Making perfect sense


MONEY MAKES the cinematic world go around, this overstuffed week. A battalion of blockbusters bears down on the box-office, set to make money and to dissect it. This week's auteurs have filthy lucre on their minds - soon to transfer to their pockets. Martin Scorsese shows us a Las Vegas that glints with neon and with coins - many of them "skimmed" off to mob bosses back home. The Shallow Grave team present a hip heroin satire that opens with a shoplifting, includes robbery from geriatrics, and closes with a stolen bag of bank notes. Jane Austen (the hottest property of all) knowingly probes the equation between cash and passion, ending on a shower of gold coins at a wedding. Joe Pesci's vicious Seventies hood, who vies with Harriet Walter's grasping 19th-century matriarch as the week's nastiest character, mints our theme with his usual splenetic pith: "Let me tell you - the fuckin' bottom line here is cash".

Any one of these films would lead this column most weeks. I'll take them in chronological order. Not that there is anything musty or antiquated about Jane Austen's 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility (PG), here adapted by Emma Thompson and directed by Ang Lee (the producer's decision to entrust this English classic to a Taiwanese director suggests a shrewd appreciation of the book's universality). Austen's novel is a timeless moral inquiry into the merits of passion and common sense in human affairs (of the heart and otherwise). The two approaches are roughly represented by the Dashwood sisters: steady Elinor (Thompson) and intemperate romantic Marianne (Kate Winslet), who, along with their mother (Gemma Jones) and younger sister, are left in comparative penury after their father's death.

Emma Thompson is the guiding intelligence behind this movie: it is her sense and sensibility that make Sense and Sensibility a success. For one thing her adaptation is first-rate. No mere shifting of speech from page to screen, it is an astute combination of fidelity and invention. She is attentive to the detail of Austen's ordered world (the way, for instance, as oldest sister her character is referred to as "Miss Dashwood"; Winslet's as "Miss Marianne"). Yet by taking liberties with the text, she liberates characters neglected by Austen in this, her first novel. An early scene in which Elinor's beloved, Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), coaxes the sulking youngest Dashwood sister out from under a table brings two characters unrealised in the book humorously to life. This is also Thompson's best performance since Howards End: a perfect fit for her blend of goodness and intelligence. Learning of her sister's betrayal by the bounder Willoughby, her eyes encompass compassion and fury.

Yet Thompson, and everyone else, is eclipsed by Kate Winslet's Marianne. With the face of a Joshua Reynolds portrait and the soul of a romantic heroine, Winslet is heart-stopping. We see her first playing a dirge on the piano, her features taking on a marmoreal whiteness, her lips pursed in grave aesthetic contemplation. Her Marianne could no more hide her emotions than stop breathing. Her breeding is at war with her unreined spirit. Sweetness and disdain mingle in her look when confronted by the blast of vulgarity that is the gossipy Mrs Jennings (an irrepressible Elizabeth Spriggs). When delighted, she whelps with joy, and when she is jilted by Willoughby, she has a pallor beyond make-up. (Thompson, when Ferrars appears lost to her, looks almost as poorly - a lighter shade of pale.)

The film is full of fine acting. Indeed, Alan Rickman's Colonel Brandon is a supporting performance that borders on greatness. The essence of a supporting player, he never grandstands but always hints at unexplored depths. His smile is that of a wounded man, the noble attempt at warmth of a wintry soul. Hugh Grant's Ferrars is too handsome, but correctly diffident, walking as if he had an ironing board up his coat. Greg Wise is less accomplished, as Willoughby, but his callowness fits his character. With such an array of acting talent (including the laconically hilarious Hugh Laurie) it would be easy to think of the film as directing itself - but mistaken. The movie has the decor of Merchant Ivory but far greater emotional impact - surely due to the stern restraint of Lee. It is less harsh than Austen (or than the fine recent BBC adaptation of Persuasion), softer on her themes of secrecy and sickness, but worthy of her.

Martin Scorsese's Casino (18) is about a man who has everything, and then mistakenly lets love enter his life. In this fact-based fiction Robert De Niro plays Sam "Ace" Rothstein, a gambler, who takes over the running of a Las Vegas casino in the Seventies - so setting himself up with all the salmon-pink ties and tangerine jackets money can purchase - by virtue (or maybe vice) of his skill at monitoring scams. His smooth life is ruffled by the arrival in town of boyhood friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), an explosive little man whose veins run with concentrated venom. Worse, Ace falls for a hooker (Sharon Stone) hotter on drugs and alcohol than fidelity. Casino is about fate, and how it's muddled by desire. "The gods were happy - or as happy as the gods would ever be - and I was about to complicate my life," recalls Ace.

