Film reviews: Rampart | The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel | Red Dog | Black Gold

The Scotsman’s film critic casts his eye over the latest cinematic offerings

Rampart (15)

Directed by: Oren Moverman

Starring: Woody Harrelson

Rating: ****

SET against the backdrop of the same late 1990s Los Angeles police corruption scandal that inspired TV’s The Shield, Rampart puts a fascinating character-based spin on the dirty cop movie courtesy of an off-the-reservation performance from Woody Harrelson. He plays Dave Brown, an immutably old-school patrolman caught on camera using excessive force to beat a perp. Subsequently thrust into the eye of the bad publicity storm tearing his division apart, Dave’s not the sort of person to go quietly, and, suspecting he’s being made a patsy for an already scandalised department, starts buttressing his external defences. But it’s how he starts falling apart on the inside that becomes the film’s primary focus. As Dave’s complex family life and soul-sickening past deeds start taking their psychological toll, the film gradually changes from another Bad Lieutenant-esque trip into insanity to a more meditative film about the cost of crossing the line to get the job done.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (12A)

Directed by: John Madden

Starring: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton

Rating: **

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CORRALLING a group of pensioners together for a mission to a foreign land, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel could almost be regarded as The Expendables for grannies, assembling as it does a big-name cast of veteran actors to do what they do best: provide simple thrills in sunny locations for a specific target audience. In this case that means Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith being (mostly) delightful as they front a rag-tag group of impoverished pensioners (Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup and Penelope Wilton) as they relocate from dreary Britain to colourful India. Gently grappling with the attendant cultural differences, their shenanigans raise smiles mostly via the usual isn’t-the-food-strange? observations while plentiful shots of kids playing cricket bolster the tourist brochure aesthetic. Designed to represent and serve an ignored demographic, the film can’t be faulted in its intentions, just its condescending execution, which spoon-feeds the audience in a way its characters would surely disapprove of.

Red Dog (PG)

Directed by: Kriv Stenders

Starring: Josh Lucas, Noah Taylor, RachAel Taylor, Luke Ford

Rating: **

EVEN for a confirmed pooch lover, this Australian-set dog story is fairly easy to resist. Inspired by a true story that’s been filtered through the twee comedic mindset of Louis De Bernières (the film is based on his novel of the same name), it parses out the story of a red cloud kelpie who loyally searched the Outback for his deceased master in the most egregious manner possible: by focusing on the dog’s final hours and having the townsfolk who adopted him share their memories to a newly arrived stranger. Red Dog’s imminent demise is thus ruthlessly exploited to keep us on the verge of tears, but it’s the De Bernières-inspired human characters – including a cringeworthy Italian immigrant that makes Nic Cage’s Captain Corelli seem like a paradigm of neo-realism – that makes you want to cry. Its noble canine star (six-year-old Koko) deserves better than being the antipodean Greyfriars Bobby.

Black Gold (15)

Directed by: Jean-Jacques Annaud

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Mark Strong, Tahar Rahim, FrEIda Pinto

Rating: *

CLEARLY fancying itself as an old-fashioned riposte to There Will Be Blood, this deathly dull period drama homes in on the birth of the Arabian oil boom of the 1930s and promptly renders a fascinating story rich in historical significance thoroughly mundane. Blame director Jean-Jacques Annaud, whose misplaced sense of grandeur has convinced him that sweeping shots of deserts and vaguely ethnic-looking Euro actors spouting exposition-heavy dialogue makes for compelling drama. It doesn’t, and nor does the screenwriting-101 approach to the themes, which pits the old world against the new in the form of two sheiks – one a ruthless moderniser (Antonio Banderas), the other staunchly devout (Mark Strong) – whose visions for the future of their lands are challenged by an uprising inadvertently led by the bookish Auda (Tahar Rahim) – who just happens to be the latter’s son and the former’s son-in-law. Laughing at the ripe performances is the only thing that relieves the torpor.

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