Tag: Armie Hammer

Death on the Nile (2022)

Death on the Nile (2022)

Another all-star cast saddles up for one of Branagh’s overblown Christie adaptations

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Kenneth Branagh (Hercule Poirot), Tom Bateman (Bouc), Annette Bening (Euphemia Bouc), Russell Brand (Linus Windlesham), Ali Fazal (Andrew Katchadurian), Dawn French (Mrs Bowers), Gal Gadot (Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle), Armie Hammer (Simon Doyle), Rose Leslie (Louise Bourget), Emma Mackey (Jacqueline de Bellefort), Sophie Okonedo (Salome Otterbourne), Jennifer Saunders (Marie van Schuyler), Letitia Wright (Rosalie Otterbourne)

The tradition of luscious, all-star Agatha Christie adaptations continues. Following his successful 2017 Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh’s Poirot follow-up Death on the Nile finally makes it to the screen. I say finally, because this film has been sitting on a Covid-related shelf for so long that Branagh conceived, wrote, shot, edited, released and won awards for Belfast in the meantime. Death on the Nile is a much less personal film than that one, but is still an interesting (if flawed) re-imagining of Christie’s Belgian detective.

Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) and Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) are getting married and honeymooning in Egypt. Problem is, six weeks earlier Simon was engaged to Linnet’s old friend Jacqueline de Belfort (Emma Mackey), who has not taken being jilted well and is stalking the couple throughout their honeymoon. Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is invited to join the bash by old friend Bouc (Tom Bateman), one of a host of wedding guests on a private cruise down the Nile on luxury steamer The Karnak. But Jacqueline gatecrashes the cruise and murder strikes. With almost every passenger having a motive, will Poirot manage to unpick a case that becomes a painfully personal one?

Branagh’s Death on the Nile film has many of the same flaws and strengths of his previous Poirot epic. Shot on 70mm, it’s almost excessively beautiful. In fact, the film has such a chocolate box, Sunday-afternoon feel it frequently looks almost too perfect in its blisteringly blue skies and CGI Egyptian backdrop. It’s very clear that we’re expected to wallow as much in the costumes, sightseeing and 30s glamour as the mystery. In that way at least it’s pretty close to the 1978 Ustinov version.

Fortunately, the mystery is one of Christie’s finest and its execution is handled fairly deftly. The plot is pretty faithful, although most of the character traits of the passengers are reshuffled and reassigned to create interesting new set-ups. (For example, a rich kleptomaniac takes on instead the socialist passions of a secret nobleman who instead takes the medical qualifications of a third character. Elsewhere a character is split in two into Okonedo’s jazz singer and Bening’s rich amateur painter). The insertion of the Bouc character from Murder on the Orient Express carries across an relationship that the film richly develops to give the case a greater personal impact for Poirot.

But the film, like the first, is as much a Poirot-centric character study as it is a murder mystery. It’s easy to snigger at an opening sequence which, while handsomely done and including an impressively digitally de-aged Branagh, serves as a “moustache origins” story (Poirot grew it to hide his physical and emotional scars from WW1). But it’s a launching point for an interesting exploration of Poirot’s emotional hinterland and monk-like abstinence from attachment. A particularly rich opportunity, considering the murder’s roots are in exactly the sort of all-consuming love Poirot has denied himself. It also pays off in the film’s final sequence, with clear evidence that events have led to Poirot permanently re-evaluating and changing his character.

As in the previous film, Branagh plays this with a winning mix of comedy and larger-than-life prissiness but also manages to utilise his eyes very effectively to suggest the emotion and pain his Poirot keeps firmly under the surface. The later sections of the film see Branagh play a level of overt pain that we’ve not really seen other Poirots display in the past. Expanding the character still further beyond the focused, retentive, distanced detective of Christie’s original, this is also a Poirot who expresses shame, regret and (bashfully) a schoolboy-style crush.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is a more mixed bag – who would have thought Russell Brand would be not only one of the more restrained, but also one of the most quietly affecting? Tom Bateman is excellent as Bouc, full of joie de vivre and later wounded, pained innocence. Brit audiences can enjoy the joke of French and Saunders playing a pair of closeted ageing lesbians. Letitia Wright is fairly good as a headstrong young woman in love. Other members of the cast engage in a scenery chewing competition, roundly won by Sophie Okonedo as a rollingly accented blues singer with most of the best lines, while Bening and Fazal struggle to bring life to their characters.

For the principal love triangle, the film suffers under the unfortunate issue of Armie Hammer’s fall-from-grace (guess he’s never going to become that star I wrote once he was destined to become). Even without that, Hammer seems oddly constrained by his British accent and fails to bring any life or passion to the role, not helped by a complete lack of chemistry with Gal Gadot who seems hopelessly at sea, trapped in flat line readings and odd bits of business. Emma Mackey by far-and-away comes out best as a young woman dripping with danger and obsession.

It’s a shame Branagh’s film constantly seems to shoot itself in the foot. Must be easy to do, since the boat is awash with guns (everyone seems to have one!) – so much so the final reveal is bungled into a three-way Mexican stand-off that completely robs the book’s brilliant denouement of its impact. The whole film is a little like this at times: as a director Branagh can be a flashy show-off whose ambition isn’t always married with the sort of effortless grace great directors bring to cinema. So, the film is crammed with tricksy, attention-grabbing shots and loud, brash moments of drama that are as likely to raise sniggers as sighs of awe.

It’s a shame as, in many ways, this is actually a little better than Murder on the Orient Express. It’s tighter (even though it’s longer!) and it creates an emotional backstory for Poirot that not only feels much less forced but actually adds something to the original story. Many of the changes in the characters actually help to make something interesting and new. If only Branagh’s films could shake the idea that we need guns, fights and sweeping CGI to invest in a Poirot story. Because, despite some weaker performances, when the film focuses on emotion and story it’s actually a fairly engaging adaptation that, while never the best, is very far from the worst.

