CommonSpace film critic Scott Wilson takes a look at the films of the moment
MAKE WAY FOR A BUMPER FILMSPACE as we bridge the gap between end-of-summer dumps and the beginning of award hype season.
Detroit – ★★★★☆
Detroit doesn’t half point the finger. Evil exists, but complacency allows it to thrive, and the camera focuses on the sweating police officers going along with Krauss’s (Will Poulter) tyrannical, yet systemic, racism. Not all of the white cops physically assault black people in the film, but they put the uniform on and they stalk the the streets of black neighbourhoods with guns all the same.
Detroit is a power trip. People like Krauss don’t discriminate between ‘others’. He hates white sex workers like he hates black people, and he hates the thought of the two having sex. He fires his gun indiscriminately, he psychologically tortures suspects, he hits who he chooses. He does it all in plain sight, of his victims and his coworkers. He’s empowered by the environment around him that says he can get away with it.
Detroit is pointing the finger in 1967 to say the treatment of the black community was carried out by a systematically racist institution. It’s pointing the finger in 2017 and asking if you’re going to let it happen again. It’s not saying all white people are Krauss, but that enough white people are Krauss.
Who could have planned Detroit’s cinematic release to coincide with nazis marching through Charlottesville?
Poulter is both excellent and terrifying as this representation of the poisonous view towards the black community at the time. John Boyega’s Melvin Dismukes, a private security guard, is a watchful yet submissive eye. As a black figure of authority, he has some power but not the same amount nor the same kind as the white men fuelling the tension. Boyega does lots with so little, showing the bubbling frustration below a man trying to do his job with integrity and not, justifiably, completely snap.
Like Dunkirk, it’s a snapshot of a much bigger thing. By focusing on the Algiers motel incident, it acts as a gateway to investigate further, and an invitation to compare the film’s themes to 2017. Who could have planned Detroit’s cinematic release to coincide with nazis marching through Charlottesville? There are a lot of people who witness what happens in Detroit, but seeing isn’t enough action when the perpetrators invite you to watch. Kathryn Bigelow continues to make important cinema.
The Limehouse Golem – ★★★☆☆
Goth Victorian stories are visually delicious. The Limehouse Golem’s hues range from slightly muted grey to aggressively viscous grey, coating the cobbled streets of London and its foreboding shadowed towers. Dark boots and dark coats stalk dark corners, investigating another bloody murder scene hounded by the common people because it’s cheaper than paying to see a horror show.
Someone calling themselves The Limehouse Golem is killing people, and Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) has rounded it down to four individuals. One of these suspects has just died, and Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke), the corpse’s widow, has been charged on suspicion of poisoning him. Kildare smells something foul, determined to uncover the Golem and clear Cree’s name before she hangs for a crime Kildare is positive she didn’t commit.
It’s very goth indeed to be spurred on by the artistic merit and legacy of a killing spree.
The pieces are in place to play along with Kildare, and at times it’s arguably too easy to work out where The Limehouse Golem is going. Where it separates itself from something like From Hell is in its emphasis on the theatrical, whether that’s through subversive plays within the film, or the supposed motive of the murderer. It’s very goth indeed to be spurred on by the artistic merit and legacy of a killing spree, and it takes a twisted mind, yes, but also a creative mind to do it with glee.
It’s a pleasure to see Nighy star in a leading role, and Cooke acts rings around everyone as a woman who is caught up in a bad relationship, a bad situation, and is locked up in a bad place. The plot itself is middle of the road, but these two powerful lead performances and the theatrical elements – not to mention a lovely gothic presentation – makes The Limehouse Golem just about stand out from the crowd.
American Made – ★★★☆☆
A story so absurd it has to be true, and so desperately in need of a charismatic frontman to make it believable. No one else could pull of Barry Seal’s story quite like Tom Cruise does.
An accomplished pilot, Seal makes a little money on the side by moving drugs around the country, only to be enlisted by the CIA to fly south of the border and take photos of insurgents. His rota quickly fills up as locals see him as an effective way of smuggling cocaine into America, while the CIA uses him to transport weapons, choosing to ignore his illegal activity as long as he does his job.
Cruise plays Seal like a normal guy with a million dollar smile who gets the job done.
