*NEW* THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. REVIEW *NEW*

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Slick, cool, funny. Guy Ritchie is back with a bang!

In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill – Man of Steel) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer – The Lone Ranger) participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.

I know that this was based on the original TV show BUT I’ve never seen it so I can’t make comparisons on Ritchie and writer Lionel Wigram’s (Sherlock Holmes) adaptation.

The first hour was action packed and reminded me of the spy movies of old. An elongated opening car chase ticked all the boxes (Even if it was hindered by shoddy CGI). It certainly injected the fun back into the spy genre. Now that the Bond films have gone in a darker direction, I felt the corny one liners and light humour was a much needed tonic. Giving the piece a nostalgia feel.

Cavill was fantastic as Solo. The more I watched him steal the show, the more I thought to myself, “Bond”. Despite playing an undercover CIA asset, he would have been a perfect replacement. The looks, the charm and the charisma. But alas, the Justice League has claimed him as the Man of Steel for the foreseeable future.

I loved the dynamic between the trio. They were perfectly cast. The fiery Alicia Vikander playing the reluctant mother to two sparring boys. Cavill and Hammer worked well together and made Solo and Kuryakin’s fractious relationship entertaining as hell. “This is not the Russian way!” It was good to see Hammer excel as ‘The Red Peril’ after the lacklustre Lone Ranger.

The quick witted exchanges and uneasy tension kept me going (Through some of the sillier moments) with the pair constantly trying to get one up on each other at every turn. From their overcompensating gadgets and hotel room bug stand-off to dressing Gaby (Vikander) for her cover -“The shoes won’t match. They don’t need to match”.

Vikander and Hammer had great chemistry as Gaby is reluctantly assigned to Kuryakin as his undercover fiancee. I just wish Vikander’s back story was more interesting. The story line involving her missing scientist father was a little weak. I loved how we only got tidbits of Solo and Hammer’s past.

Jared Harris was wasted in his small supporting role as Solo’s handler Adrian Sanders. He delivered yet another another mangled accent BUT at least this one was better than his Irish rendition in that horrific Poltergeist remake.

However, the second half of the film was where things went wrong. It was very clunky and disjointed. The tone was mismatched and took a much more serious turn that didn’t quite work. A highly macabre scene involving the pair bickering while their suspect was being roasted on an electric chair in the background was too much. Especially after the easygoing pace and playful banter.

And tragically, the pace did get hampered by the plot. And for all its “complexities”; the story was far too predictable. Typical guff involving Nazis and the Cold War. Go, figure! It killed a lot of the fun and momentum that had kept me entertained for 60-odd minutes. The inevitable double bluffing and backstabbing between the team got a little long at the tooth for me.

Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager) was wasted as the femme fatale Victoria Vinciguerra. She did her best with the role but was left in the background far too much. Only coming back for the frantic finale.

The same can be said for Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and a Funeral). God, he’s looking old. He wasn’t in it enough. His renowned bumbling and quick witted exchanges a welcome return; “For a special agent, you’re not having a particularly special day, are you?”.

The finale brought everything back into play and made up for a stumbling middle act with a mad dash explosive climax and (Hardly a spoiler!) it left things open for another. One sequel I would look forward to watching.

If Ritchie and co can just trim the length, get a better baddie then we’ll be good to go. BUT this is still worth a watch if you’re in for the mood for a cool spy caper with a great cast.

3/5

*NEW* BRIDGE OF SPIES REVIEW *NEW*

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I spy a cracking little drama.

You can always bank on Hanks (Had to be careful typing that)

During the Cold War, an American lawyer (Tom Hanks) is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell).

After a somewhat slow opener with a French Connection style stake out with a group of CIA agents following Rylance’s Rudolf Abel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. BUT as we delved into a reasonably dull and mundane day of reconnaissance with an old man painting a bridge, I realized there was more than meets the eye.

If anything, that opening sequence indicated perfectly what to expect. A slow burning thriller with a rewarding pay-off. This was a return to form for Spielberg. Perhaps it helped that he had a winning talisman in Hanks.