The Social Network (2010)

Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg bring the making of Facebook to life in Fincher’s modern American classic

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg (Mark Zuckerberg), Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin), Justin Timberlake (Sean Parker), Armie Hammer (Cameron Winklevoss/Tyler Winklevoss), Max Minghella (Divya Narendra), Brenda Song (Christy Lee), Rashida Jones (Marilyn Delpy), Joseph Mazzello (Dustin Moskovitz), Rooney Mara (Erica Albright), John Getz (Sy), David Selby (Gage)

Nothing has changed our interaction with the world faster than the internet. And nothing on the internet has changed how we interact as much as social media. As it drives changes in the way we relate to other people, it’s a brave film that tries to capture this zeitgeist and turn it into an effective movie. The Social Network is a brave movie – and also a brilliant one, a defiantly modern and far-sighted movie that avoids being the sanctimonious message movie it could have become, by concentrating on personal relationships, drama and, above all, a strong and compelling story.

Its October 2003 and a 19-year old Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) gets dumped by his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara). So, he responds like many people today would – but not in 2003 – by writing a series of rude and angry blogs about her. And at the same time, he does something you and I wouldn’t be able to do – he builds overnight a campus website called Facemash that allows users to rate the attractiveness of female students. It’s a sensation – and a scandal.

Off the back of it, Zuckerberg is approached by the Winklevoss brothers (in a skilled double performance by Armie Hammer) to see if he’d be interested in building an elite social network, Harvard Connection, for them. Zuckerberg agrees – but did he independently already have the idea for Thefacebook, an elite social network for Ivy League students? Either way, with funds from friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) he builds the platform which is to become Facebook. Does it all end well? Since the story is framed around Zuckerberg in 2009, sitting in depositions while being sued by both the Winkelvoss brothers (“the Winklevi”) and Saverin, you can guess not.

Fincher’s film reflects its central character in many ways – cool, efficient, tightly wound, juggling intellectualism with simmering tension. It’s vibrant, fresh, razor-sharp, perfectly paced and superbly dramatic. It turns what could have been a terrifically dull story of very clever people typing lines of code into a whipper-sharp story of jealousies, rivalries and suspicions. It also brilliantly veers away from being a polemic. It could easily have made points – as many films have – about the “evils and dangers of that creepy thing the internet” or constantly reminded us how morally superior film-makers are to social media kingpins. It does nothing of the sort. Instead it’s a brilliantly insightful look at the birth of a phenomenon that also makes subtle, intelligent points about some of the behaviours that phenomenon led to. All while keeping us gloriously entertained.

A big part of the film’s success is in Sorkin’s superb script. The material is perfect for him. The character’s intellectualism fits with his pithy turn of phrase, while their perceptions of themselves as victims or on a moral crusade fits with his ability to write morality with empathy. It also helps that he is the master of crackling dialogue. The idea to structure the film around the depositions is also a master-stroke. Not just a reminder of what’s to come, it adds an air of artificiality to everything we see (perfect as well for Sorkin’s smarter-than-life dialogue) – after all, each scene is based on the filtered remembrances of people in the depositions. And all of them remember a subtly different story.

Sorkin and Fincher also manage to avoid having villains in play. It would be easy to make Zuckerberg a villain: many films would have done. But Zuckerberg here isn’t bad – it’s more that he’s tunnel-visioned, selfish and socially inept. Erica (a marvellous turn by Rooney Mara as the first victim of social media bullying) has a point when she says she dumping him not because he’s a geek but because he’s not really a nice person. But Zuckerberg’s actions – his betrayals as some read them – come not from vindictiveness but a shark-like moving forward that leaves people behind him. And he’s also, as the film is keen to show repeatedly, lonely. He has one friend – whom he sacrifices on the altar of his creation – and is ruthless at cutting people out of his life when they fail to meet the standards he has set them.

The film channels the skills of Eisenberg – whose range is not huge – perfectly here, in a role he was surely born to play. Eisenberg crafts his physicality in something hunched, oppressed and sullen while his flat voice is perfect for a man who expresses himself through his creation not his personality. He gives Zuckerberg both a ruthlessness, but also a strange lack of knowledge – constantly surprised that his actions have consequences that leave him alone. He makes him a true lonely god of the internet – the man who invented the biggest social networking centre in the world, but who doesn’t have a friend himself.

But it also makes clear that Zuckerberg lacks the usual flaws of his kind: he’s not interested, it seems, in money, riches, fame or drugs. To him, the prize is to do not to be seen to do. He makes a rich contrast with Sean Parker (a brilliantly charismatic Justin Timberlake), the creator of Napster, who briefly influences him but is primarily interested in the flash and bang that the retiring Zuckerberg isn’t. What he does have is the drive and ruthlessness that his friend Eduardo Saverin (a wonderful performance from Andrew Garfield as a marvellously sweet, but clearly naïve and out-of-his-depth man completely lacking the vision a project like Facebook needs) doesn’t have – and which makes Saverin unsuitable for thinking in the global terms Zuckerberg is.

And the film has little time for the Winklevoss twins. Played with chutzpah in a double role by Armie Hammer (who skilfully distinguishes both of them), Zuckerberg is right when he describes them as rich kids who had everything they ever wanted in life – and seem outraged that they can’t be given the rights to Facebook as well. As he points out they intended to do nothing other than come up with a concept. These rowers – in a witty touch their boat is sponsored by that dinosaur Polaroid – also represent the old elite under siege from new media. The entitled rich, who can’t comprehend that the world is being handed to them on a plate.

The film also makes for an intriguing meta-commentary on the growth of social media. From the trolling of Erica, through the bitter feuds and arguments, the he-said-she-said fighting of the depositions, and the quick shifts between friendship and rivalry, it also manages to capture the world of social media in a nutshell. The atmosphere where actions can explode in people’s perception, where statements you made years ago come back to bite you, where judgement and criticism are constant and the ability to communicate more easily also makes fights easier to start, seem more and more prescient.

Fincher’s film does this marvellously, with a wit and sense of dramatic flair that reminds me of a more grounded Network. Sure the scene at Henley-on-Thames is hand-in-the-mouth agonising for any British person to watch (it is littered with major errors from turn-of-phrase to its understanding of life in Britain), but when every other scene in it is perfectly done it doesn’t matter. Like any victory, Facebook has many people claiming to be its father. You could say the film about this film: superbly directed, a brilliant script and perfectly cast, it’s a triumph.

