Hanna, Joe Wright, 111 mins (12A)
My Dog Tulip, Paul & Sandra Fierlinger, 82 mins (12A)
Water for Elephants, Francis Lawrence 121 mins (12A)
Is it an action flick? Art-house? Or what? If only director Joe Wright had a clue
Sunday 08 May 2011
Considering that Paul Greengrass made his name directing the Bourne films, and that Sam Mendes has signed up for the next Bond movie, perhaps it's only natural that Joe Wright should swap such acclaimed literary adaptations as Atonement and Pride and Prejudice for a globe-trotting spy thriller.
But Hanna doesn't feel very natural. It feels as if Wright has taken the screenplay for a trashy, 90-minute action movie and struggled desperately to make it into an art film.
It opens in the Arctic snow, where Eric Bana is living in a log cabin with his 16-year-old daughter, Saiorse Ronan, miles away from any other human company. A retired secret agent, Bana has been training Ronan throughout her childhood in marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat, and everything else she needs to know to be an international superspy (although, strangely, he neglects to explain what passports are and how televisions work). His priceless survival tip: "Think on your feet – even when you're sleeping." But Ronan, like all teenagers, wants to get away from Dad and see the world, even if it means being hunted from continent to continent by a CIA hit squad led by Cate Blanchett, whose Texan accent should have its own licence to kill.
On paper, Hanna is so close to the aforementioned Bourne franchise that Wright could have stuck in a photo of Matt Damon somewhere and marketed it as a spin-off. Maybe that's what he should have done. The violence, when it comes, is deeply unpleasant for a 12A film, but it certainly delivers: the best bit is one of Wright's signature extra-long tracking shots that encompasses a chase and a fight sequence without any cuts.
But the director sets out to prove that Hanna is more than a Bourne rip-off, so he keeps pulling it away from thriller territory and towards ... well, you name it. Sometimes the film is grimly serious, to the point of being morose. Sometimes it's a broad comedy, featuring Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng as bohemian travellers, and Tom Hollander as a louche assassin with a peroxide rinse and a taste for white sportswear. At other times, Wright plays up the story's nightmarish weirdness, and batters us about the head with fairy-tale motifs: one more reference to wicked witches or woodland cottages and Walt Disney could have sued. And sometimes the director just wants us to sit back and admire the local colour. Hanna, surely, has the longest flamenco performance of any action movie ever.
It's bewildering to see so much talent and effort go into a film with no logic and no obvious wisdom to impart except that training children to be killing machines is probably not a sensible idea. Hanna is terrible in all sorts of interesting ways, but it's still terrible.
My Dog Tulip is almost as bizarre. Adapted from J R Ackerley's memoir, and hand-drawn in a similarly scratchy style to The Illusionist and Belleville Rendez-Vous, it's an understated cartoon about the mutual devotion of an ageing bachelor and his pet Alsatian. Initially, its anecdotes have bags of modest charm. Christopher Plummer's crotchety voice-over is delightful, and the depiction of 1950s London is as heart-warming as a cup of tea and a biscuit. Then, when the film moves on to Tulip's toilet habits and sex life, that seems laudable, too, for a while: it's showing the nitty-gritty of dog ownership, not the cutesified Marley & Me version. But eventually the film-makers become fixated on Tulip's mating mishaps. Anyone who's not studying canine gynaecology should head for the exit halfway through.
There's a bit of manure-shovelling in Water For Elephants, but otherwise, I'm relieved to say, the animals are allowed some privacy. Like The Notebook and Titanic, the film is a lush period-melodrama that revolves around a youthful romance, as recounted decades later by one of the lovers. It stars Robert Pattinson as a veterinary student who drops out of university following a family tragedy. With no money and no idea what to do, he ends up joining a circus which criss-crosses dusty, Depression-era America on its own steam train.
The film paints a credible picture of this rambunctious existence, with its cramped conditions and hand-blistering work. There's some CGI, but most of the time it seems that we're seeing real people putting on a real show in a real big top – and only just scraping a living. But the circus has its glamour, too, in the shape of its luminous bareback rider, Reese Witherspoon. Unfortunately for Pattinson, she's married to the tyrannical ringmaster, Christoph Waltz, who flicks between bonhomie and brutality as easily as he did in Inglourious Basterds, but has an extra capacity for remorse and self-pity. Pattinson is soon running through all the pained, yearning grimaces he perfected in the Twilight films, and an old-fashioned love triangle gets under way.
Nicholas Barber treks 800km with Martin Sheen in The Way
Also Showing: 08/05/2011
Outside the Law (139 mins, 15)
Three Algerian brothers, including Abdelkader (played by Sami Bouajila, inset below) become freedom fighters/terrorists in Paris after the Second World War. Rachid Bouchareb (London River, Days of Glory) has made an epic history of the Algerian revolt, with as many moral questions as it has gun battles. But as the bodies pile up, it's hard to sympathise with its characters.
Forget Me Not (91 mins, 15)
This low-budget Brit-indie film, above, follows in the footsteps of Before Sunrise, in that it has two strangers walking and talking around London one night and, who knows, perhaps even falling in love. Essentially, it's one long conversation, so it's a pity that that conversation is so dreary, with nothing distinctive in it except a last-minute twist.
Jig (90 mins, PG)
Sue Bourne's documentary about the Irish dancing world championships unearths as much eccentricity and obsession as any of Christopher Guest's mockumentaries, but too many questions go unanswered. Why, for instance, do the girls all wear monstrous curly hairpieces that make the contest look, as one parent notes, like "a Shirley Temple convention"?
Flying Monsters 3D with David Attenborough (40 mins, PG)
Educational and fun Imax documentary about prehistoric pterosaurs.
Deep End is a 1970s tale of desperate passion from Jerzy Skolimowski in which Jane Asher is the mini-skirted siren. If the spring's proving too warm for you, try How I Ended This Summer – a riveting Russian tale of two men's psychodrama on a remote Arctic island. Polar bears, chill winds, and psychological turbulence all round.
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