Tag: Rebecca Ferguson

Dune (2021)

Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson excel in Denis Villeneuve’s marvellous Dune

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Timothée Chalamet (Paul Atreides), Rebecca Ferguson (Lady Jessica), Oscar Isaac (Duke Leto Atreides), Josh Brolin (Gurney Halleck), Stellan Skarsgard (Baron Valdimir Harkonnen), Dave Bautista (Glossu Rabban), Charlotte Rampling (Gaius Helen Mohiam), Jason Momoa (Duncan Idaho), Javier Bardem (Stilgar), Stephen McKinley Henderson (Thufir Hawat), Zendaya (Chani), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Dr Liet-Kynes), David Dastmalchian (Piter De Vries), Chang Chen (Dr Wellington Yueh)

In the history of “unfilmable novels”, few are perhaps as “unfilmable” as Frank Herbert’s epic science-fiction novel Dune. In fact, in case we were in any doubt, we even have the evidence with David Lynch’s curiosity Dune (either a noble attempt or an egregious mess, depending on who you talk to – I fall between the two camps depending on the time of day). Denis Villeneuve – fresh from his glorious reinvention of Blade Runner – is one of the few directors with the vision and the clout needed to bring this fictional universe to the screen. He delivers a visually stunning slice of cinematic story-telling, that remains faithful to the novel while carefully calculating how much of the story to focus on. It makes for a sweeping, spectacular film.

The set-up in Herbert’s books is labyrinthine, but one of the film’s great skills is to boil it down to something digestible and understandable. It helps as well that, unlike Lynch’s film, this focuses on roughly the first half of the novel only. 10,000 years in the future, mankind travels through space – but space travel is dependent on a spice that can only be mined on a sand-covered planet called Arrakis, populated by colossal worms and a race of mysterious sand-dwellers called the Fremen. Control of the mining operation of the planet is taken from the brutal House Harkonnen, and its patriarch (Stellan Skarsgard), and granted to the more moderate House Atreides and its head Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac). However, this is just a ruse to trap and destroy House Atreides, whose popularity endangers the Emperor. On arrival on the planet, Leto’s son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) is believed by the Fremen to be a long-promised messiah – and Paul is plagued with strange visions of his future. Can he, and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), survive and fulfil their destinies?

Dune is a complex, sprawling piece of world-building – the sort of book so stuffed with unique words, concepts and language that it includes a full glossary to help the reader work out what’s going on. Villeneuve’s genius here is to work out exactly how much of that world building to build into the script, and how much to leave out. Where the Lynch Dune tried to cover everything in this universe and seemed to introduce new characters and concepts in every scene (right up to the end), Villeneuve’s Dune is far more focused. It gives enough tips of the hat to readers of the book to be faithful, but doesn’t bother the more casual viewer with what, say, a mentat is or who the Space Guild exactly are. The overload of information that crushed Lynch’s Dune is skilfully avoided here.

What we get instead is a wonderfully focused, coming-of-age story that places the young hero front-and-centre – and filters our experience through his eyes. This not only helps give us a very clear human engagement with this world, it also makes for a highly relatable central arc to build the rest of the world building around. After all, we understand the “chosen-one-finds-his-destiny” story: using that as a very clear framework, allows the wider universe to be slowly and carefully drip-fed around that. It also plays very well to the reader (who will know the unspoken detail and enjoy subtle references to it on screen) and to the initiate (who won’t need to know every last detail of every last character’s background and won’t be overwhelmed by those references).

On top of which, Dune is, in itself, a sumptuous and visually beautiful example of expansive world-building. Fitting a series that has spawned dozens of novels and an entire universe of expanded storylines, endless care and loving attention has gone into creating every inch of this world. Jacqueline West’s costumes brilliantly capture the mix of medieval and space-punk futurism in the world’s design (this is after all a universe which is effectively Game of Thrones in space – one of many franchises to owe a huge debt to Dune) and Patrice Vermette’s set design superbly contrasts the different planets aesthetics. The imagery carefully contrasts the greens and blues (and water!) of the other worlds with the striking yellows and dryness of Arrakis – it’s beautifully filmed by Grieg Fraser – and the scale is epic, re-enforced by Zimmer’s gothic choir inspired music.