Rebecca (2020)

Lily James and Armie Hammer do their best in an overblown Rebecca the swops Gothic chills for lovely costumes and locations

Birector: Ben Wheatley

Cast: Lily James (The second Mrs de Winter), Armie Hammer (Maxim de Winter), Kristin Scott Thomas (Mrs Danvers), Keeley Hawes (Beatrice Lacy), Ann Dowd (Mrs Van Hopper), Sam Riley (Jack Favell), Tom Goodman-Hill (Frank Crawley), Mark Lewis Jones (Inspector Welch)

Hitchcock’s film version of du Maurier’s novel casts a long shadow. Few have taken up the challenge to film it since – and Ben Wheatley’s is the first film version in nearly 80 years. But you can be pretty certain that, unlike Hitchcock’s, this one probably won’t be being watched 80 years from now.

In Monte Carlo, a young woman (Lily James) meets and falls in love with rich Cornish landowner Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer), a widower on holiday. They marry and return to his seat at Manderley. However, on arrival the second Mrs de Winter finds that she is living in the shadow of Maxim’s deceased first wife, Rebecca. This feeling is encouraged by the passive aggressive manipulation of Rebecca’s devoted housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas). Slowly, the second Mrs de Winter starts to worry that even her sanity starts to be slipping.

Wheatley is a director with a love of thriller and horror, and he really should be a natural fit to take on du Maurier’s gothic creepiness. But Wheatley feels almost constrained by the period title and beauty. This is a film that totally misses its gothic beats, instead settling for being a lusciously filmed costume drama. It has only a few traces of the unsettling psychology or air of ghostly possession that the story requires, and even those are chucked in haphazardly and then forgotten in order to make way for a pretty sunset or generic shot of Lily James looking sad in the rain.

The inescapable feeling on watching this is that Wheatley actually wants to turn the story into a more conventional romance. The age difference between Maxim and the second Mrs de Winter has been almost removed.  With Armie Hammer too young and Lily James too pretty, there is no ambiguity to Maxim’s feelings or motivations, nor any power imbalance to their charming, sunlit courtship, filled with carefree drives and charming beach picnics. Gone are the suspicions (for both the second Mrs de Winter and us) as to what a rich, sophisticated older man could see in a shy, unremarkable, average-looking girl who’s employed as little more than a servant.

It also removes much of the vulnerability and uncertainty Mrs de Winter should feel, by bringing her onto more equal terms with her husband. From du Maurier’s vision of an innocent woman feeling out of her depth as she’s plunged into an alien world, unable to break through the hauteur of a distant, older husband, we instead get far more of a conventional whirlwind romance that sours when the couple return home.

It’s not really the fault of the two leads, who give sterling work. Lily James has just about the right vulnerability to her, even if she’s still got a bit more spark than the quiet, demure character needs. But James has a fabulous sense determined earnestness to her, an eagerness to do the right thing and not let anyone down (her greater dignity and strength also pays off in sequences where Mrs de Winter takes on a stronger position in the marriage).

As Maxim, Armie Hammer has the right sort of authority and conveys the distance and coolness of the character, even while he is clearly too young and at times seems a bit hampered by his accent and setting. (Like some American actors, he at times struggles to fully comprehend the issues of class within the film.) Perhaps the main weakness to the casting is, by playing up his charm and romanticism, you never really think for a moment that this is a bloke who might have murdered his wife. It also makes him never feel like the sort of chap who could honestly ever have though about dispatching his new wife. It again strips out much of the darkness and dread of the original.

Needless to say, Kristin Scott Thomas has a ball as Mrs Danvers, the obsessed and bitter housekeeper, a part that hardly pushes her to her limits but which she delivers more than enough in. Wheatley pays homage to several of Hitchcock’s shooting decisions around the character, and the conveying of her menace is probably the film’s most successful beat.

However, the film fails at too many other important points. The sense of the previous Mrs de Winter haunting the home is lost completely. Too often the creepiness and psychological fear the film is aiming for gets lost, with periodic bursts of Cornish singing used too obviously to suggest unsettling menace. One very successful sequence set in a room of mirrors just serves to flag up how painfully absent the sense of threat and fear are from the rest of the film. To be honest, it’s a film that needs more darkness, more shadows. Instead everything is lit with all the prestige handsomeness of Merchant Ivory and Sunday dramas. Why did Wheatley go for this visual approach? Did he feel that it was expected from the lovely locations and luscious costumes?

And the costumes and the sets do look lovely. The shooting colours are vibrant and beautiful. It’s very grand and charming and it turns a haunting novel with dark deeds at its heart into something safe and neutered.

 The final product is what happens if a combination of styles are thrown together in a way that service not the story, but how each element of it could be best presented. When the film wants to show off the set and costumes, it’s bright and beautiful. At the few times it wants to suggest ghostly intimidation, we get some chanting and a few darkened rooms and billowing curtains. Neither plays well off the other and the film ends up feeling professionally mounted but workmanlike. It’s a shame as Wheatley could have really made something of this. But it feels like he has been forced into a prestige costume drama straightjacket.

On the Basis of Sex (2018)

Felicity Jones does earnest, dedicated work in an earnest, dedicated film: On the Basis of Sex

Director: Mimi Leder

Cast: Felicity Jones (Ruth Bader Ginsburg), Armie Hammer (Martin Ginsburg), Justin Theroux (Mel Wulf), Kathy Bates (Dorothy Kenyon), Sam Waterston (Erin Griswold), Cailee Spaeny (Jane C Gisnburg), Jack Raynor (James H Bozath), Stephen Root (Professor Brown)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an extraordinary person, her pioneering work to bring about sexual equality in the USA something that has made an actual, permanent change to her country for the better. This biopic covers the early years of this campaign in the 1970s, and if it at times gets a little too bogged down in the conventions of these sort of biopics, it does tackle them with genuine passion.

At Harvard in the mid-1950s, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) is one of the first women allowed in to study law – and finds that she faces a battle to constantly prove that she deserves to be there. Her husband Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer), himself an accomplished lawyer, is endlessly supportive and encouraging, but Ruth continues to find that she struggles to be treated as an equal in the male dominated legal world of the 1950s and 60s. All this changes when her husband brings to her attention a tax case that discriminates against a male carer – and she realises this could be a vehicle to establish a precedent that American laws are unconstitutional when they discriminate on the basis of sex.

