Film Reviews: Kidnap The Gringo, Or All We Had Was Tulip Fever

November 12, 2023

 

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

Gringo / Directed by Nash Edgerton / 16LVS

Tulip Fever / Directed by Justin Chadwick / 16SN

Kidnap / Directed by Luis Prieto / 13LV

Proud Mary / Directed by Babak Najafi / 16LVD

All We Had / Directed by Katie Holmes / 13DL

The Strangers: Prey At Night / Directed by Johannes Roberts / 18HLV

 

Most movies are created by committee to a greater or lesser degree, but you’d hope that at least most people involved would come to some sort of agreement before shooting began. This doesn’t seem to be the case in Gringo, with a gaggle of interesting, marketable stars thrown together in a criss-crossing plot that feels like a mixture of a hundred different minor ideas that should have been developed into full threads but were instead filmed and cut together in a bizarre effort that hits none of its targets. Charlize Theron at least seems to have fun as a heartless corporate bigwig willing to leave a hapless colleague (David Oyelowo) in the lurch in Mexico to take the heat for a dodgy deal gone south. She out-sleazes even Joel Edgerton as her fellow money-grabbing executive, but when the most memorable character in a film with the apparent pedigree of the players behind this one is a thoroughly unpleasant, unethical backstabber, you’re in for a couple of hours that feels more like hard work than entertainment.

 

In many of the paintings by the Dutch Old Masters, the light – no doubt an accurate reflection of conditions during the period in which the paintings were created – is murky and gloomy. On canvas, that adds a moodiness that creates a stirring sort of drama. In Tulip Fever, set in the 1600s in Amsterdam, that gloominess initially seems to be part of an authenticity that includes the lush costumes and sets. But as the plot – about a young woman (Alicia Vikander) who is married off to a much older man (Christophe Waltz), who is a rich merchant, but who falls for a poor tradesman (Dane DeHaan) her own age – unfolds, the look of the piece matters less and less. There is top-notch quality involved – Judi Dench has a small role – but everyone on screen, bar DeHaan, though his character is just as flawed as the rest of them, seems to be so miserable that keeping company with them seems a touch masochistic. There is a fascinating bit of history behind the story, about the way that tulips suddenly became a commodity so valuable that a whole country’s economy was directly tied to their availability and significance, but that thread is poorly handled, with the dreary love (or lack of it) story playing out in the foreground being the main selling point here – with few bidders willing to invest.

 

The first line of the blurb for this Halle Berry-starring thriller, Kidnap, is: “In the US, a child goes missing every 40 seconds.” If that is accurate, you can keep your ancient curses, your giant sharks and your unblinking live dolls – there can be little that’s more terrifying, for a parent in particular. Spanish director Luis Prieto doesn’t add any embellishment to the storyline here, because there is no need to do so. Harried single mom Karla (Berry) has to take a potentially devastating phone call and so steps out of the hearing of her son Frankie (Sage Correa) for a brief time during a visit to a local park. When she rings off, he is gone, and her panicked casting about yields only a glimpse of him as he is bundled into a car by a strange woman. So begins a chase scene that lasts more or less the whole film, with little in the way of expensive special effects. Karla’s in an unassuming mommy-mobile and the kidnappers are in a fourth-hand Ford, but the emotional intensity is so high – both parties are utterly committed to their goals (keeping or retrieving the child, respectively) – that it’s impossible to look away. The reasons for snatching the child are revealed later, but they’re irrelevant. These simple, malignant strangers with their unsophisticated plan are chilling villains, because they know the hurt and heartbreak they are causing and have not the slightest hint of remorse. Berry does brilliantly throughout, her glossy Hollywood persona abandoned for a convincing, capable mother who discovers her incredible capacity for holding on to hope and struggling ever forward under unimaginable pressure. Proof that plots with endless layering, red herrings and twists are not necessarily the best bets: zoom in on a single idea that raises the heartbeat and you can have a fine film, too.

 

Taraji P Henson has done well to position herself as a desirable name to have above the title, but her current profile and proven skills are not enough on their own to carry a film with as poor as script as Proud Mary. Henson plays an all-action assassin who displays a heart beyond her clinical exterior when she saves the life of a young boy who is threatened by a violent colleague, putting her at risk among the ruthless killers she does business with. The Professional used a similar set-up to brilliant effect, ensuring the star status of Jean Reno and Natalie Portman, but here, there is no building on the premise, with a group of unlikeable characters blurting out low-level gangster clichés and extending unlikely – and dull – story threads, the outcomes of which don’t make much difference to your enjoyment of the film. Not much to be proud of here.

 

A small-scale family drama, All We Had follows Rita (Katie Holmes) and her daughter Ruthie (Stefania Owen) through a portion of their lives in which it seems they might finally break the cycle of loss and hardship that has required them to flee one sad scenario after another. That raising a child as a single mother with almost no resources is difficult is a given, and good – if sober – performances from the central cast underline the inherent drama in this mother and child’s situation. But Rita’s choices never really push them in the direction of redemption and, whether it’s the stress she finds herself under or otherwise, the character is too flaky and flinty to encourage any affinity. Combine this with pedestrian pacing and the piece, though worthy and with moments of admirable realism, fails to entertain much. Owen scores some points in terms of consideration for future roles and Holmes gets off the mark as a director, but that’s about it.

 

“Based on true events”, it says in the cover of The Strangers: Prey At Night. In that everyone dies at some point and many people will put on a mask from time to time, that may be the case, but, like everything else in this movie, that initial claim is completely unconvincing. A family ends up in an apparently abandoned trailer park and is then confronted by a trio of disguised murderers who want to kill them. That’s it. No motive, no character development, no particular sadness when the generic slayer flick victims fall to the generic slayer flick killers. The inclusion of some Eighties pop hits provides a couple of moments of acidic levity, but that’s it for appeal. Stranger danger: avoid.

 

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