Villeneuve marshals this all into a story that is part world-building set-up, part conspiracy thriller and eventually becomes a full-on chase movie. Each shift in story-telling style flows naturally into the next, and Villeneuve keeps the pace and sense of intrigue up highly effectively. He also understands that films like this need a touch of wit and human warmth: Herbert’s book, for all its strengths, is also a po-faced and slightly pretentious read, with every event and character consciously carrying a massive sense of importance. Dune recognises this, and makes sure to mix lightness and touches of humour to avoid the operatic seriousness tipping into being a little silly (as it did in Lynch’s version).

Villeneuve is helped in this by a well-chosen cast. Chalamet is perfectly cast as the naïve Paul, growing in statue and wisdom as the film progresses: he is effectively vulnerable but also a determined and mentally strong hero, one we can have faith in but still feel concerned about. Ferguson is the film’s stand-out performance as his conflicted mother, determined to protect her family. Isaac is perfect as the charismatic and noble Leto, as is Skarsgard as the viciously bloated Vladimir. Sharon Duncan-Brewster is terrific as an official with split loyalties. Charlotte Rampling has a highly effective cameo as a mysterious priest while Jason Momoa gives possibly his finest performance (certainly his warmest and wittiest) as a larger-than-life warrior.

The film glosses over certain elements – in particular the plot against House Artreides, and Leto’s suspicions of it are wisely simplified and stream-lined – and wisely revises or avoids elements of the book that have dated (most notably the slight stench of homophobia around the bloated, predatory Vladimir). In some ways it’s a beautiful coffee-table version of the story, but it’s careful enough to suggest anything we are not seeing from the book is still happening, just off-camera (I await the inevitable Director’s Cut with even more Mentats, Conditioning and Weirding!). However – based on the cinema I sat in – this has worked a treat to win converts over to the story.

A sweeping, impressive and epic version of a huge novel, it’s a triumph of directorial vision and skilful compression and adaptation. By trying to make Dune work for a larger audience, without sacrificing its heart, rather than laboriously include everything and everyone, it successfully makes it into a crowd-pleasing space opera with depth. Catch it on the big screen!

Men in Black: International (2019)

Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth struggle through the messy Men in Black: International

Director: F Gary Gray

Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Agent H), Tessa Thompson (Molly Wright/Agent M), Liam Neeson (High T), Kumail Nanjiani (Pawny), Rafe Spall (Agent C), Rebecca Ferguson (Riza Stavros), Emma Thompson (Agent O), Kayvan Novak (Vungus the Ugly)

Remember Men in Black? An amusing, odd-couple buddy movie about a secret agency patrolling alien activity on Earth. To be honest, the well was pretty dry after when the first movie ended. The formula – with original stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones – attempted to recapture the magic twice with diminishing returns. This, surely final, attempt subs in the stars of Thor: Ragnorak for an over-long, neither terribly exciting nor funny movie that feels like it’s been assembled by an arguing committee.

Molly Wright (Tessa Thompson) encounters the Men in Black when they erase the memories of her parents (but accidentally leave hers intact) when she’s a child. As an adult she becomes obsessed with joining them, dedicating her life to building the skills the agency needs. Recruited by shrewd head of US operations Agent O (Emma Thompson) as Agent M, she’s shipped to the UK to join forces with their ace Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), under the direction of branch chief High T (Liam Neeson), to safeguard an alien dignitary. When the dignitary is assassinated, Agents M and H find themselves at the centre of a conspiracy that could destroy the whole world.

Tonally, Men in Black: International is a mess. At times it’s a farcical buddy movie, at others a darker action film. What it is all the time is overlong, meandering and only occasionally interesting. It stretches its slim action over nearly two hours (the first film was barely more than 90 minutes!), with the plot featuring so many diversions and chases down rabbit holes, that you are desperate to get back to the Eiffel Tower for the signposted showdown.

It doesn’t help that most of the events in the film are fairly predictable. You only need to have seen a film before to work out who the ‘surprise’ villain is. Every action scene – flipping heck nearly every joke – has been done in hundreds of films before. Anything remotely interesting – in some version of this film Agent H could have been a washout, coasting on his glory days rather than the stereotypical cocky-but-cool hero he is – has been ironed out. None of the dialogue sticks even vaguely in the head and not one of the punchlines lands.

