With a script by Brad Ingelsby (Out of the Furnace), this thriller has more substance than most, although it's also been compromised by the inclusion of a lot of contrived action mayhem. At its centre, there's a nice exploration of two retirement-age men looking at the world they have created, and how things have changed since they made key decisions as younger men. But director Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop) seems uninterested in these serious themes, and would clearly rather stage another shoot-out or chase instead.
Liam Neeson stars as Jimmy, a lifelong criminal who's now a wheezy husk of his former thrusting self. But he maintains his childhood friendship with Shawn (Ed Harris), who turned his crime empire legit but is having problems keeping his son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) out of trouble. Now Danny has made a dodgy deal with some Albanians, and when that goes predictably wrong, it accidentally puts Jimmy's estranged good-guy son Mike (Joel Kinnaman), his wife (Genesis Rodriguez) and kids in danger. So Jimmy sets out to set things right, although this means that he ends up on opposite sides of the conflict from Shawn. And he and Mike also have to outrun his detective nemesis (Vincent D'Onofrio) and a ruthless assassin (Common).
There's a nice sense of respect and inevitability to the relationship between Jimmy and Shawn that goes a long way in making this overlong movie watchable. Neeson and Harris are terrific at playing men who are too old to be running around with guns. Their quietly tense conversations are by far the most riveting scenes in the film. By comparison, the action sequences feel rather routine: brutal and fast, with flashy editing, outrageous stunts and more firepower than is strictly necessary. And for a man who can barely stand when the film opens, Jimmy is suspiciously able to run, jump, drive and shoot like a trained professional a third his age.
Continue reading: Run All Night Review
The fact that this magical romance has been retitled A New York Winter's Tale in the UK tells you what the filmmakers think of the audience: we can't be trusted to get anything on our own. Writer-director Akiva Goldsman lays everything on so thickly that there's nothing left for us to discover here. And he botches the tone by constantly shifting between whimsical fantasy and brutal violence. Sure, the manipulative filmmaking does create some emotional moments, but inadvertent giggles are more likely.
It's mainly set in 1916, where young orphan Peter (Farrell) is running from his relentlessly nasty former boss Pearly (Crowe), a gangster angry that Peter isn't as vicious as he is. Then Peter finds a mystical white horse that miraculously rescues him and leads him to the dying socialite Beverly (Brown Findlay). As they fall deeply in love, Peter believes he can create a miracle to save Beverly from the end stages of consumption. And Pearly is determined to stop him. But nearly a century later, Peter is still wandering around Manhattan in a daze, trying to figure out who he is and why he's still there. He gets assistance from a journalist (Connelly), who helps him make sense of his true destiny.
Yes, this is essentially a modern-day fairy tale packed with supernatural touches. But Goldsman never quite figures out what the centre of the story is, losing the strands of both the epic romance and the intensely violent vengeance thriller. Meanwhile, he condescends to the audience at every turn, deploying overwrought camera whooshing, frilly costumes, dense sets and swirly effects while a violin-intensive musical score tells us whether each a scene should be wondrous or scary. At the centre of this, Farrell somehow manages to hold his character together engagingly, even convincing us that Peter is around 25 years old (Farrell's actually 38).
Continue reading: Winter's Tale Review
This may be based on a true story, but the filmmakers never bother exploring the complexities of historical events, instead opting for a comic book-style approach that's entertaining but somewhat unsatisfying. Still, this style-over-substance approach at least produces a rollicking police thriller that's often a lot of fun to watch, packed with gifted actors who gleefully chomp through the scenery.
The setting is 1949 Los Angeles, where the notorious gangster Mickey Cohen (Penn) is launching a Chicago-style mob takeover of the city. The police chief (Nolte) is determined to stop him, but feels surrounded by corruption, so he hires straight-arrow detective John (Brolin) to head up a secret squad that will operate off the books to stop Cohen, whatever it takes. John's pregnant wife (Enos) isn't thrilled by this, but she helps him select his team: techie Conway (Ribisi), gunslinger Max (Patrick), hot-shot Coleman (Mackie) and quick-learning rookie Navidad (Pena). And then there's pretty-boy detective Jerry (Gosling), who courts danger by launching a fling with Mickey's moll Grace (Stone). Understandably, their task doesn't go smoothly.
Billed as the untold story of what really happened, the film ignores quite a few key facts while indulging in implausible plotting and overly colourful characterisations. In other words, it's impossible to believe anything we're watching, which eliminates all of the relevance and resonance that could have filled this story of police corruption, out-of-control capitalism and especially the use of illegal methods to do the right thing. Instead, the film is all shiny surfaces, with flashy production design, too-immaculate costumes and haircuts, and a plot that reduces a complex situation into a simplistic action movie narrative.
Continue reading: Gangster Squad Review
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