Tag: Rory Kinnear

The Imitation Game (2014)

Benedict Cumberbatch saves the world in smug, empty mess The Imitation Game

Director: Morten Tyldum

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch (Alan Turing), Keira Knightley (Joan Clarke), Matthew Goode (Hugh Alexander), Rory Kinnear (Detective Nock), Allen Leech (John Cairncross), Matthew Beard (Peter Hilton), Charles Dance (Commander Alastair Dennison), Mark Strong (Maj General Stewart Menzies)

“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine”. If there is anything that captures the smug self-satisfaction of this ludicrously pleased-with-itself film, it’s that convoluted phrase, with which the film is so pleased that it is repeated no fewer than four times. What does it mean really? Nothing of course, it carries all the meaning of a fortune cookie. Turing is certainly someone whom you could expect something of, since the film is at pains from the start to demonstrate he is a maths prodigy and a genius. But then that would spoil the romance of the film suggesting that because Turing is socially maladjusted, he is somehow unlikely to achieve something – or that achieving something would be even more special having overcome the “disability” of his personality.

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is under police suspicion in 1951 after a mysterious break-in at his Manchester home. A keen detective (Rory Kinnear) suspects he may be a Russian agent – why else does he have no military record? But we know different, as flashbacks show Turing working at Bletchley Park on the cracking of the German cipher machine Enigma. Working with the support of an MI6 officer (Mark Strong), Turing has to win the trust of his team – with the support of best friend and maths genius Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) – to build a ground-breaking computer that could crack the impossible code. But back in 1951, Turing is in trouble: he’s gay and that’s a crime in post-war Britain.

Now, Turing’s personality in this film. In real life, Turing was an eccentric, but perfectly capable of functioning perfectly normally in society. That’s not dramatic enough for the film, so Turing is reimagined as someone practically afflicted by Aspergers syndrome, incapable of understanding or relating to people without severe effort and prompting. Of course this is really there to introduce conflict – first with his team (who need to be won round to loving the old eccentric genius), secondly with his boss (who can’t stand his inability to fit in) and thirdly with the police (who can use it to write him off). It’s a film-disability for a character to overcome, another puffed up triumph that we can celebrate, while at the same time pat ourselves on the back because this is a victory for those “not normal”. But it’s probably bollocks. 

But then that fits in rather nicely with the whole film, which is more or less probably bollocks from start to finish. The film of course can’t dramatise maths or computing very well, so it throws us all sorts of feeble clichés from tired old film genres instead. Charles Dance plays a reimagined Denniston (in real life a cryptographer) as a standard obstructive boss who all but shrieks “you’re off the case Turing!” at the one-hour mark. The key moment of inspiration of course comes from flirty pub conversation with a charming secretary. Running around and frantic throwing of papers takes the place of all that boring maths. 

The film can’t resist any level of dramatic cliché. When a member of the code-breaking team mentions in passing “I have a brother in the navy you know”, as sure as eggs is eggs you can bet the team will decipher a message that could save his life but will be forced to make A Terrible Choice. Of course even this picture of a small code-breaking team making the calls themselves over which messages to act on is nonsense – it’s a decision that would be so far above their pay grade, they should be taking oxygen just thinking about it. But in this bonkers version of the universe, Turing  himself makes the call to keep the initial breaking of the code a secret, and the government happily allows him alone to make the call about which codes to act on. Oh for goodness sake, spare me.

But then this is a film that wants to turn Turing into the man who won the war single-handed. While Turing was one of the key figures who made the breakthrough, this was a massive team effort, not one man’s inspiration, and reducing the victory of the war down to one (film cliché) difficult genius is the same old ripe nonsense we’ve seen many, many times before. The film tries to pretend that Bletchley Park and the breaking of Enigma, and Turing himself, is an unknown story – when it’s been pretty well-known since it was announced by the Government in the 1980s.

The film is rubbish, but it’s also gutless. Of course “fifth man” John Cairncross is part of the team – and of course Turing discovers he is a spy. (The reveal of course is due to the same old tedious movie cliché of “I found a book on his desk that was the key book he used for the code”.) And then in a moment of stunning tastelessness, Cairncross blackmails Turing into keeping his mouth shut which he agrees to do – an action that, if it had ever happened in real life, would have been an appalling moment of treachery from Turing, and reinforces all the suspicions of the time that homosexuals couldn’t be trusted. 

