A gracious account of the early stages of Colette's life, this show has the ingredients of a first class item. Visually it is fabulous - the beauty of Knightley, the production of historical detail, the balanced photographic tableaux, the vivid interiors, and the long takes that draw the most from the actors, scenes and performances. The screenplay advances smoothly, with direction and editing that seem completely assured. Knightley finds and maintains the core of the character, who develops from ingénue, to young wife, to frustrated intellectual and artist, to finding sexual and professional adventure, and then to reaching a powerful maturity. The supporting roles are understated, without surrendering the film to being just a star vehicle; throughout, they are directed and performed to an equally fine standard as Colette. Comparing say A Quiet Passion, this film does not reach as deep emotionally, nor does it speak and bring to life much of Colette's actual writing. It takes a more external focus and is less powerful for that. Not a fault, but rather a decision that enables the Colette film to appeal to a wide audience, to give very fine entertainment, while delivering the key historical facts and illustrating eloquently the obstacles faced by a brilliant woman writer.
This story had the potential to be a sharp historical account of the development of the atomic bomb in the 1940s, if it had focused on interesting science, politics and espionage. The scenes with present-day Joan and her son deliver most of its substance and the key facts. The young Joan was inventing the bomb, a member of a secret wartime team of scientists, and she was also a Russian spy. However, the film treats her less as a cool head, and more as a slave to romance. Compare The Imitation Game - in this film, we needed greater details of 'the quickest mind in atomic physics'; and how she operated. Just as in life she was apparently treated as though she were invisible, or the tea lady, so the film skates over her importance. Even then, the romances are patchy, the sex scenes embarrassing. The other Russian spies are exceptionally beautiful, charismatic and glamorous; who would not have picked them out? Logical threads get fuzzy, the screenplay and editing jump around, with key plot devices introduced towards the end. People looking for a period piece will enjoy the lavishly produced English scenes, cars and clothing, plus hairstyles. People who want an insight into the events will get some. To understand Joan herself, you have to wade through all the padding, while it's the scenes with Dench that deliver the essence of the story.
Redford and an exceptionally fine supporting cast create a sophisticated, grown-up tale of whimsy and romance. Yes this may have been a true story, yet its real charm lies in the weaving in gently of people's deep wishes and feelings. Visually, it is remarkable how interesting the old faces look and how they sound. Meanwhile, Affleck presents like a young Redford, the brooding good looks, the distance and assurance, down to the moustache and flopping hair - his detective role is more of an alter-ego than a nemesis. The sensuality in the film revolves around him and his beautiful wife; watch for their breathtaking dance. Spacek's lovely presence balances the Redford persona and there is no sex scene: a good decision. These and the other supporting roles bring contrasts and harmonies (Waits' spoken voice literally), all played by superlative actors including an all star line-up and very good child actors particularly the little daughter. The ensemble eliminates the vanity element. All of that is a fine directorial achievement. It's not a screenplay likely to appeal much to the fast paced rhythm of younger audiences. The gun of the title is a notable non-starter. This is a film full of wisdom, kindness, fun and humour and, in line with Forrest's own story and no doubt without coincidence Redford's too - it is brimming with happiness.
A close up of the performing sensation that is Lady Gaga, who is a worthy musical successor to Garland, and whose powerful presence carries the film. There are also first class guitar riffs and solos, and a big effort by Cooper in playing the rock star. The film delivers an unvarnished view of the life of music stars in general - perhaps its main virtue. Gaga and Cooper give a lot, but the show should have been about two thirds of its length. It lacks the sophistication of the Garland/ Mason. Gaga is a better musician than she is an actor, though it wouldn't have mattered if the screenplay had been more developed, the directing more objective and the editing more ruthless. Cooper's persona tends to hide the character's inner life; there are only a couple of intense close-ups where you really see within Jack. Compare American Sniper, where the role is relatively narrow, but shows a complex inner life. A fine support cast fills the screenplay, and provides relief from the stars' moribund tale. A lot of the dialogue is mumbled and slurred. Visually the film is unpleasant. Cooper looks permanently unwashed; Gaga apart from the early stages and maybe the final scene is styled hideously; the concert arenas are cavernous; the interiors are claustrophobic, and their home is finished in ugly, bare wood. The music consists mainly of sentimental rock and pop/ rock power ballads; while it keeps going like that, you can start wondering how many more of those you want to hear. The film drags on through its depressing and well-known stages; but, since most people will go not to this for the cinema so much as for the stars, those you do get in spades.
This succeeds in spelling out what life is like for, and around, an alcoholic, and a person with quadriplegia - in this case, the one man is both. It also delivers strong messages about drink driving, the morals of making the wrong assumptions, and about how people treat one another in profound circumstances. It is a story of triumph over adversity. As cinema, it is less engaging. The title is more humorous than the film. Phoenix is less interesting than in say Inherent Vice. The screenplay repeats numerous, and ultimately voyeuristic, examples of the physical problems. It aims for a graphic naturalism, but the dialogue is forced. Sometimes it is inaudible. The direction is monotonous; the editing is padded. We get the standard formula, of a flawed man who lands intimacy with improbably ideal women. Yes, it is a vote for recognising that people with disability have a love life. But here, the women are little more than objects; how many blank, glossy-mag close-ups of Mara did it need? Compare Coming Home, where Fonda was presented unglamorously, with a powerful, complex role in the story. The AA members provide caricatured interest. The screenplay could instead have opted for deeper wit and characterisations in these roles. Even the inner path from tragically hapless drunk, to successful creative artist and human being, is written simplistically. He starts drawing, someone publishes him, and then he is away. What happened within him, to bring about that change? In this show, alcoholism and disability are the main ingredients for a low kind of humour, and it misses the opportunity to do justice to the full story and the people in it.