Every scene is written with a perfunctory A-to-B quality. For example, at their first meeting Agent H is dozing at his desk, when Agent M approaches to ask to join his latest mission. She has a comprehensive briefing prepared for him (because she’s new and eager) which he shoves aside with a few off-the-cuff I’ll-read-it-later gags (because he’s a bog-standard action hero who acts on instinct). He claims he wasn’t dozing but meditating and sends her on her way. As she leaves, she tells him he has a “tell”: when he meditates he snores. This is neither particularly funny or enlightening, but because Agent H needs to be impressed for the film to continue, he is and recruits her. That’s a decent insight into the formulaic writing.

F Gary Gray tried to resign multiple times as the story he wanted to tell – something slightly darker about alien refugees on the run from a hideous force – was forced more and more into cookie-cutter Hollywood summer blockbuster fare by the producers. Fights like this perhaps explain why the motivations and actions of several characters make little sense. While Gray and the producers feuded over their cuts of the films, Hemsworth and Thompson allegedly then hired their own scriptwriters to re-write their dialogue.

It ends up an incoherent film, where it feels like some scenes were inserted by test audiences. For example, Rebecca Ferguson pops up for essentially a pointless cameo where she gains control of the macguffin. This long sequences only exists so we can get: a hot actress as an ex for Hemsworth’s character, a fight between Ferguson and Thompson (because Hemsworth can’t fight a girl, he fights the heavy – complete with lame Thor hammer joke), and an unneeded wrap up of a minor plot hole from the film’s opening. At the end they get the macguffin back again – but you could have dropped the whole sequence and got to the ending much quicker and lost nothing.

Hemsworth and Thompson do their best, although the film can’t decide whether to make them buddies or potentially romantic partners. Perhaps the confusion comes about from the actors’ obvious lack of sexual chemistry (they are much more believable as mismatched buddies). I actually feel both actors would have been better the other way around, rather than the lazy casting here. Hemsworth’s sweet earnestness and geeky charm under the muscle would be better as the newbie agent, while Thompson’s confidence and no-nonsense brusqueness matches the more the experienced agent. They do their best anyway, but they have some piss-poor material to work with.

It says a lot that the best moments of the film feature Emma Thompson coasting with snark through a few minutes of screentime. Liam Neeson seems an odd choice for a character clearly written as a posh English gent. Rafe Spall’s casting memo clearly told him he was in some sort of cartoon farce, so embarrassingly broad is his performance. The CGI chess pawn comic relief character does and says nothing that has even a passing relationship with the word “funny”.

Men in Black: International is a fairly dull, predictable, unimaginative franchise entry that, by trying to appeal to everyone with its derivative stunts and jokes, ends up appealing to no-one.

The Greatest Showman (2017)

Hugh Jackman excels in The Greatest Showman, like a Broadway show bought straight to film

Director: Michael Gracey

Cast: Hugh Jackman (PT Barnum), Michelle Williams (Charity Hallett-Barnum), Zac Efron (Philip Carlyle), Rebecca Ferguson (Jenny Lind), Zendaya (Anne Wheeler), Keala Settle (Lettie Lutz), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (WD Wheeler), Natasha Liu Bordizzo (Deng Yan), Paul Sparks (James Gordon Bennett), Sam Humphrey (Charles Stratton)

In early 2018, the whole world seemed to go crazy for The Greatest Showman. A big old-fashioned film musical that wouldn’t look out of place with Gene Kelly in the lead, people went to the cinema again and again to see this escapist song-and-dance epic. Based loosely on the life of PT Barnum (Hugh Jackman), covering his marriage to childhood love Charity (Michelle Williams) and the creation of his Museum of Curiosities (funded through some chicanery with banks), he staffs the museum with “freaks” whom he encourages to embrace their nature and entertain the crowds. The “circus” is a huge success, but will Barnum be seduced by his desire for greater fame and acceptance in the cultural high circles that have no time for his mass entertainment? And how will his fascination with opera singer Jennie Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) affect his marriage?

If you get the idea from that plot summary that this is rather safe and unchallenging plot-wise, you would be right. Structurally this doesn’t offer anything more than hundreds of musicals before it – a hero aims for the stars, loses his roots on the way, only to triumphantly rediscover them and remember why he got into this business in the first place. Yup that’s your classic Hollywood plot here. And it doesn’t matter a damn.

Because The Greatest Showman, like the shows Barnum offered the crowds, knows exactly what it is: an old-fashioned Hollywood musical, shot like a classic piece of Broadway spectacle, crammed to the gills with hugely exciting and dynamic musicals performers ripping through a series of impressive songs and some stunningly choreographed numbers. Who gives a damn if you’ve seen the story before, when it’s so well done, the actors so engaging and the highlights on the way to brilliant to watch. Come to this with your mind set for the West End, and you’ll love it. Expect to see La La Land and you are in for a disappointment (or a pleasant surprise!)

