The Usual Suspects

Year: 1995
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Pete Postlethwaite
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

I’m often guilty of neglecting the “classics”. I tend to convince myself that “I will watch them soon” and that “they will always be there to watch another time”. But when ‘The Usual Suspects’ appeared in two of our writers’ top 5 films of all time, I knew I had to watch this one. I’m only 20 years late. Director Bryan Singer is responsible for the X-Men films of which I’m not so keen, so forgive me for being apprehensive. But Kevin Spacey is brilliant at everything he does, so along with the hype of my peers, and the pair of Oscars the film won back in 1996 – for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Original Screenplay – I had pretty high hopes.

The film processes a chain of events from the account of one Verbal Kint (Spacey), taking us through a story full of twists and turns right from the moment five conmen are wrongly apprehended for a truck hijacking. The suspects then join forces to get revenge on the police, before being forced into a much bigger, more dangerous job by the strange influence of the mythical Keyser Söze. Back in the present day, Agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) interrogates Kint as the lone survivor of a heist which left 27 victims, including his accomplices. Under intense pressure to uncover the dark dealings of his friend Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), and to identify the fabled Keyser Söze and his lawyer Kobayashi, Kint tells all he can to gain immunity from the police and walk free. But he leaves plenty of mysteries still unsolved.

Kevin Spacey is outstanding as ever. The dry, sardonic humour and flat tone of voice which have become synonymous with Spacey are evident here, long before his ruthless ‘House Of Cards’ persona. I’m not sure what competition he faced in the 1996 Best Actor in a Supporting Role category, but I’m confident he deserved the Oscar. The dark, suspicious air surrounding the character of Keaton owes much to the performance of Gabriel Byrne, who brings a mean, authoritative and dangerous edge to the role. He was definitely my suspect for the man-behind-the-myth, but for those of you who don’t know the identity of Keyser Söze, I won’t spoilt it for you by saying if I was right or not. Chazz Palminteri, who you may know as Shorty in ‘Modern Family’, offers a fantastic, at times funny, chemistry opposite Kevin Spacey. He plays the bad cop role perfectly, whilst maintaining the dark, humorous tone of the film.

I found myself feeling very confused for much of the film; maybe I’d had a long day and wasn’t ready for such a perplexing experience. As much as I lamented the predictability of ‘Days Of Future Past’, Singer certainly kept me guessing with ‘The Usual Suspects’, teasing me until revealing all at the end. Through flashbacks and jumbled, deceitful recollections, the whole narrative became distorted until I didn’t know what to believe. I suppose the ongoing ambiguity is all part of the fun, they want you to sit there scratching your head, trying to figure out whodunit, and the more I think about it, the more I did enjoy the guessing game.

I read on the IMDb reviews for ‘The Usual Suspects’ that you need to watch the film twice; “First time is for entertainment. Second time is for art”. I think I need that second viewing. I was definitely entertained on my maiden viewing, if not a little lost. Now I know what’s coming, I can just sit back and enjoy an exceptionally clever and fascinating, well-made film, with acting of the highest quality and a dark, thrilling plot. I will reserve judgement on whether to brand this one a “classic” until that all important second viewing, but I can absolutely agree that this is a brilliant film nonetheless.

Jakob’s rating: 8.2 out of 10
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United 93

Year: 2006
Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: David Alan Basche, Olivia Thirlby, Liza Colon-Zayas, J.J Johnson
Written by Chris Winterbottom
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

There was a lot of concern surrounding the release of ‘United 93’ in 2006, with inevitable cries of “too soon” heard before the film opened. Four years passed since the horrendous events of 9/11, before director Paul Greengrass stepped up and took on the challenge of making a film about one the darkest moments in modern history. Despite the concerns, the film undoubtedly carried an air of importance around it, creating a heady mix of trepidation and fascination as to what the film would be like.

The film centres on United Flight 93, one of the planes hijacked on 9/11, which crashed near the borough of Shanksville, Pennsylvania; a crash which received far less media coverage than that of the attacks on the World Trade Centre yet one which is no less horrific. To tell a personal story in the midst of the chaos of the World Trade Centre attacks would be a nigh on impossible task, as Oliver Stone found out in his sentimental ‘World Trade Centre’ project. By focussing on this particular flight, and depicting the events as they unfold in real time, from multiple perspectives, Greengrass allows the personal stories of those on board to be front and centre.

