EIFF 2011: Page Eight Movie Review 0 25

Making its World Premiere at the EIFF 2011, Page Eight may be about the world where politics and security are inextricably intwined but the strengths of the film lie in the electric back-and-for scenes of dialogue littered with just as much humour as tension. It’s not exactly a satire per se but more a case of being savvy to the ins and outs of politics and drawing sardonic laughs from it.

Page Eight follows Johnny Worricker (Bill Nighy), a long serving information analyser for MI5 who one day is given a document from his oldest friend, and now superior, Baron (Michael Gambon), the contents of which have particularly serious ramifications if the information is true. The particularly damaging piece of info is located on the titular page eight of the document, at the bottom of which is a statement which asserts (possible SPOILER ahead) that the British Government – namely the Prime Minister himself – had known about various incidences and locations of torture camps set up by the American government.

What makes Page Eight work so well, alongside the spectacularly well written dialogue which makes up those aforementioned back-and-forth scenes, is Bill Nighy. Always a joy to watch whether he’s doing comedy or drama (sometimes both, as is the case here), Nighy is perfectly cast as the quietly charismatic and sympathetic Johnny who is our link to this secretive, complex world of politics and national security.

The film only hints at the larger picture of what the implications of this crucial document are, and perhaps a broader scope could have made this a truly important film about the current political situation in both the UK and US. But instead – and this was probably the right route to take in order to make it overall more enjoyable – it chooses to tell a more intimate tale with a well observed character study at its centre.

The film has great supporting performances from the likes of Rachel Weisz as Nighy’s neighbour, Nancy, who is desperate to find out the truth about her brother’s death; Ralph Fiennes as the snake-like Prime Minister; Michael Gambon as the man who sets all this chaos in motion; and Felicity Jones as Nighy’s disillusioned artist daughter rebelling against the world as a result of her father being absent when she was growing up. An unusual but somehow perfect cast for this type of film.

Mixing true-to-life and often black humour with a skillfully crafted feeling of quiet suspense, Page Eight is an impressively low-key film about complex issues both intimate and world-reaching. This is an impressive effort indeed, especially considering this is David Hare’s first film in over two decades which he both wrote and directed. He clearly hasn’t lost his touch.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Man on a Ledge Movie Review 0 42

Man on a Ledge movie review

With a title as blunt and, quite frankly, stupid as Asger Leth’s Man on a Ledge, it’s right not to expect all that much. I wasn’t looking for an awards-worthy thriller with great acting or insanely witty dialogue. But I also wasn’t expecting it to mess up its quite brilliantly simple premise.

The film at least starts off well enough, delivering a premise that while outlandish is not totally unbelievable. We have a mysterious man (Sam Worthington) who appears to want to kill himself by jumping off a building. However, as we can easily guess, there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

We have a man… on a ledge… who is he? why does he want to kill himself? Why does he appear to be stalling for time?… The trouble with Man on a Ledge is it starts well, at a competently intelligent level but as the thread is pulled more and more and the real story behind the false front is revealed it becomes increasingly ridiculous until any semblance of believability or relatability is thrown out the window (so to speak…). And the way it attempts to weasel its way into being an emotional story with a purpose makes it all the worse.

The film fails to merge together two duel, related storylines into an enjoyable complete package. The stuff with Worthington on the ledge, with Elizabeth Banks as the negotiator, is far more interesting and engaging than the Ocean’s Eleven wannabe antics happening elsewhere.

A cast of talented actors including Worthington, Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris, Anthony Mackie, Kyra Sedgwick and Titus Welliver is practically wasted here on half-hearted characterization, preposterous plot twists and trite, cliché-ridden character motivations. All this distracts from the already overly convoluted plot to the point where it’s hard to really care about anyone, even the guy who’s threatening to jump. Like the spectators below, I almost wished he would just do it and get it over with!

Minute-by-minute you can practically see the film’s IQ drop lower and lower until it finally descends into one of the most absurd, nonsensical endings to hit the screen in quite some time. And to add insult to injury it ultimately ties everything up far too conveniently for its own good, fumbling and stumbling on its way there, leaving an aftertaste of smugness in spite of its stupidity.

As a whole Man on a Ledge is not entirely devoid of entertainment as it at least keeps you guessing, even if one answer is as ridiculous as the last. Those willing to completely shut their brain off might get some dumb enjoyment out of it. But when you set everything up with an intriguing premise like this it’s all the more disappointing to see it turn out as dumb as you feared.

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This review was previously published at Blog Critics.

Martha Marcy May Marlene Movie Review 0 33

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a difficult film, both in its subject matter and how the viewer is asked to take in the events. But even in its more ambiguous moments, the film is undoubtedly powerful and haunting, helped largely by the lead performance of exceptional newcomer Elizabeth Olsen.

The film tells the story of Martha (Olsen), a young woman who escapes from a cult she was part of in the Catskill Mountains, led by the mysterious Patrick (John Hawkes). After escaping she is picked up and stays with her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), and in flashbacks we see her experiences as part of the cult while she tries to return to a normal life.

This type of ambiguous storytelling can often backfire, creating confusion and frustration where fascination should go. Fortunately, for the most part anyway, Martha Marcy May Marlene handles that ambiguity very well, making for an experience that allows you to both to fill in the blanks and read what we do get presented with in any number of ways.

The film is anchored together, and perhaps even raised beyond what it otherwise would have been, by the stunning performance of newcomer Olsen. She is sister of famous twins Mary-Kate and Ashley… but don’t let that put you off! Olsen is a real find of an actress, giving an attention-grabbing debut performance (tragically overlooked by the Oscars) as a girl tormented and confused by her past experiences. It really is pretty difficult to take your eyes off her every time she’s on-screen, not just because of her looks but her vulnerable yet strangely enigmatic presence.

While clearly the stand out, Olsen isn’t the only performance of note here. The incomparable Hawkes, finally getting some of the spotlight and recognition he has deserved for years, is a terrifying character here, his weird and subtle charm making his actions and warped attitude all the more frightening. The likes of Brady Corbet and Sarah Paulson also give impressive performances.

This is tough subject matter we’re dealing with here and writer/director Sean Durkin certainly doesn’t pull any punches. There are indeed scenes which some viewers may find very disturbing – namely the cult leader’s “treatment” of the female members – but these scenes are there for a purpose and not just there for the sake of being provocative.

Nevertheless Martha Marcy is provocative but in the best of ways. Emulating the work of such directors as Michael Haneke (his Funny Games films in particular) and Lynne Ramsay, Durkin creates an uncomfortable and unsettling atmosphere, making for what could very well be described as a horror film. In the same fashion as Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, there might not be jump-scares or lots of gore but a chilling sense of fear and dread runs throughout the whole thing nonetheless.

Martha Marcy May Marlene doesn’t offer any easy answers, it’s not interested in spelling everything out for or making it easy to understand all the themes it’s aiming to get across. Through intelligent means the film allows us to read the events in a way that makes sense to us, and a terrifically vague ending is the ultimate embodiment of that. Quietly powerful, haunting and often downright disturbing, this is an impressively bold directorial debut with a mesmerizing performance at its centre.

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This review was previously published at Blog Critics.