Director: Michael Cuesta
Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) had already lost his parents in a car accident as a teenager when tragedy struck again upon a holiday beach when, shortly after proposing, he sees his girlfriend murdered by terrorists during an attack along with several other tourists. Understandably Rapp is changed by the events and he resolves to become a vigilante and seeking out those responsible for the attack looking for some kind of payback. Unbeknownst to Rapp, the C.I.A. are monitoring him and are impressed with his work and he is soon assigned to train with Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) by Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan). The film details his change from an everyday young man to his training with Hurley and his early trips into the field.
Dylan O’Brien was something of an unknown quantity for me before this film. I’ve not seen any of the Maze Runner films and at first glance I thought he may be a little too clean-cut for the role he was playing. In fairness, that is part of the set up of his character. That he has gone from the guy on the street to revenge crazed vigilante as a result of the events on that beach. He does this well and is very enjoyable in the role.
Michael Keaton is a seasoned performer, that’s not in dispute. He has over the years appeared in some of the less well received blockbusters over the years but for the former dark knight this is one of his much more creditable appearances as mentor to Rapp. Naturally they clash and as Rapp tests Hurley’s strict disciplines both in training and in the field. Despite his marshalled approach Hurley also manages to display some equally crazed traits in the latter stages of the movie.
Sanaa Lathan was a little bit of a disappointment in my eyes. I expected a tougher, more strong-minded stance from the character of Irene Kennedy playing superior to both Rapp and Hurley. Maybe it’s the way the role was written that suffocated the output Lathan delivered, if so she can’t be held responsible for doing what was asked and for that to lack some punch.
Finally, Taylor Kitsch appears as “Ghost” who was a former trainee of Hurley’s now gone rogue. Kitsch is one of those actors I sometimes can’t actually tell if they deserve any merit but he does well here. Clearly a tortured soul with a desire to exact havoc upon his former superiors, it’s a gritty and determined performance from the True Detective star.
I was particularly pleased to find American Assassin was an 18 certificate in the UK. Firstly this means no kids in the cinema but more importantly it means the film won’t be holding back and it doesn’t. The opening scene is a quite horrific account of a terrorist attach upon a busy holiday beach. After this the film switches to being a very slow burning tale. So slow burning you did begin to wonder if it was going to come to and notable climax. This is where the film is quite clever, it builds the story well and introduces the characters methodically but without any tension as such. Then you get to the final twenty-five minutes and the film just roars into a breathless climax ending with some spectacular scenes at sea.
The verdict: 4/5 Stars: A more than competent thriller that slow burns and then comes to a roaring conclusion.
Director: Doug Liman
A commercial airline pilot, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), lands a job with the C.I.A. taking aerial photography and running guns in South America whilst doubling up as a drug smuggler for Pablo Escobar. American Made charts the rise and fall of this hapless chancer and how it changed his life and details some of the escapades he endured during the Ronald Reagan administration of the nineteen eighties.
The cast list is not huge and is hardly filled with household names and Tom Cruise has not been having the best of years. The correctly scourned update on The Mummy did not perform well and he’s also suffered injury whilst filming the latest Mission Impossible instalment. How do things go here? Well, not great in all honesty. It’s a typical Cruise role and whilst he makes a good fist of it he’s left wanting when it comes to doing much with the story here. Domhnall Gleeson does little better as ‘Schafer”, Seal’s agency handler. He has limited screen time and you’d have to wonder what the director would have given him to do had their been more available. Sarah Wright is the only one who provides any kind of spark as Seal’s wife, Lucy, but again only short spells on-screen for Wright mean that the spark only glimmers very briefly.
There’s very little to say about American Made, which is why this article isn’t going to get anywhere near my usual sort of word count. The film is, in a word, DULL. It completely fails to spike the imagination and the character of Barry Seal fails to evoke any kind of empathy. I really didn’t care what happened to him. The story is told in a very humdrum fashion and it’s just a repetitive sequence of plane rides and deliveries. The film was based on true events and, that said, they are usually overly glorified versions of what really happened to add that dramatic effect. I can only imagine how mundane and uninteresting the actual event must have been at the time if that’s the level of entertainment the film manages to drum up. More imaginative writing and direction are what this story so sorely missed out on.
The verdict: 2/5 Stars: American Mess
Director: Steven Soderbergh
When Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is let go from his job, faced with the prospect of his daughter moving to another state, he resolves to pull off a heist with his brother, Clyde (Adam Driver). In doing so he hopes that success will put to rest any suggestion of a curse upon the Logan siblings. Jimmy and Clyde enlist the help of the currently incarcerated Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and his brothers. The plan is to break Joe out and then head to the North Carolina NASCAR race and relieve them of the cash takings from the day’s attendees. It sounds simple and yet that’s usually the word used to describe the Logan brothers and surely it can’t all go to plan can it?