Greengrass chose unknown actors for the film; another wise decision, as picking well known Hollywood stars would have, perhaps, undermined the poignant tone of the film. After all, the tragic event was never about any one person, and the film effectively highlights this. The whole cast give brave and believable performances and to talk about one individual would do a disservice to an ensemble that tastefully channel the desperation, fear and the defiance of those on board. Greengrass gets subtlety and nuance from each actor, and considering the limited screen time for most characters, this is a remarkable achievement.

The real star of the film is Paul Greengrass. The director has had a diverse career, spearheading the latter two films in ‘The Bourne Trilogy’, as well as the recent ‘Captain Phillips’. Arguably, the success of ‘United 93’ is almost entirely down to him. To make a film with a subject matter this delicate, it would have to take a person more emotionally removed from the events, basically a non-American; the events would almost certainly be too raw for an American to deliver in an unprejudiced manner such as this. As with his other films, Greengrass tells the story from both sides. This was not a decision made to draw sympathy with these people, nor was it a misguided attempt to liberalise the events of 9/11. This film was made to highlight the fact that there are more complex reasons behind the actions of those involved. The film’s opening sequence shows the terrorists preparing themselves for the day, shaving and praying; a quick reminder that they weren’t incarnations of the Devil but people like you and me. And is that not more frightening? On a technical level, ‘United 93’ is groundbreaking. Very few directors can put sight and sound together the way Greengrass can. He manages to build tension in the film over a nerve wracking 111 minutes, with pacing of sublime precision and a climactic crescendo so overwhelming, it would take a man with a stone heart not to be immeasurably moved.

Many claim that in reality, the passengers on board United Flight 93 never fought back against their attackers and there has been a backlash against the film because of this. Criticisms of the films factual accuracy, to me, seem devoid of sensible reasoning. In the end, does it matter whether they did? It has taken a filmmaker of immense talent to sift through the mire that was 9/11 in a bid to find what really matters; the beauty and courage of the human spirit.

Chris’ rating: 9.0 out of 10 

’71

Year: 2014
Director: Yann Demange
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Sean Harris, Richard Dormer
Written by Nick Deal
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

When I heard that Jack O’Connell was starring in an intense, edge of the seat, action-thriller, I immediately shortlisted ‘71’ as a film that I had to watch. As a big fan of his work I had high hopes for this film, despite me having very limited knowledge of the Irish and Northern Irish conflicts or any knowledge of Yann Demange’s style of directing. I was expecting brutality, violence and killing, which I was offered in abundance, yet this film still managed to shock me.

The story follows Gary Hook, a young man from Derbyshire – aptly portrayed by Jack O’Connell – as he and his comrades are thrown into the frontline during the Belfast conflicts of 1971. After becoming separated from his squadron, Hook must survive in the dangerous urban jungle that he finds himself in, and try to find his way back to the safety of his barracks. The claustrophobic manner in which these alien surroundings were shot made Hook’s struggle and fear all too real, and I really felt as if I were running, hiding and fighting alongside him. There are two sequences in the film that stand out from a stylistic viewpoint; firstly when Hook is being chased and shot at down the narrow side streets of Belfast, the handheld camera style contributing to the sensation that we are running along side him. Similarly, after an explosion, Hook is stalked by the same handheld camera technique, helping to create a sense of disorientation and confusion, which again results in us as the viewer feeling like we have felt the full extent of the blast as well. This is a technique which runs throughout the film, manifesting itself in various different scenarios; whether we are in the thick of the action on the front line of a protest or in the barracks with the soldiers. All in all, this technique reinforces the sense of this as a very personal experience; that we are facing this struggle alongside Gary Hook and that we are just as helpless as he is to the vicious environment he finds himself at the heart of.