Hanks proved once again why he is one of the best. A powerhouse performance. I can’t believe this was a true story. A reluctant lawyer takes on a case that would change everything. Anxious to deal with the heated Cold War paranoia and the shark infested media BUT determined to give a government traitor his right to a fair trial.

Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall) was superb as Abel. If anything, there wasn’t enough of him. He had a great rapport with Hanks and they made a great duo. Donovan’s fascination with Abel sets the wheels in motion for a bigger play. He couldn’t believe how this man, who was one of the most hated people in the country, was only concerned about having some time to paint?

Donovan even asks: “Aren’t you worried?” Without the bat of an eye, Abel simply says “Would it help?”. A great one liner and cracking delivery.

This felt like a film of two halves. For the first act, we watched the press slander, the authorities hinder and the community shun Donovan for simply doing his job. While that was being played out, I wondered where this training subplot involving Austin Stowell’s (Whiplash) pilot Francis Gary Powers was going. It was intriguing as the pilot was assigned a top secret mission BUT it felt a little disjointed to Donovan and Abel’s case.

However, all would be revealed and a suspenseful second half was soon on the cards. With Powers captured, Donovan must trade Abel for his release. Once Donovan arrived in Berlin, I was hooked. The tension. The cryptic conversations with the Russian Embassy. The bartering with the meddling Germans desperate to get their piece of the action as they take their own prisoner, an American economics student. Sebastian Koch (The Lives of Others) was brilliant as the stubborn Wolfgang Vogel.

I couldn’t believe that Donovan went through all this. No support or backing. An “unsanctioned” operation being the CIA’s defense if things go wrong. The game of cat and mouse heading to an exciting and incredibly tense stand off.

That’s not to say the film was perfect. The stellar supporting cast featuring Alan Alda (M*A*S*H) and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) were neglected with very minor roles BUT they were always going to play second fiddle to Hanks. The pace did drop in parts and 142 minutes might have been pushing it BUT I was still engaged.

Nitpicking aside, this was a brilliantly acted and well crafted spy thriller and one of my top films of 2015.

4/5

*NEW* SPECTRE REVIEW *NEW*

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Bond is back but bigger and better?

Well done, Mr Craig. You have finally won me over. To be honest, I loved his first outing in Casino Royale (my favourite in the Craig era). He had the charm, the one liners and the look. Ticking all the boxes. BUT Quantum of Solace delivered a much darker and angrier Bond. It was far too intense and serious for me. This had been attempted before with Timothy Dalton in A License To Kill to mixed results.

I didn’t have a problem with a darker Bond. Pierce Brosnan’s efforts (my second rated Bond) was bordering on cartoony CGI and Roger Moore territory. The Saint may have got away with it in the 70s BUT Die Another Day nearly ended it all. A game changer was needed. I respected the change BUT not the direction. It felt like they were trying to turn Bond into Jason Bourne.

However, it was the first series of Bond films that featured an ongoing story arc. Skyfall was very disappointing. For an entry that marked 50 years for the franchise, I expected something a little more. It was over hyped, overlong and if not for a surprising closing act, I would have rated this as one of the weaker offerings.

The one thing I could commend Skyfall for was the little things. The humour, Moneypenny, Q, the Aston Martin DB5. All the things that drew me to Bond in the first place. It gave me hope. Now here we are. The 24th entry of a super spy series. And boy,what a film.

The opening sequence for SPECTRE was fantastic. Slow burning, tense but action packed with a high octane helicopter sequence. As soon as Craig made his introduction, I was sold. The very pinnacle of the iconic spy. Cool, calm and slick. Casually adjusting his cuffs while donning a rifle.

Even Sam Smith’s opening theme delivered. At first listening, it sounded like a bland Eurovision track. BUT I have to say it has grown on me and really fitted the film.

It was great watching Craig enjoy the 007 status. The charisma. The debonair style. Very much in the vein of Sean Connery (My favourite Bond). Old school. Perfect. It brought something that had been lacking in the others. Humour.

I don’t want to say too much about SPECTRE as I want people to see this. BUT for the die hard fans, like yours truly, we witness the return of one of Bond’s most iconic villains. And I couldn’t think of anybody better to take on this prestigious role than Christoph Walz. He was superb. Slimy, sinister and on scene stealing form. My only gripe with his performance was that there wasn’t enough of it.

