You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Woody Allen, 98 mins (12A)
Route Irish, Ken Loach, 109 mins (15)
The Lincoln Lawyer, Brad Furman, 118 mins (15)
Everything you always knew about Woody Allen films
Sunday 20 March 2011
Woody Allen is 75 and Ken Loach is 74, and as they both have films out this week, it would take a stronger critic than I to resist lumping them together. Besides, the connection isn't all that tenuous. Their new releases both have a rough-and-unready feel which suggests that the directors wanted to get their films finished more than they wanted to get them right.
Allen's comedy drama, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, is particularly slapdash. It's set in London – never an encouraging sign – and it cuts between several interlinked characters, à la Hannah and Her Sisters. At its centre are two unhappy couples. Anthony Hopkins has left his wife, Gemma Jones, while their daughter, Naomi Watts, isn't getting on much better with her husband, Josh Brolin. Jones finds solace in the blandishments of a fortune teller, Pauline Collins. Hopkins gets a more physical form of consolation from Lucy Punch, a caricatured gold-digger. Watts is drawn to Antonio Banderas, the owner of the gallery where she works. And Brolin's failed novelist has set his sights on a neighbour, Freida Pinto, who is flattered, bizarrely, to hear how he enjoys spying on her while she undresses.
There are a few touching, bracingly bleak moments: a drunken almost-kiss between Watts and Banderas, for instance. But that's what's so frustrating about Allen's recent output. There are always glimmers of the film he might have made, but he repeatedly sabotages it with carelessness. It wouldn't have been difficult to fix the corny plotting, the am-dram staging or the stilted dialogue, but Allen, it seems, just doesn't have the patience any more, so Naomi Watts has to slog through such lines as: "My long-standing faith in her has finally been vindicated." My own long-standing faith in Allen has finally been worn out.
Loach's new film, Route Irish, is a conspiracy thriller set in Liverpool, but concerned with some dodgy dealings in Iraq. Its hero, Mark Womack, is an ex-soldier who's now employed by a private security firm in Baghdad. His best friend has just been killed on "Route Irish", the perilous road between the airport and the Green Zone, and Womack is hell-bent on uncovering what happened.
Alas, most of his detective work consists of listening to people as they tell him their stories, usually over the phone, which is hardly riveting, especially when the audience will have solved the mystery long before Womack does. Instead of developing the plot or the characters, the film gets hung up on the message that waterboarding is a bad thing, and that it's wrong to profit from the deaths of Iraqi citizens. Even if several films hadn't made those points already, most people could have figured them out for themselves – and certainly most people who go to see Ken Loach films.
It's a relief, then, to see a movie as sleek, assured and downright entertaining as The Lincoln Lawyer. Don't be put off by the hopeless title (the hero's law office is, irrelevantly, the back seat of his Lincoln sedan) or by the presence of Matthew McConaughey. Yes, he's as smug as ever, but this time he's supposed to be, playing a fast-talking ambulance-chaser who specialises in getting guilty clients off on technicalities. Adapted from a Michael Connelly novel, it's an old-fashioned, hard-boiled LA crime story, and it's the best of its kind in quite some while.
Nicholas Barber visits Roman Britain with Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) in The Eagle
Also Showing: 20/03/2011
Chalet Girl (107 mins, PG)
Formulaic British comedy starring Felicity Jones, above, as a working-class girl who is taken on as a maid in a luxury ski lodge. The moral is that anything is possible ... just as long as you're a skateboarding champion who gets the world's cushiest job and then sleeps with the first rich bimbo who comes along.
Ballast (96 mins, 15)
Spare indie drama set in the flat, grey-green countryside of Mississippi, where three people are rebuilding their lives following the death of the man who bound them together. It's heart-wrenching, even though what little dialogue there is is spoken in murmurs.
Benda Bilili! (86 mins, PG)
Staff Benda Bilili is a group of homeless paraplegic musicians from Kinshasa who have found success on the European festival circuit. The poverty they've endured is astonishing, and the band undoubtedly deserves its fairy-tale transformation, but this film is more like a promotional video than an in-depth documentary.
Anuvahood (88 mins, 15)
Awful British council-block "comedy". Avoid.
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rihanna 'nude pictures' claims emerge on 4Chan as hacking scandal continues
- 2 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 3 'F*ck it, I quit': KTVA reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 4 Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned PR disaster
- 5 Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Downton Abbey fans unimpressed by Kindle sponsorship adverts
Cilla, episode 2, ITV, review: Sheridan Smith continues to shine
Kendrick Lamar announces new song 'i' following leak
Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned PR disaster
Top Gear to launch in France after Jeremy Clarkson banned from driving on roads
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God