There were two excellent performances that deserve mention. An outstanding, albeit brief, performance from Corey McKinley – as an unnamed, foulmouthed Loyalist Child – threatens to steal the show. From hurling urine at soldiers, to taking Hook under his wing and intimidating men old enough to be his father, McKinley has an aura way beyond his years. Although it is a somewhat disturbing social message to display a young child in such an environment, his character and performance were an uplifting contrast to the dark and menacing people around him, with McKinley offering a comedic break from the brutal nature of the streets of Belfast. Secondly, the performance of the star Jack O’Connell is brilliant but the powerful narrative of the film definitely takes precedence over his performance, meaning that he doesn’t have the scope to be quiet as memorable as his previous roles. He is an actor who I have watched a lot of recently and it’s difficult not to be hugely impressed with his work.

Jack O’Connell’s performance in ‘Starred Up’ is truly exceptional and this offering confirms the idea that he really has the potential to be, the best up and coming superstar that the country has produced, and it appears that the British public agree when they voted to award him with this year’s BAFTA Rising Star award. Having already broken the surface of Hollywood, starring in Angelina Jolie’s ‘Unbroken’ and the disappointing second installment of the ‘300’ franchise. It appears that the future is rosy for this Jack The Lad, but my only fear is that he will find himself typecast to similar roles in his films, a notion that actors like Liam Neeson has made us all too aware of. Yet his recent performances in Hollywood blockbusters highlight his ability to steer away from characters in the likes of ‘Skins’, ‘Starred Up’ and arguably ‘71’ – a modern day “Angry Young Man”, similar to the likes of Albert Finney and co. who  dominated British realist cinema for decades. 

Stylistically, ‘71’ is one of the most accomplished films I have seen in recent times. The simple technique of using handheld cameras has such a powerful effect on the action and the narrative, that it makes it impossible to distance ourselves from what is happening on screen. In a film that packs the narrative full of social messages, the overriding feeling I got from Demange’s portrayal of war, is that there is no such thing as good and evil, but more “every man for himself”. The Tarantino-esque finale, in which multiple individuals converge on the same space, is the culmination of this selfish nature upon which wars are started. ‘71’ throws us into the heart of the conflict and by the end we feel the same sense of futility and hopelessness that Gary Hook and his counterparts are overwhelmed by throughout.

Nick’s rating: 8.7 out of 10

Flight

Year: 2012
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly
Written by Sam James
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Trailers; the curse of the modern day blockbuster. Half the time you’ve got some fat kid from Utah putting these things together, hoping for more hits on his Minecraft demonstration. The rest of the time you realise that if they’ve managed to condense the entire film down to two and a half minutes, you’re likely to end up walking out of the cinema disheartened. For Robert Zemeckis’ film ‘Flight’ however, the trailer dwarves at flight control managed to buck the trend with their short preview, balancing cool, comedic elements against an unmistakable air of tragedy. This helps the feature massively; you can’t anticipate the melancholy theme that is disguised in the opening scenes as Captain ‘Whip’ Whittaker comes to from a heavy night and checks into the cockpit of the doomed flight.

Whip (Denzel Washington) is a severely troubled, alcoholic pilot who becomes embroiled in a plane crash investigation, as the routine hop between Orlando and Atlanta goes awry, with a possible DUI to blame. The thrilling focal point of the film however, is over within the first 10 minutes, much like the take-off of the Boeing airliner it depicts. Soon, there is a realisation that Whip not only survived, but unbeknownst to him, has garnered minor celebrity status through his heroic actions that saved ‘a heck of a lot of lives’. The peaceful interim allows the true tone of the film to shine through as Whip begins to understand the severity of the investigation. As the investigation in to Whip’s suitability in charge of an aircraft intensifies, we see the character regress and consistently fall in to the depths of denial. It is herein where the film succeeds; portraying a mental clash between Whip and his addictive personality, with most of the emotive sequences focussing their attention on Whip’s solitary battle against his demons rather than the widespread damage of the crash.

