Journey’s End Review

A taut and respectful adaptation of RC Sherriff’s iconic play, Journey’s End offers a conventional but deeply moving portrait of the First World War and its corrosive impact on the human soul

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In 1928, when Journey’s End was first performed in London’s West End, the wounds of the First World War were still festering in British society. Written by war veteran RC Sherriff, the play horrified contemporary theatre-goers with an uncompromising portrayal of a British officer’s dugout in the Spring of 1918. Sherriff’s dispiriting account has continued to shape the popular understanding of the war nine decades later, an immense cultural legacy which has been buttressed through the years by plethora of cinematic adaptations, most notably Jack Gold’s 1976 film Aces High. This latest effort, from Suite Française director Saul Dibb, arrives as part of the official centenary commemorations of the First World War, but the solemn power of Sherriff’s anti-war drama remains potent.

From the film’s opening moments, Dibb does an admirable job of expanding the play from the three stage walls for which it was written. The action often moves beyond the dugout and into the trenches outside, where the squalor of everyday life is rendered with impressive and uncomfortable detail. Events usually consigned off-stage, such as a suicidal raid on the German trench line, are depicted with all the visceral carnage that one expects of a modern war film.

Despite this expanded scope, the film maintains a sense of the intense claustrophobia that was integral to Sherriff’s vision. To this end, the camera often stays fixed in extreme close-up, with individual moustache hairs bristling towards the lens as background details fall into haze. There are no sweeping vistas of troops marching across no-man’s-land, as the focus remains wisely fixed on a small cast of characters and their emotional, rather than physical, turmoil.

Unsurprisingly, then, the film is dialogue heavy and thus relies greatly on its central performers. Sam Claflin stars as Captain Stanhope, a decorated company commander who has fallen into alcoholism and depression after three years in the trenches. Claflin’s interpretation of the role which launched Laurence Olivier’s career is adequate, if unsubtle. Full of quivering rage, he never quite captures the broiling, inner turbulence of his character, meaning that Stanhope’s emotional collapse in the latter portion of the film fails to elicit the catharsis it should.

More inspired casting is found in the form of Paul Bettany as Lieutenant Osborne, Stanhope’s second-in-command and emotional confidante. Affectionately referred to as ‘Uncle’ by the other officers, Osborne acts as a sort of sage to the rest of the men, helping them to maintain their humanity whilst all around are losing theirs. Likewise, Asa Butterfield is impeccably pitched as Lieutenant Raleigh, a baby-faced volunteer who quickly discovers war to be less exciting than he had envisioned. And although occupying a more limited role, Stephen Graham provides a similarly authentic presence as Lieutenant Trotter, an outwardly cheerful officer whose working-class origins have been maintained from the play whilst shifting his accent from London to Merseyside.

It is the interplay between these characters which serves as the core of the film, offering a poignant meditation on the relationships that form between men amidst the harshest of circumstances, in both their warmth and their tragedy. This bleak atmosphere is supported by a thronging, melancholic score from composer Natalie Holt, which creates an appropriately ominous soundscape.

The fiercely respectful tone of Journey’s End is undeniably moving, but ultimately offers little that hasn’t been seen in the last hundred years of World War One films. The script, meanwhile, isn’t shy about perpetuating the same ‘lions-led-by-donkeys’ clichés previously found in everything from All Quite in the Western Front to Blackadder Goes Forth. Nevertheless, it offers a powerfully intimate perspective on a period which has long been lost to living memory, and serves as a timely elegy to the human costs of war.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Review

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A mature yet blackly comic study of personal trauma in middle-America

The title of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri places the film within an oddly specific setting, but this emphasis might be misleading. Although the story is confined within the small, fictional town of Ebbing, the events which unfold seem to stand for American society as a whole – and it is not a flattering picture. Depicting a community where ugly tensions simmer beneath a benign exterior, writer and director Martin McDonagh clearly has something to say about the rage and disharmony which has come to characterise the modern United States. The film offers no easy answers to the broken society which it observes, but endeavours to ask where all this anger has come from – and how we might find our way back.

The third film from the British-Irish film-maker, Three Billboards is McDonagh’s most mature and rewarding work yet. Anyone familiar with his previous comedy-dramas, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, will be well acquainted with his acerbic and often profane wit, but this film also relies on a weighty sense of tragedy. Indeed, the story functions primarily as a study of personal trauma, and how far we allow it to define ourselves and our communities. Almost every character within Ebbing is afflicted with their own, private tragedy, and none more so than Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes.