Ah yes, homosexuality. This film is very, very, very proud of its crusading actions to expose the cruel treatment of Turing for his homosexuality. At the same time, the film is of course way too gutless to even begin to show Turing doing anything actually gay (he doesn’t even so much as hold another man’s hand) during the film. The one genuine moment of love the character is allowed to express, is in the form of a crush on a schoolfriend. (The film substitutes renaming Turing’s machine “Victory” after this school friend “Christopher”, the film keen to try and plug the gap of this film featuring virtually no LGBTQ content at all). But the film preaches intensly and proudly about the equal rights of homosexuality, while veering away with squeamishness from putting anything remotely homosexual on the screen.

The shoddy writing, over-written and self-important, is matched up with Morten Tyldum’s flat, “prestige” film-making that reduces everything to a chocolate box. The film does have some acting beyond what it deserves. Benedict Cumberbatch is good as Turing, although his performance is a remix of some of his greatest hits from past projects, from Hawking to Sherlock, and you feel hardly it’s a stretch for him – even if he plays with it real, and genuine, emotional commitment. Keira Knightley’s cut-glass accent is practically a cliché, but this is one of her best performances with real warmth and empathy. Most of the rest of the cast though are serviceable at best.

“Serviceable”, however, is still better than the film itself, which is a cliché-ridden, gutless, plodding and highly average pile of nothing at all – a totally over-hyped, over-promoted and completely empty film that is about a zillion times less interesting, brave or revealing than Hugh Whitemore’s 1980s play Breaking the Code. Not worth your time.

Peterloo (2018)

Mike Leigh’s passionate but dry, overlong film brings the Peterloo massacre to life

Director: Mike Leigh

Cast: Rory Kinnear (Henry Hunt), Maxine Peake (Nellie), Pearce Quigley (Joshua), David Moorst (Joseph), Rachel Finnegan (Mary), Tom Meredith (Robert), Simona Bitmate (Esther), Karl Johnson (Lord Sidmouth), Sam Troughton (Mr Hobhouse), Roger Sloman (Mr Grout), Alastair Mackenzie (General Byng), Neil Bell (Samuel Bamford), Lisa Millet (Jemima Bamford), Philip Jackson (John Knight), John-Paul Hurley (John Thacker Saxton), Tom Gill (Joseph Johnson), Lizzie Frain (Mrs Johnson), Ian Mercer (Dr Joseph Healey), Nico Mirallegro (John Bagguley), Danny Kirrane (Samuel Drummond), Johnny Byron (John Johnston), Tim McInnerny (Prince Regent), Vincent Franklin (Reverend Etlhelstone), Jeff Rawle (Hay), Philip Whitchurch (Colonel Fletcher), Martin Savage (Norris), Al Weaver (Hutton)

Perhaps one of the most pivotal moments in the struggle of the working classes to gain political and social rights was the Peterloo massacre of 16th August 1819, at St Peter’s Field in Manchester. At a meeting of over 60,000 people, officials ordered first the mounted yeomanry and then soldiers to attack and break up the crowd. At least 15 people were killed and hundreds more wounded, either from the indiscriminate sabre blows from the yeomen (probably drunk) and soldiers (unable to control the panic), or crushed in the frantic attempt to escape from the confined square. The immediate reaction from the authorities was praise at breaking up this “Bonapartist” piece of revolutionary nonsense. The lasting effect was condemnation of the brutality shown towards a peaceful demonstration and the massacre becoming a major cause celebre. It was ultimately influential in the passing of the Great Reform Act, which greatly extended the franchise and rebalanced much of Parliament (at this point so unbalanced by age old tradition that while some tiny hamlets returned MPs, the whole of Manchester had no representation).

It’s still an emotive subject for many today, and with this reverent film, overflowing with anger at the hypocrisy and injustice of the ruling classes, you can’t doubt that Mike Leigh and the makers of Peterloo are among them. But however sincere their personal passion about the subject is, what they fail to bring to the film is any real dramatic impetus to make us care. Instead this is an inert, over-long, often (if I am being completely honest) tedious film that takes nearly an hour to get going and then only offers flashes of dramatic interest before culminating in the massacre itself (very well shot and staged, but still itself a rather distant viewing experience).

 A large reason for this is the film is so reverential towards the campaigners for liberty, that the overwhelming majority of their scenes are given over to very good actors giving spirited renditions of actual speeches and pamphlets at a series of political meetings, shot with a reverent simplicity by Leigh. Much as it is can be interesting to hear quotes from things like this, by the time we are onto our twelfth political speech covering similar ground, delivered with another bout of fiery passion, you’ve started to glaze over. What we don’t get from many of these campaigners is any reason to really care about them – either as people or as part of a movement. Instead the film ends up like a cinematic Rushmore, carving their representations into celluloid for us to gaze up at in awe.

