The opening half hour of Deep Water depicts a failing marriage, wonderfully acted by Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas in a way which communicates poignantly that Melinda’s infidelity hurts Vic less than her carelessness in conducting affairs. Unfortunately this is followed by 90 minutes of turgid plot-driven and coincidence-laden mildly erotic thriller after Vic is accused of murder. The characters react in wholly unrealistic ways that the audience is expected to accept with throwaway lines in a script that rarely scratches beneath the surface — overt acknowledgments that Vic is “weird” are woefully insufficient. Deep Water may have been intended to explore the complexities of human desire and relationships but the result feels more like a lurid revenge fantasy, made all the more disappointing by its engaging opening act. Whilst it may mark Adrian Lyne’s return to directing after 20 years, Deep Water does little to suggest we have missed much in the interim.
“Harder to tell the good from the bad, the villains from the heroes these days.”
Typically the Bond films of each actor to take on the role end in a downward trajectory, but the inconsistent films of Daniel Craig’s tenure have culminated in perhaps the best swansong for a Bond actor to date, even if it sits firmly in the middle of the pack when it compared to Craig’s previous outings. Bond is at its best when it reinvents itself and, as I have previously opined, it arguably has less to do with the actor than the direction. Cary Fukunaga’s languid pacing and sombre tone suits the more personal story — even its opening swaps the usual kinetic action for a flashback horror sequence with an endangered child. No Time To Die is considerably too long at 163 minutes, featuring plenty of striking locations but little memorable action (aside from an early car chase and a tense woodland hunt). Ana de Armas brings the most energy to the film, though her presence is sadly restricted to one self-contained sequence. There has been an organic character arc through the Craig era from Bond proving himself in Casino Royale to the seasoned professional in Skyfall and now the introspective retired agent recognising that the politics behind espionage have become increasingly grey. A long-promised and overdue shift in this final outing is the greater depth to the female operatives and to Bond’s relationships. Conversely, Safin is one of the weakest Bond villains to date (through no fault of Rami Malek) and the franchise’s continued reliance on facial disfigurement as a shorthand for “villain” — with three examples in this film alone — is a tired anachronism. No Time To Die may not be Bond at its best, but the franchise continues to mature in a fitting send-off to its most human incarnation.
Knives Out is Rian Johnson’s modern remix of the classic whodunnit. The traditional elements are present: a deceased patriarch, a squabbling family with secrets and a large mansion with plenty of space for intrigue. Whilst Johnson’s love for the genre is evident, he highlights some of its contrivances like the idiosyncratic civilian detective inexplicably given free rein to investigate. As in his debut, Brick, the language often jars with the modern setting, but his flair for dialogue makes it fit this specific world. Unusually our viewpoint is not that of the sleuth (Daniel Craig with a distracting Southern drawl) but rather the deceased’s nurse, Ana de Armas wonderfully portraying both vulnerability and determination. The ensemble cast is delightful, deriving humour largely from the absurd, although its sporadic placement results in a slightly uneven tone. The mystery itself is expertly plotted over the course of two hours which rapidly fly by, and some secrets remain until late in the proceedings without a sense of cheating. The result is far superior to the recent adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. The height of praise for this sort of film is that — even where I could anticipate certain elements — watching them unfold remained entertaining. With its eccentric characters, stylised dialogue and constrained setting, Knives Out feels theatrical rather than cinematic, but that should not diminish one’s enjoyment whatsoever.
“Everyone’s fighting over the same pie and ignoring the crumbs. I live off crumbs.”
The true story of how two reunited schoolfriends in their twenties found themselves awarded lucrative arms contracts by the Pentagon is as unsettling as it is absurd. Director Todd Phillips channels Scorsese but falls into the same trap as The Wolf of Wall Street — in striving to entertain, the film inadvertently glamourises what it seeks to criticise. Jonah Hill is excellent as Efraim, inducing revulsion whilst also demonstrating how his partner is drawn in. Unfortunately, David is sketched blandly and — with the story narrated from his perspective — it hamstrings our connection with the subject matter. The human cost of the arms trade lies largely outside the scope of this film (in contrast to the powerful opening of Lord of War), with David’s eventual disillusionment coming from the strain that deception places on his relationships and his safety, rather than from real character growth.