The tough and abrasive Mildred is McDormand’s meatiest role since her Oscar-winning turn in the Coen brother’s 1996 crime-caper, Fargo. With a permanent scowl and a John Wayne swagger, Mildred always cuts a fearsome presence, but McDormand also inhabits her character with the merest hint of vulnerability beneath the harsh exterior. The result is a multi-faceted performance which feels as authentically lived-in as her battered blue overalls.

McDormand inhabits her character with the merest hint of vulnerability

Opposite McDormand, Woody Harrelson is routinely excellent as local Sheriff Bill Willoughby, but Sam Rockwell captivates as his moronic deputy, officer Jason Dixon. An utterly reprehensible and unscrupulous personality, Dixon represents all that is wrong with American law enforcement, yet Rockwell imbues his performance with a surprising degree of humanity. In many ways, Dixon feels like the emotional heart of the film; angry, morally confused, but ultimately a product of his environment.

In this way, McDonagh’s script refuses to allow any of its players to revert to cliché or predictability. Ebbing is a community populated by characters who are continually one-step ahead of the audience’s expectations. It’s refreshing to see a film defined by moral ambiguities and shades of grey, and it allows the drama to move into satisfyingly unexpected territory. In refusing to accommodate a binary world of heroes and villains, Three Billboards makes a case for the value of empathy and understanding over anger and cynicism.

It’s refreshing to see a film defined by moral ambiguities

Fortunately, despite the film’s philosophical aspirations, Three Billboards also finds time to be very funny. The ease with which McDonagh moves between hilarity and heartbreak is something to behold, much thanks to the phenomenal range of McDormand and Rockwell. The blackly comic tone never feels like a betrayal of the film’s sombre subject matter, but a natural extension of Ebbing’s peculiar world. Nevertheless, Ebbing represents more than an idiosyncratic setting – it stands for all the communities which live in fear and resentment of one another, where violence and corruption is accepted as a matter of fact. These three billboards might as well be outside anywhere.

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Baby Driver Review

Sleek and exhilarating, Baby Driver is a wholly original heist movie for the Spotify generation – an unadulterated treat for the eyes and ears.

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Baby Driver feels like the culmination of director Edgar Wright’s career so far – as if every film he’s ever made had been in some way preparing him for this spellbinding climax. With the shell of a chase movie and the heart of a romance, Baby Driver is as exciting in its surface as it is rewarding in its depth. With a clear reverence for action cinema, the film pays homage to a different genre classic at every turn, from Walter Hill’s The Driver to Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break, but the final product feels refreshingly original. For anyone who’s ever felt joy or love, it’s not to be missed, and should be seen at a cinema with the highest quality speakers available.

At its core, Baby Driver is structured around a series of sensational heist sequences, while an eclectic soundtrack provides an ever-present bed of diegetic pop tunes. Ansel Elgort stars as Baby, a young getaway driver in debt to the criminal underworld and armed with a fully loaded iPod. Thanks to Wright’s heartfelt script and typically slick direction, what may sound like a one-note revision of the crime genre is given real emotional weight, and I’m not ashamed to say that I shed a tear or two along the way. Fundamentally, its cinema at its most affecting; an elegantly coordinated symphony of sound and visuals to stimulate the senses and satisfy the soul.

Clocking in at slightly under two-hours, Baby Driver thunders past at a breakneck pace, never losing momentum nor coherence. The opening chase sequence is an adrenaline-fuelled masterclass in vehicular ballet, and stakes are continually heightened with each successive action set piece. The stunt coordination, whether on two feet or four wheels, is consistently impressive, and there’s an obvious reliance on practical effects and choreography which brings a palpable sense of weight and peril. Some sequences bring to mind the exhilarating physicality of William Friedkin’s The French Connection or John Frankenheimer’s Ronin, and they act as the perfect antidote for a generation raised on Fast and Furious.

The opening chase sequence is an adrenaline-fuelled masterclass in vehicular ballet

Of course, to focus solely on the action would be to ignore a script which is as hilarious as it is moving. Much of this success hangs on the shoulders of Ansel Elgort, who provides an enigmatic presence at the centre of the film. His near-mute exterior quickly gives way to a character of depth and warmth, particularly when faced with a love interest in the shape of Lily James’ Debora. The chemistry between these two performances is electrifying, and grounds the film in some satisfyingly human drama. Indeed, the action always functions as an extension of their story, meaning that character development is never lost amongst the clamour of engines, wheels, and gunfire.

