Our film critic takes a look at some of the best and worst of this week’s new releases...
Take Shelter (18)
Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham
Fuelled by low-level anxiety about economic woes, Jeff Nichols’ strange, fascinating Take Shelter parlays contemporary fears into the kind of relatable apocalyptic drama that relies less on big special effects and more on the ambiguous mental state of its protagonist. This is Curtis Laforge, a hard-working family man who wants nothing more out of life than to provide for his wife (Jessica Chastain) and their deaf daughter.
With a solid job boasting good benefits, Curtis doesn’t appear to have too much to worry about, but when he starts having apocalyptic visions of impending storms he starts to wonder whether he should build a proper storm shelter out back or see a psychiatrist. Mercifully, Nichols refuses to overcook the “all in his head” approach, giving Curtis legitimate reason to worry about his mental health, but also keeping the legitimacy of his other explanations pleasingly ambiguous. Shannon, no stranger to going bug-eyed crazy on film, is great at quietly conveying Curtis’s internal battle, particularly as his actions start jeopardising the very thing he wants to protect. But it’s the cumulative terror the film builds up that really resonates.
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Huston
US TV shows such as The Big C and Breaking Bad have busted taboos recently by utilising cancer for more interesting storytelling ends than creating tear-jerking melodramas. Movies, however, still tend to persist with this approach to the disease, which is why 50/50 immediately feels fresher. Based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s own experiences dealing with a rare spinal cancer, it’s a wry, sly buddy comedy that mines its laughs from the dysfunction that erupts when twenty-something radio producer Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has to go through the trauma of treatment while friends, family and therapist try to make sense of his diagnosis. Sharply written, it navigates potentially booby-trapped material with real élan, complemented by the ragged, relaxed style director Jonathan Levine brings to proceedings.
But it’s the performances that really make it work, with Seth Rogen bringing his usual wonderfully loose comic energy to proceedings. Bouncing off an excellent Gordon-Levitt, the pair manage to achieve a balance between gross-out yucks and heartfelt drama. An understated pseudo-romance between Adam and his inexperienced therapist (Anna Kendrick) adds feelgood charm – as opposed to gooey quirkiness – and Anjelica Huston delivers real emotional heft with a delicate touch as Adam’s overbearing mother.
The Deep Blue Sea (12a)
Directed by: Terence Davies
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale
With an absence of memorable standout artistic flourishes, Terence Davies’ return to drama after an 11-year unplanned hiatus feels somewhat muted in comparison to previous films, such as The House of Mirth and The Long Day Closes. And yet, in opening out Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play about thwarted love and infidelity, he’s found a way to avoid the staginess that affects theatre adaptations, mainly by embracing the cinematic style of the era.
The Deep Blue Sea plays like a 1950s melodrama, pregnant with the repressed emotions of its protagonists, a desperately sad and tragic lot whose tangled feelings for one another are tearing them apart in different ways. Told from the perspective of Hester (Rachel Weisz), a married woman who leaves her respectable husband (Simon Russell Beale) for a dashing but immature pilot (Tom Hiddleston) who subsequently abandons her, the film reconstructs what went wrong, kicking off with Hester’s attempted suicide and jumping back-and-forth in time to explore her brave and difficult quest for true love.
It’s an interesting exercise, bolstered by strong performances that stay the right side of pastiche, but it doesn’t quite grab the heart the way the best romantic dramas do.
Directed by: Tinge Krishnan
Starring: Eddie Marsan, Romola Garai, Tom Sturridge, Candese Reid
There’s a point at which good performances stop being enough to excuse dreary storytelling, shoddy execution and a general lack of ideas, and urban Brit drama Junkhearts reaches it fairly early on. Set in London, it revolves around emotionally damaged ex-soldier Frank (Eddie Marsan), whose displaced paternal instincts lead him to take in mouthy runaway Lynette (newcomer Candese Reid).
It’s a film that has to be praised for Marsan and Reid’s heroic efforts to make such cliché-ridden character types feel believable, but the grace and energy of their strong, measured work is undercut almost from the moment the downward-spiralling plot kicks into gear with the arrival of Lynette’s exploitative boyfriend (a miscast Tom Sturridge), whose determination to be a gangster soon turns Frank’s council flat into a crack den.
A distracting parallel plot featuring Romola Garai as a yummy mummy struggling to keep her life together doesn’t add much beyond a hokey resolution, and debut director Tinge Krishnan’s over-reliance on blurring point-of-view shots to put us inside the head of its messed-up protagonists is the sort of cheesy visual trick you’d expect to see in a teen soap with a drugs storyline, not a movie.
Directed by: Amit Gupta
Starring: Michael Sheen, Iwan Rheon, Andrea Riseborough
What if the Allies failed and the Nazis invaded Britain? That provocative, high-concept idea – utilised effectively enough in Ealing’s unofficial 1942 propaganda film Went the Day Well and, chillingly, in the brilliant, disturbing 1964 micro-budget classic It Could Happen Here – is regurgitated in Resistance.
The film takes the failure of D-Day as its counterfactual starting point, and homes in on a Welsh farming community which a small band of Germans take over as an observation post.
With the local men having already decamped to the surrounding hills to participate in the nascent resistance movement, only women remain in the community.
And as their situation starts to look increasingly desperate, they begin to form tentative bonds with their new German masters in order to survive.
Director Amit Gupta – adapting screenwriter Owen Sheer’s novel – is good at subtly exploring the thin line that exists between cordiality and collaboration, largely because Andrea Riseborough gives such an empathetic performance as Sarah, a deserted farmer’s wife increasingly conflicted about what she’s supposed to do.
But the film has the feel of Sunday night telly – perfectly serviceable, but not much more.