Dave Bautista was a unit. After his impressive turn in Guardians of the Galaxy, I wasn’t surprised that the former WWE star was offered the role of a Bond henchman. It was a shame that they chose to make him silent. He delivered his best impression of the Mountain from Game of Thrones. His scrap with Craig was one of the best villain fight sequences I’ve seen. You felt every punch.

For all the hype around Monica Bellucci’s role as a Bond girl (Or woman, should I say?), I was left wanting. Steady now. If anything her character was completely unnecessary. She certainly looked stunning and proved all those critics wrong griping about her age BUT her “love scene” with Craig came off unintentionally comical. Kissing while trying to talk chunky bits of dialogue didn’t work and killed the chemistry.

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However, Bond finally met his match with the feisty and resourceful Lea Seydoux. The pair’s chemistry and friction certainly kept things watchable when the pace seemed to drop.

The action sequences were brilliant. The plane chase sequence in Austria was mental. The car chase around Rome was fantastic with the new Aston Martin DB10. It was fast, frantic and hilarious as Bond battled to work out the prototype while dealing with henchmen and Italian pensioners fancying a late night drive.

What I also loved about this was how Logan brought in the rest of the team. It was great to see Ben Whishaw getting more screen time as Q. He had a much better rapport with Craig and was even brought out on location like Desmond Llewelyn used to with Connery. BUT at the expense of Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny.

She still made a made a memorable impression. Especially during a phone call with Bond mid car chase. Ralph Fiennes had a tough act to follow after Dench’s brilliant turn as M. BUT it was good to see him bring something new to the role and get in on the action.

It might help to have seen the other Craig entries BUT you won’t be too lost as Logan and Mendes briefly recap the story arc. As much as SPECTRE ticked the boxes, it wasn’t all perfect.

BEST BOND FILM EVER? Certainly not. The middle act lumbered the pace and when the action scenes had subsided and the couple were travelling, I could feel myself fidgeting after the 90 minute marker. Thankfully, things picked up when Walz was properly brought into the mix with his Dr No-esque lair.

This could have been cut by 30 minutes and been stronger for it. It was good to see a little more cheese and fun with this installment but for some it might be seen as a step down. And after 24 films, there are only so many different twists and turns that you can do with the Bond films. You can’t help BUT retread through old ground. There are only so many homages you can do before it gets repetitive.

The closing finale was fantastic and certainly left a satisfying if cryptic ending. Will Bond die another day? Especially when Tomorrow Never Dies? With the box office booming, is the world not enough?

Slick, stylish if a little overdone, Bond is back and on form. BUT better? Not quite, 007 but good enough.

3.5/5

SPY REVIEW

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I Spy a surprisingly entertaining comedy.

A desk-bound CIA analyst (Melissa McCarthy) volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer (Rose Byrne), and prevent diabolical global disaster.

McCarthy takes on the spy genre and it’s everything you could expect. If you’re a fan, that is.

I love McCarthy. The Heat was one of the funniest films I’ve seen in quite some time. BUT then she made Tammy. A major step backwards. When I first saw trailers for Spy, I feared the worst.

And as the opening sequence began, my anxieties were justified. Jude Law’s Bond doppelganger Bradley Fine (Nicely done) was certainly entertaining enough. Delivering the naff punch lines with a cheeky wink.

McCarthy’s analyst commentary was a little flat. Her swooning over Fine was a little bland for my liking. And when their room was infiltrated by a swarm of bats from the ventilation shaft, I could feel my hopes fading fast. Not even Miranda Hart was doing it for me. (Comedically speaking. Oh, grow up).

And the opening theme song was awful. Clearly a homage to the classic Bond movies BUT they could have made the song funny or done a proper one. A little weak. Sung well though.

BUT as soon McCarthy was brought into the fold, things got a lot better and a whole lot funnier. The supporting cast were a mixed bag in every which way.

I really thought Miranda Hart would be a lot more irritating. I loved the first series of her self-titled sitcom Miranda but she soon regurgitated the same old spiel for two more series and really killed off the buzz. She was excellent. I expected a lot more silly buffoonery and endless collapsing with the occasional faint spell. There was only one moment where she got carried away as a bodyguard.