The supporting cast, meanwhile, are pitch perfect at every turn. Jamie Foxx stands out as Bats, a ruthless career criminal who operates without fear or moral scruple. He makes for a terrifying and commanding presence, reminiscent of Joe Pesci’s Oscar-winning turn as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas. Kevin Spacey similarly captivates in his most energetic big-screen appearance in years as Doc, the charismatic crime boss who coerces Baby into one last job. This collection of shady cohorts is rounded off by John Hamm and Eiza González as married couple and partners-in-crime, Buddy and Darling. It may be a somewhat cartoonish interpretation of Atlanta’s crime scene, but this heightened reality never comes at the cost of a sense of danger.

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Attention must be given Baby Driver’s soundtrack, as it weaves itself into the fabric of almost every scene. The film’s central conceit – that all the music is heard through Baby’s iPod – never falls into the realm of gimmickry, and the role of the music is given proper justification by the script. Curated from Wright’s favourite tracks, the score ranges from classic hits to deeper album cuts, but each one complements the action perfectly. Anyone familiar with the recent Guardians of the Galaxy films, or the final pub brawl in Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, will understand the intended effect, but Baby Driver sees the music take on a far greater prominence within both the action and the story. It works to establish a unique tone which sets the film apart from its forbears, and it’s a rare pleasure to see a police chase accompanied by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

Baby Driver, then, is Edgar Wright’s most mature and ambitious film yet, perhaps occasionally too ambitious. González is given relatively little to do in her role as the gun-toting Darling, acting primarily as a foil for her on-screen husband, and the third act occasionally drifts into incredulity. But the film exercises a charm which is irresistible, and it’s difficult not to be swept up by the wit and spectacle of its execution. After a delightfully violent climax, Baby Driver will leave you elated and exhausted. A delightful serving of escapist entertainment with its head firmly screwed on, this is a heist movie like you’ve never quite seen before.

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Hacksaw Ridge Review

Occasionally rousing but mostly unexceptional, Mel Gibson’s battlefield drama is a confused tour of war movie clichés.

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Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss. Copyright 2017 Lionsgate.

When Stephen Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was released in 1998, it revolutionised the modern war film. It was by no means the best that the genre had to offer, but the first to convincingly capture the shattering sights and sounds of the battlefield. Spielberg launched a generation of imitators, from Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down to David Ayer’s Fury. Following in the same tradition, Mel Gibson has returned to the director’s chair with Hacksaw Ridge, a bloody and visceral tale of courage in the face of incomprehensible horror. Ultimately it’s a messy, if ambitious, film which stumbles upon moments of greatness in an otherwise by-the-numbers tale of the Pacific war.

Hacksaw Ridge focuses on the remarkable true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a profoundly religious young man who enlists in the US Army during the Second World War but refuses to carry a weapon into battle. We follow his journey from small-town Virginia to the battlefields of Okinawa, where his bravery as a combat medic made him the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour.

From its opening frames to the biblical final shot, Hacksaw Ridge is laughably heavy-handed, which is not always a terrible thing. The central cast of characters, including Garfield’s Doss, are all fairly one-note, but just about well-drawn enough to be worth investing in. Dialogue is consistently on the nose and the soundtrack is always sure to remind the viewer how they should be feeling. It’s compelling enough and never quite insults the viewer’s intelligence, but don’t expect to be dealing with complex moral dilemmas.

Structurally, the film is split very clearly into two halves, spending time to introduce Doss’s home life before he ships off to the Pacific. This first portion of the film follows a series of familiar clichés, all of which call to mind other, better films. There’s a portrayal of a naïve young romance which would feel at home in The Notebook, so suffocating is the layer of schmaltz. Then comes a brutal boot-camp training sequence, borrowing heavily from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket but accompanied by an extra side of cheese. Following this, the film even collapses into a predictable court-room drama for an inexplicable ten minutes. These early vignettes aren’t poorly done, but disappointingly simplistic; it feels perfunctory and a little bit useless, as if Gibson is itching to get the boring stuff over with before the violence starts.

And blimey, does it start. More or less from the moment the film shifts to Okinawa is the audience thrown into the maelstrom of battle. The carnage and bloodshed of war are represented here in unrelenting detail. Desperate young men are riddled with bullets and blown to pieces with abandon, while the camera repeatedly switches to slow motion as squads of Japanese soldiers are engulfed in flames. At times, these combat sequences feel like they would be more at home in a horror film, and it’s to Gibson’s credit that he creates such an overbearing sense of confusion and dread. His obsession with graphic violence, exemplified in his previous work from Braveheart to The Passion of the Christ, remains as present as ever, but it’s just nauseating enough to avoid feeling pornographic. At its best, Hacksaw Ridge features some of the most impressive reproductions of war ever put to film, which is why it’s such a shame when it falls into incredulous moments of action movie cliché. A superfluous duel with a Japanese sniper is just one forgettable encounter which feels tonally incongruous with the rest of the film, and it diminishes the otherwise immersive effect.

