With a true story that's almost hard to believe, this inspiring biographical drama is made with attention to detail and a remarkable resistance to sentiment. And strong acting helps bring the characters to life, even if everything feels a little too carefully staged. But it's the real-life aspect that grabs the attention, and a central figure who's a remarkable example of the indomitable human spirit. The film also marks an auspicious step forward for Angelina Jolie as a director, telling a big story without giving in to the usual sappy moviemaking pitfalls.
Son of Italian immigrants, Louie Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) grew up in 1920s Southern California and by the time he hit his teens is on the way to becoming a criminal. But his brother Pete (Alex Russell) helps him channel his energy to running instead, and his natural skill make him a local champion as well as an American record-holder at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. When the war breaks out, he enlists and serves as a bombardier in the Pacific, surviving a plane crash before later going down at sea and drifting with two colleagues (Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock) for 47 days before being captured by the Japanese. From here he endures a horrific stint in a prisoner of war camp, taunted by the cruel commandant everyone calls The Bird (Miyavi), who takes particular notice of Louie simply because he refuses to break.
Jolie assembles the film as a big-budget epic, with massive set pieces as the plot cycles through several outrageous episodes before settling in on the prison years. Cinematographer Roger Deakins carefully contrasts Louie's sunny California youth with the much starker visit to Nazi Germany and the astoundingly bleak Japanese prison camp, with those endless days baking at sea in the middle. So the film looks terrific, drawing us into each chapter in Louie's story while building a sense of momentum. It's not quite as complex as it looks; Louie's darker moments feel a bit superficial. But O'Connell adds some weight to each scene, offering a kick of emotion as well as the charisma that convinces the men around him to draw inspiration from his tenacity.
Continue reading: Unbroken Review
Based on his autobiography, this film is clearly designed to be the definitive film about Nelson Mandela. And it tells his remarkable story with skill, tracing his life from 25 to 75 while touching on why he's perhaps the most important figure of the past century. So it's no wonder that the film feels far too constructed and polished.
It starts in his Xhosa village birthplace, then follows Nelson (Elba) to Johannesburg in the 1940s as a sparky young lawyer with a loving wife (Pheto) and children. But the vicious injustice of Apartheid gets under his skin, and as he starts speaking out and taking action, his marriage falls apart. South Africa's government responds to protests by cracking down even further, so Nelson's African National Congress turns to violence. As a result, its leaders are sentenced to hard labour on Robben Island. Now married to the outspoken Winnie (Harris) with two more daughters, Nelson is sent away for life. But he refuses to let bitterness gain a foothold, and devises a way for the nation to peacefully transition into democracy.
Mandela's legacy lies in his wisdom and open-mindedness, avoiding a bloodbath by seeking reconciliation rather than revenge. And these themes play an important role in Nicholson's script, which of course has to condense the events drastically, even for a two-and-a-half hour movie. But all of the key moments are here, and even if the film sometimes feels like it's racing through them, there's plenty of subtext for the actors to grab hold of.
Continue reading: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Review
Idris Elba's performance as Nelson Mandela is already generating Oscar buzz. The mysterious trailer suggests the Weinstein Company could have something special on its hands.
Idris Elba is the man to beat the 2014 Academy Awards for his portrayal of South African President Nelson Mandela, according to the bookmakers, anyway. Elba's star has risen in recent years thanks to BBC series Luther, rumors of the James Bond role and a role in Guillermo Del Toro's latest blockbuster Pacific Rim.
Idris Elba [L] as Nelson Mandela and Naomie Harris [R] as Winnie Mandela
The first trailer for upcoming biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom - from The Other Boleyn Girl director Justin Chadwick - rolled out online this week and features a startling, if limited, first look at Hackney-born Elba's performance "No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin. People learn to hate. They can be taught to love for love comes more naturally to the human heart," goes the spine-tingling voiceover as Mandela moves across the valley. It appears Elba - wearing Mandela's signature yellow shirt - has got the President's poise down to a tee.
Starting at full-emotion and never wavering for a moment, this huge movie adaptation of the long-running stage musical wears us out with its relentlessly epic approach. OK, so neither the musical nor Victor Hugo's source novel could be accused of being understated, but director Hooper (The King's Speech) never even tries to find a moment of quiet feeling here. The result is thrillingly moving, making the most of the soaring anthems that fill the show. But it's also pretty overwhelming.
The story starts in 1815 as convict Jean Valjean (Jackman) finishes 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. His parole officer Javert (Crowe) vows to keep an eye on him, but Valjean slips away and, after a redemptive encounter with a priest, eventually reinvents himself as an upstanding businessman. He tries to help fallen woman Fantine (Hathaway), rescuing her daughter Cosette (Allen, then Seyfried) from her greedy foster parents (Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter). Years later, Valjean and Cosette move to Paris, where a young revolutionary (Redmayne) falls for Cosette just as the 1832 student uprisings break out. And Javert is still determined to recapture Valjean.
Hooper maintains the play's operatic style, in which the dialog is sung-through in between the big numbers. And we're talking about massively emotional power ballads here, performed to wrenching effect. Hathaway's one-take rendition of I Dreamed a Dream is the kind of breathtaking scene that wins Oscars. Jackman's voice wavers and cracks beautifully as he holds the story together. Marks delivers a belting version of the soulful On My Own. Redmayne nearly steals the show with his soaring tenor voice and wonderful acting chops. Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter provide some raucously overwrought comical relief. And Crowe gets away with Javert's big musical moments because he has the acting power to back up his oddly thin voice.
Continue reading: Les Miserables Review
For one thing, historical costume dramas rarely spawn second chapters, particularly ones that struggle to make back their production budgets. Kapur's critically acclaimed original Elizabeth earned multiple Oscar nominations but was largely overshadowed (at the ceremony and in the public eye) by John Madden's opposing Golden Age tryst Shakespeare in Love.
Continue reading: Elizabeth: The Golden Age Review
The awe-inspiring trailers for Gladiator may have you dreaming of Spartacus and Ben-Hur, but you may be surprised to find this film in reality a less palatable mélange of Braveheart and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. This isn't altogether a bad thing, but those expecting a new Roman epic that will stand the test of time (like Spartacus and Ben-Hur) are in for some surprises.
Continue reading: Gladiator Review