It’s a stressful balancing act in a decidedly unstressful film. Rather than play it for tension of when it will all go horribly wrong, it’s instead more like a rap video, Seal becoming more and more filthy rich with each ridiculous notch on his resumé. It’s not an outright comedy, but there’s an incredulous feel to American Made that makes it jaunty and light, always introducing a new ridiculous layer just as you become used to the last one.
Cruise plays Seal like a normal guy with a million dollar smile who gets the job done. Why wouldn’t the CIA give him this responsibility? Why wouldn’t the cartel believe him when he says he’ll deliver their product? In a way he wants to keep the peace, while in another way he wants a life of excess and excitement. He only hesitates to think about his family.
If nothing else, American Made will make you look up Barry Seal, a guy who saw life come at him and said yes to all of it, for better or worse.
Logan Lucky – ★★★★☆
With a name that takes a number of attempts to get right (Luck–no, Lu–nope, L–yes–Luc–gah!), Logan Lucky is mischievous and agile, the tongue-twister title an intended part of the fun.
Built around an elaborate scheme to make off with a pile of cash during a NASCAR race, the plot is important if only to enable this weird band of characters to get up to no good. Tatum’s Jimmy Logan is a proud southern man who just wants to work, but, believing in a supposed curse that haunts his family, nothing goes his way. Driver’s Clyde Logan, Jimmy’s brother, is a more introverted man, now working in a bar after losing his arm during a stint in Iraq.
Daniel Craig is a great actor, but the curse of James Bond is the power such a role has on assumptions. Joe Bang is not James Bond. Joe Bang looks like he fronts a German hardstyle band. Living up to his name, he shakes and stirs home-made concoctions, explaining the science as he goes, that create the necessary smoky distractions to pull the whole thing off. After a rocky experience on Spectre, Craig looks like he’s having a whale of a time.
It’s a part of the world not merely ignored, but often actively dismissed as rednecks and racists.
It’s kinetic and choppy, its editing as much a part of the humour as its characters. It slows down when it needs to, for an extended Game of Thrones joke that’ll age fast but works in 2017. Driver is adept at comedy, but it’s a shame he’ll never know that, choosing to avoid watching all of his own movies.
It’s fun, daft, silly, but occasionally it wanders into almost doing something a little bit more. The tight-knit southern community, the cultural references (more John Denver in modern cinema), the lifestyles (trailer parks, NASCAR) all project something not often seen on screen. It’s a part of the world not merely ignored, but often actively dismissed as rednecks and racists. Logan Lucky isn’t intent on shifting perception, but it does show an alternative side to a country with too many sides to count without simply doing so for laughs.
Patti Cake$ – ★★★☆☆
Rags to riches doesn’t happen overnight. Empowering, maybe, celebratory, possibly, but Patti Cake$ is much more grounded than expected. Patricia Dombrowski has the lyrics and knows how to work a flow, but cream doesn’t always rise to the top. She lives with her mum in the suburbs, struggling to make ends meet to live and look after Patti’s ailing grandma.
With her friend Jheri, she dreams of making it big, which in her mind looks like starring in a 1990s R’n’B video on MTV. Those in her social circle call her Dumbo on account of her size. She hates it but it informs her lyrics, laying her life out there singing about her struggles and aspirations.
Patti is the universal representation of a dreamer, but Patti Cake$ isn’t for the dreamers.
The stacked odds are sad and familiar. It rightly touches on talent meaning nothing if it goes unheard. Socio-economic situations are a decider of volume, and Patti’s suburban living means no one is around to hear her, or care about what she can do. She works long hours to scrape by, leaving little opportunity to dedicate time to what she loves. Her mother is unsupportive, clinging to her own lost opportunities, with a dash of racism towards rap music.
Mini successes feel greater because they’re so unlikely. But in its realism it leaves a helpless and depressing taste. On the one hand it’s about not letting anyone or anything get in your way. On the other it’s about all the talent in the world going unnoticed if you’re in the wrong place. Patti is the universal representation of a dreamer, but Patti Cake$ isn’t for the dreamers. Instead, it’s a hand-on-shoulder “I know” to those who struggle to create and be noticed while the weight of the world presses down on them.
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