Mimi Leder directs a film full of warmth, respect and feeling for the importance of the story it is trying to tell. While it at times seems a tiny bit overwhelmed by the responsibility of bringing such a pioneering person’s story to the screen, it still manages to bring enough character and flair to it to make it an engaging watch. Perhaps you might feel at times you are only beginning to scratch the surface of RBG’s extraordinary life – but the film still treats you with the respect to assume that you can follow the legal arguments being outlined, even as it structures much of the film with clichés.

It does have some fine sequences in it though, not least a running visual image of Ruth walking up steps towards important buildings. The opening sees her lost in a crush of young male Harvard students, struggling to find her own space in a male dominated world. Later she climbs the steps outside the Court of Appeals, this time at the head of a progress of men following her behind. And finally the film bookends its opening Harvard steps sequence with Ruth – this time alone – climbing the steps of the supreme court: shots and cuts echo the opening of the film as Felicity Jones is slowly replaced by the real Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Felicity Jones does a decent job as Ginsburg, although she struggles with a slightly awkward make-up job to age her up. She however captures the fire in Ginsburg’s belly and her passion to right wrongs, as well as the demanding intellectual ability that at times made her a domineering and difficult person. She doesn’t always find much wit in the role, but she really wins the empathy of the audience with the injustice she faces – not least from the very start having to justify why she has taken a place at Harvard from a man in the first place.

It helps as well that she has such a fine scene partner for so much of the film in Armie Hammer, who is excellent as her supportive, way-ahead-of-his-time husband Martin. Taking on most of the domestic chores – and combined with his own brilliant career – Martin was as much a fascinating figure as Ruth. Hammer plays with a joyful, charismatic relish, perfectly mixing intellectual curiosity with an innate decency. It’s also a generous performance that complements Jones perfectly.

The relationship between these two is the emotional heart of the film, frequently raising warm smiles from the audience. An early scene where Martin is diagnosed with cancer after collapsing during a game of charades tugs at the heartstrings, not least for the sudden pained look of panic that crosses Martin’s face as he collapses, and Ruth’s protective rush to his side. These two argue once in the film – and that an argument based around Martin encouraging Ruth to live the life she wants – and the film goes out of its way to show that their life together was an equal partnership, where both were determined to support and protect the other.

It’s a lovely relationship to place at the film’s centre – even if Hammer is essentially playing the supportive wife role that so many biopics of men have featured (Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything for starters springs to mind!). That points at one of the weaknesses of the film: its predictability. Structurally it follows the route of many of these sort of biopics, with initial struggle, a cause, set-backs, pep-talks, sudden nerves before the eventual demonstration of triumph. Frankly nothing in the film narratively is remotely surprising, and Leder, despite a few touches of flair, largely directs with a workmanlike assurance.

Workmanlike is a little harsh, but is probably the film’s main weakness. While it’s well-played and has an excellent story – and, I will say it again, a script that largely expects its viewers to follow the legal points – it also can’t quite figure out a way to tell the story that doesn’t squeeze it into the biopic clichés that you’ve seen dozens of times before. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Not exactly: but it also makes the film at heart an engaging middle-brow drama, which seems a shame when Ruth Bader Ginsburg is anything but.

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer are lovers drawn together in Call Me By Your Name

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Cast: Timothée Chalamet (Elio Perlman), Armie Hammer (Oliver), Michael Stuhlbarg (Professor Perlman), Amira Casar (Annella Perlman), Esther Garrell (Marzia), Victoire Du Bois (Chiara)

First love is a story everyone can relate to. Call Me By Your Name unfolds an engrossing early romance, where precocious 17-year old Elio (Timothée Chalamat) discovers his bisexuality through his deep attraction to his professor father’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) summer research assistant, 24-year old Oliver (Armie Hammer). An attraction which, over a long hot summer in Northern Italy in 1983, finally leads to a deep romantic and sexual bond forming between the two.

Refreshingly, Guadagnino’s film is relentlessly positive and devoid of tension or disapproval. You’d expect a romance such as this – especially a gay one – to lead to an eventual outburst of furious disapproval from someone or tear-filled remonstrations that what the couple have isn’t wrong. These are avoided completely, for something that feels intensely real and convincingly grounded, especially as it follows Elio’s stumbling attempts to identify his own sexuality and understand how his feelings affect him. 

This is also a showcase for acting, a film like this living or dying on the chemistry between the two lead actors, and Chalamet and Hammer have this in spades, suggesting from the very start a deep bond, that grows in emotional intensity. The relationship is a slow dance, with both of them blowing hot and cold at different times. Oliver’s first tentative approach is resoundingly rebuffed by Elio, only for Elio’s fascination with Oliver to grow into a deep unexpressed longing, which Oliver is nervous about responding to for a host of factors, from the age difference to his residence in Elio’s parents’ house. Even after the two come together, Elio’s confusion about his own feelings leads him to turn colder before the two finally find an equilibrium that works. 

It’s also a classic coming of age story, as Elio moves out of adolescence and into adulthood. Elio never feels like a traditional teenager in the first place, a musical prodigy and talented autodidact who seems to have read nearly everything (“Is there anything you don’t know?” Oliver jokingly says at one point after Elio explains the detailed history of a war memorial). But in other ways he is the same as any other teen: sex-obsessed and confused, spending a lot of time with two female friends who he seems to be unsure of his feelings are towards, indulging in explorative sexual fantasies and fumbled exploration of his own and others’ bodies, working out what he likes and what he doesn’t.

It leads to a superb performance from Chalamet (youngest ever nominee for Best Actor at the Oscars), who perfectly captures both the intelligence of Elio, and his confused lack of understanding of who or what he is. Chalamet’s body language – a mixture of awkward teen and assured adult, is a perfect physical expression of his part-adult, part-child psyche. Like any teenager, he’s at times selfish, greedy or plain annoying. But at many others he’s sensitive, delicate, vulnerable and desperate to express his love. Chalamet juggles all these competing emotions and hormonal drives brilliantly, and his face is a true instrument of expression, a sliding kaleidoscope of confused urges that compels your attention.

