By BRUCE DENNILL
The Brothers Grimsby / Directed by Louis Leterrier / 16LSV 2
Our Brand Is Crisis / Directed by David Gordon Green / 13L 7
Secret In Their Eyes / Directed by Billy Ray / 13V 5.5
‘n Pawpaw Vir My Darling / Directed by Andre Scholtz / PGL 7
Sacha Baron Cohen is a brave, often innovative comic writer and performer, and when he gets it right – particularly with his satirical work – the sound of audience laughter is only matched by the wheeze of the deflating reputations of his targets. But he also has an affinity for baseness at odds with his obvious intelligence, and when he indulges that facet of his, er, creativity, the results are distasteful at best and offensive at worst (though that’ll depend on viewer sensibility). The Brothers Grimsby could have been a daft caper in the mould of a Simon Pegg/Nick Frost partner piece, but it instead dredges the very bottom of the barrel for vulgar gags. The premise is funny: two brothers are separated as young children and reconnect years later. This is an awkward event, as one (Cohen) is a prize idiot, while the other (Mark Strong) is a sauve secret agent. The potential for laughs as slapstick plays off against precision is obvious, but among the many faults in this production is a dearth of subtlety. This ensures that even when some of the better jokes actually land, there’s no shading to highlight that these are decent punchlines. Rebel Wilson, no shrinking violet herself, is wasted, as are Penelope Cruz and Isla Fischer (the latter possibly contractually obligated to appear – she’s Cohen’s wife). This is disappointing – the only way is up.
Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for The Blind Side, an earnest but saccharine drama that a lot of people bought into. She’s never been afraid to take riskier options, though. This film falls in the latter camp, being a credible, imaginative take on a topic that’s been handled in a number of different, and often relatively dreary, ways. Bullock plays Jane Bodine, a campaign strategist for hire who unwillingly takes a gig in Bolivia, working for a presidential candidate whose opponent has hired her long-time nemesis, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton) to get him to the top. Viewers are offered (through a Hollywood filter, granted) a look at the creativity that goes into keeping a candidate ahead in a tough political race, as well as the egos and emotional baggage that drive the back-room staff – never mind the candidates. Bodine is world-weary and short on confidence where Candy is sauve and cynical, and it’s as easy to hate him via her perspective as it is to doubt both her ability and her motives via his. The bigger picture is the political fate of a country that will seem strange and idiosyncratic to most of the film’s viewers, but it is the feud between the two hired guns that engrosses both observers in the story and those watching the piece on DVD. It’s not, in terms of either the intrigue or the sophistication of the dialogue, in the realm of something Aaron Sorkin might have played a part in, but Our Brand Is Crisis still offers much to keep viewers curious throughout its running time.
Trying to be both a drama and a thriller, Secret In Their Eyes is less than effective as either, being mostly a film that is often quite difficult to watch, either because the subject matter is dark or because the structure of the narrative is awkwardly fractured. It’s a remake of an Argentinean film named El Secret De Sus Ojos that was, by all accounts, an excellent noir piece and, though the big-name cast – Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts – are all intense and believable as their characters, the characters themselves are not given much room in the plot in which to operate. The result is a stuttering storyline that is effective in parts and frustrating in others, with many edgy moments but just as many rather static sequences. There’s a strong twist that shocks as it tugs at the heartstrings, but that just underlines that this is a film that may affect the way you feel more after you’ve watched it than during its running time.
Somewhere in South Africa, in a town called Damnville, a community is trying, in an unsophisticated – sometimes backward – way, to come to terms with their realities. These include clashing with neighbours of other races and cultures and trying to meet the expectations of those from their own families. In the tradition of such quirky ensemble pieces as The Angel, The Bicycle & The Chinaman’s Finger, ‘n Pawpaw Vir My Darling brings together a bunch of characters of dubious worth who, through the passing of time and a series of unlikely events, are able to ultimately reveal their true colours. The story’s narrator is a dog, which adds a fresh perspective to proceedings, given that the creature is able to move unnoticed in places where a human might be out of place. Much of the characterisation of the various people groups involved is heavy-handed, but affectionately so, and by design. This has the effect of not only making the divisions obvious for viewers, but also satirising the various stereotypes without needing to wallow in political correctness. It’s not immaculately smooth or slick filmmaking, but it is effective – genuinely funny and full of encouraging warmth.