Maze Runner: The Death Cure

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Wes Ball

Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Dexter Darden, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, and Aidan Gillen.

 

Maze Runner has always seemed like the overlooked franchise in the recent spate of Young Adult movies. It doesn’t hit the high watermark set by Hunger Games, but is leaps and bounds better than the Divergent series. The first film was a nice sci-if mystery, with elements of Lord Of The Flies. The second film lost its way a bit. It broadened the world, but perhaps over reached with too many characters vying for screen time. It also morphed into a zombie horror, which was too intense for its target audience. Wes Ball seemed to take the criticisms on board though, and The Death Cure is a half-successful course correction.

 

The Death Cure finds Thomas as the leader of the rag-tag team who escaped the maze in the first instalment. After discovering that the world has been ravaged by a virus, and the maze was a test to produce anti-bodies from those immune to the virus, which seems to be secreted when they feel fear, Thomas and friends set out to get their friend Minho back from the company WCKD. They trace him back to the last city standing, which hides behind a massive circular wall. They’ll need to break in using the help of former group member turned WCKD employee Teresa, who is desperately trying to find a cure.

 

The Death Cure is a huge improvement on The Scorch Trials. It’s clear from the opening sequence, a fantastic train heist, that this is a different beast of a movie. The sequence is taught and lean, not stopping to catch you up on the action. It’s a superb set piece with some great practical stunts, which throw you immediately back into Thomas’ world. When the plot does kick, it’s a simplified one. Find Minho, and rescue him. Ball even keeps it down to mainly the original members, shredding the extra baggage of The Scorch Trials bloated cast. This works incredibly well, leaving you with the people you care about, and Ball stages some great set pieces around them. The opening sequence is one of them, and there’s a terrificly tense tunnel sequence which takes its cues from Stephen King’s The Stand. Ball tones down the horror elements, to a degree that suits this movie much better. In fact, it’s within the references and homages that you see where Ball’s sight is set. There’s bits of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, and Mad Max. It’s a lofty aspiration that Ball doesn’t quite rise to.

 

The big problem with the film is that it’s about 40 minutes too long. The middle drags, and you can feel the film being pulled down by the weight of its role of wrapping up the trilogy in a satisfying way. The extra story elements bloat out the last act, and you can’t help but miss the simplicity of what came before it. It’s not a film with the emotional heft of the Hunger Games, nor does it bare any real life parallels in which to make any lasting statements. The performances are fine, if Aidan Gillen’s villain is more caricature than character. The world looks lived in, and real. If the focus had been kept on just producing a fun action movie, which it was for the firs two acts, then it would have worked a lot better.

 

In all, The Death Cure starts well, but doesn’t stick the landing, and out stays it’s welcome. What starts out as fun soon becomes dull. It’s a noble failure though, as Wes Ball corrects a lot of the mistakes of The Scorch Trials, and knows how to stage a great action set piece, and fills his film with likeable, if bland, characters. It’s an entertaining, but forgettable thrill ride.

 

6/10

 

 

Winchester

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. The Spierig Brothers

Starring: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, and Sarah Snook.

I was looking forward to seeing Winchester. I’ve been interested in the story of the Winchester house ever since learning about its influence on The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. I had also taken an interest in The Spierig Brothers after seeing Predestination and Daybreakers, both intelligent sci-fi movies which seemed to announce interesting new voices to the genre. They had returned last year with Jigsaw which was serviceable, but going into Winchester I was hoping for a smart, good looking horror, which bought something new to the genre. Eh…

Winchester tells the story of Dr. Eric Price, played by Jason Clarke, who is asked by The Winchester Repeating Fire Arms Company, to psychologically evaluate the company’s majority shareholder Sarah Winchester. The widow of the man who invented and sold the Winchester rifle, she is wracked with guilt over all the death the rifle has caused. Her mansion is a sprawling house of non-stop construction. Dozens of rooms that make no logical sense together, stairs that lead nowhere, cupboards which are secret doors. This is the most eccentric house ever. Sarah Winchester believes she is building the rooms that the ghosts of those killed by the Winchester Rifle need in order to move on. Dr. Price must decide whether she is mentally fit to run the company still, whilst battling demons of his own.