It’s a perfect match-up with Hammer, who is superb as just the sort of boisterous, confident, exciting and sexy presence you can imagine being drawn towards. But Hammer also laces Oliver with a tenderness, a concern and a gentleness beneath his joie de vive that really expands the character’s soul and makes him not just a force of vibrancy but also a genuinely lovely man. Hammer is very careful (as is the film) to avoid the possibility of Oliver being seen as a seducer, and it does this by giving him a touching restraint as well as manipulation-free openness, an honesty and an emotional freeness that helps make him more often the pursued rather than the pursuer.

Guadagnino lets this gentle love story unfold over a luscious, gorgeous Italian summer, with his camera drifting contentedly around the two lovers and their environment, as much a part of the dance of their initial attraction. The film is resolutely “in the moment” and has no flashbacks, flash forwards or any real reference to any narrative events outside of what we see on screen. It unfolds gracefully and naturally, with the camera work largely taking an unflashy but still warm view on everything we see.

Guadagnino deliberately treats much of the central romance element with reserve, avoiding too much nudity and panning discretely away from sexual encounters between the two. (I will say though, that he has no such reserve with Elio’s heterosexual encounters, where female nudity and sex are shown in full.) It does successfully preserve a sense of innocence and purity in the relationship – and keeps the focus on the fact that this love between the two is about them becoming better people, who understand themselves better, through the relationship. 

This positive message is reinforced by the acceptance of Elio and Oliver from all in the film, including Elio’s parents. Michael Stuhlbarg in particular has a scene near the end of the film of wonderful power – cementing his status from this film as a dream dad – with a speech to his son so full of acceptance, encouragement and love that you’ll feel your heart melt. Both Elio’s parents are very aware of the relationship and tacitly encourage it: according to this film at least, if you’re young and gay, growing up in a Bohemian, academic household does make your life easier! (Even Oliver comments that Elio has no idea how lucky he is.)

This film is also refreshing for its lack of casualties. Sure the two girls Elio and Oliver flirt with are disregarded swiftly, and the film gives only a little time to their rather shabby treatment, but generally it’s a film about learning who you are by spending time with someone else. And if that includes a few moments of teen awkward sexual exploration that are almost unbearable to watch (a scene with a curious Elio and a peach is a case in point, replete with queasy sound effects) then so be it.

Call Me By Your Name is a terrific coming-of-age tale, emotionally honest, true and mature and directed with a graceful ease and unshowy skill that is a testament to the deep confidence and grace of its director. With two superb performances and some excellent support work, it’s a glorious summer movie of love that will speak to you regardless of sexuality.

The Man From UNCLE (2015)

Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill try, and fail, to get some zing out of The Man From UNCLE

Director: Guy Richie

Cast: Henry Cavill (Napoleon Solo), Armie Hammer (Ilya Kuryakin), Alicia Vikander (Gaby Teller), Elizabeth Debicki (Victoria Vinciguerra), Jared Harris (Adrian Sanders), Hugh Grant (Alexander Waverly), Luca Calvani (Alexander Vinciguerra), Sylvester Groth (Uncle Rudi), Christian Berkel (Udo Teller), Misha Kuznetsov (Oleg)

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.was a 1960s TV spy caper series, which I confess I’ve never seen an episode of but I’m reliably told (by my wife who has) that it’s all larks and fun. This Guy Ritchie remake, on the other hand, is a tonal mess that has no idea what the hell it is. Only Hugh Grant gets anywhere near to appearing in a caper movie – probably because he’s virtually the only member of the cast who might have grown up watching the original series.

Anyway, in the early 1960s Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is an international master-thief turned CIA agent (this suggests his character is a whole lot more fun than he actually is). Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is a KGB super-agent, dealing with issues of psychosis (yup more fun to be had there). This odd couple are ordered to team up and work with car mechanic (no seriously) Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), whose father is working with renegade Italian fascists, led by femme fatale Victoria Viniciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), to build a new nuclear mastery over the world. Or something.

It should be a ridiculous, overblown, mix of Bond and high 60s camp. Instead it’s dreary, chemistry-free, largely uninvolving sub-Mission: Impossible high jinks that I’m not ashamed to say I dozed off during at one point. Would that I had slept through more of it. It’s quite damning when the most enjoyable thing about it is thinking about the accent Olympics going on (we have a Brit playing an American, an American playing a Russian, a Swede playing a German, an Australian playing an Italian, an Irishman playing an American…).

No matter which way the three leads are arranged, Cavill, Vikander and Hammer have no chemistry at all in any combination. There is precisely zero bromance between the two leads. Vikander and Hammer have a will-they-won’t-they romance that comes from absolutely nowhere and leads nowhere (set up for sequels that will never come). Cavill looks the part, but completely lacks the cheeky, self-confident, “I’m-enjoying-all-this” charm that the part requires – instead he’s flat and boring. Hammer has more of the winking-at-the-camera cool, but he’s saddled with a part that frequently requires him to burst out in hotel-room-trashing outbursts of anger. Vikander just looks a bit bored with the whole thing.

These rather joyless characters go through a series of action set pieces, none of which got my pulse racing, and all of which felt like off cuts from a lousy Mission: Impossible sequel. Car chases, fisticuffs, gun fights, explosions, boat chases – they all tick by with no wit or pleasure involved anywhere. In these sort of things, you need to feel the characters are such adrenaline junkies that they sorta enjoy the crazy antics they get thrown into – you don’t get any of that from these three.

Much as I like Elizabeth Debicki, she can do little with her underwritten part – I mean I get that the plot isn’t the main thing in a film like this, but they could have at least given our villain a character. Instead she is as cardboard cut-out as the rest of the storyline. The acting from the bulk of the cast is also really odd – some seem aware they are in a tongue-in-cheek spy film, others seem to think they are in an espionage thriller. It’s a mess. There are scenes of pratfall comedy followed by grim scenes of torture and violence. In one juddering moment of this spy romp, the flipping Holocaust is dragged in as a shorthand for identifying a character as an “ultimate villain” – which given he had our hero strapped to a chair and was about to torture him, I think we could all have worked out without exploiting genocide. Anyone else think pulling this appalling real world event (with photos!) into a stupid caper movie is really tasteless? Did no one watch this thing while it was being edited?