Gracey’s film is unashamedly old-fashioned, and shot with a confident stillness that puts the actors, dancers and singers front-and-centre rather than the flourishes of a director. In contrast to some over-directed musical numbers, Gracey is happy to place the camera so we can see all the numbers perfectly. And why wouldn’t he when all the actors can dance as well as this? I want to see every step of the intricate choreography (that would have thrilled Kelly) from Jackman and Efron in The Other Side. I want to see every step of the thrilling group dance number From Now On. I want to marvel at Efron and Zendaya soaring through the skies on trapeze ropes in Rewrite the Stars.

It’s a musical that chose its cast carefully, requiring that they should all be capable of the sort of feats of physical and musical perfection that we all enjoy watching on Strictly every week. In all this, the snubs of the critics seems neither here nor there – hilariously the film always commentates on its own terrible reviews in advance (!) in the character of James Gordon Bennett, a humourless snobby theatre reviewer – it’s a film that is shot in the arm of pure entertainment. 

I mean you’d need to have a heart of pure cold not to feel some serious emotions during Jackman and Williams’ beautiful rooftop ballet during A Million Dreams. What I particularly liked about this was its unabashed, carefully designed artificiality – like a blast of 1950s Minnelli musicals, this uses painted backdrops and studio locations to beautiful effect to create a larger-than-life, theatrical world of hyper reality. It really helps you to get even more swept up by it all.

But then you also get swept up from having an actor as charismatic as Hugh Jackman in the lead. Oozing charm and grace from every pore, Jackman is riveting in the role, his grin a mile wide, his skills as a singer and (most especially) a dancer shown off to stunning effect. He turns moments that could have rogueish qualities into sweetness, he is impossible not to root for. Sure as an actor he’s not stretched with the conventional arc Barnum has, but does that matter when he is giving this all he has. It’s a hugely, overwhelmingly enjoyable performance of pure charisma that I can’t imagine any other actor in Hollywood having the chutzpah to pull off. It’s so skilled that he never overwhelms the film but you could move the whole performance into a 1,000-seater theatre and it would still work perfectly.

The rest of the cast all lift their considerable game to match the commitment and expertise of the lead. Williams showcases her own musical talents, while Efron and Zendaya have a truly affecting romance at the heart of the film (while also being considerably compelling musical performers). Rebecca Ferguson has the least rewarding role (and is also dubbed for the high soprano singing), but does a decent job as someone you could imagine turning Barnum’s head. The rest of the cast playing assorted circus performers create a truly family atmosphere, with Keala Settle and Sam Humphrey particularly fine.

You could argue that the film – with its message of acceptance and lack of judgement – flies a little bit in the face of the real Barnum (“there’s a sucker born every minute”) who probably was partly exploiting his acts for cash. The treatment of Jennie Lind as an increasingly scheming would-be-seductress is a sad slur on a woman who gave most of her earnings to charity. In fact you wish allthe names had been changed to distance us from reality.

But the film gets away with it because it is basically a heartfelt and genuine piece of work that, most of all, like a huge Broadway musical just wants to entertain the audience. And on that score it works – you’ll get invested in the characters and their story and you’ll find yourself humming the songs afterwards and trying (failing) to dance those steps. Go into it in the right mindset, and you’ll find a delight.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Tom Cruise gets the gang back together for high octane excitement in Mission: Impossible Fallout

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Henry Cavill (August Walker), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust), Sean Harris (Solomon Lane), Angela Bassett (Erica Sloane), Michelle Monaghan (Julia Meade), Alec Baldwin (Alan Hunley), Vanessa Kirby (Alanna Mitsopolis/White Widow), Frederick Schmidt (Zola Mitsopolis), Wes Bentley (Patrick)

It’s probably not something many people would expect watching a Hollywood blockbuster, but part way through Mission: Impossible Fallout, as Tom Cruise motorbikes into a stream of traffic round the Champs-Élysées, I was reminded of Michael Crawford in Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em. If there’s one thing these two have in common, it’s having a star willing to constantly go above and beyond to perform their own stunts. Which mainly makes you think as well that Crawford and Cruise are probably both a bit nuts.

