“Human emotions are like works of art. They can be forged.”
Originally titled The Best Offer on release, the newer title Deception is blunter but more thematically descriptive of writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore’s study of a lonely art expert who becomes intrigued by a reclusive heiress and a collection of clockwork components in her possession. Geoffrey Rush draws out Virgil Oldman’s contradictions: he is fastidious but capable of kindness, he takes pride in his professionalism yet deceives clients about the veracity of certain artwork so he can acquire it cheaply. Sylvia Hoeks is mysterious and alluring despite being restricted to acting with her voice alone for half the film. Tornatore conjures atmosphere effectively, but his allegory comparing human interaction and artistic immitation is ponderously repetitious and lacks real substance. Nor can the quality of the acting save the story with a twist telegraphed so frequently that it becomes frustrating. Deception is heavily atmospheric, aided by Fabio Zamarion’s beautiful cinematography that, like the protagonist, can be both aloof and intimate, with grand shots like Oldman’s illicit collection of portraits dwarfing him as they gaze down. As an atmospheric character study Deception works, then, but that leaves a considerable balance that does not.
“Good judgment comes from experience and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”
The ingredients to establishing a Jason Statham franchise are all present: a euphemistic job title, terse dialogue, a convoluted plot of double-crossing criminals, and explosive consequences. I was hoping, then, that this remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson movie would deliver something like The Transporter. Statham excels at playing the straight man — in this case the kind of Hollywood-written hitman who studies actuarial tables for tips on undetectable murder — but The Mechanic gives him little to play off that doesn’t feel forced. Training the hotheaded son of his former mentor never makes sense for such a meticulously prepared individual, and he fails to recognise a painfully obvious double-cross because it would cut the film short by an hour. This would be forgivable were the pace of action high enough to prevent us noticing, but The Mechanic moves surprisingly slowly with little creativity on display, just smaller versions of familiar stunts.
“I do what I do because of my dad. He was a hero. He gave his life for the pursuit of knowledge. Because up there is where our story is going to be told.”
Ad Astra (literally “to the stars”) is the kind of slow and thoughtful science fiction, grounded in reality and exploring themes of humanity, that takes time to percolate after the credits roll. It lies somewhere between Moon, with a gradually emerging mystery, and Gravity, with most of its peril coming from the very real dangers of space. Despite its scale, spanning the solar system, Ad Astra is a supremely personal story and Pitt acts largely with his eyes, his focused steady gaze as the unflappable astronaut gradually giving way to doubt. He is driven to discover what became of his father’s pioneering mission to Neptune and we see in both men how heroic determination leads to an unscientific need to be right, but it is in shedding those ideas of cold masculinity and accepting the fragility of his isolation that Roy emerges a far stronger figure than his father.