The Goldfinch – Edinburgh Playhouse

Written by Peter Straughan – Adaptation of Donna Tartt’s 2013 novel

Directed by John Crowley

USA/2019/149 mins

n 1654 Carel FabritiusRembrandt’s student would paint a chained goldfinch. This painting would be one of only a few which would endure an explosion which would claim its painter. Surviving one brush with destruction, novelist Donna Tartt places this tiny bird at the centre of her 2014, Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Goldfinch, in which a terrorist attack on the New York Met Museum of Art devastates young Theo Decker’s life after he takes the painting from the wreckage.

A coming-of-age narrative, Tartt’s The Goldfinch divides critics over its sensitive detailing of a young man’s transitions into adulthood, dealings with substance abuse at the centre of middle-class America in a novel which follows a cut-out guide of literary cliché. How fitting, then, that its cinematic adaptation follows in those footprints, unashamedly revelling in its use of tropes.

Lathering itself in the dense plot, a key issue is a mass build-up, failing to relieve itself until the closing moments, which, in truth, become so viscous that little explanation or ‘pay-off’ is achievable. Character threads have their solutions off-screen, dependable performers such as Nicole KidmanSarah Paulson and Aneurin Barnard are never given enough clout to allow real characterisation, and we’re informed how things neatly parcel into concluding, but never shown: the cardinal sin of film making.

Rather than an in-depth adaptation, it’s a cliff-note explanation. Rather than its iteration, it’s a pale imitation. A homunculus piece struck together with quick edits. It suffers in losing a connection with story; Theodore’s suicidal turn, the relationship with his father and his future fiance are all half-attempts. John Crowley’s direction is a self-referential piece akin to one of the story’s hodgepodge antiques, picking what feels like the book, without what should translate to cinema. 

A trifecta of combating genres is at work during The Goldfinch. There are elements of a melodrama, attempts at a romantic comedy, borrowing quite heavily from thriller aspects in a vain attempt to inject interest. Never finding a footing, Peter Straughan’s screenplay deviates at moments where our attentions may peak. Make no bones about it, The Goldfinch flutters with genius in brief scenes. Scenes which, with extension, would drastically improve the overall flow.

Among them are where we get a grip of young Pippa, played by Aimee Laurence. The time we spend in her opaque room, a distinct yellow hue which feels thick with nostalgia, are the films best moments. As she and Theo grow closer, discussing their difficulties, they kindle an innocent connection, devoid of sully. Similarly, scenes with a young Boris (Finn Wolfhard) are all too soon neglected as we leap around, ricocheting against transitions.

What is agonisingly painful is the sheer waste of talent who valiantly craft a distinctly gorgeous film. Roger Deakins does his best to convey the gravity behind The Goldfinch’s cinematography. The snow under street lamps of New York, the barren heat of an abandoned cul-de-sac in Texas – there is such a sense of isolation in the face of middle-class America, surrounded by the many or the few, which Deakins captures. Tragically, the editing cuts so rapidly around that we lose a measure of the effect. 

The Goldfinch is held to a high standard, perhaps unjustly. The wealth of creative talent, capable cast members all framed by a master of cinematography – colossally let-down by a paradoxical ability to fearfully refrain from change, while also altering key areas. It’s narrative structure, leaping around in its time frame, shakes our expectations as we are torn from genuine sincerity or interest.

Showing in UK cinemas from September 27th 2019

Review originally published for The Wee Review:

Night Hunter – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Directed & Written by David Raymond

USA/ 2018/ 98 mins

See if this sounds familiar; disillusioned with the state of the world, a weathered police officer finds an unlikely ally in a vigilante killer – joined in their mutual goal of stopping a murderer, suffering from psychological issues, pursuing young women. Had any of those guesses been correct, we would have been watching a better film.