Otherwise, she came out with some corkers and worked really well with McCarthy. The pair complimented each other perfectly. And Hart’s unexpected hook up with a celebrity rapper was the most random and funniest thing I’ve seen in some time. NO SPOILERS on the rapper but what a good sport.

Jason Statham. Where do I begin? I have never lost the faith with the Stath. If I was wearing a hat, I would take it off to the chap. It’s great when you get to that stage in your career that you can play a parody of yourself. He was hilarious. Imagine Jay from the Inbetweeners with spy status. His endless BS and bizarre stories that get crazier by the minute had me in stitches.

His endless attempts to swoop in and save the day and belittling put downs on McCarthy took things up a notch when the film seemed to get a little too bogged down with the story. He was like a Crank-ed up Clousseau. A completely different side to the British bad ass.

Rose Byre looked stunning (if a little thin) as the villainous Rayna Boyanov. Even with a strange bee hive on her head. Cue endless one liners from McCarthy on that one. Her put downs with Byrne were great. “Did your father get you to dress like a slutty dolphin instructor?”.

McCarthy’s reactions and improvised banter got a lot more laughs than I expected. Sometimes when she is let loose, it can be very hit and miss. Most notably when she tries to play the tough guy. BUT her confrontation with a Swedish contact reduced him to tears and me. Fantastic.

There were so many set pieces. And the stunts were not bad. If anything, they were relentless. Seriously, Paul Feig wasn’t afraid to throw some carnage in there. The pieces were made better by the fact that McCarthy was doing them.

Her normal woman spiel really worked for this film and balanced the ludicrous humour and mad set pieces. When she tries to jump into a scooter and tumbles over, it shouldn’t have worked as much as it did but I was in stitches. “Why do you have a roof on these things? Who do you think you are? The Pope!”

I couldn’t believe that a certain Ukrainian dance group that featured in Eurovision a few years back made an appearance during a Parisian gig sequence. No spoilers. *Cough* DANZEN! *Cough*

Peter Serafinowicz (Shaun of the Dead) was great as the eccentric Italian contact, Aldo. His infatuation and sexual advances on McCarthy’s Susan. Words escape me.

However, there were a few things that let the side down.

Morena Baccarin (Homeland) was reduced to a nothingy role. Merely the spy candy that Hart and McCarthy despise. She didn’t look even that great and her character was highly unmemorable.

Bobby Cannavale managed to make more of a impression with his weak Bond villain in the fiery finale. For most of the film, he was non-existent. His mincing about in a pursuit chase did get a chuckle.

Alison Janney’s hard ass CIA boss role was so bland. It only worked because she would pass McCarthy’s new identities. Seriously every one brought a smile.

The story was weak. The whole double crossing/triple crossing spiel was predictable. It may have happily poked fun at the endless spy plots from yonder years but it wasn’t really that interesting and slackened the pace and killed the jokes.

It was OTT, manic, random BUT funny which covered the dud gags (which there weren’t a lot) and to be honest, those two hours flew by and I came out smiling.

Mission Accomplished, Ms McCarthy

3.5/5 (Just)

SPOOKS: THE GREATER GOOD REVIEW

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One of the best British dramas takes to the silver screen? Was it needed? Did it succeed? Or should the BBC have let old dogs lie?

I won’t hide my bias. I am a huge Spooks fan. It came around the same time as 24, managed to stand its own, and became one of my favourite TV shows. But very much like 24, it was never afraid to wipe out main characters, deliver twists and turns every week, tense cliffhangers and nail biting cryptic dialogue between fellow spies and high ranking officials.

It may have lost the battle with 24 but certainly lasted the war. 24 stumbled at series 6 and never really recovered. It improved. While Spooks only really tested me at Series 8 of a 10 series run!

The last two series did feel like old hat. What was hard hitting soon became predictable and a retread of stronger story lines from earlier series. I guess there is only so much you can do with a spy drama. But the final series delivered a heartbreaking and satisfying finale.