I will say the design is pretty good and it’s well shot. But compare this to the fun and games of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films (which this is obviously trying to emulate) and the total lack of chemistry at its heart becomes immediately clear. Hugh Grant is a complete relief when he turns up as he’s the only actor who actually looks like he is enjoying his part and wants to be there. It was a big box office bomb and it’s no surprise. No one is having fun, the spirit of the original series seems to have been completely lost, and the lead actors totally fail to bring the leading-man pizzazz the film needs. Perfect if you want a nap.

J. Edgar (2011)

Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent in Clint Eastwood’s decent J. Edgar

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar Hoover), Armie Hammer (Clyde Tolsen), Naomi Watts (Helen Gandy), Judi Dench (Anne Marie Hoover), Josh Lucas (Charles Lindbergh), Dermot Mulroney (Norman Schwarzkopf), Damon Herriman (Bruno Richard Hauptmann), Jeffrey Donovan (Robert F. Kennedy), Zach Grenier (John Condon), Ken Howard (General Harlan F Stone), Stephen Root (Arthur Koehler), Denis O’Hare (Albert S Osborn), Geoff Pierson (A Mitchell Palmer)

J. Edgar Hoover holds a unique place in American history. As the first ever director of the FBI he ruled it as his own personal fiefdom from 1935 to his death in 1972. A workaholic, he revolutionised the investigation of crime in the USA, centralising records, introducing and championing scientific techniques, and working to change the image of lawmen into heroes. On the other hand, Hoover frequently abused his position, used the FBI to investigate rivals and stamp out groups he judged as dissident, and put together secret files of unpleasant and damaging material on political opponents.

Eastwood’s film actually does a pretty good job of balancing these two J. Edgar Hoovers, and of presenting a fairly even-handed portrait of a man most people see now as the worst example of a power-abusing policeman. The film follows the career of Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), focusing in particular on the Lindbergh kidnapping, clashes with Presidents, and his relationships with his deputy (and probably long-term lover) Clyde Tolsen (Armie Hammer) and with his domineering mother (Judi Dench). 

The film’s main advantage is a typically power-house performance from Leonardo DiCaprio. His Hoover blusters with insecurity, resentment and a monomaniacal obsession with his own sense of right and wrong. He’s the sort of guy who takes a woman on a date because he thinks it’s time to get married and then takes her to see his filing system. Hoover was a man whose life was work and power – but DiCaprio doesn’t forget that amidst the maniacal power grabbing, he had a confused personal sexuality.

The film suggests Hoover repressed his homosexuality due to the influence of his mother (“I’d rather have a dead son than a daffodil”), and contrasts this painful struggle with the preppy, tender, manly Clyde Tolsen, played with equal skill by Armie Hammer. Tolsen was Hoover’s long-term friend and companion, they holidayed together, ate meals together, lived opposite each other, and Tolsen even accepted the flag after Hoover was buried – neither man married. The film creates a fairly sweet love story of a man who couldn’t fully accept his own feelings falling in love with a man comfortable with who he was. 

The old-married feeling of this couple – whose physical contact never really goes much further than the occasional hand holding – is the emotional heart of the film. Although the repressed Hoover never admits his love openly (to the occasional hurt of Tolsen), it’s actually a fairly good expression of a normalised same-sex marriage, and Eastwood never succumbs to some of the odder gossip about Hoover’s cross-dressing (except in grief at the death of his mother) or sexual preferences.

His relationship with his mother (whom he lived with his whole life until her death) is more predictable: she is demanding and controlling, he is loving, placid and deferential to her. It’s what we’ve seen before several times – and Judi Dench can play this role standing on her head – but it gives us a nice context to get inside Hoover’s head and understand why he behaved the way he did. 

The film doesn’t lose track of Hoover’s ongoing political clashes. We get showpiece senate hearings as Hoover struggles to establish the FBI with the powers it needs to combat crime (DiCaprio is pretty electric in these scenes). Repeated shots show Hoover watching various inauguration parades, or stopping to stare at the same portrait of Washington as he heads in to meet with (and intimidate) various (unseen) presidents. The film hits these beats hard at times – did we need Hoover telling Robert Kennedy that he has information on “your brother, the President of the United States”? But it’s not afraid to show Hoover unsympathetically, particularly in his vindictive campaign against Martin Luther King.

What Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay, and Eastwood’s professional, smooth direction, do well is explain why Hoover may have hated these people so much. The film focuses on Hoover’s early days – full of anarchist bombings, wildfire communist strikes that led to clashes with the police, years of bank robbers and gangsters carrying on unrestricted in America – that makes you at least understand why he felt America was under threat. 

The film’s reconstruction of period detail is exquisite, and much of the photography has a brilliantly murky, sepia tone to it I really liked. The reconstruction of details from the Lindbergh kidnapping is very well done. All this is much better than some of the wonky “old age” make-up Di Caprio, Hammer and Watts (playing Hoover’s faithful secretary) have to labour under towards the end of the film (Hammer in particular looks slightly ridiculous under laboured liver patches). 

In structure, this is a fairly traditional biopic, and in trying to cover Hoover’s entire career it often skips over or misses key incidents. In an era where “modern” biopics tend to focus on dramatizing one key moment in their subject’s life (such as Selma or Lincoln), J. Edgar feels a bit more like a 1990s biopic. It crams so many events in, it sometimes feel like an “and then this happened” sort of film, rather than the more interesting thematic film under the surface.

It’s also struggling to bring more interesting depths out. It has a neat structure of Hoover dictating his biography to a string of indistinguishable “trusted” FBI agents (each scene has a different one, and there is neat visual gag as Eastwood cuts to a series of these guys in a row offering the “wrong” answer to Hoover’s question as to who was the most famous American of the 20th century – the answer being Lindbergh). Interestingly a final speech from Tolsen suggests much of what we have seen is Hoover’s vainglorious “legend building” rather than the “true story” – a theme that you feel could have been explored more.

It’s stuff like this that makes J. Edgar stand out a bit more. That and the wonderful performances from DiCaprio and Hammer, as the truly rather sweet married couple-who-weren’t. The film could make more of exploring the psychology of Hoover – the man who hated anyone different, including homosexuals – but who carried this open secret. But there isn’t time. It’s a film with good ideas and scenes, which could be more than it is. But it’s a decent film for all this. Many won’t like the fact that it takes a sympathetic angle on Hoover. But it shows every life has its right and wrongs.

