Film reviews: Cosmopolis | Red Lights | A Royal Affair | The Turin Horse | Fast Girls

THE Scotsman’s film critic Alistair Harkness gives us his take on the latest films.

Cosmopolis (15)

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon

Rating: ***

“MURDER is the natural extension of business,” announces Robert Pattinson’s pathological billionaire trader at one point it Cosmopolis. It’s one of many verbal bombs David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don Dellilo’s novella of the same name drops in its effort to lay satirical waste to the culture of greed, moral corruption and the obscene disparity in wealth and social standing that characterizes life in the 21st century Western World.

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Unfortunately, Cronenberg’s wilful reliance on couching his end-of-days themes in largely impenetrable and stiffly delivered dialogue about the financial system robs Cosmopolis of the kind of narrative drive that early efforts such as Videodrome and its semi-sequel eXistenZ deployed when delivering their big, state-of-the-human-condition ideas. That’s somewhat ironic given Cosmopolis’s main plot device involves Pattinson – well cast in a role that requires a certain malevolent blankness – being driven through riot-torn streets in a stretch limo while on a mission to get a haircut. With his empire crumbling around him, a series of encounters with an assortment of weirdos, gurus and psychos facilitate a lot of brain-bending chat, some oddball sexual encounters and occasional torpor-relieving moments of violence, but in the end, the film feels like a minor curio in the career of someone capable of delivering more fully realised cinematic derangement.

Red Lights (15)

Directed by: Rodrigo Cortés

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, Cillian Murphy, Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones

Rating: **

HAVING broken through with the brilliantly executed low-budget single-location thriller Buried, Spanish writer/director Rodrigo Cortés leapfrogs up the Hollywood ladder with this disappointing slice of sub-Shyamalan silliness. Plunging us into the world of fraudulent psychics (and those investigating their alleged powers), it stars Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver as professional, science-loving sceptics who – and this appears to be an unintentionally amusing nod to Weaver’s association with Ghostbusters – work in the paranormal research department of a prestigious American university.

Spending their time investigating cranks and lecturing students on the myriad ways they try to pull the wool over the eyes of the gullible (which isn’t at all like squandering tuition fees on supplying wide-eyed students with such a useless course), they’re reluctantly drawn into investigating the reappearance of a notorious blind psychic (Robert De Niro – reliably awful) whose last public appearance resulted in the death of a journalist investigating him.

Focusing on Murphy’s crisis of faith as he gets closer to De Niro’s bogeyman, Cortés attempts to set up a big reveal by playing his cards close to his chest. Alas, just as Weaver’s level-headed doubter can see through the all the scam artists’ ticks and tricks, viewers who’ve seen Unbreakable will see the twist coming a mile off.

A Royal Affair (15)

Directed by: Nikola Arcel

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Alicia Vikander

Rating: ***

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CHRONICLING what a pre-credits epigraph informs us is one of the most well-known chapters in Danish royal history, the themes, plot machinations and elegant style of this Scandinavian costume romp may end up being broadly similar to any number of period dramas about the British monarchy, but the change of setting, alternative faces and absence (for the most part) of RP accents imbues it with a freshness it might not otherwise have had.

Set against the backdrop of the revolutionary fervor beginning to sweep Europe and the American colonies towards the end of the 18th century, it revolves around an illicit affair between the British- born Queen Caroline (Alicia Vikander) and Johan Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a liberal thinker of German descent who uses his position as physician to the mentally unstable King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) to conspire with the Queen to drag Denmark into the Age of Enlightenment. Power, of course, inevitably corrupts, and Mikkelsen is great at quietly showing how Struensee’s ideals are gradually compromised as the consequences of his treasonous relationship with the Queen start coming home to him. Tasteful bodice ripping and political intrigue keep things rattling along, despite a slightly over-long running time.

The Turin Horse (15)

Directed by: Bella Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky

Starring: János Derzsi, Erika Bók, Mihály Kormos

Rating: **

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PIONEER of slow cinema, master of the long take, and of late, insufferable cinematic bore, Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr retires from directing with a final film so over-wrought it almost feels like an arthouse parody. A beautifully composed black-and-white meditation on the misery of human existence, its repetitious scenes of rural peasants toiling away on desolate land, fetching water from their well and preparing a nightly meal of a single potato each is about as scintillating and meaningful as it sounds. The title is a reference to the story of how Nietzsche apparently became so distraught upon witnessing a horse in Turin being whipped by its owner that it catalysed a mental breakdown from which the philosopher never recovered.

The film opens with an unseen narrator recounting this story and proceeds with a glacially paced tale that imagines what might have happened to the horse and its owner. Set over seven days, the film ratchets up the ominous, Old Testament biblical significance implied by this structure by splitting it into comically severe chapters in which the woes of the protagonists and the sense of impending apocalyptic calamity is incrementally intensified until, inevitably, the lights go out for a final time.

Fast Girls (12A)

Directed by: Regan Hall

Starring: Lenora Crichlow, Noel Clarke, Lily James, Philip Davies

Rating: ***

SHAMELESSLY timed to cash-in on British Olympic fever, this flag-waving underdog sports movie proves that formula sometimes works well enough when executed with enough good cheer. Lenora Crichlow (star of TV’s Being Human) is Liana, a 200 metre sprinter from the wrong side of the track whose speed and raw talent land her a place on the UK national squad. Clashing instantly with stuck-up golden girl and chief rival Lisa (Lily James), Liana’s council estate origins and say-what-she-thinks attitude frequently jeopardize her position, especially once she’s recruited into the relay team. Can she overcome the metaphorical hurdles that keep being put in her way to help the squad take home gold?

If you don’t know the answer to this then, please, enjoy your first movie; if you do, then all you need to know is that while the film requires a huge suspension of disbelief when it comes to detailing the inner workings of top-level athletics, it doesn’t take much to buy into the film’s positive messages or its winning performances, even as co-writer Noel Clarke (who also plays the girls’ harassed coach) and director Regan Hall pile on the girl power clichés.


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