The trauma in Whip’s life has derived from his lying, yet in an intriguing script that offers much in the way of punchlines and pacey dialogue; it is a refusal to speak which packs the knockout blow. All Whip has to do is tell one more lie, and remain sober throughout the trial and he will walk away a free man. Despite all his efforts, lawyer Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) fails to drive Whip to commit to the sobriety or the lie. The supreme effort with which Lang coaxes the lie in to being is surmised in a fantastical scene, where he employs the services of hippie Harling Mays (John Goodman) to practically restart the heart of Whip using a cocktail of cocaine and cigarettes. The coco puff is born, yet the outcome is the written in the sky. Whip knows he can’t take another binge that this last shameful lie would induce, and so, dedicates himself to the truth and the bottle, win-win.

John Goodman has always intrigued me, because no matter what the film concerns, he manages to bully his own style in to the director’s vision. If he was the bully at school, I for one would consistently refuse his demands for lunch money, just to see him get comically worked up. In ‘Flight’ the same is true, without some of the energy he brings, the film would feel slightly noir. The star vehicle, Denzel, is acting out of his skin in some scenes, with Whip exuding an odd charisma and an ill-placed confidence in his ability. As a viewer I was practically grasping at the screen in the closing scenes, where the choice between ‘hefty mini-bar tab’ and ‘go out with a bang Whip style’ is made. As love interest Nicole, Kelly Reilly has the good-girl-gone-bad vibe sewn up, producing the façade of that southern darling almost at will. So much so, that your mind would briefly visit the prospect of taking her home to meet the parents, but then rationality would step in to highlight the fact she is a former crack-whore that lives out of her car. All that and you’d still be annoyed at rationality.

I have to commend the achievements of the score throughout, with the non-diegetic pulse really inflating the film in its flatter moments. As soon as ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ kicks in you feel like racking up a line and going to wait in the airport lounge for the red-eyed air hostesses in a new city, just for one night. But no sooner have we allowed our ludicrous fantasies to seep in, and the plot becomes rather confused, as though the pilot has gone Whip-style-rogue on us. In some ways, this film doesn’t really know what genre it is. The trailer deceives some kind of dark, action, comedy, yet the Zemeckis influence would place it in fictional, biopic territory. The dramatic, engaging moments in the film are solely Whip’s, just as the drama on the binge is purely insular. The rock and roll scenes are performed well, with great comic timing, but the film suffers because of it, losing its way and becoming frustratingly predictable.

Whilst we’re still desperate for Whip to leave the mini bottle of grey goose, we are always aware he’s going to take it. The only redeeming qualities are those scenes which build on either pitiful or rousing elements. It’s just a shame that there isn’t enough of either to keep the film in check. And so, much like any other flight, we descend down and complete a safe landing. Some would say you can’t end it any other way due to the films inherent desire for a moral compass, but Denzel is charismatic enough that you could have let the lie continue a little longer, just to see one more binge.

Sam’s rating: 6.7 out of 10

Enemy

Year: 2014
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Sarah Gadon, Melanie Laurent
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes
Edited by Molly Dolan

From the man who brought us the fantastic ‘Prisoners’, Denis Villeneuve, comes another thrilling mystery. Or a mystery at least. ‘Enemy’ is a quirky, subversive film, which oddly passed under the radar and onto our screens, ready to baffle indie film lovers the world over. Based on the novel ‘The Double’, written by Portuguese author Jose Saramago, this film has a tendency for the absurd and the fantastical, similar to other European films (think ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’). This is genuinely one of the most strange and creepy films I have ever watched, dealing with various psychological phenomena such as demons, the uncanny and of course, the double, leaving me with so many more questions than before I started watching, along with a touch of frustration and pangs of regret that I ever started in the first place.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as both lead characters; teacher Adam Bell, and his curious ‘movie star’ doppelganger, Daniel Saint Claire AKA Anthony Claire. We begin with Adam, a dull, disillusioned man in a seemingly troubled relationship with his partner Mary (Melanie Laurent). When a fellow teacher oddly recommends a film to Adam, he sees this as a possible, temporary escape from monotony, but upon watching Adam believes he has spotted his double, moonlighting as a bellhop extra. Desperate to know more, Adam tracks down the actor and obsessively stalks him, until the mystery man agrees to meet. Adam soon fears his creepily intense doppelganger, Anthony, who becomes rather dominant and develops an obsession of his own – Adam’s girlfriend Mary. Anthony threatens Adam and forces him into a trading-places situation, in order to facilitate an opportunity to sleep with Mary, whilst Adam entertains Anthony’s pregnant wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon). Confusing right? This is as simple as I can translate, believe me. This seedy plot descends into chaos and tragedy, all set to the backdrop of the recurring tarantula-themed nightmares which haunt Adam. I honestly have no idea what the arachnids were a nod to, even the cast of the film is bound to a confidentiality agreement, preventing them from discussing the significance of the surreal references.

