Film reviews: Arbitrage | Broken City | The Bay

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Picture: Complimentary
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Picture: Complimentary
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Alistair Harkness reviews the rest of the week’s cinema releases

Arbitrage (15)

Directed by: Nicholas Jerecki

Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling

* * *

SET in the world of high finance and revolving around a hedge-fund manager (Richard Gere) whose perfect-from-the-outside life is secretly spiraling out of control, Arbitrage is the kind of classily put-together film that actors, filmmakers and grown-up audiences frequently complain no longer gets made.

These days, however, that has less to do with Hollywood being dominated by teen-friendly superhero movies than it does with the simple fact that American television does this kind of thing so much better. The limitations imposed by a movie’s structure and running time certainly accentuate the rather stock nature of Arbitrage’s characters, which range from the loyal wife (Susan Sarandon) who stands by her husband but knows all about his secrets, to the schlubby police detective (Tim Roth) who is unimpressed by money but too focused on getting his guy to play by the rules.

Still, Gere is at something like his best as the Wall Street magnate whose efforts to cover-up the fact that his company has hemorrhaged billions coincides with a tragic accident that leaves the young artist with whom he’s been having an affair dead. As his character backs himself into an ever more desperate corner, Gere is good at letting us see the cracks beginning to emerge in this hitherto unflappable man’s demeanour.

Broken City (15)

Directed by: Allen Hughes

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper

* *

THE sludgy, cliché-ridden Broken City finds Russell Crowe again deadening the drama with another over-cooked performance that reeks of a once-exciting movie star grown fat and lazy. He plays Mayor Hostetler, New York’s up-for-re-election incumbent, whose hold on the city’s corrupt power-structure is predicated on the dirt he’s collected over the years on just about everyone.

With an election looming and an idealistic challenger by the name of Jack Valliant – played by Barry Pepper – looking to unseat him, Mayor Hostetler calls upon disgraced ex-city-cop-turned-private-eye Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) to make good on a past favour and investigate his wife (Catherine Zeta Jones) whom he suspects of cheating on him.

Billy, down-at-the heel and desperate for work, jumps at the chance, but, of course, soon uncovers far more than he bargained for. It’s cartoonish, silly stuff dressed-up as serious, high-minded filmmaking. The results are as jaded and dull as Crowe’s performance.

The Bay (15)

Directed by: Barry Levinson

Starring: Kristen Connolly, Christopher Denham, Lauren Cohn

* *

VETERAN director Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man, Wag the Dog) tries his hand at the “found footage” thriller with this eco-parable revolving around an environmental catastrophe caused by corporate malfeasance that has been covered up by the authorities. The latter is the justification for The Bay’s pseudo-documentary approach. Pretending that footage has been culled from multiple, on-the-ground sources – phones, handy-cams, Skype, YouTube, surveillance cameras, news reports – Levinson attempts to construct a vaguely plausible narrative of what might happen if the toxic run-off from a power plant and chicken factory combined to create mutating water-based organisms that devour anything they come into contact with.

Multiple scenes of victims having their skin, limbs and insides chewed through henceforth provide the film with the requisite genre elements to make it a commercial proposition, but Levinson’s meticulous adherence to his chosen form – inspired by a previous desire to make a documentary about actual pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, where this film is set – doesn’t make it seem any more real.

Indeed it’s telling that the film doesn’t have anywhere near the impact, effectiveness or nuance that Steven Soderbergh’s glossy, similarly themed Contagion had, suggesting that, even though multiple-sourced footage remains a potentially interesting way to shoot a movie, using this particular framing device really has become redundant.

Safe Haven (12A)

Directed by: Lasse Hallström

Starring: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders, David Lyons


THERE’S nothing in this latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation to recommend it, except, perhaps, its audaciously idiotic final twist – an out-of-nowhere, throwing-caution-to-the-wind-type narrative leap that will leave jaws thoroughly dropped at the sheer incredulity of what transpires.

Before it gets to this, though, Safe Haven is very much business as usual, with a few altered details here the only thing really distinguishing it from the morass of blandness found in the likes of Dear John, The Last Song or The Lucky One. Julianne Hough stars as Katie, a perky young woman on the run from a violent past who seeks refuge in a picturesque North Carolina harbour town but inevitably complicates her life by falling for Alex (Josh Duhamel), a handsome, homely widower with two kids and abs you could bounce coins off.

Drearily chaste scenes depicting their deepening romantic connection duly follow, intercut with a subplot involving a burned-out Boston detective (David Lyons) obsessively tracking Katie for reasons too dumb to go into. It’s beyond laughable and yet filmmaker-turned-treacle merchant Lasse Hallström manages to transcend even this to reach new levels of absurdity with the aforementioned twist in which Cobie Smulder’s odd presence as Katie’s mysterious neighbour suddenly becomes clear.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (15)

Directed by: Tommy Wirkola

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Peter Stromare

* *

A HIGH concept re-imagining of the Grimm fairytale that lacks any genuine wit, invention or entertaining action, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters finds Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as grown-up versions of the titular orphans whose childhood experiences have provided them with their calling in life. Now tooled-up as leather wearing, firearm-bearing guns-for-hire, they travel from village to village, dispensing flaming justice to witches while trading barbed – but in no way amusing – insults with one another. Designed as a franchise-launching origins story, the plot – such as it is – finds them confronting their past after being hired to take out Famke Janssen’s grand witch. Alas what follows is a series of mostly dull set-pieces that proceed to keep Renner and Arterton apart for much of the film – possibly because their siblings generate so little chemistry when they’re on screen together.

Working with his first Hollywood budget, Norwegian writer/director Tommy Wirkola pointedly brings none of the gonzo energy that made his Nazi zombie movie Dead Snow such a cult favorite. The gore is a bore and the sweary script just isn’t funny.