Despite its eccentric protagonist, then, Hacksaw Ridge is relentlessly conventional. Gibson clearly has a story to tell, and he does so without complication or restraint. Punctuated by spells of excellence and a convincing central performance (Garfield’s Oscar nomination is well deserved), Hacksaw Ridge is a worthy entry in the war movie annals, but as a whole it fails to move far beyond mediocrity.

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Silence Review

Simultaneously pensive and abrasive, Silence is an uncompromising and richly rewarding tour of the human condition.

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Liam Neeson as the enigmatic Father Ferreira. Copyright 2016 Paramount Pictures.

The latest film from director Martin Scorsese, Silence, begins with a relatively simple premise. In the mid-seventeenth century, the Japanese government has outlawed Christianity and instigated a purge of all Christian influence. News reaches Europe that an experienced Jesuit priest, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), has been subjected to torture and forced to apostatise. Fearing for their mentor’s soul, two Portuguese priests, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver), risk their lives and make the journey to Japan, determined to discover the truth. What follows is a dark and thoughtful tale of religious persecution and personal determination. It’s a film to be endured more than enjoyed, an immersive assault on the senses that reaches to the most innate of human longings; the desire to amount to something greater than oneself. Silence is unflinching in its brutality and bold in its ideas – and it’s unmissable.

It should come as little surprise that Martin Scorsese had hoped to join the priesthood before he found his true calling as a film maker. Themes of religious devotion and doubt run throughout the director’s expansive body of work, from his feature-length debut, Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967), to his Oscar winning crime-caper, The Departed (2006). While most of these films relegated religion to their subtext, Scorsese’s controversial biopics The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Kundun (1997) were audacious in addressing the complexities and contradictions of spiritual belief. In much the same vein, Silence arrives as a methodical meditation on what it means to hold faith, and how it can possibly be reconciled with the reality of human suffering.

Silence is unflinching in its brutality and bold in its ideas

Andrew Garfield takes centre-stage with a convincing performance as Father Rodrigues, a complex role on which much of the film hinges. Rodrigues is a character who appears outwardly impenetrable, defined by his fanatical devotion to God’s word, but his internal monologues provide an insight into a fractured mind, full of doubts and desires. Likewise, Garfield instils the character with a growing vulnerability as the events unfold, making for a sympathetic protagonist despite his questionable philosophy. From the Japanese cast, Issei Ogata regularly steals the show as a fearsome local inquisitor, providing an effectively sinister riposte to the Christian devotion of the Jesuits and their followers.

Visually, Silence owes a clear debt to the work of Japanese film-maker Akira Kurosawa, bringing to mind the colourful vistas of Ran (1985) and the rain soaked bogs of Seven Samurai (1954). To this end, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto has delivered a beautiful and visceral depiction of seventeenth century Japan. Sitting in the audience, it’s as if one can feel the mud soaking into their pores and the heat beating down upon them. Meanwhile, Scorsese has largely dispensed of his usually stylised directorial technique, opting for a flatter approach that emphasises the story and characters over visual indulgences. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is similarly restrained, and the result is a film that fully immerses the viewer into its world, refusing to let go until the final moments. It’s exhausting, but the story has enough weight to feel worthy of such a treatment.

Delivers a beautiful and visceral depiction of seventeenth century Japan

Scorsese makes little effort to examine the wider, historical implications of his subject matter – the root causes of the persecution, for example, are only briefly alluded to. Instead, Silence uses it’s setting to deal with broad themes of faith, redemption, atonement, and forgiveness. It posits questions on the endurance of the human spirit and how far one will go for what they believe in. These struggles are represented through the personal trials of Garfield’s Rodrigues, culminating in a harrowing final act which treads similar ground to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), or even George Orwell’s 1984. As the protagonist tries to cling desperately to his own idea of the truth, his world view is both brutally and casually eroded before him.

