Film reviews: BlackBerry | The Great Escaper | Golda | Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares

With his anarchic, sharply-scripted cautionary tale about the rise and fall of the BlackBerry, Matt Johnson walks a fine line between venerating and eviscerating his subjects, writes Alistair Harkness

BlackBerry (15) ****

The Great Escaper (12A) **

Golda (12A) **

Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares – The Robert Englund Story (15) ***

Hot on the heels of Air, Tetris and last month’s Dumb Money comes BlackBerry, another surprisingly entertaining workplace comedy drama detailing the behind-the-scenes story of a corporate disruptor. In this case it’s the story behind the titular pioneering smartphone, the keyboard-driven handheld device that made emailing and web browsing on the move so easy and addictive it briefly earned the nickname “CrackBerry”. Director Matt Johnson (who made his name with DIY indie projects like The Dirties and the cult web series Nirvanna the Band the Show) brings a gleefully anarchic energy to the story of its rapid rise and spectacular fall, one befitting the BlackBerry’s own outlier status as a tech revolution begun not in a garage in Silicon Valley or an elite college dorm room, but in a struggling Canadian electronics firm run by a couple of geeks (played by Jay Baruchel and Johnson himself) who lacked the ruthless business acumen of a Jobs or a Zuckerberg to turn their vision of the future into a lasting empire.

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Something of a cautionary tale then, it’s easy to get swept up in the rapid-clip dialogue as Baruchel’s Mike Lazaridis and his guileless, headband-sporting partner Doug Fregin (Johnson) make a faustian pact with Jim Ballsillie (Glenn Howerton), an overcompensating, recently fired corporate blowhard who recognises the potential in their badly delivered sales pitch to make a portable email device that won’t crash the limited capacity wireless internet carriers of the day. All three leads are superb and Johnson’s sharp script and fly-on-the-wall shooting style enables him to walk a fine line between venerating and eviscerating his subjects.

“This is what old age looks like,” says Michael Caine near the end of The Great Escaper. Frail, pale and haunted by memories of the man he used to be, the venerable movie legend infuses this sentimental story of a war veteran going AWOL from his care home to attend the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy with the sort of lived experience that makes you wish the film itself wasn't so banal. Based on a true story, it coddles the characters with spirited feel-good interludes and pat resolutions instead of digging deeper into the reality of what it must have taken for 89-year-old Royal Navy veteran Bernard Jordan (Caine) to make this final pilgrimage to France by himself, leaving behind the safety of the care home he shared with his even frailer wife Irene (an irascible performance from the late Glenda Jackson). To his credit, director Oliver Parker does try to counter the implicit jingoism of the tabloid frenzy that helped Bernie’s story go viral in 2014, but as presented here, there’s not enough behind the headlines to really justify a film; the end result is padded in ways that detract from the more interesting sight of Caine delivering what may well be his final role.

The Great EscaperThe Great Escaper
The Great Escaper

Caked beneath layers of prosthetics and shrouded in cigarette smoke, Helen Mirren is unrecognisable in Golda, a stultifying, narrow-focus biopic of Israeli prime minister Golda Meir (Mirren) set against the backdrop of the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The war itself – in which Israel suffered huge casualties after Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on the Jewish holy day – plays out mostly in audio montages of the ongoing carnage and in the close-up reaction shots of Mirren’s eyes as Golda strategises with her generals and political advisers, strong-arms Henry Kissinger (Liev Schreiber), and witnesses her staff processing the loss of their own sons in the fighting, all the while smoking, smoking, smoking. Indeed, director Guy Nattiv’s most audaciously designed shot follows a puff of cigarette smoke rising up from Golda and dispersing over a battlefield – a sly way, perhaps, of hinting at the fog of war that inevitably sets in when leaders are called to account for their actions during a time of conflict. Mostly, though, the film struggles to bring the complexities of this period to life.

Prosthetics also play a big role in Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares – The Robert Englund Story, a lovingly made, excusably indulgent documentary about the actor who brought pizza-faced 1980s slasher icon Freddy Krueger to life in the mega-successful Nightmare on Elm Street movies. As one of the few horror characters with an actual personality, Freddy is inseparable from Robert Englund just as Englund is now inseparable from Freddy. But part of the reason Englund is such an entertaining documentary subject is his life as a working character actor. Prior to finding pop culture success, he was something of a Zelig figure in the 1970s and early 1980s, crossing professional paths with the likes of Burt Reynolds, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Milius (he had a supporting role in Milius’s surf classic Big Wednesday), working behind the scenes on John Carpenter’s Halloween, and encountering a young James Cameron on the Roger Corman quickie Galaxy of Terror – a film made to capitalise on the success of Star Wars, which he also went up for and didn’t get, though he did help his buddy Mark Hamill land the role of Luke Skywalker. The double-whammy of hit alien invasion TV show V and Wes Craven’s first Nightmare on Elm Street film made him a bona fide international genre star, but it’s a testament to Englund that he’s never let his particular brand of success go to his head, to the point where he uncomplainingly auditioned (twice!) for Stranger Things, even when the show itself was blatantly riffing on his signature role.

BlackBerry, The Great Escaper and Golda are in cinemas from 6 October; Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares – The Robert Englund Story is streaming now on the Icon Film Channel and available on Blu-Ray and digital download from 6 November.

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