Four years after the hit series came to a close, we have a movie. A close that was long overdue as the show seemed to be heading down the road of mediocrity. A fitting ending that wrapped things up but subtly suggested that a return wasn’t out of the question.

So here we are. Did I sigh? Denounce the movie gods? Nope. I felt excited. My love for Spooks not quite over and after watching this film . . . I can firmly say it’s still not.

The opening sequence set the tone. Tension bubbling on the back burner. Even if I found the dialogue a little flat and cliched. Spies ironically playing the game ‘I Spy’ while the “cocky” CIA operatives chat up the only British totty (Tuppence Middleton) in the surveillance squad.

However, my little niggles were soon pushed to the back of my head (momentarily) by the introduction of one of my TV icons, head of MI5 security services, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth).

As soon as Firth entered the scene, the fan boy excitement was back. Offering a pillow to a systems analyst who had time to rest his feet on his desk.

It wasn’t long before something was afoot and we were thrown straight into the action as a terrorist (Elyes Gabel) escapes custody during a routine handover.

Racy, tense and very much in the style of the Bourne films. But let’s not forget Spooks were there first! They even threw in the infamous TV title sequence.

I will emphasize that the pace really is put on the back burner. It seemed to chug along after a promising opening and Pearce facing termination after making a judgement call.

The bureaucratic sniping and dealing with the “red tape” spiel did feel like the Spooks of old. Unfortunately, that meant it was dreadfully predictable. However, that was all relieved by some cracking performances from some old faces (Oh yes) and a lot of new ones.

Tim McInnerny (Blackadder) was superb as Mace. Just as callous and manipulative as ever. The introduction of David Harewood (Homeland) and Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty) was a mixed bag for me. Harewood played the uptight Warrender perfectly. A weaselly two faced mediator desperate to keep both agencies at bay.

The only cast member that annoyed me was Jennifer Ehle. Normally I don’t mind her but what the hell was her accent supposed to be? Her twang (even though she was meant to be English) really grated against me. It was like she was trying to do an impression of the Queen. Terrible.

Disgraced, Pearce must look to the only person who can help him. The agent who he removed from MI5. Cue . . . No, not Matthew Macfadyen! I know. Gutted, too.

It’s only Jon Snow, of course. Kit Harington literally hits the ground running making a memorable entrance into the mix. Smashing through a cafe window to escape some Russians. Never found out why he was running? A passing comment would have been nice after an entry like that.

Harington was very good. The sulky scorned spy role suited him and he worked well with Firth. Their relationship may have been a little cliched (and strikingly similar to Kingsmen) as Pearce knew his father who died in a botched operation.

BUT it was still interesting to see their already fractious bond tested to the max. And yes, Harrington’s character knows nottthhinggg. One for the Game of Thrones fans.

Harington was the much needed catalyst to jump start this spluttering slow burner. Once he begins Borune-ing the place up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, I was hooked.

The airport rendezvous with Pearce was superb. Tense, suspenseful and every thing that won me over with Spooks the first time round. The numerous drop off points, the items of clothing with cryptic cards and the time frames. Brilliant.

At it’s best, it’s tense, dramatic with the odd shocker. But at it’s worst, it’s a little predictable and slow. The problem with Spooks is that you always know there is a bigger play. And the cogs are always turning. You can call things before they happen. That’s the problem after 10 series. It does kill the tension and some of the bigger reveals.

Firth was excellent as HP. Despite being integral to the plot, he does seem to be pushed into the background. A little disappointing. Harington’s Holloway is always at the forefront. Not a problem as he proves to be a worthy addition to the Spooks set.

However, Firth still gets his moment to shine and when he does, it’s great. After all the sorrow and tough decisions the man has to make, you really hope that there can be some solace for him.

I don’t think it’s a must for people who haven’t seen Spooks. There are a lot of new faces. When the old ones appear, you get the picture. I won’t say who, Spooks fans. Don’t worry. But there isn’t as many as I hoped.

And Guppy from Casualty has come a long way. Game of Thrones, A Most Violent Year and now this? He was brilliant as the maniacal Qasim. His American accent was impeccable. Take lessons, Ms Ehle. Tuppence Middleton showed potential. I just wish her character wasn’t so bland. But then again Spooks fans, who will ever top Ros?