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Amy Adams does a lot of reading and thinking in Tom Ford’s intriguing part thriller, part strange romance, part memory saga Nocturnal Animals

Director: Tom Ford

Cast: Amy Adams (Susan Morrow), Jake Gyllenhaal (Edward Sheffield/Tony Hastings), Michael Shannon (Detective Bobby Andes), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ray Marcus), Isla Fisher (Laura Hastings), Ellie Bamber (India Hastings), Armie Hammer (Hutton Murrow), Laura Linney (Anne Sutton), Andrea Riseborough (Alessia Holt), Michael Sheen (Carlos Holt)

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is a society wife, running art galleries and married to an increasingly uninterested husband (Armie Hammer). One day she receives a copy of a manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jack Gyllenhaal). The book, while sensitive and from the heart, is also terrifying and visceral, and speaks to her in a way few things in her life have. It makes her begin to question her own choices. We see the story of the novel played out – Tony Hastings (Gyllenhaal again) and his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bamber) are waylaid late at night on an abandoned road by a violent local (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) – tragedy ensues.

It would be easy to say Nocturnal Animals is a stylish film that favours beauty over substance. But that would be untrue – Tom Ford has crafted a dynamically structured, intriguing puzzle, open to (and ripe for) discussion and reinterpretation over and over again. The film teases us with uncertainty and ambiguity, but it manages to avoid slipping into heavy-handed pretension. It leaves us with things unsaid, presenting parallel narratives and inviting us to mix and match them to create our own understanding. Ford’s skill is to not always present a definitive answer for how the book plot we are watching is meant to reflect on the plotline of the real world.

Ford is really good at distinguishing between the fiction and the reality. The world of Edward’s story is heightened in nearly every way, in a broad Western setting, while Morrow’s “real world” is cooler and contained, set in chilly apartment rooms or icy modern galleries or homes. The intercutting between the two is skilfully done, perfectly paced, never confusing or jarringly pulling us suddenly from one reality to another. The film avoids making obvious visual crossovers and links between the two (bar once – a moment that doesn’t really work), leaving the interpretation up to the viewer.

The story-within-a-story has a heightened tension, sometimes difficult to watch, not least in the road-rage incident that opens it. This sequence is almost unbearable in its whipper-cracker tension, with a threat of physical and sexual violence in every moment. The horror is almost palpable, sold a lot by Gyllenhaal’s struggles to control his panic and fear. Taylor-Johnson plays the demonic bully with an overblown operatic intensity, a hyper-real flamboyance that works well because it serves as a contrast with the grounded elements in the real story. It also adds to the sense of horror throughout this whole chilling sequence. Who hasn’t felt fear of being pulled over in a road in the middle of nowhere by terrifying, aggressive young men?

But all the elements of the story-within-a-story are cleverly balanced literary flourishes, carefully designed to appear just a little too close to “drama”, than those of the real world. Michael Shannon – a hard-boiled slice of charisma, he’s very good – is basically a stock character, repackaged with depth, but very much the sort of character you would find in a film rather than real life. Gyllenhaal’s Hastings similarly has the sort of moral conundrum and intense grief that feel that they belong more to a character from literary fiction than real life. The events of this story have a ferocious hyper-real intensity to them. Events in the story-within-a-story has a carefully constructed sense of dramatic irony.

By comparison, the “real world” is almost deliberately low-key and humdrum –minor affairs, and small but telling secrets, lives that are stuck in dull ruts or unimaginative cul-de-sacs. Amy Adams gives a complex and fascinating performance, much of which is essentially her reacting to things she is reading. It’s a performance that reeks of regret, of a woman unhappy in the choices she’s made, but too in love with the advantages they’ve brought to risk changing. She’s so set in the conventionality of life she seems unable to even imagine using her independence to break free.

The film teases us by misleading us about the parallels between the characters in the real world and those in the story. Ford playfully implies at first what we are watching may be partly true, and invites us to wonder what may be invention and what might have actually happened in real life. Alongside that, he also uses the double casting of Gyllenhaal to demonstrate the self-identification writers have for their characters. How much does Sheffield see himself in Hastings – and how much do the events that occur to Hastings, suggest a self-loathing in Sheffield? Again it’s all left to our own invention and imagination. We get flashbacks to past events in the real world that serve to both broaden our understanding and make us question our preconceptions. 

The film builds towards a conclusion that is equally open. Despite its horrendous content in the story-within-a-story, there is a romantic longing in this film, a sense of a life not lived – and a hope for the future. The final sequence is completely open to interpretation – you could equally see it as hopeful (as Ford sees it) or bleak (as most audience members do) – I probably incline more to the latter, but that might just be me. Everyone though will think something a little different depending on what they see, and how they interpret it – the film doesn’t labour the points it makes or push you too far in any direction.

Nocturnal Animals is an intriguing experiment in form and content that works extremely well. It’s powered by some terrific performances and shot with grace and beauty by Ford. This is Ford really flexing his muscles as an artist of film, and he borrows liberally from Lynch to Hitchcock. Ford has a brilliant eye for composition and form and his editing is masterful. He gives his work a lyrical musicality, a sense of balance and rhythm – he’s also a fine, subtle writer and avoids the crudity of the showman. He’s a fine film maker, and Nocturnal Animals is an intriguing, at times hard to watch, but fascinating film that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go.

Free Fire (2016)

The calm before the storm in Ben Wheatley’s gun-fight Free Fire

Director: Ben Wheatley

Cast: Sharlto Copley (Vernon), Armie Hammer (Ord), Brie Larsen (Justine), Cillian Murphy (Chris), Jack Reynor (Harry), Babou Ceesay (Martin), Enzo Cilenti (Bernie), Sam Riley (Stevo), Michael Smiley (Frank), Noah Taylor (Gordon), Patrick Bergin (Howie)

At some unspecified point in the late 1970s, IRA men Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) meet with Vernon (Sharlto Copley), via an intermediary Justine (Brie Larsen), to buy a lot of guns in an abandoned New York warehouse. Unfortunately, Frank’s druggy brother-in-law Stevo (Sam Riley) the night before was badly beaten by one of Vernon’s men Harry (Jack Reynor), after Stevo had maimed Harry’s cousin. Next thing anyone knows, guns are drawn and the shooting starts…

And that shooting lasts for the course of the rest of the film. Free Fire is like some sort of slightly odd concept album. As if Wheatley and co-screenwriter Amy Jump sat down and wondered “can we make a gunfight that basically lasts the entire course of a film”? The answer was, as it turns out, yes they could. Was it actually a good idea? Well that’s less clear.

