Our film critic Alistair Harnkess reviews the week’s releases
Directed by: Dustin Hoffman
Starring: Tom Courtenay, Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins
GIVEN the talent in front of and behind the camera, it’s a shame that Quartet is yet another pandering OAP drama that explores the vicissitudes of old age with the same kind of broad, patronising tone that won The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel large box-office grosses and baffling amounts of critical acclaim.
Notable largely for being Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, the British-set tale revolves around the residents of a retirement home for opera stars that is under threat of closure due to lack of funds. A ray of hope comes with the arrival of world-class soprano Jean Horton (Maggie Smith).
Alas, her fellow residents’ hope that she’ll join them in staging a vital benefit concert performance of their famed Rigoletto quartet is complicated both by her fear that her voice is no longer up to it and the fact that she has an awkward relationship with one of the quartet’s members: her long-estranged ex-husband – and fellow resident – Reggie (Tom Courtenay). It’s Courtenay who provides the film’s one grace-saving performance; elsewhere veteran Brit thesps like Smith, Michael Gambon and Billy Connolly give some of their worst performances, further hampered by one-note characterisation, a corny plot and Hoffman’s dewy-eyed direction.
Playing for Keeps (12A)
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jessica Beil, Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta Jones
YET another Gerard Butler vehicle that suggests the actor doesn’t so much read his scripts as pin them on a wall and throw darts at them to decide what he’s doing next, Playing for Keeps is one more low point in a disappointingly lazy career.
Cast as an injury-plagued ex-Celtic star who relocates to the US to be near his son – and secretly win back his son’s mother Stacie (Jessica Biel) – whatever charms and charisma Butler possesses are stretched to breaking point by a premise that requires him to be not just an adorably immature primary school football coach, but also God’s gift to a bunch of unfeasibly attractive and randy “soccer moms”.
The latter involves the likes of Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta Jones and Judy Greer dropping at his feet, something that gives proceedings an uncomfortably sexist slant given the film is mostly trying to be a cutesy family drama.
Directed by: David Morris, Jacqui Morris
* * * *
THE ethics of war photography (and photography in general) are essayed in eloquent fashion in this fascinating portrait of British photo-journalist Don McCullin, whose dispatches from the front lines of some of the world’s most harrowing conflicts are responsible for shaping the way modern warfare has been captured over the last 50 years.
With little in the way of a formal education, McCullin got his start photographing the gang culture around which he grew up in 1950s London, but his photographer’s instincts soon took him abroad, where he was one the first British photographers to capture the Berlin Wall going up.
Working first for the Observer and then for the Sunday Times Magazine, his searing images of conflicts in the Congo, Vietnam, Cambodia and Lebanon were so truthful he was, the film suggests, denied access to the Falklands for fear that his pictures might damage morale.
New and archival interviews with McCullin himself suggest he’s a thoughtful, no-nonsense man who continues to be disgusted by war and the suffering it causes.