowns and is told he will die upon a count of 10, the scene made more intense by Sydow’s narration. Rarely has a count of 10 sounded as effective.

Sleepless (2001)
Dario Argento’s giallo picture saw Sydow portray a detective bought out of retirement to solve murders connected to a previous case. His eccentric methods provided him with more depth than the usual lead characters involved in Argento’s more contemporary pieces. His death spurred from a heart attack laughing at an intruder right after smoking a cigarette for the first time in decades provoked sorrow because of the likable nature of this character.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

In Julian Schnabel’s poignant biopic of a magazine editor played by Mathieu Amalric left paralysed because of a stroke and only capable of communicating via blinking in one eye, Schnabel presents flashbacks of the editor’s life pre-accident. One of those depicts a touching scene between Amalric and Sydow as the son shaves his father while he discusses him missing his wife. Though only in one scene, Sydow’s scene was a welcome one, a representation of how welcome he was onscreen whether in a short or large role.