A similar fate befalls the working-class characters in the film, who are lacking any real character or story at all and whose main function seems to be to exist so we can experience both their misery and their awakening political awareness. Our main family is a group of mill workers, with Maxine Peake (does anyone do “hard-pressed working class stoicism hiding pain” better than Peake?) as the matriarch, welcoming her son home from Waterloo. These people talk at each other, quoting various current issues and bemoaning the hardness of living at a time of near universal poverty – but other than the fact that they are poor and suffering we are given very little reason to care for them. Like the rest of the working-class characters, they seem more like passengers in the film, meaning when the swords start flying, it’s actually very hard to get worked up as much as we should as members of this family are hacked down. 

The one exception in the entire campaign-side of the narrative comes with the introduction of “Orator” Henry Hunt, a prosperous middle-class man who became a famed agitator for working men’s rights. Wonderfully played, with a an air of arrogant grandiosity mixed with genuine commitment to the cause, by Rory Kinnear, Hunt shakes up the pattern the film settles into over its first hour. Acutely aware of his position as the nominal head of a national movement, Hunt has little patience (and even a touch of class-based distance) from the mostly lower middle-class campaigners he mixes with in Manchester (while never being anything less than scrupulously polite), and his fish-out-of-water awkwardness around them raises several laughs (the only ones of the film). Scenes in which he imposes his own conditions on the internal politics of the Peterloo meeting (who will speak, who will be on the podium, will there be weapons in the ground) not only feel more real than anything else we’ve seen in the film, but they are also far more entertaining and engaging than anything else connected to the massacre’s build-up.

Leigh was perhaps so hidebound by wanting to honour the men who campaigned for liberty that, other than with the larger-than-life Hunt, he seems too restricted dramatically – as if adding too much of that essential for drama, conflict, would somehow undermine them. Ironically he has far greater freedom with the authorities – and the film’s more engaging sequences (outside of those with Hunt) are all based around the arguments, clashes, plots and fury of the various levels of authority in the country, from the corpulent Prince Regent through the Home Office to the local magistrates.

The film gets more juice from its righteous anger at the unfairness, arrogance and hypocrisy of these men than it does from almost everything else. It also gives the actors playing these roles far more to work with. Karl Johnson stands out as a stammering but adamantine Home Secretary Lord Sidmouth, paternalistic but totally unwilling to budge an inch. The real stars, however, are the magistrates we follow in Manchester, each introduced trying a trivial case (drinking an employer’s wine, an argument over a watch, stealing a coat) with ludicrous hard-line punishments (flogging and imprisonment, transportation and execution respectively). Played with a lustful relish by Philip Whitchurch, Jeff Rawle, Martin Savage and most expressively of all Vincent Franklin (who nearly goes too far with the lip smacking, until a scene later we see even the Home Office officials eagerly reading his latest dynamite dispatch with a barely suppressed chuckles at his OTT rhetoric), these characters argue the fine points of law and lustily denounce the working classes with such fire and energy that you conversely get more wrapped up in their scenes than almost anything else in the film. Maybe Leigh felt he had greater freedom to create characters and drama here, but it does feel unbalanced.

All that said, the massacre itself when we reach it is brilliantly staged, immediate, deadly, meticulously reconstructed and filmed with a documentary anger at its brutality. You can sense the creeping tension throughout the film and the explosion of violence afterwards, for all the problems of the film, is genuinely horrifying. In fact it wraps you up so much, I wish the film had dealt more with the aftermath of the clash (there is a very good scene as stunned journalists walk St Peter’s Field with horrified fury) and the impact it had, rather than the film wrapping up swiftly with funeral of one of its working-class characters (it’s not a surprise which one).

But then that’s part of the whole film’s problem. It feels like a missed opportunity. It’s a stately civics lesson, a film that hammers home the importance of what it is presenting to you, but never really gives you a reason to invest in the real stories and passions behind the history. Instead it presents everything as important, because it is, rather than making it important to us. It feels at the same time a film that is preaching to the choir who already know this history back-to-front, and also a dry history lesson introducing it to a new audience. Either way it fails. Despite one or two good scenes, a dull, underwhelming, preachy disappointment.

Spectre (2015)

Bond heads into danger in thematic mess Spectre

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Christoph Waltz (Franz Oberhauser/Ernst Stavro Blofeld), Léa Seydoux (Dr Madeleine Swann), Ralph Fiennes (M), Ben Whishaw (Q), Naomie Harris (Eve Moneypenny), Dave Bautista (Mr Hinx), Andrew Scott (Max Denbigh), Monica Bellucci (Lucia Sciarra), Rory Kinnear (Bill Tanner), Jesper Christensen (Mr White)

SPOILERS: Okay, surely most people have seen this by now – but just in case I’m going to spoil the big twist of Spectre. It is, by the way, a really, really, really stupid, annoying terrible twist. So you won’t mind. But just in case you do… Spoilers.

