Bizarrely, this Dutch film tries desperately to wedge true events into the shape of an American thriller, but the action sequences are so lacklustre that a fascinating story ends up feeling dull and pointless. It's even been rewritten in English, using a random range of British, Australian and European accents. So while the plot manages to just about hold the interest, the film drags out the story and struggles to find any point of emotional resonance.
This is about the largest ransom ever paid, in 1982 Amsterdam. Faced with the collapse of their construction company, Cor, Willem, Jan and Frans (Jim Sturgess, Sam Worthington, Ryan Kwanten and Mark van Eeuwen) make a desperate decision to risk everything by kidnapping the billionaire head of the Heineken beer empire, Freddy (Anthony Hopkins), demanding a $60 million ransom. They manage to get him into their hideout, but are frustrated as the days drag into weeks while the police fret about the case, believing that they are dealing with a major international crime ring. The question is whether these amateurs can maintain their cool and pull this off.
Further wrinkles are supplied by the fact that Cor is expecting a baby with his girlfriend (Jemima West), who happens to be Willem's sister. This creates an intriguing dynamic between the two men, so the relationship depicted by Sturgess and Worthington is by far the most compelling thing about the film. Meanwhile, Hopkins does his best to walk off with the movie in a superbly relaxed turn as a cocky, demanding victim who's more concerned about his also-abducted chauffeur (David Dencik) than himself. All of these elements have the potential to add tension and intrigue to the movie, but British writer William Brookfield and Swedish director Daniel Alfredson never bother to properly deepen most of the characters or situations, while continually watering things down with under-powered chase sequences.
Continue reading: Kidnapping Freddy Heineken Review
Gorgeously shot, this period drama has a terrific setting and vivid characters, but is edited together in a jarring way that distances the audience from the situations. As the story progresses, the film also shifts strangely from a riveting exploration of a power couple with a pioneering spirit to a more melodramatic thriller about corruption and murder. It's consistently engaging thanks to the power of the cast, but it should have also been darkly moving as well.
The story is set in the late 1920s, as lumber baron George (Bradley Cooper) struggles under the economic pressures of the impending Great Depression. Then he meets Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) and it's love at first sight. A feisty, outspoken woman with a background in logging, she immediately ruffles feathers in George's camp by giving out advice that's actually helpful. George's two righthand men, accountant Buchanan (David Dencik) and foreman Campbell (Sean Harris), both quietly wonder if this woman is going to mess up their all-male world of underhanded bribes and physical danger. But she develops a rapport with George's hunting tracker Galloway (Rhys Ifans). Meanwhile, the local sheriff (Toby Jones) is trying to get George's land declared protected national parkland.
Oscar-winning Danish director Susanne Bier (In a Better World) gives the film a grand scale with expansive mountain landscapes and a sweeping romantic tone. The Western-style bustle of the logging camp is lively and authentic, as is the continual threat of death or dismemberment on the job. Against this, Cooper and Lawrence have terrific chemistry both with each other and the characters around them, sharply portrayed by strong actors who know how to invest plenty of attitude into even a small role.
Continue reading: Serena Review
A confident drama about a real-life 1976 political scandal, this Swedish film is expertly tells the story from three fascinating angles. The government officials are slippery and the cops are tenacious, but it's the intensely personal story of a young girl caught up in a prostitution ring that catches our emotions.
Iris (Karemyr) is only 14, but her life is already off the rails. Sent to a group home, she escapes with her pal Sonja (Asplund) looking for fun. Along the way, they're recruited by charismatic brothel madam Dagmar (August) to entertain her clients, which include high-powered politicians. Meanwhile, the government is preparing for a general election and trying to keep all of this illicit sex out of the newspapers. But a politician (Dencik) and an undercover cop (Berger) are collecting the evidence they need to crack the case. And if it hits the press, there might not be a point in holding an election at all.
The filmmakers layer the story with irony, as the Swedish government is working to build the most open and fair society on earth, drafting laws that will give women fully equal rights. But in their spare time, these same men are frequenting under-age prostitutes who aren't there by choice. Baumgarten's script digs deep to set up complex characters whose motivations and reactions might not always be clear but are vivid and recognisably real. And the cast members play the roles with such natural honesty that we can't help but sympathise with them. Watching the more intimate scenes makes us squirm in our seats.
Continue reading: Call Girl Review
In 1766, aristocratic English girl Caroline (Vikander) is married off to the Danish King (Folsgaard) to preserve the dynasty. But his brutish rule turns her against him, and she seeks intellectual stimulation from the King's close advisor Johann (Mikkelsen). Eventually, this meeting of minds turns into a lusty affair, as the Queen and Johann plot to turn Denmark into a progressive, compassionate nation. Meanwhile, the King's stepmother (Dyrholm) is conniving to have him declared unfit so her son (Nielsen) can claim the throne.
Continue reading: A Royal Affair Review
Especially when it shows as much audacious skill as this British thriller does.
In the Cold War paranoia of 1973, there's a Russian mole in British intelligence. And the top boss Control (Hurt) has narrowed it down to four top colleagues (Firth, Jones, Hinds and Dencik). He asks faithful George Smiley (Oldman) to root out the spy, so he and Peter (Cumberbatch) begin a complex investigation that involves a discredited agent (Hardy) and a murdered operative (Strong). But the truth only seems to get more elusive the further they descend into the rabbit hole.
Continue reading: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Review