With a gusto-line up, Night Hunter’s cast plays their roles to a passable level, but few seem to realise they’re in the same narrative. Henry Cavill’s Lieutenant Marshall is, even for a film focusing on sexual abuse, relentlessly brooding, over-the-top serious, while Ben Kingsley’s Cooper is a caricature of Alan Moore’s comic book anti-heroes. An unlikely pairing, the two spend little time together – instead, our attention deviates from Cavill’s story alongside Rachel, a police officer who tries to get into the killer’s head, and Kingsley’s castration of unpunished abusers.

Almost buddy-cop level moments of writing litter Kingsley and Eliana Jones as the two entrap victims. Humour is a peculiar crutch the film employs, poorly at that, relying on it to shunt in a chuckle or two – immediately following intense suggestions of mutilation or assault. Rather than laughter, it raises eyebrows in just what the overall direction is. David Raymond wants to take Night Hunter seriously, a knuckle wrapping, gritty thriller – but attaches these scenes as an afterthought.

Writing may be the weakest aspect of the film, but performance follows close. That isn’t to say there aren’t decent moments – Alexandra Daddario and Brendan Fletcher being the only members of the cast actively attempting to improve this piece. Both bring a fire which, as desperate as they are to ignite, is awash with phoned in deliveries from Cavill, Kingsley and Stanley Tucci. Three usually reliable performers in their field but are receiving next to no real direction or character motivation.

SplitSe7enFargo and Silence of the Lambs: Night Hunter finds itself an unimpressive chimaera of superior narratives, attempting to cherry-pick concepts and glue them onto its shell. Advancing on a concept is commonplace, it’s a way cinema evolves; perfecting an already established idea. But in drawing vast references, Night Hunter merely succeeds in reminding us how inadequate it is in comparison.

Then it happens – a single concept in an otherwise string of predictability, which snaps attention for five minutes. In these five minutes, we get a glimpse of what this could have been. It took a chance, a dark chance, and while copping out in the end, this scene almost makes the film worth it – emphasis on almost. Here, Raymond captures a movie we want, Mpho Kohao’s performance a shockingly emotive one – no doubt given a boost by being the first insight to the real drama we’ve been craving. It’s a turning point, where Fletcher ramps up the antagonistic factor – let down by an expected shoehorn twist.

More wasteful is Michael Barrett’s cinematography, casting an interesting pastiche of the aforementioned films from which Night Hunter borrows. The colour palette choices are notable, changing upon location, rather than aiming for an overarching style, though misjudged editing makes for dodgy, head tilting cuts. 

Hideously misaligning its intentions, Night Hunter forces pieces together from a series of jigsaws into one cobbled, unimpressive mess which hangs onto our attention with a few choice scenes and performances which attempt to reclaim a possibly insightful production, which falters and simply makes you wish you’d rather have stuck on Manhunter.

Night Hunter is in cinemas and VoD services from September 13th

Review originally published for Wee Review:

Coco Before Chanel – 10th Anniversary

Coco Before Chanel – Retrospective

Directed by Anne Fontaine

Written by Anne & Camille Fontaine

Chanel and Her World by Edmonde Charles-Roux

Before the brand, there was a woman. Before that little black dress, there was a little straw hat – preceding all of this, was ‘Coco Before Chanel’ (2009), based on the writings of Edmonde Charles-Roux’s ‘Chanel and Her World’.

In celebration of Anne Fontaine’s biographical film’s tenth anniversary, we look back at the movie which seeks, not to place Chanel as what the public understand, but to retreat into her roots. A woman of merit stretching far beyond her role as a fashion designer, a liberator to the constriction of the pre-war corset silhouette of the European women, and a company leader. The young woman who would refuse to succumb to the banal interests of rich men, instead maintain a presence of bohemian brilliance which would change the face of couture culture and women in the place of business.