The result of a decades-long labour of love, Silence feels like Scorsese’s final word on a subject he holds dear. Indeed, for all its pontificating, the film acts as a conversation rather than a sermon; one is invited to ponder and explore its mysteries, while definite answers are rarely suggested. It’s easy just to marvel at its beauty, but Silence should be digested and discussed. At times it might feel like hard work, but this is cinema at its most rewarding; a meaty treat of a film, both technically and philosophically. In the commodified atmosphere of today’s movie industry, it’s a relief to see Scorsese dedicate himself to a project so personal and affecting. With a career stretching back half a century, he remains one of the screen’s greatest craftsmen.

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Rogue One Review

Rogue One breaks with the curse of the Star Wars prequel, making for a valuable and exciting entry in the aged saga.

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The Rogue One cast – think Kelly’s Heroes, but in space

When put together, the terms “Star Wars” and “prequel” are likely to send chills down the spine of any self-respecting film-goer. Rogue One, a fresh spin-off from director Gareth Edwards, happily breaks with this unfortunate tradition. Set almost immediately before 1977’s Star Wars, Rogue One is a gritty and exciting exploration of an otherwise unseen chapter in a galaxy far, far away. The story here focuses on a plucky band of rebel fighters as they pursue the plans for the all-destructive Death Star, and bring hope to an oppressed galaxy in the process.

Rogue One invites direct comparison with classic war films of ages past. In the vein of Where Eagles Dare, The Dirty Dozen, or Kelly’s Heroes, it’s the story of a small, ragtag collection of foot soldiers and unlikely heroes, all playing their part within a much larger conflict. Tackling Star Wars from such a grounded perspective makes for a refreshing adventure, so much so that’s it’s almost a shame when the final act descends into the massive, effects-laden spectacle that we’ve seen so many times before. A more intimate finale would have made for a rewarding conclusion to the story, and helped to further distinguish the film from its forbears.

This is not to say that the action is poorly executed – it’s all as coherent and exciting as one could hope for, and the denouement is packed with enough crowd pleasing moments to be worth the price of admission alone. But Edwards is a director who seems more interested in his characters than the multitude of TIE fighters and X-Wings above them. For the first two thirds of the story, the film takes its time in establishing personalities and building relationships, suggesting an intimacy that is somewhat lost in the mayhem of the last battle. Admittedly, the script is a little over-eager to leap into lengthy monologues, but the pace is kept tight enough to avoid weighing the film down. Felicity Jones makes for an excellent and wholly sympathetic lead as Jyn Erso, a disillusioned fighter who is initially more concerned with staying alive than defeating the Empire. She’s supported ably by Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, a cynical agent of the rebel alliance and a veteran of the battle against tyranny.

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Felicity Jones takes the lead as the heroic Jyn Erso.

Both these leads and their diverse supporting cast, including the superb Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe, are pleasantly well-drawn and complex. The script even makes an effort to blur the lines between good and evil, a welcome innovation that acknowledges the unsavoury reality of an insurgency war. This is not to say that the righteous ideals of the Rebel Alliance are ever brought into question, but they are forced to consider how far the ends justify the means. It’s not the subtlest of writing, but it gives a new perspective on a well-trodden conflict that has often been represented in black and white terms.

In this vein, Rogue One embraces an impressively dark tone, probably the series’ bleakest since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. It’s a bold choice after the fun and frolics of last year’s The Force Awakens, and one befitting the forlorn state of the film’s universe. In keeping with this milieu, Ben Mendelsohn makes for a thoroughly sadistic and unsettling villain in Director Orson Krennic, callously instructing massacres as if he were ordering lunch. Of course, this ruthlessness is balanced by judicious comic relief, mostly provided by a sarcastic droid sidekick, K-2SO. His acerbic humour doesn’t always hit the mark, but Alan Tudyk’s endearing voice performance makes up for the script’s few failings.

As has been well commented upon, Rogue One is a film for fans, first and foremost. Obviously there’s plenty for all to enjoy, but the uninitiated are liable to find themselves lost, particularly with the lack of an opening text crawl this time around. References and homages to past films come thick and fast – such fan-service is never as uncomfortable as in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy, but some moments are a little on the nose. A brief appearance from two familiar droids edges into eye-rolling territory.

The biggest disappointment, however, comes in the form of Michael Giacchino’s score. For a composer with such an impressive back-catalogue (The Incredibles, Up, Star Trek) this soundtrack feels less than half-hearted. The only recognisable cues are borrowed from John Williams’ existing motifs, while the rest blends noisily into the background. It gives the impression that a keyboard was switched to the “Star Wars” setting and then played indiscriminately. The cacophony is particularly egregious, since the film’s rich selection of new characters and environments are so deserving of their own themes. The feeble soundscape is likely explained by the untimely departure of original composer, Alexandre Desplat, but it’s nevertheless grating.

