John le Carre's novel is adapted with plenty of inventive style into a remarkably personal thriller, packed with thrills that find suspense in the characters and their predicament rather than pushy movie cliches. It's so sleek and involving that it's easy to ignore the nagging plot holes. We're too busy imagining what we might do in the same situations.
It opens in Marrakech, where poetry professor Perry (Ewan McGregor) and his lawyer wife Gail (Naomie Harris) have gone in an attempt to save their troubled marriage. One evening in a bar, Perry meets the boisterous Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), a Russian who openly admits that he launders money for the mafia. And he asks for Perry's help in delivering information to British intelligence in exchange for his family's safety. Back in London, Perry meets MI6 agent Hector (Damian Lewis), who sees this data as vital to bring down corrupt British politicians. But he has to go rogue to continue on the case, drafting Perry and Gail in to help. Soon they're travelling to France and Switzerland in a dangerous game that puts them in the crosshairs of both a Russian mafia boss (Grigoriy Dobrigyn) and a shifty British MP (Jeremy Northam).
The key point here is that Perry and Gail get involved because they are trying to help Dima's family. This makes everything that happens unusually down-to-earth, with a plot that hinges on the safety of a wife and children rather than the fate of the world. Actually, it's the state of the world that's the villain here, as corrupt Western politicians accept huge money to sidestep the rule of law. Screenwriter Hossein Amini is terrific at keeping the film's focus on the people rather than the plot machinery. And director Susanna White fills the screen with classy touches that are gorgeously shot and edited. The action sequences are unusually clever, avoiding cliches for something more deeply involving (a big shootout is particularly imaginative).
Continue reading: Our Kind Of Traitor Review
With a sharp sense of urgency, this documentary is shot by protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square to give us a real sense of the revolution still playing out in Egypt three years later. And the intimate approach helps us understand the deeper issues in a conflict in which people fight for freedom and feel betrayed by the military that should be protecting them.
Most of what we see is through the eyes of young activist Ahmed Hassan, who originally took to the streets in January 2011, joining hundreds of thousands of protesters demanding a democratic solution to Mubarek's 30-year tyranny, which was backed (and armed) by Western governments. Protest leaders include the charismatic actor Abdalla (The Kite Runner) and gifted musician Essam, and the crowd is a mixture of Christians, Muslims and non-religious people demonstrating peacefully together. When Mubarek steps down, they are naturally jubilant, but things quickly turn sour as factions develop, turning on each other when the new military government cracks down brutally.
Watching this footage as shot by the people in the square is pretty harrowing, especially when the police are firing guns and rolling tanks right into crowds of non-violent protesters. Filmmaker Noujaim lays out the events chronologically, with brisk editing that draws in news footage from around the world. But it's Hassan who holds our attention, as we watch him change from an optimistic, bright-eyed teen into a battle-scarred warrior. As his friends are tortured and killed, his gentle tenacity is seriously inspirational.
Continue reading: The Square Review
Miller (Damon) is a military officer charged with locating weapons of mass destruction, but every site he visits is a dead end. When he voices doubts about the intelligence, he gets in trouble with the Pentagon chief (Kinnear).
On the other hand, the CIA director (Gleeson) is sympathetic, and encourages him to dig around. So with the help of a local translator (Abdalla), Miller dives in. And he's quickly caught between two factions in his own government as he searches for an Iraqi general (Naor) in hiding.
Continue reading: Green Zone Review
The character who ties the whole narrative together is Amir, a spoiled brat of a kid who turns into a spoiled writer as an adult only to grudgingly submit himself to the rigors of becoming a hero near the conclusion. In the mid-1970s, the young Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi) lives with his prosperous father, or Baba, in a nice house in Kabul. Amir lives a pretty decent and sheltered life, his best friend, the fiercely loyal Hassan (played with emphatic nobility by Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada), is the son of the family's head servant, and will do practically anything Amir wants. His Baba is a proudly educated and modern man, with his jazz records, turtlenecks, bottles of liquor, and well-kept Mustang; the last particularly beloved by the Steve McQueen-worshipping boys. Amir and Hassan are an excellent team when it comes to the fascinating Afghan take on kite-flying, where pairs of boys get into high-altitude duels, trying to cut the strings of their opponents kites (the sport was later banned when the Taliban came to power).
Continue reading: The Kite Runner Review
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