The good stuff first. The film looks terrific, and is very well shot. The mix of beige and slightly over-saturated colours capture a hilariously flashy look at the 1970s. Soundtrack choices are very well made. The sound design – surely the main focus of any film focused on gunfights – is excellent, with bullets sounding like they are ricocheting past your ear. It’s cut with intelligence and clarity – it’s always immediately clear where you are and where everyone else is (Wheatley even patiently films our characters entering the warehouse through a series of doors – and old trick but it immediately gives us the geography).

The screenplay is also pretty funny in places, and does a good job of sketching out characters incredibly quickly. It’s lucky it also has a fine cast of actors to inhabit these swiftly drawn characters. Best in show is probably Armie Hammer as a suave, cock-sure hired gun who clearly believes the whole shebang is a little beneath him. Cillian Murphy as the nominal lead makes an engaging double act with Michael Smiley. Sharlto Copley adds maverick, overblown colour as a cocky weapons dealer. Brie Larson plays the long game as the intermediary whose loyalties seem a little unclear. Sam Riley is engrossingly pathetic as the whining loser whose actions lead to the whole disaster.

The gun fight itself is a neat combination of the realistic and the comic book. Our heroes are hilariously inaccurate with their weapons (as you expect most people would be in this situation) but this doesn’t stop every single character getting shot in the arms, legs and other body parts multiple times. Adrenalin means they largely shrug these off for the first half hour of the film, but by the final third each character is unable to walk and visibly struggling with growing shock and loss of blood. I’ll admit it’s rather fun to see a gunfight conducted largely by people crawling around on the floor groaning, in between whining and complaining at each other.

Structurally there isn’t a lot to the film. There is a twist of sorts as both sides are double crossed (the identity of the double crossers should be worked out by most astute watchers) and the film occasionally throws enemies together in odd partnerships and alliances. But the plot is basically a real-life survival film – who is going to get out of this warehouse alive?

Which is what brings us back to this concept album idea. Yes this an entertaining enough film – and it’s very short – but is a single gun fight between characters we’ve only vaguely got to know in the opening 10 minutes really enough to sustain long term interest? Is this something I can imagine re-watching? It’s got some funny lines and some decent moments, but honestly no not really. It’s an inventive idea, like a challenge Wheatley has set himself. But instead of seeing what is clearly a talented director playing with toys and seeing if he can make a film centred solely around an action set-piece, imagine if he turned that creative fuel on making an actual film. We know he can – he’s got some fine material on his resume. So why make this?

Free Fire feels like a conscious attempt at making a cult film, with its 1970s aesthetic, its eclectic cast of characters, its witty moments and punchy action sequences. I’ll agree it’s very different from anything else I’ve seen. Does that necessarily mean that it’s a good film? I’m not sure. It’s a challenge and almost a joke. It’s different from action scenes in Hollywood blockbusters – but at the end of the day, for all the fact that the gun shots have consequence, it’s just an extended action set-piece without context. Very entertaining but kind of empty.

The Lone Ranger (2013)

Johnny Depp works overtime to make this film unpopular. He succeeded.

Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Johnny Depp (Tonto), Armie Hammer (John Reid), William Fichtner (Butch Cavendish), Tom Wilkinson (Latham Cole), Ruth Wilson (Rebecca Reid), Helena Bonham-Carter (Red Harrington), James Badge Dale (Dan Reid), Barry Pepper (Captain Jay Fuller)

In 2013 this big budget misfire produced a record loss for Disney. Spiralling out of control the film cost a bomb then blew up like one at the box office much to the delight of film critics and audiences alike who enjoy nothing more than watching some suits and A-list stars fall flat on their face. Reviews were damning and the film took its place as one of the ultimate box office turkeys.

All of which is a little unfair, as to be honest this isn’t really that bad a film. Which is not to say it’s that good either, because it ain’t. It’s an average B picture with a huge budget and an over inflated running time, but it has a decent Act 1 and Act 3 and ends with an excellent train chase sequence that I enjoyed so much I watched it again immediately after the film finished.

So what are the problems? The main one for me is Johnny Depp, who here is at the absolute peak of his wave of replacing acting with a bunch of mannerisms and quirky moments. This is one of the most irritating Depp performances on film, his Tonto a pile of odd costumes, muttered gags and winks to the audience. I can see Depp is amused, but I’m not sure anyone else is. I also suspect Depp announced this was how he was going to play the role and if Verbinski didn’t like it he could get stuffed.

But other than that, Armie Hammer is rather sweet and endearing as the straight as an arrow Ranger, displaying a lot more wit than Depp’s painted showing off. Ruth Wilson does her best with a truly thankless damsel in distress role. Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner and Barry Pepper present three very different villains. Helena Bonham Carter gives a bizarre performance as a madam with ivory legs (yes you read that right.).

The film’s main problem is it is far too long and too poorly structured. The opening act is engaging and introduces the characters effectively with a decent action scene or two, but it starts to overdo its welcome after 40 minutes or so. A framing device of Tonto narrating the story to a child in the 1920s offers nothing more than padding and more Depp showing off. Act 2 meanders around slowly, working up to showing that all the suspicious people in the film are working together, draining the momentum out of the film. Shock baddie reveals are only surprising to those of us who have never seen a film before.

However the film is partly redeemed by its final 30 minutes, in particular an astonishingly high octane, exciting and fun train chase sequence, brilliantly cut to the Lone Ranger theme that gives every character a chance to shine and both grips the viewer and leaves them with a smile on their face. Shame the rest of the film can’t match it, but it’s still better than many others manage.

A single sequence doesn’t make it a classic, and an engaging actor (Hammer) who creates a character that you care about doesn’t keep the attention throughout the whole 140 minutes, but it’s far from a disaster and much better than many successful big budget hits. Shame about Depp. And sorry for those who loved turkeys. This is just an average film. In about 10 years it will probably be getting a re-evaluation.