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:

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love

Directed by Nick Broomfield

USA/ 2019/ 102 mins

CalliopeDora MaarPatti SmithGala Dalí and yes, Rhianna all share one thing in common. To one person or a number, they are Muses; inspirational figures who evoke artistic passion into (largely male) writers, painters, sculptors and astronomers. Nick Broomfield’s documentary Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love superficially excavates a 50-year relationship between an artist and his muse.

The Leonard on which Broomfield focuses is the one and only Leonard Cohen. The Canadian singer, poet, novelist and the man behind ‘Hallelujah’, undoubtedly his most well-known song. Marianne Ihlenwas, not only for Cohen, a Norwegian Muse and mother. She was Cohen’s lover, friend and inspiration for ‘So Long, Marianne‘.  His use of the term ‘Words of Love’ ties to various aspects of the documentary, more so than one would first expect. The letters the pair would send to one another, and the songs she would inspire. Despite top-billing, Nick Broomfield’s documentary retains focus on Cohen, with Marianne’s input slinking in and out of focus. His theory seems to derive from her impact rather than the women herself.

From their meeting on the isle of Hydra, we leave Marianne behind as Cohen propels his career into the lands of drugs, sex and religious monasteries. While creating a documentary principally on Cohen, Broomfield intentionally weaves the isle itself into the narrative. Not only examining the pair but Marianne’s influence on other people and the impact she had. A chief success is Broomfield’s brutal discussion on the essence of island life, and those left behind by the sixties counterculture of free love.

Presentation for the production is primarily archive footage and audio clips from numerous sources, chiefly the BBC. One appealing aspect of the documentary is new interviews with the likes of Judy Collins and Ron Cornelius. These offer a substantial reason for fans of Cohen to watch the documentary, and for those unfamiliar, they are the nearest to real engagement we receive. Floating questions, Broomfield allows them to flow into their own stories, allowing for clear answers to the subject, but offhand jokes, stories and insights.

As you watch, you’re forgiven for asking where Ihlen is. Broomfield seems to relegate the driving force of the film into the background. She ebbs and flows, never being too prominent in the documentary. The audio clips and footage, when brought into use, are touching and quite often the documentary’s legitimate points. Perhaps intentionally, she is kept to shadows. Ihlen is not a permanent fixture for these men, but instead, her input is more akin to an occasional guide. Broomfield may place her in high respects but pays respect to the woman as more than a muse. As a mother, friend and human.

Broomfield has an auteurist habit of placing himself within his work, nowhere more so than Marianne & Leonard. Evidently, due to his close involvement with the pair, openly stating his previous position as a lover of Marianne. It’s no wonder that this elevates the documentary outside of the realistic realms. There’s a definite sense of pedestalling both Ihlen and Cohen, the former especially.

There is no doubt in the poignancy of the documentaries deeply compassionate scenes. It’s ending leaps, beyond touching into an earnest look at genuine humanity. Few and far between, small islands of sincerity exist in an ocean of inconclusive intention. Fuelling Broomfield’s documentary is a deep intimacy. It’s a documentary which, despite its namesake, feels less a study on the closeness of the pair or Marianne’s impact and instead, a condensing of Cohen’s life. Broomfield achieves tremendous heart, moments of genuine emotion but frustration in the direction taken.

Review originally published for Wee Review: