Film Reviews: The Sloane Line, Or Quiet In Dunkirk

August 29, 2021

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Miss Sloane / Directed by John Madden / 13L

Life On The Line / Directed by David Hackl / 13LV

Dunkirk / Directed by Christopher Nolan / 16V

First Kill / Directed by Steven C Miller / 16LV

A Quiet Place / Directed by John Krasinski / 16HV


Jessica Chastain stars as Elizabeth Sloane in Miss Sloane, a drama about an American lobbyist – not a phenomenon most South Africans will be too familiar with, but in layman’s terms, an operator with a ruthless streak that excludes almost all other aspects of her personality. In spite of that, Sloane does have a couple ethical points on which she is willing to stand firm, one of which is gun control, which remains a topical issue worldwide. This makes an essentially unlikeable character worthy of some respect, which is then eroded when she cuts a corner elsewhere, which in turn backfires on her. The script requires Sloane to be the centre of almost every scene and the character to compel whether she’s clearly the villain or, somewhat more forgivably, the troubled anti-hero. Chastain handles the responsibility incredibly well, entirely on point whether the character is in full corporate mode or battling her personal demons in private, and admiring the performance as the convoluted plot plays out is reason enough to watch the film. The film is not the most textured offering in its corner of the market, but it’s well worth checking out.


A film about men who work on power lines is unlikely to find a welcoming audience in a South Africa where, for protracted periods, films are only watchable at all when the main power provider, Eskom, is not regularly turning people’s electricity off for a range of barely believable reasons. Nonetheless, the technicians who do go and fiddle with lethal voltage-carrying wires on our behalf are undoubtedly brave and worthy of our thanks, and Life On The Line aims to pay tribute in that regard, as films such as Backdraft have done for firemen in the past. To deem the filmmakers’ efforts here successful, though, would be generous – and make you the sort of viewer who prefers Hallmark movies to, well, stories not drenched in clichés. John Travolta plays a revered lineman haunted by the death-on-duty of his brother, who aims to see his niece (Kate Bosworth) prosper in spite of her circumstances. The actor’s curiously mesmerising beard distracts from his efforts to provide sincere characterisation and the paint-by-numbers plot means he and everyone else involved (including Sharon Stone in a supporting role) is hamstrung. A storm is coming; high-voltage wires may snap; things will happen; people will be affected. You already know how this ends.


Terrence Malick generally receives kudos for making engaging, immersive pieces of screen art, but there’s often a crucial piece missing in his creative masterpieces – many of them don’t make a damn bit of sense. Many might say the same of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, but generally speaking, the latter director is capable of taking all types of subject matter and imbuing it with authenticity and, in the best cases, meaning. Dunkirk, an examination of perhaps one of the more glorious retreats in any major war, already has plenty of significance, simply as recorded history. But in Nolan’s hands, it becomes so much more than the bewildering numbers and a testament to the extraordinary bravery of the civilians who put themselves in grave danger to help rescue stranded soldiers. Nolan structures the piece as a number of threads running concurrently, many driven by A-listers including Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance, though their star wattage is never the focus. Rather, the cast serve as useful focal points in epic scenarios that involve aerial dogfights, trying to launch ships under fire or attempting to navigate a small pleasure boat through a sea filled with dying men and burning fuel (among other equally fraught scenes). The film’s triumph is in each of these subplots obviously being part of the whole, but each existing as a totally genuine, visceral story of its own – terrifying, moving, tragic and immaculately made – so that taken together, the piece is almost overwhelmingly powerful.


Part of the Latter Career Bruce Willis Generic Action Film genre, First Kill is a reasonably well made, reasonably convoluted thriller in which Hayden Christensen, an actor in need of a career resurgence, chooses the wrong film but does just enough to suggest that he shouldn’t be completely written off. Christensen’s Will is an uptight materialistic broker who, to be fair, is hoping to reconnect with his young family on a holiday in the area where he grew up. Through unfortunate circumstance, Will and his son get caught up in some criminal activity, and their being witnesses puts them in danger, more so when Will’s son is kidnapped and held hostage, forcing his father to act in a way he normally wouldn’t. Willis is the local police chief, a crusty character with his own agenda. There is much here that is competent, but other than a two or three scenes, there is not much that is exciting. And while Christensen is adequate, that’s not really praise in any way, with Willis only contributing at a similarly tolerable level.


There are many reasons why A Quiet Place is not only an outstanding horror film, but an example of an outstanding type of horror film. For one thing, the tone is consistent. From the beginning, the rules are established – silence is required, or you’ll be in mortal danger – and all of the other scenarios revolve around that premise. Why the family at the centre of the film are seemingly alone in the world and the exact nature of the threat they face are both largely irrelevant details: it’s enough to understand that the intensity of their terror is justified, and that your own dread will increase exponentially as you understand them more and so identify with them better. As director, John Krasinski creates an atmosphere, through the use of silence, that is at once profoundly unsettling and oddly peaceful. He also ensures that he and his fellow actors, including real-life wife Emily Blunt, never falter in their focus on the challenges of the lifestyle they are forced to live, where even day-to-day chores carry the risk of possible death if the lurking monsters are alerted to their presence. It’s a great family movie in the sense that it shows the power of unity and dedication to a cause and the incredible power of having someone 100% dedicated to you. And, while making the most of some unavoidable things-that-go-bump-in-the-night scenarios, the piece also largely sidesteps the tropes that make most horror films so predictable and, ultimately, unmenacing. Superb performances, appreciation for quiet strength and the unfolding tragedy of a situation in which the odds are always stacked against the protagonist: this film will have enduring appeal.

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