The Nice Guys, Dir. Shane Black.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang writer-director Shane Black’s latest is arguably the most irreverent and hilarious film so far this year. In 1977 L.A (gorgeously realised by Tim Burton collaborator Phillippe Rousselot), the movie centres upon alcoholic P.I. Holland March (Ryan Gosling, terrific comic timing) and enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). The two are drawn together to uncover the reason for porn-star Misty Mountains death and to find a missing young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley). In lesser hands, a plot like this could feel dated and misogynistic, coming across as a mere pastiche. Yet, Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi keep the film feeling fresh and engaging through an intriguing but nonsensical plot, flashes of pure style and a surprisingly strong female character in March’s daughter Holly (Augourie Rice). It also features genuinely smart humour regarding 70’s culture (Hippie protests and old sitcom The Waltons get the biggest laughs). Although it suffers from a lack of depth or subversion, Black pokes fun at various tropes of the noir genre in a very loving and entertaining way.
Triple 9, Dir. John Hillcoat.
Triple 9’s mixed reception is very puzzling to me. Many of the reviews mention Michael Mann’s masterpiece Heat (with which Triple 9 shares some similarity in plot and action set-pieces), and claimed Triple 9 was not up to the same standard. Although I agree with this statement, I do not believe it is fair to write off Hillcoat’s film as a derivative rehash when it possesses so many great qualities not related to Heat. Can a gritty crime drama centring around thieves and the cops pursuing them ever be made without suffering due to comparisons to Mann’s archetypal genre movie?
The plot features a gang of thieves led by Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor, playing against type), who are being blackmailed by the leader of the Russian-Jewish mafia, Irina (Kate Winslet), into committing a dangerous heist. The other members of Michael’s crew, brothers Gabe and Russell (Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus), Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge (Clifton Collins Jr.) are either corrupt cops or former cops which gives them an upper hand into committing their thefts successfully. When the group decides collectively that the heist must be committed in broad daylight, they realise they need a distraction. Marcus suggests a triple nine – aka – the murder of a fellow policeman which will cause every cop in the city to rush to the victim’s aid. Marcus volunteers to murder his new partner, war veteran Chris (Casey Affleck), whose disillusioned uncle Jeffrey (Woody Harrelson, excellent) happens to be lead investigator on the thieves’ crimes.
The film benefits from heart racing action sequences, particularly its opening set-piece or its mid-point raid of a drug dealers’ apartment by Marcus and Chris – the latter of which slowly builds as they ascend each apartment level and then explodes in a frenzy of bullets. The choreography by Nicolas Karakatsanis (who between this and The Drop is the go to DP for presenting grimy suburbs) is eye-popping, with the gritty visuals (similar to The Wire) being broken by splashes of bright yellows and dark reds (see opening sequence). Its script by Matt Cook, although lacking a central thesis, does raise some interesting ideas such as the evolution of crime in the Internet age. It also manages to be frequently surprising while never losing its smooth plot development, as well as its strain of jet-black humour. The performances impress across the board with Kate Winslet’s ice-queen and Clifton Collins Jr’s suave but menacing performance as the dirtiest cop of the group most deserving of praise.
The Witch, Dir. Robert Eggers
Perhaps the most assured debut feature in recent memory, The Witch is a horror movie which understands that the most engaging films of the genre are essentially dramas at heart. Set in New England in 1630, the film centres upon William (Ralph Ineson, The Office). He and his family, consisting of his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie, Red Road) and their five children, are banished from a Puritan Christian plantation due to the sin of pride. To sustain themselves, the family build a farm on the outskirts of a large, mysterious forest. However, strange occurrences begin to plague them and they start to believe they are being preyed upon by a satanic force.
The film manages to create a level of sustained threat which begins at the opening credits and doesn’t cease until its final moments. Eggers displays a prowess behind the camera beyond his years. Shots linger just slightly longer then they should, creating an air of paranoia – as if at any moment, something is going to lunge at the characters. Scenes veer from comic relief to horror in a matter of seconds with deftness, leaving the viewer wonderfully confused and disorientated. Yet, as mentioned in my opening lines, The Witch works equally well as a drama. It builds an air of genuine suspense when one is interested in the characters that are being picked off by a strange supernatural force. Watching the family tear themselves apart, not just on account of their fear but over other trivial matters (a tea-cup becomes a recurring motif) is just as engaging as the horrors within the woods.
In Conclusion: Best films of the Year so far
Captain America: Civil War, Goodnight Mommy, Green Room, Hail Caesar, High-Rise, The Invitation, The Measure of a Man, The Nice Guys, Triple 9 and The Witch.