Mission Impossible: Fallout picks up almost exactly where Rogue Nation left off. The villain of that film, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), may be in custody, but the remnants of his organisation have reformed as The Apostles, chosen a new leader (known only by the pseudonym John Lark), and are trying to seize three nuclear warheads. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is deployed to stop them. During the mission, Hunt chooses to save the lives of his team rather than complete the mission – leaving the IMF force with a race against time to regain the warheads, and leading to clashes and alliances with enemies and friends old and new, including Lane and Hunt’s female counterpart Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).

Mission: Impossible Fallout is big. By golly gosh it’s big. They aimed to make this the biggest and most stunt-filled, action-packed entry in the series – and they probably succeeded. More than any other film in the series, this one feels like a series of action sequences joined together by scenes of story and dialogue. Never has the overall aim of the villains, or their scheme, been so swiftly outlined – or essentially so inconsequential to the events we are watching. Do we need to know why the Apostles (an organisation we never even encounter in the flesh!) or Lane or any combination of the film’s baddies want to blow up three nuclear bombs in Kashmir? The film gambles that we won’t really care, that all we really care about is watching Hunt and co prevent them on a 15-minute deadline. It’s a gamble that the film more or less gets right.

The film also skims quickly, depending on you having seen the three preceding films so that it can spend time less on character re-establishment and more on those action scenes. It plays off emotions we have developed for the characters over previous episodes – and relies on us carrying across our knowledge of their past relationships. Alongside this, the film is crammed with callbacks to pretty much every film in the series – most prominently of all to Hunt’s marriage in the third film. This is a plot development, you feel, largely introduced to allow the characters to move on: it’s clear Hunt and Faust are the series intended romantic leads going forward (though Faust is never anything less than Hunt’s equal in all areas), so we need to know that Hunt isn’t cheating on a wife somewhere along the line, and that they have mutually decided to go their separate ways. The film accomplishes this – and also allows a few beats to suggest that, under the surface, all this Impossible Missioning has given Hunt the odd small emotional problem.

But not too many, as establishing Hunt’s decency is pretty central to the film. One of its themes is Hunt’s unwillingness to sacrifice any innocents or indeed anyone who doesn’t deserve it. This theme runs throughout the film, and is used to suggest that part of the reason Hunt so often instigates such insanely grandiose schemes is that he is completely unwilling to let the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few: give him the choice of sacrificing one man to get nuclear warheads easily, or jumping through the sorts of insane loops, schemes and dangers this film throws him into, and Hunt will choose the hard option every time. (Of course I could also be mean and say that Cruise has developed a character whose only real flaw is that he cares too much.)

At least this makes him really easy to root for. Which is just as well, as Fallout throws Hunt front and centre. Perhaps more so than any film since the second one, the team feels like a one-man army. Hunt does everything difficult or dangerous – which means Cruise is dragging himself to take on a number of insane stunts, from HALO jumps, to driving against the Parisian traffic, to hanging off the bottom of a flying helicopter. Of course, we also get no fewer than six speeches praising Hunt to the heavens – but when Cruise is willing to go such insane lengths (one stunt famously left him with a broken ankle and shut down filming for eight weeks) you can’t hold it against him that much.

And like all the rest of the series, this is a very fun film. It takes a while for the sense of fun to really kick in – much of the first half-hour feels deathly serious – but eventually that sense of fun, of enjoying the lunacy, settles in and you start to run with it. A madcap chase over the roofs and office blocks of London that ends at the Tate Gallery is a perfect example of a sequence that mixes hi-jinks, death-defying stunts and tongue in cheek humour. 

And that’s really the secret of this franchise. It’s a mix of absurdly OTT action, incredible dangers, and death-defying stunts that its star throws himself into with an insane abandon all played with a certain lightness of touch. The series, for all its world-endangering excitement and merciless villains, also has a family feeling behind it. Hunt’s team is his family and it’s that warmth which underpins all the drama. Fallout is huge fun – in fact, if it has any real flaws it is that it is too big by the end, with an action sequence that never seems to end – and a great rollercoaster to climb on board.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Tom Cruise is the Living Manifestation of Destiny in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Jeremy Renner (William Brandt), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell), Sean Harris (Solomon Lane), Alec Baldwin (Alan Hunley), Simon McBurney (Atlee), Tom Hollander (Prime Minister)

Tom Cruise may be getting on a bit now, but he still does his own stunts with reckless disregard for his own safety: part of the franchise’s appeal is seeing the latest insane thing the Crusier will do. In M:I RN he gets this out of the way early (pre-credits) with a madcap stunt involving holding onto a plane while it takes off. A clever little tease, if for no other reason that no-one can complain about it being a spoiler when said stunt was placed on the poster and all the trailers, when it’s literally the first thing he does in the film.

