Film reviews: Before Midnight | Snitch | Fire In The Night

Alistair Harkness reviews this week’s latest film releases, including Fire In The Night, a documentary on the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster

I Am Breathing

Before Midnight (15)

Directed by: Richard Linklater

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Starring: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke

Star rating: * * *

If Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Before Sunset diptych can be viewed as both a swooning testament to the possibility of fast-forged romantic love and the aching complications arising from a brief but intense encounter, then Before Midnight is the inevitable comedown.

Catching up with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) for the third time in 18 years (fourth if you count their cameo in Linklater’s 2001 film Waking Life), the film homes in on them for the first time as an actual couple, one that has had time to experience the sort of long-term relationship realities that chip away at idyllic notions of love on a day-to-day basis.

Now in their forties and parents to twins, their philosophical discourses are just as likely to elicit a passive-aggressive comment or a spiky put-down as a longing look or a stolen touch, making them much less charming to be around. Of course it would be churlish to criticise the film for this reason, but the sense of disappointment goes beyond the ennui of the characters. From the meaningless title to the faux naturalistic acting, to the cutesy meta-discussions about Jesse’s literary output, it feels a little forced. It’s heartbreaking, but for the wrong reasons.

Snitch (15)

Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Barry

Pepper, Susan Sarandon, Rafi Gavron
Star rating: * * *

Marketed as a straight-up slam-bang action vehicle for Dwayne Johnson, Snitch is a more downbeat drama designed to allow the charismatic Fast & Furious star to flex his acting muscles more than his actual muscles.

He’s not half-bad either, even if the same can’t always be said for the film, which announces itself as a social issue movie about America’s failing war on drugs, but too often falls back on preposterous B-movie plot developments to propel the characters forward.

Inspired by a real-life event, the film follows the efforts of Johnson’s construction company magnate John Matthews to help his estranged, college-bound son (Rafi Gavron) after he naively accepts a shipment of Ecstasy from his best friend and winds up in jail facing a ten-year mandatory sentence. With the kid too noble to set up one of his own friends, Matthews strikes a deal with a politically motivated federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) to get him a reduced sentence by offering to entrap a mid-level drug dealer (The Wire’s Michael K Williams). What follows gets even more outlandish, but decent performances keep things credible.

Fire In The Night

Directed by: Anthony Wonke

Star rating: * * *

A sobering account of the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster that cost 167 men their lives on 6 July 1988, Anthony Wonke’s documentary about the world’s worst offshore tragedy doesn’t resort to cheap cinematic tricks to amp up the drama. A few dramatic 
reconstructions aside, it relies on 
archival footage, audio recordings and talking-head interviews with survivors to provide an account of the inferno that engulfed the platform after a gas leak triggered a series of explosions.

Though safety failures are touched upon, it’s the candid and harrowing testimonies from the survivors that hit hardest. Clearly it’s still difficult to for many of them to talk about what happened that night, but the film affords them the time and the space to find the right words to tell their stories, which they do with clarity and honesty.

Battle Of The Sexes (PG)

Directed by: James Erskine

Star rating: * * *

Tennis isn’t usually thought of as a particularly political sport, but this documentary about the 1973 exhibition match between the women’s world 
No 1 Billie Jean King and former Wimbledon champion and self-styled chauvinist Bobby Riggs provides some jaw-dropping reminders of how antiquated attitudes to women in sport were at the time.

The pioneering efforts of King and others to drag tennis into the professional arena in the late 1960s coincided with the rise of the women’s liberation movement, and the media circus surrounding the showdown ensured there was a lot more riding on the outcome than shutting up a self-promoter like Riggs. The film does a decent job of teasing this out, as well as providing a fascinating history of the sport and the struggle by King and her contemporaries to be taken seriously as athletes.

I Am Breathing

Directed by: Emma Davie, Morag McKinnon.

Star rating: * * *

“A tale of fun and laughs with a smattering of upset and devastation.” This is how motor neurone sufferer Neil Platt describes the life story he’s determined to chronicle for the benefit of his young son Oscar in this moving documentary charting his final months.

Diagnosed with the disease at the age of 33, Neil’s cruelly accelerated physical deterioration was matched by a remarkable resolve to make sense of his life for the sake of Oscar, both to provide him with a posthumous paternal presence and to raise awareness for a disease which has hereditary traits (Neil’s own father died from MND when Neil was 22).

Directed with sensitivity and minimum sentimentality by Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon, the film utilises home movies and entries from the blog Neil dutifully wrote (using frustratingly unreliable voice recognition software) to frame documentary footage of the realities – both good and bad – of Neil’s day-to-day life with his family. The end result can’t help but be upsetting, but there are a smattering of laughs as well.