The Finest Hours (2016)

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When I was a kid a friend raved to me about a film we’d both seen the previous night on TV, The Cassandra Crossing. But, I argued, what if they’d used all that money on a really good script instead? Nobody sets out to make a bad film – think of the man hours, the talent, the sheer budgets involved in mainstream filmmaking, not to mention the P&A. And yet … and yet. Here we are. Casey Sherman and Michael J. Touglas wrote a book about a daring Coast Guard rescue of a sinking trawler on the eastern seaboard off Cape Cod in 1952. We’ve sort of been here before with The Perfect Storm and that was dark and murky too and we didn’t much care about the outcome. Chris Pine stars as the brave one, Holliday Grainger is the love interest and … Ben Foster is one of the crew and Casey Affleck (who still needs a vocal implant) is sinking in tanker the SS Pendleton. If anyone had cared about how this film was received they might have concluded that starting it in the dark and staying there for 20 minutes was not advisable. Having a murky meet-cute in a bar where people barely speak comprehensible English and some ill-explained dispute between Pine and an ugly guy (one of many in this outing) doesn’t help. Ruining wonderful Eric Bana the station commander with a grey toupee also does not assist interest in the already diminishing returns. I’m all for verismilitude but not like this. Casting, people, casting. Cinematography? Switch on the lights for chrissakes. Unwatchable. Let ’em drown.

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The Ghost Writer (2010)

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Aka The Ghost. Robert Harris’ wickedly sly satire on the Blair Prime Ministership gets the full Polanski treatment here – replete with a changed and very shocking ending (he does this – just ask Robert Towne!). Ewan McGregor is the unvarnished wideboy London sleb journo preyed upon to become the second ghost writer of Adam Lang (a brilliantly cast Pierce Brosnan) the former PM’s memoirs after the previous one allegedly committed suicide. He arrives to his isolated  Elba-like Massachusetts retreat to find Lang is under investigation by the International Criminal Court over suspected rendition and torture for the benefit of the CIA. He begins to realise that under Lang’s suavely non-committal charm there may lie a secret that his predecessor uncovered and that he may in fact have been murdered … Harris’ own adaptation (with Polanski) is faithful to a blackly comic work with many witty characters and roleplays in particular that of Olivia Williams playing Lady Macbeth behind the throne. Brosnan is terrific as the famous charisma machine, Kim Cattrall is the cat’s pyjamas as Lang’s right hand woman (and we presume his mistress) while McGregor is perfect as the guy on the make who is pulled into something he doesn’t understand. Taut, oppressive, brilliant filmmaking with an exquisite, inventive score (his best?) by Alexandre Desplat and as for the ending … I was totally shaken by it. Stunning.

Sleeping With the Enemy (1991)

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Julia Roberts’ stardom really is the touchstone for the Nineties. Here she’s the abused young wife of violent OCD psycho Patrick Bergin, that dashing Irishman who wears a black coat and a great moustache and has his finest cinematic moment to date in Map of the Human Heart, Vincent Ward’s masterpiece. The unloved-up mismatched couple live on the beach in modernist fabulosity while he lines up all the cans so that they face the right way out (just like David Beckham). It really is a shock to see him administer a beating to America’s happiest hooker. A boating accident leads him to believe she’s dead – but she’s in the middle of Cedar Falls, Iowa, donning drag and a nifty moustache with her new and bearded neighbour’s assistance to visit her disabled mom in a nursing home having faked her funeral six months earlier. This is meat and drink to director Joseph Ruben who is working with the Ron Bass/Bruce Joel Rubin adaptation of Nancy Price’s novel. There are no real surprises here if you’ve ever wondered what it might be like if Fatal Attraction were to be reversed with added Berlioz. Just remember:  it’s all about the facial hair.