Film reviews: Fast Romance | The Conspirator | A Separation | Larry Crowne | Talihina Sky: The Story of the Kings of Leon

Our film critic reviews the best and worst of this week's new releases...

Fast Romance *

Directed by: Carter Ferguson

Starring: Derek Munn, Lesley Hart, Jo Freer, William Ruane

Rubbish in a way that only low-budget Scottish movies seem able to manage, Fast Romance is a thoroughly embarrassing romantic comedy/drama made by people who expect to be congratulated because they've churned out a film for no money instead of churning out a film for no money that's actually good. Set amidst Glasgow's speed-dating scene – a craze that seemed to reach its peak in popularity about eight years ago – it follows a variety of thinly conceived characters seeking love or, at the very least, some brief respite from the dreary lives they've ended up leading.

Appallingly acted, tritely scripted and full of stylistic tics that could charitably be described as drunken (what's with all the shaky zooms?), it's a film that has no sense of comedy or drama and, as a result, lurches clumsily between the two, with a wailing saxophone score adding a further layer of irritation.

Hide Ad

Director Carter Ferguson optimistically litters the film with blatant references to classic Scottish-set movies from the likes of Bill Forsyth and Danny Boyle, but on this evidence, his only real connection to them as a film-maker is that he might once have watched their work.

The Conspirator (12A) **

Directed by: Robert Redford

Starring: Robin Wright, James McAvoy, Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson

Robert Redford gets behind the camera again for this dull historical courtroom drama about the aftermath of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Its theme is the way rule of law is often threatened in times of national crisis and Redford isn't shy about using the specious conviction of widower Mary Surratt – whose son was involved in the planning of the events that led to the death of the president – as a comment on recent history, particularly the way innocent people can have their lives destroyed by governments intent on protecting freedom.

Entirely valid though that notion is, Redford's execution of the story is worthy at best and pious at worst, something that isn't helped by burdening his excellent cast with excessive period garb and reams of speechifying dialogue. James McAvoy at least tries to inject the role of ambitious defence attorney Frederick Aiken with something akin to real feeling and, as Surratt, Robin Wright's dignified performance makes it easy to understand why she won't sacrifice her son to save herself.

But the likes of Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, Colm Meaney and, especially, Danny Huston are so one-note they might as well have "good guy" or "villain" stamped on their foreheads.

A Separation (PG) ****

Directed by: Asghar Farhadi

Starring: Peyman Moaadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini

Hide Ad

The iniquities of contemporary Iran are essayed in this absorbing, award-winning marital drama about the ways in which tiny events can have cataclysmic consequences.

It opens with secular middle-class Simin (Leila Hatami) seeking a divorce from her stubborn husband Nadar (Peyman Moaadi), who refuses to move abroad to secure a better future for their 11-year-old daughter. Denied a divorce, she moves out anyway, leaving Nadar to look after both their daughter and his Alzheimer's-afflicted father. Unable to cope, he hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to look after his dad while he goes to work. She's got financial and family worries of her own, and is also very religious, so when her employment is hastily and forcefully terminated a few days later, Nadar finds himself in serious trouble with the police, something that will pull Simin back into his life and bring him into contact with Razieh's debt-ridden husband (Shahab Hosseini).

Hide Ad

Though A Separation seems relatively straightforward on the surface, writer/director Asghar Farhadi deftly layers the drama with lies and recriminations that subtly alter our perceptions of the key players at various moments, presenting a portrait of modern Iran as an intensely complex country caught in the uneasy crossfire of modernity and repressive tradition.

Larry Crowne (12A) ***

Directed by: Tom Hanks

Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Bryan Cranston

It's a measure of Tom Hanks' skills as an actor that even when he saddles himself with a bland script that trades a little too heavily on his amiable, easygoing, nice-guy image, he's still able to bring a level of believability to it that makes it more worthwhile than it has any right to be.

In Larry Crowne, which Hanks co-wrote, produced and directed, he rises above his own material to convince you that losing your job and your house in tough economic times might also have a silver lining. It's almost a shame then that Hanks over-eggs the pudding by having his eponymous hero not only return to college, but also make friends with lots of hip young scooter riders who teach him to dress better and encourage him to score a new girlfriend, Julia Roberts' bitter lecturer.

His understated performance as Larry is so devoid of vanity and so full of dignity that had the well-intentioned shenanigans surrounding him been a little less rom-com conventional, this self-improvement saga might have had an easier time convincing us it really is never too late to turn your life around, rather than make it seem like a neat Hollywood fantasy.

Talihina Sky: The Story of the Kings of Leon (15) **

Directed by: Stephen C Mitchell

Great rock docs need a great story if they're to be of interest to anyone other than a band's hardcore fanbase and that's the one thing Talihina Sky: The Story of the Kings of Leon lacks. Actually, what it lacks is the ability to communicate the American rock group's story effectively, since their rise from the backwoods of Tennessee to world-conquering rock stars has potentially fascinating elements.

Raised in a strict religious household where thumping a bible and speaking in tongues was the norm, brothers Caleb, Nathan and Michael Followill, and cousin Mathew, had a weird, sheltered life (there are some downright odd clips of Caleb and Nathan as a Christian singing duo with their own public access TV show). But how they channelled that upbringing into success as a rock band is muddied somewhat by an absence of context and an inability by director Stephen C Mitchell to shape the verit footage of the band on tour – and a recent their return to their home turf – into a compelling film.