Film Reviews: Sick Tag, Or Molly’s Army Finds Its Traitor

August 21, 2022

 

By BRUCE DENNILL

Tag / Directed by Jeff Tomsic / 16DLSV

The Big Sick / Directed by Michael Showalter / 16DLPS

Our Kind Of Traitor / Directed by Susanna White / 16VLDNS

Finding Your Feet / Directed by Richard Loncraine / 13DL

Army Of One / Directed by Larry Charles / 13DL

Molly’s Game / Directed by Aaron Sorkin / 16DLV

 

Tag is based on a peculiar true story (though one that involved a greater number of less glamorous people) of a group of guys who continued a game of tag from their childhood friendship through into middle age. In the film, matters are brought to a head by one of their number (Jeremy Renner, serious and physically formidable as ever) getting married, allowing his mates a rare opportunity to guarantee his presence in a prescribed place, and hopefully catch him off-guard into the bargain. It’s a simple (if puerile) concept, but the film works because everyone – from the writers to the actors to the director – are happy to commit completely to the daftness, and their enthusiasm is infectious. The Hangover alumnus Ed Helms has plenty of experience going way over the top and sets the tone from the beginning, joined with joyful abandon by John Hamm, Jake Johnson and Hannibal Buress as the group of friends, and a feisty Isla Fisher and Leslie Bibb as significant others. There’s a whirlwind of action throughout, shot through with humour that’s often very dark and generally pretty sharp. It’s not deep and meaningful in any way, but Tag is a punchy, pacey comedy.

 

Romantic comedies are everywhere, and cross-cultural romcoms fill a fairly hefty chunk of the genre. Starting out as the latter, with the charming and enormously funny Kumail Nanjiani as the focal point as a wannabe comedian working as an Uber driver to make ends meet, The Big Sick would have ticked all the boxes as a solid, mainstream comedy even if it had not been brave enough to take a right-angle turn halfway through. The story is based on Nanjiani’s own experiences and his meeting and falling in love with his real-life wife Emily V Gordon. Early on, many of the laughs are generated by the cultural differences evident in the pair’s backgrounds, not least the effort Nanjiani’s traditional parents go to to marry him off to a suitable Muslim girl. But Gordon (played with gentle allure by Zoe Kazan) is afflicted by a terribly serious illness and Nanjiani’s decision to commit to her – for worse, it seems, even when the couple have not had much of a chance to enjoy the “better” yet – adds an affecting dose of drama to the story, which is ratcheted up when Gordon’s parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, brittle and passive-aggressive, but forced to adapt) arrive on the scene to care for their daughter. It’s a formula that strays from the established Hollywood blueprint and which is all the better for it, being genuinely moving and consistently droll, and with every performance strong and convincing.

 

Following in the wake of the superb adaptation of John Le Carre’s The Night Manager for television, this film version of the same author’s Our Kind Of Traitor has a perhaps unreasonable standard to live up to. As is par for the course in Le Carre’s work, the plotting is layered and the pacing necessarily measured, with the relatively small scale of the action sequences in this spy thriller being another facet of piece that is dense rather than explosive. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Harris play Perry and Gail, a British couple on holiday in Marrakech, who meet a charismatic Russian traveller named Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), whose largesse and exuberance make him a likeable and unpredictable diversion for them. Until, that is, he requires a favour of them, one that puts the holidaymakers in considerable danger. The cast are all talented actors and seasoned professionals, but the script makes heavy going of the basic concept. Skarsgard is the highlight, making the most of Dumi being loud and cheerfully obnoxious. There is a fair amount of concentration required in order to keep tabs on the various threads and details, but if you can manage that, this is a solid enough espionage caper – not memorable, but not bad.

 

There’s an, “Oh, isn’t that sweet?” aspect added to any film in which the action mostly involves older characters, which is some sort of weird cultural tic, rather than a fair reflection of the force of the actors’ performances. Finding Your Feet is an ensemble dramedy in which the average age is solidly north of 60, but it succeeds without any need to rely on gimmicks. The cast is wonderful: Imelda Staunton, Celia Imra, Timothy Spall, Joanna Lumley and John Sessions are just the leads, and there are loads of other lovelies besides. And the writing is of a standard befitting those talents, examining the ever-shrinking prospects of characters entering their twilight years and the difficulties of coming to terms with that tapering horizon. Sandra (Staunton) is a high-society snob who is cheated on – by the man (Sessions) responsible for maintaining her expensive lifestyle. With nowhere else to go, she goes to stay with her sister Bif (Imrie), who is a total hippy with an uninhibited love life and a dear, committed best friend in Charlie (Timothy Spall). The clash of these strong personalities provides plenty of entertaining conflict, and the pacing of the drama around these threads is excellent, allowing for gentle identification with the characters and their trials and resolutions. It makes you laugh a little, and occasionally need to dab your eye – nothing spectacular, but gently, consistently persuasive.

 

Maybe Nicolas Cage had it planned all along: cultivate extraordinary eccentricity for years and then take roles so bonkers that he is the only sensible casting. Here, he is Gary Faulkner, a real-life construction worker who is profoundly frustrated with the US government and their apparent inability to track down and neutralise Osama Bin Laden. Receiving what he believes is a message from God (Russell Brand, quelle surprise), he decides to do the job himself. Unsurprisingly, this is a difficult task to achieve – it’s as bizarre a set-up as any scriptwriter could imagine, and it (or a less glamorous version of it) really happened. Cage commits to the craziness in the way that often makes him a wild card in more mainstream fare, and with director Larry Charles (he helmed Borat; he’s been here before) adding similarly oddball elements all the way along, Army Of One succeeds within its own weird, left-field niche. It will not hold up against stronger satire, or as any sort of accurate military thriller, but it’s a worthwhile diversion.

 

Jessica Chastain is an interesting sort of A-lister, able to carry films of all types and themes and never really needing to fulfil any of the stereotypical leading lady clichés. In Molly’s Game, she is Molly Bloom, a world-class skier – with all the drive and discipline that requires – who transferred that ambition to the illegal high-stakes poker game she ran successfully for ten years before being caught by the FBI. Given that the film is also written by director Aaron Sorkin, the dialogue is brisk and intense throughout, even as the lush visuals (Chastain gets to work her way through a pretty spectacular wardrobe) try to keep up. When Bloom is confident and in charge and Chastain’s focused performance backs that up, the film is at its best. When, later in the piece, both character and actress’s obvious leadership qualities are rather undermined by the way Bloom’s response to the stress she is placed under once her operation comes crashing down is depicted, what was until then a compelling narrative loses its way somewhat. The story retains viewer interest throughout, though, for the way its villains and heroes are never clearly defined. Idris Elba’s turn as the lawyer who defends bloom is perhaps the least layered in this context, but all the better for it. He’s a decent man trying to do a difficult job in a morally murky situation. Strong, without ever being sublime.

 

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