Film reviews: Sabotage | The Wind Rises

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WITH Harsh Times, End of Watch and his script for Training Day under his belt, writer/director David Ayer should be the perfect filmmaker to guide Arnold Schwarzenegger through the rough-hewn landscapes of a mid-budget action film in this new digital age of shakey-cam immediacy.

Sabotage (15)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sabotage. Picture: Contributed

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sabotage. Picture: Contributed

Directed by: David Ayer

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Olivia Williams, Sam Worthington, Mireille Enos

Star rating: * *

It’s disappointing, then, to report that Sabotage is a bit of a mess. Partly that’s to do with Schwarzenegger himself. Cast as the leader of a tough crew of corrupt undercover narcs, Schwarzenegger’s character, Breacher, shares more in common with Vic Mackey from The Shield than anyone in his own back-catalogue, meaning he has to do more than simply blow people up and deliver corny quips to drive the story forward. Alas, as admirable as it is to see him trying to flex his acting muscles, watching him bury his head in his hands to convey grief after witnessing a tragedy early on in Sabotage is a bit like watching that bit in Terminator 2 when Edward Furlong teaches Arnie’s reprogrammed cyborg to act more human: he understands what he’s supposed to do, but can’t quite do it convincingly.

For the most part, though, Sabotage’s faults are more down to a plot hole-strewn script that never successfully marries its procedural elements with its action ones. Those procedural elements kick into gear six months on from the film’s high-octane opener, which sees Breacher’s team of gung-ho outcasts (led by Sam Worthington and Mireille Enos) attempt to steal $10m from a Mexican drug cartel in the midst of a legitimate bust. Double-crossed at the scene, and subsequently suspended pending an investigation, they start getting bumped off after returning to active duty – a development that brings their activities to the attention of Olivia Williams’ tough homicide detective Caroline Brentwood.

The film’s reveals and reversals are spurious at best, with Ayer uncharacteristically giving in to mindless action to distract from the fact that he can’t tie up the story’s loose ends in a satisfying way.

Consequently, when the big action showdown does arrive, Ayer’s striving-for-authenticity shooting style is too much at odds with the film’s kill-crazy insouciance to enable us to take any (guilty) pleasure from the ensuing mayhem. A nonsensical, neo-western coda, meanwhile, feels tacked on and makes a further mockery of the preceding action.

Next Goal Wins (15)

Directed by: Mike Brett, Steve Jamison

Star rating: * * *

In 2001, American Samoa’s 31-0 thrashing by Australia became the biggest defeat in the history of international football, a humiliation that was subsequently compounded by the team languishing at the bottom of the FIFA world rankings for the next decade. This uplifting sports doc begins by interrogating what kind of psychological impact such continued failure might have on players who cherish the beautiful game as a sport rather than a career opportunity. Joining American Samoa on their quest to win a game – any game – in the qualifying rounds of the forthcoming World Cup, the prognosis doesn’t initially look good. But then comes Dutchman Thomas Rongen, a former pro footballer turned coach, whose own emotional baggage gifts Brit directors Mike Brett and Steve Jamison with a neat symbiotic relationship around which to structure the film. Much underdog predictability duly follows, but so too does real can-they-do-it? tension, as well as some genuine insight into the local culture.

The Wind Rises (PG)

Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki

Voices: Anno Hideaki, Takimoti Miori, Nomura Mansai

Star rating: * * *

Hayao Miyazaki’s 11th and final film sees the Studio Ghibli founder go out with more of a whimper than a bang. A deeply personal meditation on artistry and creation, The Wind Rises melds dreamy flights of fancy with the true story of Jiro Horikoshi, an aeronautical engineer who strives to create beautiful flying machines for the Japanese military in the run up to the Second World War, all the while insulating himself from thinking about the horrific ends to which his designs will ultimately be put. That’s an intriguing premise for a grown-up animation film, but Miyazake identifies a little too much with Jiro’s childlike wonder, largely to the exclusion of interrogating the larger political and historical dimensions surrounding the story.

Before the Winter Chill (15)

Directed by: Philippe Claudel

Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Kristin Scott Thomas, Leila Bekhti

Star rating: * *

It’s small wonder that Kristin Scott Thomas is contemplating retiring from movie acting. If Before the Winter Chill is anything to go by, even French cinema is struggling to provide her with roles worthy of her considerable talents. Scott Thomas is reduced to playing bored housewife to Daniel Auteuil’s ennui-laden surgeon, the latter getting a far juicier – albeit it equally cliché-ridden – trajectory as he becomes embroiled in a relationship with a young woman (Leila Bekhti) whose strange fixation with him is reciprocated the more he investigates her marginal lifestyle. Though the set-up hints at Auteil’s masterful collaboration with Michael Haneke in Hidden, the revelations that lie behind this sinister-seeming intrusion on his character’s rather bourgeois life prove much more generic and mundane.

Exhibition (15)

Directed by: Joanna Hogg

Starring: Viv Albertine, Liam Gillick, Tom Hiddleston

Star rating: * * * *

Exhibition sees Joanna Hogg (Archipelago) taking another uncompromising look at British life, this time by focusing on a pair of artists who’ve put their modernist London home on the market. The reason for selling is hinted at, but never explicitly stated, with Hogg gradually fostering an atmosphere of marital anxiety that her cast (musician Viv Albertine and conceptual artist Liam Gillick, both making their acting debuts) struggles to convey at first, but eventually makes strangely hypnotic. Hogg regular Tom Hiddleston makes a brief appearance as an estate agent, but this is largely a two-hander and, providing you can attune yourself to the discordant rhythms of Hogg’s minimalist filmmaking style – and be warned: this is the least accessible of her films to date – it makes for richly rewarding viewing, the sort of film that lingers for weeks after seeing it.

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