Ace does a lot of recalling in Casino; so does Nicky - their voice-overs rarely let up throughout the movie's near-three-hour length. There is an obvious problem with this: the movie too often tells us what it should show; and the drama becomes fitful in the face of the acres of exposition. But if you are prepared to accept the voice-over, Casino becomes fascinating: a documentary on an unsavoury species - Vegas vermin. With its constant narration and dark characters, Casino resembles film-noir docu-dramas such as Anthony Mann's T-Men, whose superb John Alton cinematography Scorsese echoes. We're shown the mechanics of the grim casino money- making machine: the tables and the gamblers, the scams and the precautions, the summary, brutal justice dealt out to the cheats.

Scorsese shoots the movie with his customary hyped-up brilliance. Oliver Stone's cameraman Robert Richardson, working for the first time with Scorsese, makes Vegas seem noirish but also luridly real. The different feints and dummies of the casino, a world where everybody has an eye on somebody else and the only blind eye is turned towards morality, are beautifully choreographed. And Scorsese stylishly underlines his key moments, as with the first meeting between Pesci and Stone. Scorsese marks its fatefulness with three swift zoom-ins, which echo the similar camera movements when Winona Ryder rumbled Daniel Day-Lewis in The Age of Innocence. Scorsese's soundtrack, though overladen with his Seventies record collection, can also be slyly effective; Stone's first appearance is greeted by the Rolling Stones' "Heart of Stone".

The acting honours go to De Niro and Stone. De Niro is back in Heat mode: repressed, controlled, ever watchful, with an enigmatic little smile, and a furrow across his brow - a man too wary for love. Stone shows us Ginger's manipulativeness and her streetfighter's morals, her screeching hysteria and her rightful, vain fury at the misogynistic world around her. With their grafting, untrusting personalities Abe and Ginger are mirror images: perfectly unmatched. Completing a weird romantic triangle Pesci has all the horrific violence of earlier roles (he squeezes a man's head in a vice), without the terrifying lurches of mood he showed in GoodFellas. He's monotonously psychotic.

Casino struck me as a great disappointment when I first saw it during the London Film Festival last November. Renewed acquaintance reveals that it still has faults, especially its lack of moral focus. Scorsese seems in thrall to despicable characters, who lack the weight to give his film the tragic grandeur it's searching for. The film ends with a disingenuous suggestion that the vileness we've just witnessed was preferable to the Disneyfication of Vegas. But the film has depths and details that repay repeated viewing. It's a vast mosaic without a moral, a wild gamble that partly comes off.

Hip, hyped, slick, smart, and scabrously funny, Danny Boyle's Trainspotting (18), a quick fix of a movie, makes good much of the promise of Shallow Grave. Screenwriter John Hodge has done a witty pick-and-mix job on Irvine Welsh's classic novel. The movie plays as a series of surreal sketches on the highs and horrors of drug addiction, shaping in the final third, set around a heroin deal in London, into a caustic thriller. The narrator (used more sparingly than in Casino) is Ewan McGregor's Renton, the smartest of a bunch of heroin addicts who live for "scag" and a male pleasure in lists and minutiae, such as ranking the films of Sean Connery. This loose gang includes the suave and self-obsessed Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller); the gormless Spud (Ewen Bremner); and the non-user Begbie, a less gentle version of Joe Pesci. As Begbie, Robert Carlyle gives the pick of the performances, his nostrils flaring with aggression.

The movie has been criticised by ex-addicts, among others, for glamourising drugs. Bizarrely, they have missed the point, which is not so much that Trainspotting shows more of the degradation of drugs - such as junkies shitting themselves in bed, agonisingly detoxing, or finding their baby dead - than the joy (though it does). Or even that drugs do have glamour: and the film's not afraid to depict their brief, mortifying thrill. It's that Trainspotting is a satire on the drug-taking mentality: it shows how drug-takers, who think they are fleeing from stereotyped lives, merely end up living another stereotype. The movie opens with Renton rejecting a litany of shibboleths ("Choose life ... Choose a job ... Choose a career ...") - and ends with him embracing them. Its nihilism is bleaker and funnier than an endorsement of drugs: it suggests drug addiction is as cliched a life as any other. It would be hard to be more deglamourising.

If the movie has a problem it is that in going for a swift and surreal approach, it can become cartoonish. In Welsh's novel (much of the verbal richness of which is understandably jettisoned), we inhabit the minds of the characters; in the film, some are close to caricatures (the novel's Spud, for instance, is scary, as well as goofish). Like Shallow Grave, the movie is a little overdesigned, and its photography has the feel of TV (Boyle over-uses low angles to put depth into his compositions). But such faults are minor set aside the huge brio, wit and empathy. Masahiro Hirakubo's editing is out of this world. And Boyle never allows his visual invention to flag, using jump-cuts, freeze frames, and other devices pioneered by the likes of Scorsese and Kubrick. Refreshingly, here are British film-makers on the side of excitement and entertainment. You can imagine a more daring version of Welsh's novel, but not a more enjoyable one.

Cinema details: Review, page 76.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    KS1 Primary Teacher

    £100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

    KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

    £140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

    Year 1/2 Teacher

    £130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

    Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

    £140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam