This sci-fi thriller is so visually stunning that it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as The Matrix or Blade Runner, two films it resembles in various ways, even if it lacks their resonance. Director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) pulls out all the stops, expertly deploying an eclectic cast and a continual stream of eye-popping visual effects. This helps make up for the surprisingly thin approach to the story's deeper themes.
It's set in near-future Japan, where Major (Scarlett Johansson) has her brain transplanted into a robotic body after an accident. Weaponised by the Hanka corporate boss Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), she is assigned to work undercover with local police chief Aramaki ('Beat' Takeshi Kitano) and a team that includes muscly sidekick Batou (Pilou Asbaek) and reparative Dr Ouelet (Juliette Binoche). Major's current case has her on a collision course with a mastermind terrorist named Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), who is attacking Hanka executives one by one. As she tracks him down, she is noticing strange glitches in her programming, little visions of what might be her past. But these are oddly unrelated to her memories, which makes her wonder who she really was before she became a machine.
The script makes it painfully clear that the title refers to Major's soul in her mechanical body, as if it needed explaining. And there are other elements of the dialog that seem dumbed down for the mainstream, including the way the film sidesteps the big questions it raises about free will, militarised culture and corporate greed. By neglecting these elements of the story, the film wows our eyes and tantalises our emotions, but never gets under our skin. Johansson is terrific at these sort of roles (see also Lucy), and her expressive eyes bring some moving subtext to her scenes with Binoche and Pitt. Meanwhile, Kitano nearly steals the show as the cool old-school master.
Continue reading: Ghost In The Shell Review
A terrific story is compromised by the demands of commercial filmmaking, adding action-thriller scenes to what should be an introspective drama while distractingly beefing up side-roles for American stars. But at the centre is another superb performance from Riz Ahmed (Four Lions), who again takes a complex, challenging approach to the subject of terrorism.
The narrative is fragmented into flashbacks as Changez (Ahmed) tells his story to an American journalist (Schreiber) in Pakistan while a tense hostage situation swirls all around them. Years earlier, Changez was a high-flying Pakistani student, graduating from Princeton and landing a prestigious job on Wall Street when an executive (Sutherland) recognises his talent. He also has a sexy artist girlfriend (Hudson). But all of this is shaken after the 9/11 attacks, when he is harassed by police and immigration officials. Fundamentally changed, he returns to Lahore to become a lecturer in violent uprisings. But this makes the CIA think that he's become a terrorist himself. Perhaps he has.
The various strands of the story are intriguing, and the actors are all watchable as they add layers to Changez's overall story. But the jumbled structure of the film reduces the narrative to a series of seemingly unrelated scenes. Hudson and Sutherland are solid but add little beyond their characters' stereotypical American reactions to Changez's decisions. The always superb Schreiber is better used as a more shady figure. But other characters vanish just when they get interesting, such as Changez's parents, played by acting legends Puri and Azmi.
Continue reading: The Reluctant Fundamentalist Review
Richard Gere, perfectly cast, plays Clifford Irving, a down-and-out writer who in 1971 wrote (and nearly got published) a fake biography of Howard Hughes. Desperate to jump-start his career, Irving duped his editor Andrea Tate (Hope Davis) and the top dogs at McGraw-Hill into believing he was not only a friend of Hughes, the notorious recluse, but that the billionaire had tapped Irving to write his life story. Smelling a publishing sensation, McGraw-Hill offered Irving a then-record publishing deal, and the writer suddenly found himself the crown prince of the publishing world.
Continue reading: The Hoax Review
Is it Vince Vaughn's Penny, a distrusting telemarketer with questionable morals? Or is it Ed Harris's Kelly Grant, a kingpin of telephone sales who recruits Penny to help him sell $2.5 million worth of investment shares in a gold mine? Or something else altogether? Penny takes this "prime gig," mainly because it gets him closer to Kelly's girlfriend (Julia Ormand), which, combined with his inability to sell anything on the floor, starts to land him in hotter and hotter water. Is any of this legit? Who's conning who? The Prime Gig takes its sweet time in getting to the answer, but it's definitely a worthwhile trip to take.
Continue reading: The Prime Gig Review
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