The King – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Written by David Michôd and Joel Edgerton

Directed by David Michôd

David Michôd‘s Henriad drama, The King, comprises three works of the bard, taking Shakespeare’s Henry IV (parts 1 and 2and Henry V and forming them into a composite piece of historical drama. The drunkard, layabout son of King Henry IV, Hal finds himself under the pressure of ascending the throne, progressing from being his father’s last resort to the only available choice. Young, unproven and on the downward path towards a bloody venture, Hal surrounds himself with advisors who, in typical Shakespearean fashion, are of Machiavellian intention.

Political drama is at the forefront of Joel Edgerton‘s and Michôd’s interpretation of the trio of texts, in keeping with Shakespeare’s writings, but they seek to reinforce an authenticity in their characters. Complimentary to the audience, perhaps to a fault, the script is subtle. With the gift of a ball to the juvenile king and other matters which go unspoken, it’s refreshing to see exposition or symbolism left for audiences to unearth; at the same time, this does fail to encourage a heightened response in key moments.

It would seem the people’s newest champion of cinema, Timothée Chalamet, continues his rise in a breakthrough career in his interpretation of Hal. A round-shouldered, inverting individual who grows to stand tall, he becomes a beacon for the people of England following countless wars and battles. More so than other performers, Chalamet treats The King as a reflection of the three plays, showcasing a richer characterisation and physical evolution than his co-stars.

A buffoonish pursuer of vice, Falstaff is perhaps Shakespeare’s most significant creation outside of a titular role, a character who transcends a variety of mediums. Edgerton’s judgement of the performance rivals Chalamet’s dedication to the film, which is understandable given his primary writing role. An enabler, the character dips into the mystical advisor of cinematic tropes, but it allows Edgerton to captivate, holding our attention with ease. That’s especially true since his balance of humour never exceeds mild sarcasm nor jolly defiance to Hal, or in scenes where a playful rivalry blooms with Robert Pattinson’s Dauphin.

Taking a Shakespearean interpretation, the Dauphin would be well at home in the Globe Theatre. Pattinson’s exaggerated mannerisms are menacing, but in doing so he stretches into an over-reaching antagonist. A peculiar choice in direction, Michôd here creates a divide in the film’s tone, pushing more nuanced performances against that of excess. It makes for an entertaining opponent, but one suspects there are always a few seconds cut before a cackle or curling of the fingers would infect Pattinson’s performance.

While the comfort of the living room appeals to streaming releases, a cinematic scale of the action demonstrates Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography. Going beyond the battles or open-air scenes, there’s a profound intimacy in the dimensions of The King. Arkapaw captures the claustrophobic pressure of the courts, the bedrooms and inner sanctums. It’s not only a visual but an aural sensation which captivates the atmosphere of the film. Nicholas Britell’s score accentuates the sublime imagery, never pervading a scene or interrupting tension, seeking solely to act alongside the visual design of a scene, whether this grows in grandeur or slithers back into silence to allow impact.

The King is an engrossing update which lifts Shakespeare’s characters into a piece of classical cinematic filmmaking. It does sometimes falter, though, in failing to fit together the sum of its parts into a tight, comprehensive package. The pieces lie there, each a component of something which would generate buzz, but there are gaps where parts fail to align. Its blade has little sharpness, and although it’s a well-crafted piece of film, there’s no edge to Michôd’s The King outside of its visuals and solid performances. Those are selling features in their own right, but not enough to quite carry it to the lofty expectations it seeks.

Review originally published for WeeReview:

The King is available for streaming and in cinema’s from November

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: