Writer-director Chloe Domont’s feature debut is a strong old-school psychological thriller, freshened by the gender dynamics at play. Emily and Luke are analysts at a Wall Street trading firm with a prohibition on employee fraternisation, forcing them to hide a passionate relationship — Fair Play opens with one of the weirder proposals committed to film — that is destablised by the power imbalance when Emily is promoted. It is plain to the audience that we are watching a doomed relationship unravel even as the characters try to salvage it, but the process is gripping throughout the majority of its two hours, aided by committed performances from both leads. Aside from a supporting role from the ever-reliable Eddie Marsan, the film rests almost entirely on Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich. Their characters are travelling inverted arcs, Emily’s compliance gradually developing into assertiveness, whilst Luke begins brashly but is undermined by feelings of emasculation. Fair Play does not shy away from sex, which is an essential part of understanding this relationship, but Domont achieves this without excessive nudity. Domont finds a conclusion to the story but it feels forced in its suddeness, and somewhat trite. Nevertheless, the journey to arrive there is consistently engrossing.
“You can’t catch this fish with conventional lures.”
Jason Statham received his start in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, before going on to carve out his own niche in the action genre. Coming full circle, Operation Fortune is Guy Ritchie’s attempt at making a Jason Statham Movie™ with a convoluted title that exposes its franchise-establishing designs. Orson Fortune is a skilled private contractor hired by the British Government for foreign espionage with slick, jet-setting action, at its best when one character is up close aided by teammates’ chatter through an earpiece and conveniently placed sniper coverage. Hugh Grant is clearly enjoying his charismaticvillain era, his womanising arms dealer’s movie star obsession bearing coincidental similarity to Javi in last year’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (shot in early 2021, Operation Fortune was originally slated for release in March 2022, but was shelved due to its distributor’s insolvency, also explaining the Ukrainian references that now seem odd in the current climate). Whilst not enough to address my usual criticism of Ritchie’s casting, Aubrey Plaza is more than a token woman, her tech specialist being an integral part of Orson’s team — Plaza delivers her usual brand of quirky awkwardness but cannot elevate some atrocious dialogue. Though the characters may be new, Operation Fortune has a tendency toward tedious familiarity and it seems unlikely that the equally mercenery whims of Hollywood will grant this sporadically entertaining team another outing.
“If you wish to be The King of the jungle, it’s not enough to act like a king. You must be The King. And there can be no doubt. Because doubt causes chaos and one’s own demise.”
Every few years, Guy Ritchie attempts to rekindle the magic of Lock, Stock and Snatch with an East End gangster movie, in essence to prove that he can still make “a Guy Ritchie film”. My expectations were decidedly muted after repeated misfires like Revolver and RocknRolla, but The Gentlemen marks his most successful return to those roots to date. The usual ingredients are present: a talented ensemble cast, heavy sarcasm, drugs, violence and dark humour, this time channelled by a considerably better script. Hugh Grant’s unexpected casting as a scumbag investigator works well and, although his endless narration becomes tiresome, as a storytelling device it allows Ritchie to flex a little creative flair from scene to scene. Yet none of this feels particularly fresh 20 years later and old issues remain, with only a single notable woman as well as unnecessary and unchallenged casual racism (albeit from characters we are not supposed to like). Ritchie may once have shaken up gangster filmmaking but now he is only acting like a king, within an industry obsessed with repeating the past. Nevertheless, for fans of this particular style, The Gentlemen offers enjoyable if anachronistic entertainment.
“You know those movies where the picture just starts to slow down… and melt? Then catch fire? Well, that’s Berlin.”
Outside of superheroes, Hollywood has struggled to provide us with compelling female-led action movies. Atomic Blonde bucks the trend, though ironically Charlize Theron’s dedicated performance crafts a coldly determined character with whom audiences may struggle to empathise. A Cold War spy thriller with graphic novel roots, the script retains the unusual ability to surprise. Told in flashbacks through an adversarial debriefing, we know that what we are shown may not be the whole truth. James McAvoy’s nihilistic, brazenly duplicitous turn as a deep cover agent is a particular highlight. 1989 Berlin is shot in cool blues infused with splashes of neon colour — it is reminiscent of John Wick, which Leitch co-directed. Everything is familiar then, including the action (a brutal extended fight in a stairwell stands out), but this strange blend of Le Carré and John Wick is presented with a stylish boldness that demands attention.
“The only thing they can’t forgive is not being from God’s Pocket.”
A meandering script and loose directorial hand underserve a talented cast in this story of a fictional blue collar Philadelphia neighbourhood, coping with a tragedy and hostile to outsiders. The posthumous release of one of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s final performances was bound to engender a favourable reception, but John Slattery’s directorial debut is a disappointing vehicle in which to take one last ride. It misses the mark in shooting for an absurdist tone, the darkly bizarre moments simply feeling out of place rather than comedic. God’s Pocket is worth watching for the acting alone but, much as the film glosses over Leon’s funeral, do not expect a fitting send-off for Hoffman.