In 2002, Austin Powers: Goldmember had, amongst its ridiculous plotlines, a reveal that Austin Powers and Dr Evil were, in fact, long lost brothers. It was the crowning height of silliness in the franchise, the ultimate punchline to Mike Myers’ James Bond spoof. Well the wheel comes full circle: in 2015, Spectre’s shock plot reveal was – James Bond and Ernst Stavro Blofeld – wait for it – they were only – guess what! – raised by the same man, so basically sorta brothers! Who would have thunk it? The world’s greatest spy and world’s greatest villain both grew up together. Yup, the Bond producers actually thought this was a good idea. Yup they were completely wrong.

Spectre opens in Mexico with Bond (Daniel Craig) preventing an attack on a football stadium – although this attack basically involves trashing an entire city block. Benched by M (Ralph Fiennes), he investigates the shadowy organisation known as Spectre, which he discovers is run by Franz Oberhauser (Christop Waltz), a man Bond seems to know a great deal about. Meanwhile M engages in Whitehall battles with the intelligence director Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott) and his sinister “Nine Eyes” programme, designed to control all surveillance in the developed world.

Spectre is a film that really falls apart in its final third, as ridiculous revelation piles on top of ludicrous contrivance. After Skyfall, we all wanted Sam Mendes to come back to do another Bond film, but this makes every single mistake that film avoided: it’s self-conscious, it’s silly in the wrong way, it takes itself way too seriously, despite its best efforts it doesn’t really do anything new, and it attempts to build a “Bond universe” around a franchise that works because it keeps reinventing itself in stand-alone films. It’s the Bond producers attempt to do a Marvel film – and it ain’t pretty. Did we need to create some sort of tenuous link between the Craig-era Bond movies? Did we need Blofeld and Bond to have a “very personal” connection? No we massively did not.

Mendes shoots the action with a mock grandeur that seems to be serving other things than the plot. Critics fawned over the long shot that follows Bond through the Day of the Dead street festival, through a hotel, out of a window, across a series of roofs and into the first action scene. But for me, it’s a self-conscious, look-at-me piece of trickery. It’s an air of pretention that runs through the whole film: it’s a film that wants you to think it’s making Big Points around Bond’s psychology and background, but keeps running aground because it goes about them in such a ham fisted way, particularly when compared to Skyfall’s subtlety and willingness to look at Bond’s vulnerability.

Most sequences in the film feels strangely flat and lifeless. There is a surprisingly sterile car chase through the streets of Rome between Bond and Hinx. The opening montage in Mexico just never really grips – maybe because it’s not clear what’s going on, maybe because it feels so self-consciously grandiose. The film’s tone is over the place – there are lashings of Moore. Bond falls through a collapsing building only to land on a sofa. During the car chase, Bond hits a button only to have some Frank Sinatra start playing on the radio. Craig does at least go through the comedy with a breezy lightness, though it sits oddly in a film that features a villain shooting himself in the head, and a guy having his eyes gouged out. 

The whole investigation into Spectre just isn’t interesting. Because the film has been written with such a self-conscious eye on fandom, it never gives us a reason within the film to care about it at all. Spectre don’t seem to be doing anything, other than being a shady organisation making money. We don’t get told why Bond is invested in it or Oberhauser until late in the day. The film pins everything on a “beyond the grave” video from Judi Dench’s M to give us a reason for chasing this plot. But nothing feels at stake. Bond isn’t rushing to prevent anything, and we don’t get told about his personal stake in it until almost the end – and even when we do, Bond doesn’t really seem to give a toss about the reveal.

Ah yes. The reveal. A few years ago, Star Trek Into Darkness had a terrible, nonsensical reveal around Benedict Cumberbatch’s character – turns out he was Khan. This was met with derision because (a) it had no impact on the wider viewers who didn’t know who Khan was, (b) it felt shoe-horned in as fan service, and (c) it had no impact on the characters in the film who’d never met Khan before. So who cared? He might as well have said “My real name is Fred”. This was the case with the Blofeld reveal here. The name means little to non-Bond fans. And it means naff-all to Bond. We’ve never heard it mentioned in the film before. It comes out of nowhere. It means nothing – it’s dropped into the film to get a cheer at comic con – so nakedly so, that it just annoyed people.