The acting in the film is actually pretty accomplished, particularly Gyllenhaal who is at his versatile, intense best. As Adam, he is brilliantly authentic in his portrayal of a troubled, confused character but is far too hesitant and suspicious rather prematurely. There is no denying however, that his latter scenes with Helen are some of the most powerful and emotive of the whole film. It is as the aggressive, domineering, rather detestable Anthony though, where Gyllenhaal really flourishes. The amalgamation of the two characters resonates with his role as the titular character in ‘Donnie Darko’, an uncanny projection of a future Donnie, a 30-something schizophrenic with plenty more issues. I rank ‘Donnie Darko’ as my favourite film of all time, but this version of Donnie is so far over the line of ambiguity and disorder, that the whole experience became perplexing and exasperating. Of the two female characters in the film, Sarah Gadon is head and shoulders above her rather muted counterpart, depicting the fragile and vulnerable Helen faultlessly.

‘Enemy’ is an undeniably, clever piece of filmmaking, in terms of shot composition and editing, and the use of sound in particular was successful in framing the intensity of the unique sensation whilst viewing the film. Arguably, the moments of silence, in the style of ‘Drive’, were just as crucial in this function, if not more so. Ultimately, however, I was left very disappointed by the film as a whole. The impossibly vague, abrupt conclusion was incredibly mystifying and I certainly felt short-changed by the amount of time I had invested in the complex narrative. I love an ambiguous ending to a film because it allows me to decipher my own personal meaning, but ‘Enemy’ offered absolutely no hint of a resolution at all, refused to answer any of the major questions raised by the film and rendered me into a state of unsatisfying speechlessness. 

Jakob’s rating: 5.2 out of 10

Nightcrawler

Year: 2014
Director: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed
 
Written by Nick Deal
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

I was expecting ‘Nightcrawler’ to be rather unnerving in tone, and it certainly did not disappoint. Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut is an exceptionally dark and twisted thriller, which throws up several questions of morality, presenting an interesting predicament for myself as a viewer. A well-balanced, powerful plot is complimented by slick action scenes, tense dialogue and an overriding sense of realism, enough to promote ‘Nightcrawler’ to the upper echelons of the films released in the past year, if not the past decade. The Academy, I’m afraid, have made a terrible mistake in failing to recognise the true brilliance of this film.

Lou Bloom, portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal in an impeccable all-round performance, is a nightcrawler – a freelance journalist constantly in search of the latest big story, be it a car crash or a multiple homicide, with the intention of recording camera footage and selling it to the highest bidding news outlet. Lou Bloom is not your average Joe however. Mercilessly, he works his way up the ladder, leaving his peers in his wake, often with tragic consequences. Bloom is such a divisive character, leaving me questioning whether to empathise with him or despise him for his ruthless, brutal methods. He is a clever and amusing man, and indeed at several points, I found myself chuckling aloud to his witty cynicisms, yet equally, I was stunned as I witnessed the dark and menacing behaviour of the mysterious Lou Bloom. From his speech to his actions, even his ominous slicked-back, jet-black hair, everything about Bloom betrayed a distorted image of an underlying villain.

As the personification of the battle between morality and career, of which Bloom certainly sides in favour of his career, he is guilty of rather callous and inhumane behaviour. Every example of which, is captured on camera by Lou himself, a man prepared to create his own news if necessary. Bloom remains one step ahead of everybody else, by means of hacking into the emergency services radio system, allowing him to be the first man on the scene to capture any footage. One aspect of the film that I thought was portrayed brilliantly was the cut-throat nature of the media working community where people are sacked and left behind without second thought. Lou’s love interest, Nina, is testament to this notion. Having never lasted more than two years in a job, Nina is under great pressure from her employers as her second anniversary looms. Bloom utilises the systems and pressures he is working amongst,   manipulating and blackmailing whenever he spots an opportunity for advantage. It could be argued that the unforgiving, uncompromising nature of the industry forces Lou to be the person that he becomes, but I believe his malevolent nature is more deep rooted within him rather than a response to his situation. 

