Friday, 20 May 2016

NEW RELEASES: Green Room & Our Kind of Traitor

Green Room

(Director: Jeremy Suilnier.  Starring: Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots)

Anyone who has ever been in a band will have a story about a gig which went south on them quickly.  Whether it's the time that a Dresden audience didn't exactly appreciate Motorhead's Lemmy quipping 'bet you ain't seen one of these in a while' while straddling a WWII bomber, the time the Arcade Fire complimented the 'brightly coloured marching band' they saw earlier in the day at a gig in Belfast, or that time I was asked to play at my wee niece's second birthday party.
Apparently Patti Smith's 'Rock n Roll Nigger'
isn't 'age appropriate.'

Still, despite these issues, few bands have ever had to contend with being locked in a room, threatened by a group of extremist skinheads led by Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Some poor people were once stuck in a screening room and forced
to listen to a gang of lunatics led by Captain Janeway though,

Sadly this is the fate of the protagonists of the new thriller Green Room, from Blue Ruin director Jeremy Suilnier.  We are first properly introduced to our heroes as they are being interviewed for a small local radio station.  During this interview the band explain that they are too legit to promote themselves or their gigs online and will instead struggle to travel from town to town playing in dive bars and shunning anything that might actually assist their music career.  This scene most likely exists to make the band seem even more cut off from the world, explaining why no-one will be coming to look for them when they find themselves in trouble but it also works in building an intriguing parallel between the rather idiotic obsessions with 'purity' shared by both the hardcore punk scene and the neo-Nazis they are forced into conflict with.

Hey you! You're non-conforming in the wrong way!
Still despite their annoying hipster credentials, the band at the centre of the film manage to inspire our sympathy by being made up the hardcore power quartet of Pavel Chekov, wee John Shelby from Peaky Blinders, some guy I've never seen before and Maeby from Arrested Development.

If only they brought Franklin.  Surely he could've
smoothed this whole situation out.

Shortly after playing a gig in a terrifying hick bar (with clientele so right wing even Nigel Farage wouldn't pose with a pint there) the guitarist (Anton Yelchin) accidentally witnesses a murder leading to the whole band being trapped in the eponymous Green Room and surrounded by a gang of white supremacists who most likely want to kill them.  In one of the most ingenious pieces of stunt casting in years, the gang are led by a terrifyingly ruthless old racist played by none other than Patrick Stewart

Yep, THIS Patrick Stewart.
To say any more would be to spoil the enjoyment of the film but I can tell you that what follows is brutal tense thriller filled with sustained suspense, ratcheting tension and unexpectedly nasty violence.  The film sparkles with wit and humour along with some genuinely shocking moments of carnage.   The characters are engaging and likeable, supported by a brilliant cast of character actors.  Also you get the satisfaction of seeing Nazis being dispensed with in the most gruesome ways since the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

How is this a PG?!!
Taking inspiration from the music at the heart of the story, this film (much like the best punk songs) is simple but taut, focussed, skilfully executed and is smart enough to end abruptly before outstaying it's welcome leaving you exhausted and begging for more.  I loved it and would recommend it to anyone looking for solid, claustrophobic thrills (although I would suggest planning a relaxing playlist of music to help you calm back down afterwards - Dead Kennedys maybe?)

Damn Straight!

Our Kind Of Traitor

(Director: Susanna White  Starring: Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Damien Lewis)

Finally making it to our screens after finishing production all the way back in 2014 is Our Kind of Traitor, a new British spy thriller based on a novel by John Le Carre.  Why this film was held back so long remains unknown but it has appeared at a perfect time after the moderate successes of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and A Most Wanted Man and the recent popularity of the BBC's adaption of The Night Manager while the world appears to be in some sort of Le Carre fever.

Not to be confused with Carrie Fisher fever AKA cocaine.

The plot revolves around a lecturer (Ewan McGregor) and his barrister wife (Naomie Harris) who are on holiday in Marrakech in an attempt to rekindle their failing marriage.  While there they encounter an eccentric Russian millionaire (played by the always excellent Stellan Skarsgard) who invites them out for a drink only to reveal himself as a major money launderer for the Russian mafia who is desperate to defect to the UK to protect his family.

In their attempts to help their new friend they enlist the help of an MI6 agent played by Homeland's Damien Lewis.  A lot has been said about whether Lewis chose this role as a British spy as a sort of audition for soon-to-be vacant role of James Bond (similar rumours plagued Tom Hiddleston for The Night Manager and Idris Elba for Bastille Day) however I hope that these are false as, despite having every faith in Damien Lewis ever since his inspiring turn as Cpt Winters in Band of Brothers, his character here would make for a particularly smarmy, prissy and unsympathetic Bond.

Not that this matters since the more central heroic role is held by Ewan McGregor's rather ridiculously named everyman Peregrine Makepeace (yes, really.)  His character begins as a simple man clearly floundering in a situation far out of his depth but in the space of a couple of days is chasing after bad guys through dark woods with a gun in his hand.  He goes from annoying effete prat to action seeking badass in even less time than it takes Hugh Jackman to do the opposite as soon as someone mentions the words 'Musical Theatre.'

Posted without comment.

The film also stars Naomie Harris whose character is described as being on the top barristers in the country but still gets pretty much nothing to do in the plot apart from being jealous and mopey about McGregor's adventures and occasionally babysit some kids.  This is a sad disservice for an actress who has already made for a tough and intelligent Moneypenny (not to mention an incendiary turn as Winnie Mandela in 2013) who clearly deserves more to work with.

Also appearing in the film are Jeremy Northam and Sherlock/League of Gentleman's Mark Gatiss.  Both are solid actors although they are both lumbered with simple, charisma-free roles which could have been just as easily put on screen by feeding their lines into a text-to-speech program and playing them over shots of a mannequin wearing a suit.

A technique codenamed: Sam Worthington
Maybe it's just because I saw this film so shortly after the constant thrills of Green Room but, for a film with so much potential in it's concept, Our Kind of Traitor feels rather flat and unexciting.  There just seems to be a lack of tension or urgency at any point even when the characters are explicitly shown to be in danger.  The twists can all be seen from miles off and there is some strange directing choices which lead to unnecessary confusion (one major character death late in the film, despite being  rather predictable, is filmed in such as way that you are left to assume that the person in question just spontaneously combusted).  The villains in this film are supposed to be completely ruthless and vicious selection of the Vory V Zakone (the same Russian mafioso's that were so terrifying in Eastern Promises) but here they barely register a reaction.  It says something when in this film one of the most powerful and dangerous groups of criminals on the planet inspire less fear than the my previously viewed film's villains which only consist of Professor Xavier flanked by the kind of real-life mutants created by generations of inbreeding.  The most disturbing image in the whole film is probably a brief flash of Stellan Skarsgard's flaccid penis at a spa resort and even it has already survived so many Lars Von Trier films that it's probably due a nice safe recurring role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by now.

HIs arrival has already been foreshadowed!
Ultimately Our Kind of Traitor is a watchable couple of hours that die-hard Le Carre fans may enjoy but is rather forgettable and a disappointing waste of a talented cast on a fairly lacklustre and mundane piece of storytelling.

1 comment :

  1. Here is a comment section for discussions relating to the above review.

    Please feel free to start conversations, debates or even vicious arguments about the above films (or anything else discussed above)

    [Please note that comments are moderated and anything deemed abusive, offensive or personal will be removed]