In a role which is frequently said to be one she was ‘born to play’, Audrey Tautou takes on the mantle of Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, or as the world would know her – Coco Chanel. Notable in her gamine charm, Tautou is, one must admit, the epitome of perfect casting. Exceeding simple aesthetical similarities, Tautou’s mannerism and characterisation match that of Chanel magnificently, in a rare moment of blindness to the performer – we see Chanel, we no longer see Tautou.

Developing excellently playful chemistry with Tautou, Benoît Poelvoorde fails to fall into a category of a patriarchal antagonist, maintaining a close relationship with the real-life counterpart of Étienne Balsan. A French socialite, he took to becoming Coco Chanel’s lover, as she remained in his residence for her life following her days singing in the bars of Moulins.

Echoing what would be her inevitable future as ‘public property’ Coco is discussed by her male companions, though never directly crass, in a sense of objectivity. Upon repetitious requests to; ‘be more feminine’ Coco’s response is to maintain a steadfast aesthetic, one which she would design for Hollywood herself. Apparel which ensnares powerful men, despite protestations of hidden curves and concealing flesh. The clothes fellow women in the room wear, to Chanel, are unbecoming, cumbersome and uncomfortable and unsurprisingly, have the desire of men as their intention.

Stepping into an androgynous merging of gendered clothing, frequently remarked in her dressing as a ‘boy’, Fontaine’s film is a clever piece on the obsessive need for men to dress women, and in turn, the reversed gaze in which woman would make decisions on their gowns. How this develops from written elements into visual is what keeps ‘Coco Before Chanel’ an interesting piece, even as the narrative grates with age.

Little insight is up for concern as to the films nature as a visual creation. With academy award nominations for its costume design, one would expect nothing less from a film centring itself of one of history’s notable designers. In a room full of frivolity, extravagance and choking pastels, our gaze is drawn to Tauton’s costume. Astutely lacing the design into the narrative, as her world begins to choke, her garb loosens in the traditional Chanel style, exquisitely capturing the comfort chic, barrelling out against the seductive lace or restrictive corsets.

Catherine Leterrier may have been unsuccessful in obtaining a BAFTA or Academy award for her costume design, but small merit winning a Caesar Award. An honourable, if underwhelming honour as the visual nature of the film is easily its greatest asset following Tautou’s performance.

Outside of the boundaries of costume, Christophe Beaucarne’s cinematography plays with the triatic scheme of colour in a mesmeric way – particularly in the films closing. Monochromatic in construct, much of Chanel’s work has a blend of black and white – an echoing motif throughout the film, Beaucarne splices a single colour, regularly crimson, to strike out against these polar opposite tones.

What falters the film is Fontaine’s move of pedestalling Chanel to an elaborate level, particularly once the romance with Chapel (Alessandro Nivola) accelerates. With such a tiny framework of her life under examination, such care is taken to make it interesting and unsympathetic – to see the woman before the brand, that the closing quarter of the film refrains from embracing the set pace – making for a paradoxically sluggish, yet rushed ending. 

In striving to put out their name, a task already hindered in male-dominated sectors, quite often women are rounded out as too perfect, too infallible – a tragic consequence in the depiction of real women in film. Coco Chanel, for all she did, was far more compelling than the film makes her out to be. Fontaine limits her timescale, a necessity in biographical dramas, in doing this, Chanel’s darker history is cast aside, a history which the film fails to allude too. Her early successes in life are seen, but we cut the balancing secret aspirations and beliefs which keep her fallible. As such, the film moves from an unceremonious examination of her youth – to a sudden tone shift.

Director and screenwriter Anne Fontaine would later refuse to shy from controversy, her intense gut-punch of reality would unearth in her recent film ‘The Innocents’ (2016), but for as sublime as Coco Before Chanel’s visuals and performances may be, one can sense the emptiness. Tautou captures the woman before she was a household name, offering a glimpse into the trials and fire she had in her belly – but is let down by writing which fails to continue the unsentimental detachment it opens with, instead, resorting to an odd mid-climax which belongs in a different film.