I thought Rene Russo’s performance as Nina, was definitely worthy of acclaim. She perfectly portrays the role of the professional matriarch, riddled with personal and professional insecurity. As the star of the show however, I cannot praise Gyllenhaal highly enough for his fantastic rendition of the modern day monster. The fact that I was unable to pin down a love-hate opinion of Lou Bloom, despite his barbaric actions, is testament to Gyllenhaal’s performance. Reminiscent of his role as Detective Loki in ‘Prisoners’, Gyllenhaal maintained a stone-faced coldness, cutting the form of a character devoid of any human characteristics. This is a performance to be heralded as the defining and outstanding feature of a truly superb film, a compelling performance which lasted in my memory for a long while after. The only negative I can muster up, is my personal issue with the conclusion of the film, which may well be a result of my reluctance for the film to actually end. As I stated before, I really do believe The Academy Awards panel have overlooked worthy contenders for both the Best Picture and Best Actor category.

If you are looking for a bit of light, evening entertainment, then I strongly recommend you steer well clear of this film. However, if you want a provocative and thrilling, psychological experience that will throw you one way then the other, making you laugh and recoil in horror at the same time, then look no further. ‘Nightcrawler’ is a true masterpiece of modern cinema.

Nick’s rating: 9.2 out of 10

Argo

Year: 2012
Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Until recently, Ben Affleck was regarded as something of a joke in Hollywood. His acting was heavily criticised and his production and writing work was lamentable. But that is certainly no longer the case. ‘The Town’ really brought Affleck into the inner circle in terms of both acting and directing, but it is his work on ‘Argo’ which enabled Affleck to be recognised as a truly talented creator of film. I watched ‘Argo’ for the first time just the other day, and my only regret is that I didn’t watch it sooner. As you will gather from the review which follows, it is very easy to see why this film won three Oscars, including the coveted Best Picture award.

Based on true events, ‘Argo’ takes us back to 1979, the American Embassy in Iran is invaded by revolutionaries and all but six hostages are captured. These six men and women manage to escape to the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor. The CIA frantically tries to muster up a plan to retrieve the six hostages, consulting exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (Affleck). Tony suggests an ambitious plot to pose as the producer of an upcoming sci-fi movie, with the six hostages acting as his film crew, on a location scouting trip to Iran. Tony Mendez enlists the help of make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to create a backstory for the movie and generate a media buzz, to authenticate the film as a guise for the planned hostage escape. This fake movie needs to be so believable that it fools not just Iranian security, but the whole world, as political strategy threatens to undermine the rescue effort.

Ben Affleck is commanding and confident at the head of the cast, so much so that he is almost the solo star of the film. Indeed, he is the biggest name to stick around for the majority of the film. The charisma and leadership of his character Tony Mendez is brilliantly portrayed by Affleck, but nothing shines more than the intense and emotive scenes he delivers in the climax of the film. Alan Arkin was Oscar-nominated for his support role as Lester Siegel, and deservedly so. A passionate performance is balanced alongside moments of humour, which make Arkin’s relatively small role one of the standout displays in an already stellar showing from all involved. ‘Breaking Bad’ star Bryan Cranston offers more exceptional support as the man caught in the middle of political tactics, Jack O’Donnell, who has to protect the interests of the hostages and his friend Tony, whilst maintaining the integrity of the USA’s overseas actions. I was worried that he might slip away from the action early on, as he does in ‘Godzilla’, but my patience was rewarded with an assured performance amongst the frenzy and chaos in the latter scenes. I have to also mention an actor who I am fast-becoming a fan of, Scoot McNairy, who steps up out of nowhere with an impressive, little display in the airport, look out for it.

