4 May 2010

Look, Ma! Three Hands!

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

A dramatic three-hander, The Disappearance of Alice Creed is showing in selected cinemas this week, bringing a frequently used theatre structure in for a rare outing on the big screen. And I also saw Date Night. What? Yeah, ok, so there's no pithy connection going on except that Date Night is kind of a thriller, in the loosest sense of the word, i.e. it's not. Convergence aside, these are the films, here are my reviews.
Date Night finds a put-upon married couple, Phil and Claire Foster, desperately trying to reignite the spark in their relationship. He spends all day in a crap job at the tax office while she tries to sell real estate to dunderheads, and both are distracted by looking after their young kids. So in a change from their regular date nights, they sneak into a swanky restaurant by stealing another couple's reservations, and end up on the run for their lives as they're mistaken for thieves by a criminal gang.

Let's imagine for a moment that Hugh Grant plays Phil and Sarah Jessica Parker plays Claire. Now read that synopsis again. Now you have a fair idea of why Did You Hear About The Morgans? sucked balls. Instead, Date Night boasts the pairing of the two biggest names in American comedy right now, even if it does still have Shaun Levy at the helm. Levy directed the likes of Night at the Museum and Cheaper by the Dozen. With a plot as generic and trodden over as this and a director as pedestrian as Levy, it's easy to see how the film would've been horrible if not for the inspired casting of Steve Carell and Tina Fey.
Look at the other casting, for instance. Mark Wahlberg as Shirtless Man. Common as a cop. Oh, and a lovely turn from Ray Liotta, who hasn't been told he's in a comedy. I feel this film vindicates my view on romantic comedies once again by showing how relatable characters and likable actors can make a humdrum film a lot better. The script for this one is pretty by-numbers, but it's the peerless comic timing of its leads that makes it inherently enjoyable. Although the film later becomes more action-packed than its beginning, I could happily have watched 90 minutes of the Fosters bickering and exhausting each other. This is great comedy, the kind of thing that's missing from a million Jennifer Aniston romcoms that are neither funny nor romantic.

Ladies, Date Night is quite possibly the best film you'll drag a guy to see this year. If you aren't really interested, drag him to see this anyway, because I don't doubt he's going to suffer through Eclipse later in the year if you're so inclined. The action elements are fine, and indeed better than fine in the case of an inspired car chase in the middle that I've never seen done anywhere else before, but Carell and Fey are the heart of the film. I'm dying to see what they could do with a better script than this, so I hope they work together again in the future. Nevertheless, there's enough material to keep you laughing throughout, even if Levy hares off across genres rather than fully building on the leads' chemistry together.

Date Night is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

The difficulty of reviewing The Disappearance of Alice Creed is that it's a film better enjoyed the less you know about it. I can sort of set up the smallest of plot synopses, to say that it centres around Danny and Vic, two criminals who kidnap the heiress of the title and secure her in a dingy flat until their demands are met. Beyond that, I think you're best off finding out for yourself. This review might be brief if I'm trying to skimp on plot information, but I can easily appraise the way the film's assembled. The three hands at work here are Gemma Arterton as Alice, Eddie Marsan as Vic and Martin Compston as Danny, and that they're all pretty bloody brilliant.

Of Arterton in particular, I haven't been the most positive reviewer. In Quantum of Solace, I said she was "eye candy amidst a more angsty and emotionally interesting film." Not by any fault of her own, her biggest films have tended to shove her into this role- see also the recent Clash of the Titans remake. Here, she's given a chance to truly announce herself as a terrific young actress as Alice. No matter what you'd believe from the subject matter, she's a million miles from the damsel in distress she became in those other films. Complementing her performance are her co-stars, with a fearsome Marsan and a mysterious Compston each playing somewhat mercurial characters, albeit in different ways.
Their dynamic is obviously what The Disappearance of Alice Creed hangs on, and the production design brings forward their performances rather than drawing your attention to the one set on which most of the film takes place- the claustrophobic atmosphere of a flat-turned-fortress that serves as both a dungeon for Alice and a domesticated safehouse for her captors. Within this unknown environment, the audience is regularly subjected to twists, reversals and reveals that give the film regular shots of energy. It all comes together with writer-director J Blakeson's superb work to make for an unpredictable thriller that's often unbearably tense. Not Hurt Locker-brand tension, but there's an inevitability about the film that's almost as inescapable as the flat it's largely set in.

It keeps up a head of steam in the wake of several revelatory twists in the first and second acts, but it doesn't quite come to the knockout blow that you might expect. That's the only appreciable flaw I can find with The Disappearance of Alice Creed. Rejecting the traditions of kidnap thrillers, it's a gripping and highly intelligent debut for Blakeson, and it finally announces Gemma Arterton for her acting talents and not her looks. The three actors are all terrific, and this film is never anything less than gripping. Seek it out if the monolith of Iron Man 2 hasn't entirely obscured the film's limited release- this is definitely not a film that deserves to disappear.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed is now playing in selected cinemas nationwide. You can find a longer (still spoiler-free) review from me at Den of Geek.
If you've seen Date Night or The Disappearance of Alice Creed, or you just want to sign up in advance for my "I Was Dragged To See Eclipse" support group, why not comment below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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