Film review: The Croods is surreal, heart-warming and intelligent – just a typical caveman day out


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The Independent Culture

Cavemen. Of course.

We've had cartoons about toys, robots, clownfish and woolly mammoths, so it was only to be expected that we'd eventually get a cartoon about cavemen. And it was only to be expected that said cartoon would have a cast of celebrity voices and a thuddingly obvious theme. Sure enough, The Croods has Nicolas Cage as an over-protective Neanderthal dad, and Emma Stone as his rebellious teenage daughter. It couldn't be more predictable.

Except that suddenly it isn't predictable at all. After the first 10 minutes, essentially a big-budget rehash of The Flintstones, the family is forced to venture beyond its cave in the company of a teenage boy (Ryan Reynolds) who likes ideas and inventions as much as the Croods like brute strength and ignorance. Exploring a landscape that's being obliterated by plate tectonics, the travellers encounter a walking whale, flying turtles and a herd of elephant mice, and from then on the film's luminescent 3D-vistas become yet more wonderfully surreal. The Croods is a visual banquet of textures and colours – and as Roger Deakins, cinematographer extraordinaire, is its visual consultant, I can say that without loss of film-crit credibility.

The comedy only gets more inspired and idiosyncratic. While most new cartoons feel as if they've been assembled by committee, the only credited writers and directors here are Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco – plus, intriguingly, John Cleese, who worked on early drafts of the screenplay – and their humour shines through. They even get laughs from mother-in-law jokes and a banana-skin pratfall, despite those chestnuts being Stone Age. If you're in the market for a cartoon featuring a feisty red-headed girl, The Croods is more intelligent and heart-warming than the Oscar-winning Brave.

In contrast to those kaleidoscopic panoramas, Compliance (Craig Zobel, 90 mins, 15 ****) is set almost entirely within the greasy walls of a suburban diner. On a busy Friday evening, the diner's manager (Ann Dowd) takes a call from someone claiming to be a policeman. He tells her that one of her young cashiers (Dreama Walker) has been spotted stealing from a customer, but that he's not free to apprehend her himself. Would she, the manager, lock the cashier in a storeroom until the police arrive? And, having done that, would she frisk her? The manager is too preoccupied to question these instructions. And so it's left to the viewer to wonder how far the manager, her colleagues, and their unseen interlocutor will go.

Compliance is a cunning and darkly funny conman movie, but it's also a poignant character study. Step by careful step, it leads its cast to a peak of mass hysteria which calls to mind The Crucible, and indeed last week's Beyond the Hills, which likewise examines how people can commit crimes while believing they are acting for the best. Its most sobering aspect is that (like Beyond the Hills) Compliance is a dramatisation of real events, and while its fidelity to the facts keeps the action limited and even anticlimactic, it remains a haunting tragedy. The message, it seems, is that we haven't evolved much beyond cavemen even now.

Critic's Choice

Cristian Mungiu, the Palme d'Or-winning Romanian director, takes us Beyond The Hills in a startling real-life tale of trauma in a remote Orthodox convent. And Ken Loach celebrates The Spirit of 45 in a moving docu-polemic about post-war Labour and the welfare state.