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Ben Mendelson is an evil presence as Director Orson Krennic

Controversy has already been sparked by Rogue One’s use of CGI, particularly in rebuilding the faces of seventies-era actors who have since died or aged beyond recognition. Viewers will disagree on the success of this technique, and its moral implications, but the technology still has some way to go before computer generated people can blend seamlessly with physical actors. Elsewhere, the special effects are generally excellent, as many of the ships and space-stations exhibit a photorealism reminiscent of classic models.

Although it’s often subdued, the film’s photography and set design are deserving of individual praise. Edwards frames a diverse range of locations and sets, all of which have a distinct atmosphere. From sun-baked deserts to rain-soaked ravines, there is a consistent level of artistry that gives each setting a character of its own. The subtle but visceral effect will be familiar to the fans of the director’s prior work on Monsters (2010) and Godzilla (2014) – it’s an approach that elevates some mundane material into cinematic delight.

Despite occasional missteps along the way, the final few moments of Rogue One will leave most Star Wars fans punching the air for joy. At its core, here is a film made with an obvious love for its heritage and an understanding of what makes it so appealing. Perhaps the script should have been stronger in its convictions, but it feels sincere in its effort to take the Star Wars franchise in a new direction, whilst still sitting comfortably next to the tone and aesthetic of the original trilogy. It’s easy to nit-pick, but the truth is that Star Wars hasn’t been this fun in a long time. Relax, and enjoy it while it lasts.

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I, Daniel Blake Review

Imbued with equal parts warmth and outrage, I, Daniel Blake is arresting and important cinema – essential viewing.

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Copyright 2013 eOne Films.

From the glum realism of 1969’s Kes, to the tragedy and bloodshed of 1995’s Land and Freedom, English director Ken Loach has crafted an impressive and varied back catalogue. Now aged 80, his desire to broadcast injustice and make demands for a better world remains as powerful as ever, equalled by his immense skill behind the camera. With this year’s I, Daniel Blake, Loach fixes his sights on contemporary Britain, and an uncaring state that uses its most vulnerable constituents for political capital.

As one would expect, I, Daniel Blake has a political agenda inherent in its design. Despite this, however, it never feels as though one is being preached to. Rather, we are shown an interpretation of reality and asked to draw our own conclusions. Paul Laverty’s script (his fourteenth with Loach) wisely roots itself in compelling and sympathetic character drama, focusing on the human experience in a world that is all-too-often reduced to a series of statistics and quotas. Meanwhile, Loach’s talent in making the everyday appear cinematic results in a picture that is both emotionally and visually striking.

Although the film focuses on a thoroughly depressing subject matter, it avoids submerging itself in misery. Laverty’s dialogue has a great sense of wit that runs throughout all but the most harrowing moments, and every key cast member instills their role with a genuine sense of warmth and humanity – it’s this unrelenting charm in the face of adversity that makes their continued plight feel all the more senseless.

Dave John stars as the eponymous Dan, a 59-year-old joiner who finds himself unable to work and reliant on the state following a major heart attack. It’s an impressive performance from an actor more likely to be found on Never Mind the Buzzcocks than a social-realist drama. Dan’s frustration is palpable as he grapples with the Department for Work and Pensions, every step powerfully chronicled as he faces layers of bureaucratic apathy.

The stand out performance of the film, however, is delivered by Hayley Squires as Katie, a single mother struggling to provide for her children after relocating from London. Squires shines in some moments of heart wrenching reality, as Katie tries to stay afloat against a tide of poverty and benefit sanctions. Her story packs an emotional punch that catches one off guard and leaves a harrowing impression.

I, Daniel Blake is not just a populist call to arms, but a damn good piece of film-making. Fundamentally, Loach has taken a series of phrases with which the newspapers have made us unfortunately familiar – sanctions, fit-for-work assessments, food banks – and placed them within their human context. He shows how people depend upon this confused labyrinth of paperwork and assessments for their very survival, and how the system is corrupted for political convenience. As a film-maker, Loach’s power ends here, but if we, as citizens, are truly appalled by what he has put on screen, then it is our responsibility to demand the change we seek. As the title suggests, Daniel Blake could be any of us, and this reminder of our collective responsibility is the film’s most essential ideal. I, Daniel Blake is enlightening, gripping, and emotionally exhausting, but more than anything, it’s important.

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