Film reviews: Delicacy | Battleship | The Adopted | The Island President

Rihanna (centre) stars as Raikes in Universal Pictures' Battleship
Rihanna (centre) stars as Raikes in Universal Pictures' Battleship
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The Scotsman’s film critic Alistair Harkness reviews the latest cinematic offerings

Directed by: David Foenkinos, Stéphane Foenkinos

Audrey Tautou stars in the disappointing Delicacy

Audrey Tautou stars in the disappointing Delicacy

Starring: Audrey Tautou, François Damiens, Bruno Todeschini, Pio Marmaï

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CONTRARY to the adjectives conjured up by its title, there’s nothing particularly elegant or refined about Delicacy – at least, not beyond the sparrow-like presence of Audrey Tautou. Cast in the rather thankless role of a widowed workaholic who inexplicably initiates a tentative romantic relationship with a Swedish co-worker far below her in the aesthetic league tables, Tautou is, ironically, more than this wafer-thin, clunkily executed film deserves. The same might be said of Belgian actor François Damiens, who plays sensitive Beast to her grief-stricken Beauty with a self-deprecating charm not found amid the erratic visuals and tonal inconsistencies that sibling directors Stéphane and David Foenkinos bring to bear on proceedings. Adapting the script from a novel by the latter, they can’t seem to decide if they want Delicacy to be a poignant drama about grief and its curious after-effects, or a whimsical tale about reaching that point when deeper connections trump physiognomy. Occasional moments – Tautou’s sudden switch from denial to dejection when someone mentions her late husband or Damiens drawing inspiration for his uphill romantic challenge from Obama speeches – suggest both. But as the Foenkinos brothers throw in silly fantasy sequences and gaudy rom-com set pieces, the overriding effect is one of misplaced style over substance.

Battleship (12A)

Directed by: Peter Berg

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna, Liam Neeson

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LIKE the simplistic strategic board game upon which it is based, the new blockbuster Battleship requires a certain number of moves to be made in order for mild satisfaction to be derived from the prospect of things being destroyed. Unlike the board game, these moves feature planet-destroying aliens, needlessly convoluted action and a ridiculous amount of back-story to introduce stock characters whose motivations can be more easily discerned from the squareness of their jaws. Here, Taylor Kitsch, star of recent bomb John Carter, decides against expanding his range by playing another reluctant hero whose dalliances with extraterrestrials force him to become a leader of men. A going-nowhere screw-up, his character, Hopper, joins the navy both to please his older brother (Alexander Skarsgård) and win the heart of Samantha (Brooklyn Decker), the hot daughter of his brother’s commanding officer Admiral Shane (played with cheque-cashing boredom by Liam Neeson). Cut to several months later and Hopper, who is still a loveable screw-up but is now dating Samantha, is on the verge of being kicked out of the service before he’s even had a chance to sweet-talk her humourless father into giving him permission to ask for her hand in marriage. That this sub-Nicholas Sparks guff occupies the first 30 or so minutes of Battleship is presumably director Peter Berg’s attempt to make us care about the characters before he sets about unleashing militaristic mayhem. Really, though, all it does is kill the film’s momentum, so much so that the first round of explosions actually comes as a welcome relief. In addition to the destruction of several naval destroyers, Hong Kong bears the brunt of the devastation, though mention is made of carnage occurring in Scotland too. Alas, once the action set-pieces do kick in – including an elaborate sonar-based tribute to the game – the more-is-more template pioneered by Michael Bay also comes into effect as the aliens (who dress a little like Iron Man) seek to establish a communications network and co-ordinate a full-scale invasion. The film is intermittently aware of how silly it all is, with occasional lines skewering the corniness of the dialogue. But the performances – including Rihanna in her “acting” debut as the token gun-toting (read: strong) woman – are perfunctory at best. By the time the inevitable flag-waving victory rolls around (at well past the two-hour mark), it’s more a case of bored games than board games.

The Adopted (15)

Directed by: Mélanie Laurent

Starring: Mélanie Laurent, Marie Denarnaud, Denis Menochet, Clémentine Célarié

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PERHAPS influenced by her role in Beginners, French actress Mélanie Laurent makes her directorial debut with an eccentric family drama that owes more of a debt to quirky US indie tales of family dysfunction than the petit bourgeois travails the more artistically minded filmmakers of her native country often favour. That’s both good and bad. On the plus side she takes visual and narrative risks that give the film a degree of energy missing from an otherwise inert story revolving around a folk-singing single mother called Lisa (Laurent), her adoptive sister Marine (Marie Denarnaud) and the man who comes between them. On the negative side, Laurent is not averse to indulging in the kind of sentimental gooiness that can often mar American filmmaking. The latter happens when tragedy intervenes and changes the dynamic between Lisa and Marine’s on-the-verge-of-being-serious boyfriend Alex (Denis Menochet). Forced to rely on each other more, their relationship grows in unexpected ways as the film explores how the sometimes random people who come into one’s life can change it for the better. Alas, as with Delicacy (with which it shares certain plot points and thematic concerns), the inconsistency of tone makes it tough to care.

The Island President (PG)

Directed by: Jon Shenk

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ONE of the strange ironies of this fascinating documentary about the increasingly desperate plight the Maldives face as a result of the climate change crisis is that the democratic political movement that has put the islands’ collective survival on the agenda was brought about in part due to the devastation caused by the 2004 tsunami. Wiping out half of the islands’ GDP in under an hour, it bankrupted the human rights-abusing regime of long-serving dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, which weakened him enough to let the pro-democracy movement – spearheaded by charismatic pragmatist Mohamed Nasheed – get a foothold. Four years and some jail time later, Nasheed was elected president and, upon realising that unchecked global warming and rising sea-levels have the potential to make the people of the Maldives the first nation of environmental refugees, he set about making his voice heard on the world stage. The Island President follows him in his efforts to do just this at the 2009 Copenhagen climate change summit. What emerges is both a thoughtful exploration of a frustrating issue and an intriguing portrait of a gifted and forthright politician, even if events from February of this year (when he was forced out of office) give the cautious optimism he inspires in the film a more desperate edge.

ALISTAIR HARKNESS