It doesn’t help that the whole “secret brothers” thing is a really, really dumb idea. I mean so mega-dumb it was, as mentioned, the final ridiculous flourish of Austin Powers. How did they look at this and think “yes”? Again it feels like retreading Skyfall ground – this already had given us interesting insights into Bond by having him return to his childhood home. But what did we learn about Bond here? Sweet FA. Whatever iconic status Blofeld had is also immediately undermined by making him a pathetic envious child. Christoph Waltz’s bored performance doesn’t help either.

And as the film doesn’t spend any time establishing Blofeld or Spectre doing terrible things, it has to make a serious of tenuous connections to Craig’s other films to ludicrously suggest that everything that happened in those films was Blofeld’s evil plan. This is so clearly bollocks, retroactive adaptation that it just makes you snort. Skyfall’s villain was very clearly established as a personally motivated lone-wolf – it makes no sense that he was sent by Blofeld. The first two Craig films established a secretive organisation, but it was framed very much as corporate ruthless villainy – the idea that it was an organisation established to destroy Bond is nonsense.

The reveal that Blofeld wants to destroy Bond personally makes most of the film itself make no sense. If Blofeld wants Bond to come to his base to exact revenge for childhood wrongs, why does his muscle-man Hinx spend the film so aggressively trying to kill him (especially in the film’s stand out action sequence, a no-holds-barred scrap on a train)? It makes no-bloody-sense-at-all. It’s almost like they were making it up as they go. Even Quantum of Solace held together better plotwise than this (ironically QoSgoes almost completely unmentioned in Blofeld’s evil schemes – probably because it’s a bad film). The final confrontation between Bond and Blofeld strains credulity and patience – reaching for a personal rivalry that hasn’t been established by anything other than fans’ vague memories of watching You Only Live Twice on a Sunday afternoon years ago.

I’ve not mentioned the Bond girls either. The film tries to make a “strong female character” in Léa Seydoux’s Madeline Swann, but she is a plot device rather than a character, with no consistent personality, who is solely there to be whatever the plot, and Bond, need the Token Pretty Woman to be at that moment. When it needs her to be a gun-toting, self-reliant, go-getter who sasses Bond, she is. When the plot needs her to be a damsel in distress (which it does twice) she forgets all that firearms stuff and waits for a man to save her. When the plot needs her to express total devotion for Bond she does. When it needs her shortly afterwards to leave him, guess what, she does that as well. She is a character who makes no consistent sense at all. It doesn’t help that she looks way too young for Craig. The wonderful Monica Belluci is given a thankless role of informant and brief sex partner for Bond – she of course was far too close to Craig’s age to be the main Bond girl. Just as he did with the shower sex scene in Skyfall, Craig manages to make this seduction seem inappropriate and pervy – it’s not his strength.

Lea Seydoux. She is, by the way, 17 years younger than Daniel Craig. Just saying.

 The stupidly unclear, dully predictable “Nine Eyes” plot doesn’t make things any better either. One of Skyfall’s neatest tricks was to cleverly mislead us about Ralph Fiennes’ Gareth Mallory, setting him up as an antagonist to slowly reveal him as an ally. This film attempts an inverted version of this trick with Andrew Scott’s Max Denbigh. Problem is, Scott is at his most softly-spoken Moriarty sinister – you are in no doubt he’s a wrong ‘un from the first frame. What would have worked is making Denbigh Bond’s ally early. This would make further sense for the overall plot (if Denbigh is working with Blofeld, why does he want to block Bond getting to him…) and also make the reveal of his villainy at least a surprise for some people in the audience. As it is the whole reveal is no shock what-so-ever. The whole plot starts to feel like plates being spun in the air, a way to give Fiennes, Kinnear and Harris something to do on the margins of the film.

I mean – he just LOOKS like a villain doesn’t he?

Okay Spectre is well filmed. It’s got some good scenes. Ben Whishaw continues to be excellent as Q – and gets loads to do here which is great. Craig actually does some of the comedy with charm and skill – even if he hardly seems as engaged with the material here as he did before, as if he was already becoming tired of the whole enterprise. But it’s too long (over 2 and a half hours!), and straight from its pretentious “The Dead Are Alive Again” opening, it’s straining for a thematic depth and richness that it constantly misses. It makes nothing of its family feud plotline and we learn very little about Bond as a character at all. It mistakes stupid fan-service and pointless reveals for plot, and it builds itself towards a reveal that it expects to get a cheer from the audience, but has no real connection to the plot of the film we are watching, and is in no way earned by the events of the film. 

Spectre is, at best, in the middle rank of Bond films – too self-important, incoherent and (whisper it) a little dull in places to really work. It’s not a complete failure – but it is a major disappointment. There is enough here to entertain most of the time, but not enough to really engage the mind or the guts. For Sam Mendes, lightening didn’t strike twice.