The film may have been patchy but the last 20 minutes still had me trying to connect the dots. Even if some twists worked and others didn’t, the closing scenes still got me. And Firth stole the show, allowing HP to show a little vulnerability. Cracking his cold demeanour for a one moment before shaking it off and vanishing like a ghost. A spook. Proving once again why his character will always be one of my favourites.

The ending may have been ambiguous but it confirmed one thing for me. I’m still not quite ready to let Spooks go just yet. The film format certainly didn’t kill the franchise. If anything, it has given me hope. A few tweaks on the plot and pacing and I’m happy for it to continue. Cue freeze frame. Black and white.

3.5/5

Also did anyone else feel the title made you want to do this?

A MOST WANTED MAN REVIEW

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Philip Seymour Hoffman was definitely a most wanted man for this drab moody political thriller. A showcase and a reminder of the loss of a talented actor. The film will certainly not soil’s Hoffman’s prestigious reputation. But Anton Corbijn on the other hand . . . not so much.

A drawn out and needlessly complicated thriller that proves to be oh so simple and tedious that the 127 minute length just doesn’t justify itself or keep you engaged. It was always going to be tough to do a spy film these days, especially after nine series of Spooks, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Homeland.

The opening score and the subtle title sequence was nostalgic of the 70s political thrillers. A good sign. The moody overtone captured perfectly against the Hamburg backdrop by the cinematography of Benoit Delhomme. The story was typical John le Carre. Spies lurking in the shadows. The inevitable waiting game as a mystery man washes up on the banks of Hamburg after evading capture from Russia. Is he a terrorist? A man sneaking refuge from a torturous nation? Or a distraction for a bigger play?

The inevitable chess game as each agency fishes information out one another waiting to see who makes the first blunder or bluff revealing their intentions. Each move carefully analysed and discussed. Cryptic references and stories that are saying something without saying something. Grigoriy Dobrygin plays the mysterious Issa very well and will certainly be one to watch. However, the main scene stealer was (and was always going to be) Mr Hoffman. The opening half hour was PSH chain smoking and walking a lot of steps. It was a waiting game and believe me you felt like you were.

Hoffman is a fantastic presence along with a flawless accent. He doesn’t break out of his German twang once. The same cannot be said for Rachel McAdams who certainly gives it a punt but dips in and out. Not everybody can do it. Willem Dafoe was surprisingly good but his character was wasted as the film churned along.

The mystery soon borders on pretentious and just plain dull. Maybe Andrew Bovell and Anton Corbijn should have taken some lessons from The Lives of Others. Slow burning but tense, intriguing, hypnotic with a nail biting finale. This was just slow. Corbijn had impressed with his previous efforts: Control and, more importantly, The American. Suspenseful, tense and brilliantly shot. I understand it was adapted from Le Carre. But even some of his weaker and less renowned works still had some intrigue. The hour marker allowed Hoffman to shine and show what we will miss from him and that is his acting prowess. Delivering lines with tenacity and conviction. Pumping some life into this lead balloon.

The sense of paranoia and fear against the post 9/11 backdrop certainly provided a suitable catalyst. Robin Wright playing the American envoy who gate crashes the party was good. Sweet and supportive in one second, cruel and commanding the next. Typical. Some will smile. The fractious tension between the Americans and Germans is set up perfectly in the relationship between her and Hoffman. The film finally appears to be getting somewhere, setting things up for a tense finale, only for it . . .  to fizzle away abysmally, becoming a lazy statement that is all so predictable. Commentary that has been made time and time again.

A look into the inner working of politics between the agencies was interesting if void of suspense. PSH didn’t look particularly well. He looked rough. I mean he never was the epitome of physical health but it certainly puts an air of darkness around the film, especially knowing that this was his last film to grace the silver screen. Daniel Bruhl was completely wasted in the role. A nothingy supporting role, a mere cameo that didn’t do him any justice, especially after the prolific year he has had appearing in Rush and The Fifth Estate. Anyone could have played him.