The use of genuine handheld camera footage helps to add to the powerful, hard-hitting messages the film carries and evokes the sensation of viewing a live footage documentary. The way the film is shot and edited throughout is a real triumph, culminating in the Academy Award for editing which could not be more deserved. This is particularly true in the incredibly intense combination of scenes of the firing squad, set to the backdrop of a script reading for the fake movie. Exceptional close-up shots, arc shots and of course the handheld footage, all contribute to the claustrophobic, aggressive nature of riot scenes and suspense-filled moments of tension. The manner in which the narrative is drawn out, where events are played out so slowly and dramatically, only serves to create a heart-stopping suspense to every scene which left me watching with baited breath.

The tensions of terrorism, revolution and Middle Eastern hostility still resonate just as strongly today as they did in 1980, giving ‘Argo’ a hauntingly authentic feel. The knowledge that these are true events builds an air of credibility and emotional attachment to the story, and though being “based on true events” allows for certain dramatic license, this is nonetheless a very real, very thrilling drama. ‘Argo’ is a gripping, captivating film of subtle brilliance and extraordinary intensity which, thankfully for my health, delivered a happy ending after enduring such an emotional ordeal.

Jakob’s rating: 8.8 out of 10

Gone Girl

Year: 2014
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes
Edited by Molly Dolan

When my partner asked if we could go and watch ‘Gone Girl’ at the cinema, I thought we were off to see another rom-com. I was horribly wrong, and as a result, horribly underprepared for the suspense-filled, gripping events which were to unfold. There are enough twists and turns through the course of the plot to form the basis for at least three films. Indeed, there is a subtle division of the narrative into different sections, distorting the temporal structure and presenting the viewer with both sides of the leading characters’ perspectives. ‘Gone Girl’ has an underlying whodunit, mystery tone, which is eventually appeased with a resolution, but only after enduring an intense and shocking crescendo.

On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to an empty house, with his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) nowhere to be seen. Nick fears the worst when he spots signs of a struggle in the house and contacts the police, who start a missing persons search for his beloved wife. Their perfect marriage soon comes under scrutiny from the police and the media begin to demonise Nick, especially when his dark, sordid secrets are revealed. With public perceptions swiftly altered, many begin to ask the question, did Nick Dunne murder his wife? Truth is, Amy knows everything about Nick’s betrayals and has become disillusioned with the crumbling marriage. Amy escapes with a new identity, whilst elaborately framing Nick for her murder. As the media frenzy escalates, Nick shrewdly figures out Amy’s plot and lures her back with his televised declaration of ‘love’. The obsessive, unstable Amy does come home, but has even more deranged plans upon her return, which make it clear to Nick that their marriage is far from over.

Ben Affleck adds to his growing collection of impressive acting displays in recent years, with ‘Gone Girl’ right up there amongst his best performances. Nick Dunne is such a versatile and constantly changing character, and Affleck portrays this brilliantly, equally believable as the faultless husband and the villainous adulterer. This is a great performance, but arguably nothing special, at least not when compared to the accomplished performance from Rosamund Pike. As Amy, Pike helps to create a female lead character as good as any other in my opinion, one whose character development is a shining light in an already impeccable production. The depiction of a psychopathic, twisted, scorned wife is terrifyingly convincing and is something which will haunt me for a long time, enough to instil in me a genuine fear of the entire female race. Rosamund Pike would be my personal choice for the lead female Oscar at this year’s ceremony, for the incredible physical and emotional transformation she produces and a fantastically crazy performance which is executed as perfectly as her character’s bitter plan.

‘Gone Girl’ is difficult to watch, not least for the lasting effect of the intense and graphic scenes, but ultimately this film is simply amazing and satisfyingly conclusive. The journey we are taken on as a viewer is one of plentiful twists and thrills, embellished by director David Fincher, who takes us back and forth through the troubled marriage of Amy and Nick, using flashbacks and impressive editing choices. The retrospective privilege we are treated to through this technique, has the effect of undermining the happy couple we see at the start, as we witness the events which lead to the deterioration of the marriage. A rom-com this is certainly not, with any romantic themes quickly descending into the dark depths of a thrilling, mystery film. ‘Gone Girl’ is a film which will keep you guessing throughout, and indeed long after, until you can’t help yourself but watch it all over again.

Jakob’s rating: 9.1 out of 10