Film reviews: Act of Valour | Bombay Beach | A Man’s Story | The Kid With a Bike | Wild Bill

Act of Valour
Act of Valour
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Alistair Harkness on the rest of the week’s film releases...




It’s hard to imagine a more reprehensible movie than this dumbed-down, amped-up war movie-cum-US military recruitment ad. Featuring real Navy Seals, live ammunition and a script apparently written by someone who didn’t realise Team America was a parody, it follows a special forces unit as they attempt to first rescue a tortured CIA agent, then prevent a nasty Islamic terrorist cell from sneaking plastic-explosive bomb vests into the country in order to kill thousands of American women and children. That it feels the need to kick off with a directors’ statement during which filmmakers Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh highlight some of the ways in which the deployment of real soldiers (and their families) has “enhanced” the authenticity of the action should tip you off to how bogus this pseudo-documentary aspect is. If it doesn’t, the comically wooden “acting” and clanging voiceover soon will. More worrying, though, is the intent behind the film. After nearly two hours of reductive and simpleminded bad-guy-killing bloodshed, the film ends with an epigraph praising the gallant men and women fighting terror around the world – and salutes the future generations it presumably hopes will sign up after paying for the privilege of watching this baby-brained nonsense.

BOMBAY BEACH (15) ****

Directed by: ALMA HAR’EL

OVER the past few years, films such as Être et Avoir, Sleep Furiously and Sweet Grass have shown how documentary makers intent on examining vanishing or marginal ways of life are increasingly moving away from traditional journalistic narratives towards more poetic and cinematic modes of storytelling. Bombay Beach is the latest example. Shot in the course of a single summer, it’s an impressionistic portrait of an impoverished community living on the fringes of the manmade Salton Sea in the Southern California desert. The titular town was once intended as a vacation spot, but as the film’s opening shots reveal, it has become something of a haven, albeit a barren one, for people escaping another life – and trying to do the best they can with what they’ve got. Director Alma Har’el – a music video director making her feature debut – lets her camera drift in and out of focus as she gets intimate with these people. Dropping all pretence at objectivity with specially co-ordinated dance sequences, her approach is more empathic than entomological: she presents her subjects not as objects to be gawked at but as real people with hopes, dreams and stories of their own.

A MAN’S STORY (15) **

Directed by: VARON BONICOS

Having followed British fashion designer Ozwald Boateng for 12 years, tracing his journey from Savile Row (where he was the first black tailor to hold such a prestigious address), to creative director of Givenchy, to Hollywood designer of choice, one might have expected this documentary would rise above the level of advertorial. Unfortunately, the only person who loves Ozwald Boateng as much as Ozwald Boateng is director Varon Bonicos, who seems intent on accepting at face value everything his subject says with nothing but celebrity testimonials to act as a counterpoint. As Boateng eulogises himself in the moment (sample quote in relation to his work: “It’s powerful stuff”) and hypes himself in retrospective interviews (“I was just driven” he says, in reference to overcoming practically every hurdle he’s ever faced), the film never confronts him about his failings, letting him instead use the camera to play up the personal and professional dramas in his life – his disintegrating marriage to his Russian model wife and a broken air conditioner at a fashion show get almost equal billing – and turn them into the sort of reality TV-style moments of conflict Boateng clearly imagines make for compelling viewing.




FOR anyone yet to sample the naturalistic wonders of the Dardenne brothers, this latest small-scale treasure from the acclaimed Belgian directors is a good place to start. The Kid With a Bike is their most humane film to date; it’s also their sunniest and – despite taking a darker turn in its final moments – their most optimistic. Put that down to its young protagonist, an always-on-the-move boy called Cyril played with terrific verve and energy by newcomer Thomas Doret. Having been dumped in an orphanage by his responsibility-shirking father (Jérémie Rénier), Cyril’s refusal to accept his abandonment manifests itself in a relentless quest. As he bounces from place to place, ostensibly in search of his dad, but really in search of some much-needed stability and love, he finds both courtesy of Samantha (Cécile de France), a local hairdresser he grabs hold of one day and who, in turn, takes a shine to him. De France is magnificent here and her unsentimental turn anchors the film as much as Samantha does Cyril. What follows is a poignant celebration of youthful tenacity in the face of adversity, as well as an unshowy tribute to the value of doing the right thing.

WILD BILL (15) ****



IF KID With a Bike essays the realities of the care system in a naturalistic fashion, former child actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher’s debut takes a more heightened approach to similar themes. The big surprise is that this East End-set dysfunctional family-drama-cum-gangster film is properly charming, certainly much more so than its hybrid premise suggests. It’s the story of Bill (Charlie Creed-Miller), an ex-con with a fearsome reputation, looking for a fresh start with his family. Trouble is, with his wife having run off to Spain leaving 15-year-old Will (Will Poulter) and 11-year-old Jimmy (Sammy Williams) to fend for themselves, he’s not exactly flavour of the month. Will, who’s resentful of the fact he’s had to shoulder the majority of the responsibility, wants nothing to do with him and tries to stop him moving back in. But when social services start sniffing around, he agrees to let Bill stick around long enough to get them of his back. Fletcher gets a lot of mileage out of the father-son dynamics, especially as he flips them on their head to make it a coming of age story in which it’s the dad who has to grow up. He also imbues proceedings with a likeable, knockabout humour and a playful visual style that suggests a he might have promising behind-the-camera future.