Anyway, the mission accepted this time is Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) going toe-to-toe with a shadowy organisation known as The Syndicate (a sort of evil IMF), run by the serenely sinister Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). Things are made more difficult by IMF being disbanded (again!) by CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). However, help is at hand from old friends Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther (Ving Rhames) – and possibly from mysterious double (or is it triple?) agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who may or may not be playing for the angels.

This continues the rich vein of form for this series. It’s light, fast-paced and huge amounts of fun that bombs along with plenty of cool stuff happening all the time. Once again, the stunts are pretty stunning and the set-pieces feel like they offer fresh alternatives. In fact Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation might be one of the most fun entries in what’s already a hugely enjoyable franchise.

It’s still very much the Cruise franchise though. There’s a fascinating documentary on the DVD. It’s called “Cruise Control”, which is a revealing pun while you watch Tom constantly stand over the shoulder of Chris McQuarrie during shooting. He sets the camera, he storyboards the scenes, he talks to the actors, he edits the film. To all intents and purposes, he’s at lease the co-director. Perhaps this is why Cruise is so overwhelmingly the focus of the film. He spends a good 15 minutes displaying his chiselled body topless. Alec Baldwin even has a ludicrous speech where he calls Hunt “the living manifestation of destiny”. Fun as the film is, make no mistake it’s a showpiece for Cruise.

Here’s Tom hanging off a plane. Say what you like the guy is committed. Or should be committed.

Not that there is much wrong with that if the end result is such good fun. Simon Pegg does a good job of puncturing the pretentions. Every 15 minutes we also get some sort of gripping action set-piece: Tom fighting in the Vienna Opera House, Tom holding his breath in an underwater computer bank for an unfeasibly long period of time, Tom driving a car then a motorbike (no helmet!) through a series of crazily risky chases… Even when escaping from captivity early from the film, he springs his escape with a nifty upside-down acrobatic jump-climb from a pole. Sure it’s all Tom, but he does it all so well that you can’t not be entertained.

But away from Tom, there is actually a nice sense of family that keeps the story bubbling over. Benji and Hunt increasingly feel like heterosexual life partners (in a really nice touch, it’s Benji who fills the damsel in distress role at the end of the film). The other returning characters, Brandt and Luther, don’t have masses to do but immediately settle into the bickering dynamic that keeps the family ticking over. Ilsa Faust is thrown into this boys-only club partly as a femme fatale, partly as some sort of a potential surrogate stepmum, who the kids are working out whether to trust.

Ilsa Faust could be the best thing about the film, a sort of super-efficient female version of Ethan, bests him a couple of times, and can do all the running, punching, shooting and driving that Tom does almost as well. Sure the camera can’t quite resist a few tracking shots up her body in a nice dress or motorcycle gear, but all-in-all she’s pretty well presented. There is a curious semi-flirtatious, semi-siblingy relationship between Faust and Hunt, with the film eventually settling as a kinda sweet dance of “what might have been”. Ferguson is terrific in the role, not only matching Tom’s athleticism, but also giving Faust a sort of arch mysteriousness. Goodness only knows what Hunt really makes of the first female interest he’s had in the series who can match him.

McQuarrie may, I suspect, be as much Cruise’s collaborator as the director, but he does craft an exciting and confident piece of film making. The Syndicate plot line is suitably twisty and turny – and helped by Sean Harris’ softly spoken, arrogant menace as Lane. You’ll be kept guessing as to the true agenda of nearly everyone involved. Simon McBurney offers good smarm as a shady MI6 head (called, bizarrely, Chief Attlee at every turn hardly the title you’d expect). A spycraft action sequence at the Vienna Opera House is a brilliantly entertaining routine of misdirection, which feels close in tone to the original Mission: Impossible film in its old-school smarts behind new-school flash.

Rogue Nation is, quite simply, a damn entertaining thrill ride – and it doesn’t really have pretensions to be more than that. McQuarrie and Cruise keep the action churning along nicely, each of the thrilling set pieces is exactly that, and the core characters on this rollercoaster are engaging and interesting. McQuarrie is a skilled enough writer to rope together some memorable scenes among the mayhem. It’s charming and hugely entertaining – any doubt that this franchise isn’t here for the long term can be firmly dispelled.

