Sunday, 29 April 2012

Headhunters


****

Headhunters is yet another quality Scandinavian crime export. Not as darkly serious as the likes of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this has something a little wittier to say. The tension (of which there is a lot) is consistently underpinned by humour. This doesn’t detract from the thriller element but actually adds to it.

Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a successful headhunter. Standing at 1.68 metres tall (5’6”) he has a lot to prove. You might say he has a large chip on his shoulder. He is also living beyond his means to keep his (tall) trophy wife happy. To support their expensive lifestyle he is also an art thief, stealing valuable paintings from people’s homes. That is until he messes with the wrong guy.

Developed from a book by popular Norwegian author Jo Nesbo this is a first class adaptation to screen. Director Morten Tyldum has delivered a polished piece of work. It is constantly surprising, always intelligent and wrapped in a very attractive package. In this noir-ish setting nobody is completely without sin and the focus of the story is on someone who’s not entirely likeable. I was still rooting for this anti-hero, though, because he experiences such pain and humiliation. And Hennie, who is barely offscreen, weaves a certain magic by making the smarmy, cocksure Roger sympathetic. Hopelessly out of his depth, he is plunged into a dangerous world. We see the violence through his eyes – as unpredictable and often surreal. These weird depictions of aggression reminded me very much of the Coen brothers, and that’s never a bad thing. (Hennie’s similarity to Steve Buscemi may have added to this.) The director realistically captures the scrappy nature of violence – balletic this is not. It’s also pretty strong for the UK’s 15 Certificate. (Or perhaps I’m just getting soft in my old age.)

Summit Entertainment purchased the rights to produce an American remake, even before its initial release. But please don’t wait for that - check out what is almost certain to be “the superior original”.


Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Hunger Games


***

The bar has been set pretty low with Twilight so the new young-adult-aimed-franchise on the block is far better than anticipated. Featuring vistas of a dystopian future this is film-making on a slightly grander scale. However, the real strength of the film is the human element.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in a poor mining region, District 12, in the nation of Panem. Her younger sister is selected by lottery to take part in the titular Hunger Games. This is an annual televised event in which one boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts is selected to fight to the death until only one is left. Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place and is taken to the city of Capitol where she is groomed, trained, and primed to kick some serious butt.

The build-up to the Games is tense and exciting. Anything that resembles Spartacus gets a thumbs-up from this reviewer. However, the actual Games feels rushed. Here, the writer of Big and director of Pleasantville starts to flounder. The momentary action itself is handled well but most of the set-pieces are daft and lack tension. Sometimes they are unintentionally funny. One such scenario sees a band of lean, mean killing machines unable to get Katniss down from a tree even though they armed with bows and arrows. This might be ok on the page but on the screen it looks ridiculous. In this whole section no effort is given to develop character. With the exception of one, the other opponents are crudely painted as drooling psychopaths. (Whereas the decent and true Katniss only kills in self-defence.) I’m no expert in forest warfare but I imagine something that gives away your position is a lot of shouting and screaming. This could have been a chance for some subtext commenting on noisy teenagers – a simple cautionary tale (i.e. noise = death). But no, the one making most of this racket is our fearless heroine. And she, as you can probably guess with two imminent sequels, doesn’t come out of it too badly.



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