It is a good a send off as we will get for the man. The problem with these slow burning poker games, I’ve seen them done so much better. I have patience for pace if the characters are interesting enough to keep me peaked. We were watching one man as Hoffman spurned cryptic babble to a number of agencies trying to enforce their own method of politics in the veil of “counter terrorism”. Homeland proved that watching one man could be interesting but here’s the thing the man actually did something. Not hang around in a bedsit praying, whining and trying to pull a Mean Girl. (Okay, Homeland did do that too).

Dull, drawn out and desperate. For every little move, a nightclub chase here, it was crushed with one chess piece, being endless dialogue and conversation that went no where. It certainly captured the look and had a prolific star that will certainly be missed but had to little in terms of suspense and intrigue for me.

2.5/5

JACK STRONG REVIEW

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Hit and miss. Suspenseful in parts. This US/Polish collaborated thriller just wasn’t strong enough.

I was impressed to see a foreign film at my local Cineworld. However, this film might not be the best case to persuade them to do so. An intriguing opening certainly got things going. The sinister looking Dimitri Bilov showing how the Soviets deal with spies. BUT that was soon bogged down with heavy exposition which people (who are unfamiliar or a little bit rusty with their Cold War history on the Soviet Empire) would find quite hard to follow.

It seemed to skim across the years without really establishing a date. The characters age at an alarming rate. It’s only when a brief encounter with an army officer confirmed that three years had passed, five years, etc that you even had a clue.

It was a good half hour before anything happened. I don’t mind a slow burning film if there’s enough suspense or story to keep it going. This was just lulling me into a coma. It was established early on that this account is a flashback which killed a good bit of the tension.

It was only when Ryszard Kulinski (Marcin Dorocinski) decides to provide important information to America that we start to get an engaging and suspenseful thriller. It was nostalgic of the early Bond films. The markings on the bricks, secret meetings, as well as the odd piece of gadgetry in the form of a nifty cigarette lighter that my interest was piqued.

However, this all gets too repetitive. The tone stutters along. With one brilliantly tense scene, there is one OTT and unintentionally hilarious one. Without spoiling too much, whether it was the acting or the execution; two scenes came off like something out of a parody! In one tense scene, Kulinski steals an important document, shoves it in his bag and attempts to walk out of the fortress. Only to walk into a wall.

Another example; the gruesome Putek (brilliantly played by Miroslaw Baka) suspects that someone in the room is the spy. What do you do? Keep calm. Act dumb. Or do you sweat profusely, ring your handkerchief out like a sponge and then grab the nearest piece of paper and rub ink across your forehead? Hmmm. Yeah didn’t think so.

Obviously, the main character is under a lot of stress and risk which would test you psychologically more than physically but it came off hammy and if I was in that room, I would have pointed him out in a heart beat. I mean he was a highly ranked military figure. Surely he had experience in hostile situations?

The family element seems to be forced in to break up the floundering tension and was only really necessary in the final act. I mean the heated tension between Kulinksi and his son Bogdan (Piotr Nerlewski) had its moments but more could have been made out of their fractured relationship. Shame. Kulinski’s encounters with his wife Hanna (Maja Ostaszewska) lacked real chemistry and came off sloppy.

It was a surprise to see Patrick Wilson (Insidious/The Conjuring) in this and speaking Polish. He played the part well but in all fairness, anyone could have done it. You would have thought having a big name (ish), you would have given him a meatier role? Nope. Wilson is wasted as a deadpan handler who reels off the usual cliched rubbish and then isn’t even around for the big finale.

The finale, on the other hand, does pay off. As the pressure mounts, escape is the only option. There is a brilliantly shot car chase across an icy Polish town that was tense and pacey. Remembering it was a flashback, there were a few cheeky red herrings that made you stick with the finale.

However as the film catches up with the present. You’re left somewhat confused. Although pacey and suspenseful, you notice plot holes. The intentions of the police become increasingly unclear. A reveal in the closing minutes was surprisingly laughable.

What was also infuriating was the unexpected demises of several characters I had followed throughout the film. They were rushed and unexplained. BUT as the credits rolled, it was revealed that some of the deaths are still not. This did add a somewhat sombre touch to the aftermath.

Not a complete dud, but it’s stuttering style and execution took the wind out of what could have been one heck of a thriller. Not strong enough for me.

2.5/5