The Girl on the Train (2016)

Emily Blunt on a commute into danger in the underwhelming Girl on the Train

Director: Tate Taylor

Cast: Emily Blunt (Rachel Watson), Rebecca Ferguson (Ann Watson), Haley Bennett (Megan Hipwell), Justin Theroux (Tom Watson), Luke Evans (Scott Hipwell), Allison Janney (DS Riley), Edgar Ramirez (Dr Kamal Abdic), Lisa Kudrow (Martha), Laura Prepon (Cathy)

Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) is a lonely, divorced alcoholic who takes the train into New York every day to spy on her husband (Justin Theroux) and his new wife (Rebecca Ferguson), whose house the train passes. However, she also becomes obsessed with the seemingly happy marriage of her ex’s neighbours (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett), who live an apparently Instagram-perfect life of coffee on the balcony and candlelit sex in their perfect living room (with the curtains conveniently left open – everyone leaves their curtains open in this film, no matter what they are doing). When the picture-perfect wife goes missing, she inveigles her way into their lives to try and help.

This is not a good film. It’s not a terrible film, but it’s a flat and lifeless one – a plot-boiler that simmers along without ever really getting exciting.  The story feels like it’s been pulled together from crumbs swept from the table of Gillian Flynn. It’s a hotchpotch mess, tangled, unclear and not that interesting. I can’t be the only person un-intrigued by the mystery of who shags who among the middle classes. Even a murder doesn’t spice it up. The small cast makes many mysteries obvious – when one character is found to be pregnant, but two of the three male characters we’ve been introduced to have been ruled out, you don’t need to be Poirot to work out who the father might be. Even the title is a call back to better thrillers, with its Girl with the Dragon Tattoo styled title.

The story drifts on and on, never really getting anyway or explaining anything properly. It doesn’t help that it’s mediocrely filmed. Look at the lean, compelling and sharp film David Fincher made of (the much better) Gone Girl. Then look at the murky, plodding, dull execution here. Particularly damningly it’s a shock to find out this is less than 2 hours, because it feels a hell of a lot longer.

The story has been switched from the book’s original London to somewhere outside Manhattan, which doesn’t help either. There is something quite small scale and domestic about the story that the sweeping vistas and huge houses of wealthy American suburbia don’t match up with. The very concept of the film – seeing into houses from commuter trains paused at signals – doesn’t even work removed from London’s architecture (the train in this film stops regularly on a huge expanse of track due to rail works that go on for ever and ever). Edgar Ramirez’s psychiatrist keeps the name Kamal Abdic (with its suggestion of middle Eastern roots) but now seems to be Mexican. Everyone in the film looks like a fashion model. Lots of other small moments just don’t make sense in the way they would have done in the original setting.

Emily Blunt is pretty good in the lead role, much better than the film deserves. Okay the drop-dead gorgeous Blunt doesn’t even remotely look like the overweight, sweaty alcoholic described in the book. But she nails her drunk acting, and carries the emotional heft of the film rather well, with an engaging vulnerability. She is, perhaps, even a little too engaging – the book’s original version of her character is apparently pretty unlikeable. The script trims away her needy obsessiveness, and creepy stalker tendencies. But Blunt is a little too likeable, and a little too sophisticated (despite prosthetic eyebags), to really convince as the pathetic Rachel. The switch to America doesn’t help here either – basically Brits make better losers than Americans tend to.

The rest of the cast are okay, but there is hardly a stand out among them. I have to admit I found Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson (with their identikit blond hair dyes) hard to tell apart at times (this may be due to staying up all night watching the 2017 British election the night before).

By the end, when the killer is revealed (with a graphically suggestive flashback) you’ll find it hard to really care. In fact the final reveal is so clumsily put together all the implications aren’t clear at all. It’s a load of fuss about nothing. Taylor is trying to turn a pulpy novel into an arty thriller – but he doesn’t have the cinematic know-how to do it. He’s far too bland and middlebrow. Maybe that makes him a suitable match – a derivative director for a derivative book – but it hardly helps make this a good film. If he’d gone for a more B-movie approach, playing up the dark satire you could find in the story, then we could have had something interesting here. But he didn’t and we don’t.