Free Guy (12A) ****
WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn (12A) ****
I’m Your Man (15) ***
The Courier (12A) **
Wendy (12A) ***
Minamata (15) ***
The playful spirit of Galaxy Quest, The Truman Show and the original Tron infuse Ryan Reynolds vehicle Free Guy, a high-concept blockbuster about a background character in a violent video game who starts taking control of his own destiny. Known in the gaming world as an NPC (a non-playable character), Reynolds’s Guy is an ultra-nice bank teller so used to being held up by the sunglasses-wearing avatars of actual gamers that he accepts his fate with the happy-go-lucky serenity of a character with limited options. But when an interaction with a super-cool female avatar (Jodie Comer) triggers a glitch that leads to an existential awakening, his amiable persona starts transforming the game itself — much to the confusion of its megalomaniacal developer (Taika Waititi).
The film jumps nimbly between the real and virtual world via Comer’s Millie, an idealistic game developer who’s using her aforementioned avatar like Jeff Bridges in Tron to search the game for evidence that it’s been ripped off from a project she and her former partner (Joe Keery) developed years earlier. As such, the film doesn’t get bogged down in all the philosophical conundrums the concept throws up (it’s not a Charlie Kaufman film, nor is it trying to be). But that doesn’t mean it’s not smart. Co-written by Matt Leiberman and Zak Penn, and breezily directed by Shawn Levy (the Night at the Museum films and Netflix hit Stranger Things), it’s a fun exploration of how the personality of a creator can inform a work for good or ill – and how sincerity can actually triumph over toxicity.
Sadly, that latter aspect is not borne out in Jed Rothstein’s documentary WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn. Detailing the puffed-up expansion of the shared-office venture WeWork under its cult-leader-esque co-founder Adam Neumann, the film serves up a sad portrait of youthful naivety and a damning indictment of the snake-oil salesmen ready to exploit it.
Marketing flexible office space in hipster lofts as if it was a path to salvation, Neumann comes across as a televangelist Steve Jobs, promising his misty-eyed followers (mostly 20 and 30-something entrepreneurs) an opportunity to transform the world into an egalitarian, altruistic, community-driven utopia with lots of gooey sounding mission statements about turning the “Me into We”. What distinguishes this story from similarly themed films about the dot-com boom or the 2008 financial crash, however, is the speed with which the bubble burst. WeWork’s failed bid to go public turned the overvalued company into a corporate laughing stock within six weeks and cost many their jobs, including Neumann, who nevertheless walked away with a multi-million-dollar settlement a few months before the pandemic challenged the very feasibility of shared work spaces – proof that for the wealthy, “me” always takes precedence over “we.”
As an artificially intelligent romantic companion, Dan Stevens is on wry form in German language sci-fi drama I’m Your Man. He plays Tom, a humanoid AI who’s been calibrated to meet the needs of Alma (Maren Eggert), a lonely academic hired to consult on the ethics of letting robots become involved with humans. Writer/director Maria Schrader uses this set-up to interrogate some of cinema’s hoarier romantic tropes, with Alma finding her frustration at Tom’s algorithmically programmed perfection gradually lessening as he learns to feign spontaneity and unpredictability in a way that makes their relationship seem more real. If the end results aren’t as imaginative or as nuanced as Spike Jonze’s similarly themed Her, the odd-couple dynamic between Stevens and Eggert builds towards something interesting nonetheless.
There’s nothing particularly interesting about The Courier. Based on the true story of a British businessman recruited to smuggle documents out of the Soviet Union in the run up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, it’s like a drearily rendered knock-off of Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. Benedict Cumberbatch is at his plummiest as the real-life Greville Wynne, a decent man who can’t quite believe he’s being asked to help Her Majesty’s government spy on the Russians. National Theatre veteran Dominic Cooke directs with minimal cinematic élan.
Beasts of the Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin returns after a Terrence Malick-esque absence with Wendy, a feral re-interpretation of the Peter Pan myth told in the same dreamy, poetic, precious style as his Oscar-nominated debut. The film is at its best in its early stages as it establishes Wendy (Devina France) and her brothers as the free-spirited brood of a former wild child turned waitress whose elderly customers’ limited vision of the world fuels her children’s determination to escape it. The film’s magical realist flourishes get a little trying once the action shifts to a Neverland-style island ruled by an impish vagabond called Peter (Yashua Mack), but the underlying focus on Wendy and her relationship to motherhood takes it in an intriguing direction.
Finally this week, Johnny Depp stars as renowned World War Two combat photographer W. Eugene Smith in Minamata, a late period biopic tracking the alcoholic Smith’s final assignment: his 1971 exposé of a toxic waste scandal in the eponymous Japanese coastal city. Though the film starts off as a cliché-ridden redemption story, it gets more interesting as Smith quietly drifts into the background and his subjects’ lives come into narrative focus.
Free Guy, The Courier, Wendy and Minamata are in cinemas from 13 August; WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn is on digital demand from 13 August; I’m Your Man is on limited release and on digital demand from Curzon Home Cinema from 13 August.
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