The Way Back (***1/2) and The King’s Speech (*****)

Both The Way Back and The King’s Speech seemed to beckon in the last 10 days; one carrying the promise of great things from a great director, the other of great things from great actors.

The Way Back [IMDB]: Weir excels at small human beings struggling in/against huge landscapes (Master and Commander [IMDB] and The Mosquito Coast [IMDB]), and this film didn’t disappoint. From the swirling snowstorms of Siberia to the Mongolian plains to the sweep of the Gobi desert The Way Back looks great on the big screen. The acting is respectable, indeed very credible. Among the escapees, Ed Harris gives a fine performance, Colin Farrell is a surprisingly believable Russian gangster and Saoirse Ronan injects some levity into the long trek.

Two things let the film down in my view. The first is the lack of any obvious human tension. Escaping from a Russian Gulag is ‘drama’ to be sure, and so is survival against all odds,  but somehow we are always searching for more than that, we need to know what people are thinking. One of the best, and surely most tense survival stories has to be Touching the Void [IMDB], about Joe Simpson’s escape from Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985, which he climbed with Simon Yates. But if we think about it, the tension is not only about whether Simpson can manage to live, but the whole horror of Yates having to cut the line on him, leading to him being on his own. The Way Back lacks any real hook for getting into the minds of the characters. A few small incidents involving Farrell’s originally menacing, but ultimately, just cheeky, gangster are the closest we get. Continue reading

More 10 best films since 1980

I have now mercilessly targetted friends around the world (and I’m not done!) for the list of ‘your 10 best films since 1980’, which can be seen on my film page. Some interesting trends are emerging. Firstly, the best of Hollywood has scored well on the lists of people with known subversive (i.e. artistic leanings)… The Matrix is doing well, as is Unforgiven, Pulp Fiction and Blade Runner. On the European side, we have heavy voting for Das Leven der Anderen (The Lives of Others), Cidade de Deus (City of God) and Amelie Poulin. Asian film just as strong, with Kar Wai Wong scoring with 2046 and In the Mood for Love.

It’s fun (for me at least) to connect the backgrounds of each person to the particular list of films they chose, both from a professional and geographical point of view. When this has gone on a bit longer, I may attempt a light-hearted statistical analysis!