The Tender Bar (12A) **
A Hero (N/A) ****
Boiling Point (15) ****
The latest directorial effort from George Clooney, The Tender Bar is a corny coming-of-age film about an aspiring writer who leaves no cliché unturned in the development of his mediocre talents. JR Moehringer – upon whose memoir of the same name the film is based – may well be a terrific writer in real life (he has a Pulitzer prize and bylines at the New York Times and LA Times), but you’d never know it from the way Clooney and screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed) depict his story.
Barely a scene goes by when his absent alcoholic father isn’t signposted as the source of all his psychological baggage; indeed it gets to the point where this becomes a bit of a winking joke, a way perhaps for Clooney to acknowledge how hackneyed all this is in the hopes we just go with the flow. That’d be easier, though, if he’d created a better hang-out movie instead of the cutesy one he attempts here, replete as it is with farting granddads, harassed mothers, and an auto-didactic bar-owning uncle always ready with some barstool philosophy to guide young JR on his way.
Said uncle is played by Ben Affleck, who demonstrated in last year’s heartbreaking Finding the Way Back how brilliant he can be playing blue-collar guys trapped by circumstance. Here, though, he’s playing the movie-star version of a working class guy and while that reflects how JR sees him, as the film flashes back and forth between JR’s childhood and his college days (he’s played by Daniel Ranieri in the former and Tye Sheridan in the latter) this relentlessly rose-tinted point-of-view can’t help but grate.
Directed by double Oscar-winning Iranian auteur Asghar Farahadi, A Hero opens with a newly paroled prisoner climbing up an elaborate scaffolding system – a canny metaphor for the convoluted social structures he’ll soon have to negotiate if he’s to escape the financial turmoil that has landed him in jail. This is Rahim (Amir Jadidi), a somewhat charming man who still believes he can bluff his way through life, a character trait that leads him to concoct an elaborate plan to raise funds by passing himself off as epitome of selfless altruism in the hope that his social standing will be revived.
But his plan to clear his debt – involving a found handbag and some worthless gold coins – quickly escalates into a series of ethical quandaries in which the cumulative effect of his deception will make it harder for Rahim to find his way back to being the good man he genuinely believes himself to be. Like Farahdi’s Arthur Miller-inspired The Salesman, A Hero is another common man tragedy, with Rahim’s flaw his own naive belief in his ability to game a corrupt system in which honour has become a performative construct fuelled by social media. Shot in with Farahdi’s trademark naturalism, it’s a queasy, but moving film, with a mesmerising performance by Jadidi.
Shot in a single take, low-budget Brit film Boiling Point plunges us head-first into of a chaotic night in a hip London restaurant run by a rising-star chef called Andy (a bravura turn from Stephen Graham) whose personal and professional lives are hanging by a thread. Eschewing the kind of extravagant shots of lovingly prepared dishes normally found in restaurant-set movies, the film keeps its focus on the tensions simmering among the staff as Andy’s screw-ups are swiftly compounded by difficult customers, disgruntled employees, a manager more interested in accommodating the whims of social-media influencers and Andy's own shout-first/apologise-later leadership style.
Although it’d be easy to pick holes in the film for a couple of the more contrived plot-turns, writer/director Philip Barantini skilfully uses the one-take conceit to intensify the pressure-cooker atmosphere and he’s aided by an excellent ensemble cast who do a credible job of capturing the waifs-and-strays element of the restaurant trade. But it’s Graham’s film; his empathetic performance of a man falling apart as he confronts his own limitations is the binding agent that holds it all together.
The Tender Bar is available on limited release from 17 December and available on Amazon Prime from 7 January; A Hero is on limited release from 7 January and streams on Amazon Prime from 21 January; Boiling Point is in cinemas and on demand from 7 January.
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