It’s a good cast, scratch that, it’s an excellent cast which is why when we get to the film itself it just exacerbates the disappointment. Tatum and Driver are perfectly cast for the roles of the Logan Brothers. They project their hillbillyish personas with excellent delivery. This role for Daniel Craig is his “as you’ve never seen him before” performance. To be fair, that could just mean he isn’t playing James Bond. It’s not that he does anything wrong, more that the only thing that stands out is his bleach blonde hair. He’s lively enough but he’s nowhere near as outrageous as the film would like you to think. Seth MacFarlane’s role is a little less seen and is probably one of his more forgettable on-screen appearances. The same can be said for Hilary Swank as the investigating FBI officer who only appears right at the closing acts of the film.
So what went wrong? As already touched upon, you have a great cast here and a very respectable director in Steven Soderbergh so this should have been all it promised to be which, in my opinion, was a cracking comedy heist caper. That’s what the trailer suggested it would be but Logan Lucky is another one of those films that the trailer promised some things that the film just did not deliver. To be more specific, if you removed the words cracking and comedy from a cracking comedy heist caper then you get a lot closer to what this movie actually is. The film barely raises any kind of real laughs and only the faintest of sniggers at anything remotely funny. Now we’ve established that it really isn’t offering anything worthy of the comedy tag let’s get onto what remains, the heist caper. That IS what remains, a heist caper. So how does it perform in that genre? Competently is the kindest word I can use to describe it. What it gives you is an Ocean’s movie if Danny’s team were all hillbillies in North Carolina. It’s structure is exactly the same just with slightly different locations, situations and patsys. It’s runs exactly by the numbers of an Ocean’s movie. Of course, this shouldn’t be surprising as Soderbergh is responsible for all three of those movies. All he’s done here is resprayed the car. I’m not telling you this film is awful, it isn’t, but what I am saying is that it’s another that does not do what is says on the tin.
The verdict: 2.5/5 Stars: Oceans 14 with hillbillies
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Detroit is based on actual events and, as the film will tell you at the end, as no convictions were ever made a lot of the facts are versions presented by those present on the evening in question. It’s 1967 at the height of civil unrest across America and the story focuses on the 12th Street Riot in Detroit. After a looter is shot dead by a police force known for its aggressive nature, violence erupts in the surrounding areas. A young and upcoming singing quartet, The Dramatics, are about to go on stage aiming to score a recording contract but when the riots escalate they have to retreat to their hotel rooms where the party is just about to start. Events take a turn for the tragic when one of the party goers starts firing a starter pistol towards the national guard. When the police and army turn up at the hotel, shooting one attendee dead, the authorities start playing the “death game” in order to find out who was responsible for firing the gun. Tensions are running very high as the police play their questionable tactics against a group of mostly African-American detainees with the National Guard also in attendance.
John Boyega is certainly making a name for himself. He gets wrapped up in events working as a security guard at a local store. For a large part of the first ninety minutes or so he’s mainly in the background but his presence is still a firm one. It’s not really until the final acts of the film that he’s really allowed to shine as he is implicated in what went on that night. For me the stand outs were Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore as Larry and Fred they show some extreme emotions as their evening turns from bright hope into despair and terror, their lives left in the hands of the police. Equal praise is due to Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever as the young girls visiting from Ohio who befriend Larry and Fred and get caught up in the chaos that goes on that fateful night. Game Of Thrones fans will spot Hannah Murray from playing Gilly and she offers another very likeable character here and her rapport with Kaitlyn Dever pays dividends on-screen. Will Poulter is the key player from the police ranks involved. Having been involved in the earlier shooting he turns in a very ruthless portrayal of a police officer under immense pressure faced with the possibility of a murder charge already coming his way.
Given the subject matter, Detroit was always going to be a hard watch but its well worth it. I’m not going to sit here and write about the wrongs and rights of the events in this movie. I know where I stand with this and the film should stand up to allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions. The film is a gritty and emotional portrayal of very dark times in recent American history and who better than Kathryn Bigelow to get this story across? Fact based dramas seem to be something of a regular form of output from one of today’s outstanding directors. The cast is outstanding and clearly took their direction very well. Naturally, it carries some strong language and violent scenes but only in keeping with the sort of events that took place during that time and to maintain a sense of authenticity to the film. I would imagine Detroit should be looking at some awards in the film, director and actors categories and any nominations would not be out-of-place. It’s a compelling story and one of this year’s outstanding films so far.
