Film reviews: For Those in Peril | One Chance

A scene from For Those In Peril, starring George Mackay. Picture: Contributed
A scene from For Those In Peril, starring George Mackay. Picture: Contributed
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THANKS to an unexpected glut of Scottish films in cinemas this autumn, we’ve had to wait a few extra weeks for Paul Wright’s debut feature to find space in Scottish cinemas.

For Those In Peril (18)

Director: Paul Wright

Running time: 92 minutes

* * * *

This is not an altogether bad thing: after the sweet panto of Sunshine On Leith and the sourness of Filth, we’re due a palate cleanser. New filmmaker Paul Wright has produced just that: an umami poem about anguish and redemption.

Eighteen-year-old Aaron, played by George MacKay, is the sole survivor of a mysterious fishing boat disaster that killed five men, including his own brother (Conor McCarron). No-one knows what happened on the boat, and Aaron says he can’t remember, leaving the rest of his village seething with the sense that the teenager was responsible for the tragedy. “I’ll never see my son again; yet here you are, large as life,” accuses one bereaved father when Aaron clumsily tries to reach out for consolation.

Wright creates some very precise portraits of anger here. Apart from his mother (Kate Dickie), only his brother’s girlfriend (Nichola Burley) offers Aaron an emotional olive branch, until her brutal father (Michael Smiley) intercedes, at one point locking Aaron in an unsettling parody of a hug, with his teeth bared in a ghastly facsimile smile.

Alienated and agonised, Aaron retreats into memories of sea lore from his childhood, especially the story of a monstrous fish which swallows people, holding them whole in its stomach. Gradually Aaron becomes obsessed with the idea of rescuing his brother and the others from this whale.

If this sounds a rather arty construct, you’re not wrong. There’s a heavy Terrence Malick influence here, with an ambient soundtrack, striking natural savagery and mithering, ruminative voiceovers. For Those In Peril ebbs and flows between reality and fantasy, imagery and sound, comprehension and inchoate ideas, and it is not a film for those who like their movies action-packed and spandex-snappy.

Wright is an exciting new talent, bold enough to cast around for a fresh perspective on raw, shell-shocked irrational grief, which he presents in an expressionistic patchwork of home movie, nightvision, documentary archive and blurry monochrome. You can’t fault his ambition, and he draws out some terrific performances from the likes of Dickie and Smiley and – above all – George MacKay, a London actor who was also convincingly Scottish in Sunshine On Leith. MacKay is having quite a month, with three films on release now, including How I Live Now, but only this film requires him to carry the audience, and he navigates its tricky blend of social realism and magic realism with thoughtful maturity.

Still, this is a flawed film based on a slight conceit that could have worked better as a short movie, rather than splashing around in a big feature. Its surreal finale certainly won’t work for everyone either: a remarkable-looking but beached conclusion that whiffs of forced closure. But for most of its run, For Those In Peril is both intriguing and affecting, and it puts Wright in a Scottish subset of empathetic, experimental directors. Dive into his film as an immersive experience and find your own way to shore.

• On selected release from Friday

One Chance (12A)

* * *

DID Ant and Dec really once call Amanda Holden “Britain’s best-loved actress”? That’s the most astonishing moment in One Chance, a retelling of phone shop manager Paul Potts’ journey to singing Nessun Dorma on Britain’s Got Talent in 2007.

It’s a retelling that plays fast and loose with the details of Potts’ background, presumably to aid a mission to ensure no heartstring goes untugged when presented with the simple story of a sweet man (James Corden) with the lungs of a lion but the self-esteem of a pot plant. So Potts is moved from Bristol to Port Talbot, given a metal worker dad instead of a bus driver, and has his time as a Lib Dem councillor omitted.

In comparison, The Great Caruso looks like a Ken Loach movie, but what do you expect from David Frankel, director of The Devil Wears Prada but also the unbelievably soppy shaggy dog story, Marley & Me?

At times, One Chance feels like one of Simon Cowell’s finalists: a likeable talent saddled with second-hand, crowd-pleasing material. In this case, the Paul Potts story hums riffs familiar from Billy Elliot (he has a grudging dad, and Julie Walters is in there as his mum), The Full Monty (the rough-hewn camaraderie of mates like Mackenzie Crook) and Flashdance (James Corden works in a foundry? Oh please).

Still, Corden is pretty good, combining likability with lip-synching to the real Paul Potts whenever opera is called for, and Alexandra Roach brings warmth to his impossibly saintly wife, Julie-Ann.

• On general release

The Selfish Giant (15)

* * *

Clio Barnard follows her debut The Arbor with an allegorical update on Oscar Wilde’s story. Two children steal scrap metal to make money for their struggling families. The leads (Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas) are terrific, so it’s a shame that the adults seem clichéd.

• On general release from Friday

Love, Marilyn (12A)

* * *

Everything about Marilyn Monroe has been under the microscope, so why not her writing? Uma Thurman, Marisa Tomei, Glenn Close, Norman Mailer and even Lindsay Lohan underline Monroe’s self-obsession. There are no big revelations here but it’s fine for fans.

• Glasgow Film Theatre

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (15)

* * *

A spin-off from the gross-out stunt team, who must be finding their injuries slow to heal up nowadays. Jackass ringleader Johnny Knoxville dons latex to play a wildly inappropriate grandfather in a Borat-style feature film. Guilty sniggers follow.

• On general release from Wednesday

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 (U)

* *

Another helping of Flint Lockwood and his invention that turns water into food. His snacks have now developed a life of their own – literally, since they have mutated into animals. It’s energetic but still feels like leftovers.

• On general release from Friday

Closed Circuit (15)

* *

Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall star as barristers defending a Muslim man accused of a terrorist attack in London. Despite the topical themes and pensive emoting, this is John Grisham redux.

• On general release from Friday

Ender’s Game (12A)

* *

Hugo’s child star Asa Butterfield graduates to teenage roles in this adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s award-winning science fiction novel about a gifted prodigy sent to an advanced military school to learn how to defend Earth from alien invasion. Wars have felt shorter and better managed than this long-winded epic.

• On general release from Friday