Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 157 mins (15)
We Bought a Zoo, Cameron Crowe, 123 mins (PG)
21 Jump Street, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, 110 mins (15)
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Sunday 18 March 2012
When you hear about a two-and-half-hour Turkish film, even one that's bagged the Grand Prix at Cannes, you may get the pre-dentist feeling that it's probably going to be good for you but you're not going to enjoy it. Try to suppress that feeling. It's true that Once Upon a Time in Anatolia doesn't have any car chases, love scenes or anything you could call a dramatic climax, but Nuri Bilge Ceylan's rural crime drama is so engrossing, and proceeds with such a powerful sense of purpose, that there isn't a shot or a line in it that you wouldn't want to be there.
For much of the running time, three carloads of men are driving through scrubby countryside by night. Two are prisoners who have confessed to a murder. The rest are police and other officials. There's an exasperated police chief (Yilmaz Erdogan), a complacent prosecutor (Tenar Birsel), and a confident young doctor (Muhammet Azner). The suspects have promised to lead them to a field where they've buried a corpse, but that's not easy in an almost featureless landscape at night.
The men's odyssey through the moonlit hills doesn't take them far from the nearest town – 37km, confirms a comically pedantic sergeant – but as the wind blows and the thunder rolls, it feels as if they've crossed over to another world, perhaps even a hell where they're condemned to keep driving forever. They certainly seem to be searching for something far more elusive and profound than one dead body.
But as dream-like and mythical as the film becomes, Ceylan keeps a wry eye on the practicalities: the problem of closing a car boot, and how often the convoy has to stop so that the prosecutor can have a pee. And while the men's sleep-deprived conversations drift into philosophical reverie, they also share some very earthbound fears and regrets.
With its Western plotting, its epic scope, its deadpan comedy, and its air of weirdness, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is like nothing you will have seen before, but its closest cousins are the films of the Coen brothers. The difference is that while the Coens often leave you with the suspicion that the whole thing's a joke, and that the audience is the butt of it, you never doubt Bilge Ceylan's compassion for his weary heroes. After two and a half hours, you're ready to watch his film again.
Cameron Crowe's We Bought a Zoo is based on a true story – not that you can spot much truth beneath all the sugary sentiment. Transplanting events from England to California, the film features Matt Damon as a hunky journalist whose perfect wife died of cancer six months earlier. His lisping moppet of a daughter isn't affected in the slightest by the bereavement, but his teenage son likes to draw sketches of zombies, which, as we all know, signifies severe psychological damage. Damon has no option but to move his children away from friends and relatives, and into a rundown safari park which he can somehow afford to buy.
The price not only gets him a stunning mansion overlooked by wooded mountains, plus a quaint pub, but also a huge number of exotic animals (though we barely glimpse most of them), and a staff of loyal eccentrics. It even comes with two unattached beauties – one for Damon and one for his son – including Scarlett Johansson, who's head zookeeper. Damon, meanwhile, brings nothing to his new job except magical good luck, but that appears to be enough. The minute he's short of cash, a cheque for $84,000 drops from the heavens. Shameless.
21 Jump Street is a raucous action-comedy starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as two policemen who pretend to be teenagers in order to infiltrate a high-school drugs ring. It's as undisciplined as today's semi-improvised, post-Judd Apatow comedies always are, but it does have a few smart jokes. Having left school all of seven years ago, Tatum is bewildered to find that today's most popular youngsters are fans of superhero comics, environmentalism and tolerance. "I blame Glee," he growls.
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