The verdict: 4/5 Stars: Fact based drama at its finest
Director: Patrick Hughes
Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is a down at heel protection agent who is swiftly called back into a high-profile bodyguard’s role when his former partner and fast tracking Interpol agent Amelia Rousel (Elodie Yung) demands his help. His job is to get a witness and notorious assassin, Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), to The Hague in time to give evidence against Vladislav Dukhovic (Gary Oldman), a former dictator facing trail for war crimes. Bryce and Kincaid have history. Kincaid has tried to kill Bryce a number of times under his hit man guise and generally been a haunting figure throughout his protection agent career. A journey that takes them from the northwest to the continent, it’s not going to be a smooth ride and the odds are stacked firmly against them.
I’m fairly certain that when Tom O’Connor wrote this screenplay he only ever had Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson in mind for the lead roles. The chemistry between the two main characters is clear to see and these are the type of roles that are meat and drink to these two actors. Reynolds is gives Bryce a very skittish edge, blaming everybody else for his misfortune rather than looking at himself. This is something Kincaid is not afraid to point out to Bryce on numerous occasions. Turning to Jackson this is him at his loudest and most outrageously over the top. Bryce and Kincaid bounce off each other really well. Speaking of outrageous, Salma Hayek also turns up the decibels and extravagance as the tough but incarcerated wife to Kincaid. Do you remember the time when Gary Oldman just grew a goatee beard and played the bad guy? Well, he’s back at it again and this probably the easiest cheque he’s earned in recent time. He pulls off the evil dictator type like it’s a way of life. Throw in Elodie Yung as the love interest for Reynolds and you’ve got a pretty impressive line up.
The film ticks every box it’s marked upon. It does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s the perfect example of how to make an action comedy. Think back to likes of Midnight Run or Tango and Cash, both of the late eighties, and that’s exactly the sort of film you have. The language is frequently coarse but the action is just as frequent, elaborate and well staged. The humour is delivered well and with good timing throughout and you really got to feel as if anyone involved with this film had an absolute blast making it. It’s very unlikely you’ll see a movie of a similar mould reach the standards of this for the rest of the year.
4/5 Stars: For action and comedy for the older viewer, look no further.
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Set in the current time but across different dimensions, The Dark Tower tells the story of young Jake (Tom Taylor) who has dreams of another world and a Dark Tower that preserves the worlds it overlooks. Unfortunately he also sees “The Man in Black” (Matthew McConaughey) who seeks to destroy the tower and wreak havoc upon those worlds it protects. More fortunately for Jake is that he sees “The Gunslinger” (Idris Elba), protector of the tower and a man seeking revenge upon the man in black for the death of his Father. In the real world Jake isn’t taken too seriously, so much so that he is about to be taken away to a psychiatric facility to try to help with his delusions but Jake has other ideas. He escapes to the other world and his adventure begins.
There’s a good mix in terms of the cast. Idris Elba stands firm as the gunslinger as he battles with his demons and the unrelenting determination to avenge his Father’s death. Initially a quite cold character, particularly towards Jake but this warms as time moves on and a more paternal persona emerges. Tom Taylor is likeable enough as the vision ridden Jake and I think the measure of any younger actor is that if they don’t grate on you they’re doing well and he didn’t grate on me. There a very slimy and evil turn from the well chiselled Matthew McConaughey as the man in black. He plays that role that every talented actor once to do at least once, the crazed and devilish bad guy and he was obviously enjoying his work here. Possibly not a role he will be hugely remembered for against titles on his already impressive CV. Vikings’ Katheryn Winnick makes a welcome if brief appearance as Jake’s mother and there’s an understated role for Jackie Earl Haley too.
I think the tone of the film was lightened a little to ensure a 12 certificate in the UK and whilst the film did carry some dark overtones I feel the film suffered because of the need to reach a wider audience. That said, the film is too bad. Taken from Stephen King work it’s a fairly good crack at a “good versus evil” tale and offers misunderstood and troubled characters the film wants to tell you about. It’s a little bit thin on the running time though and doesn’t really explore the characters in any great depth but there may be more with come in the stories to that will follow. There’s some bright and panoramic views on show and a cracking stand-off between the Gunslinger and The Man in Black during the climax but then there’s a little bit of a cheesy science fiction ending that follows which is a bit frustrating. The kind of ending you’d expect in a time travel episode of Family Guy. The Dark Tower isn’t great by any means but it’s a decent bit of Sunday afternoon sci-fi to pass ninety minutes. I’d hoped for a more grandiose spectacle but it wasn’t disappointing.
The verdict: 3.5/5 Stars – Not quite towering above the rest