This film is a let down from start to finish. Pitched as a Victorian gothic ghost story, it’s full of familiar images, and well worn set pieces, which don’t offer audiences anything new, and don’t really amount to anything either. The film jumps from set piece to set piece, held together by the thinnest of plot threads. Yeah, there are some decent jump scares, just enough to fill a good trailer, but the film lacks any sense of escalation. The jumps at the start are exactly the same as the jumps at the end. It’s a monotonous film which keeps playing the same note until it outstays its welcome. It’s not a long film, only 1 hour 39 minutes, but I couldn’t have watched another 10.

The film feels like a wasted opportunity. It introduces some good ideas, but throws them away too soon. What is Sarah Winchester’s mental state? Let’s not really explore that. Are Jason Clarke’s encounters hallucinations bought on by his drug addiction? Who cares? Instead you get an hour of Helen Mirren walking around the house in a black veil, a creepy looking kid, and tons of shots of people slowly walking towards the next telegraphed jump scare. The biggest waste is the use of the house. The Spierig Brothers set all their scenes in about 7 different rooms, and shoot them in such an incredibly traditional manner, that as an audience member you are never once disorientated. The film never once wrong foots you, and in a house famed for doors that open to brick walls, and stairs that lead to nowhere, it feels like that’s the least it should be doing.

There are a ton of stories related to the Winchester House, and The Spierig Brothers have decided to tell the most by the numbers version of it. When the film isn’t being unintentionally funny, it’s just downright boring. It’s a huge disappointment from the talent involved. They also use a didgeridoo in the score. Who puts a didgeridoo in a horror film set in America?

2/10

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

2017, Uncategorized

Dir. Rian Johnson

Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran, Benicio Del Toro

 

Star Wars isn’t a movie. It’s an event. It takes grown ups back to their youth, and ignites the imaginations of young children. There were kids with lightsabers running round the cinema, as well as actors in storm trooper outfits patrolling the foyer. I watched the original trilogy religiously as a kid, enjoyed the prequels at the time (I was the right age), grew up and realised they weren’t great, and really liked The Force Awakens. Where The Force Awakens did fall short was originality, and it received a lot of criticism for rehashing old story beats. The expectation on The Last Jedi was in taking this story somewhere new. Boy, does it deliver.

 

The Last Jedi starts exactly where The Force Awakens left off. Rey has found Luke Skywalker, and is trying to coax him out of his self-imposed exile. Meanwhile, the rebel alliance are on the run from the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke, and a battle scarred Kylo Ren. To say much more risks running into spoiler territory, and this really is a film which is best seen with as little spoiled as possible.

 

There are so many great moments in The Last Jedi it’s hard to know where to begin.  It’s probably the best looking Star Wars movie so far.  From the costume design, creature effects, and visual grandeur, it tops them all. The performances throughout are superb, with top credit going to Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher. The original cast members really get a chance to stretch themselves, and deliver sides of their characters not seen before. Adam Driver is similarly terrific, his Kylo Ren is more nuanced here than The Force Awakens, the struggle between light and dark played out constantly on his face. If any performance is slightly off putting it’s Benicio Del Toro’s codebreaker DJ. Del Toro over acts, with voice tics, and odd hand gestures. He chews the scenery in all the wrong ways.

 

As I said before, The Force Awakens was criticised for just re-heating the original trilogy, and The Last Jedi really does forge its own path. This is a story driven blockbuster, and I’m sure some fans won’t like where Johnson takes the story, but I loved it. Instead of coasting on nostalgia, throwbacks are used to service the story. The biggest difference between the two films though is pace. After opening with a superb aerial fight, the film slows down, and allows us to dig into the characters. It’s here where Johnson pulls off his greatest trick, and that’s by giving the series heart. It’s easy to feel sad when Han Solo dies in TFA, you’ve grown up with this character. The feelings that Johnson is toying with are far more complex, and he makes you feel for every character by showing the audience what they are fighting for. This isn’t just a fight of good versus evil, Johnson throws in shades of grey. We also get answers to some of the biggest questions from TFA. I was satisfied with these answers, although I feel they will be divisive.

 

There are are a few minor flaws in the film. It’s too long, there are a lot of story strands to follow, and not all of them seem necessary. Finn and Rose’s, newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, adventure to the casino planet at first feels like a mis-step, but is given more weight during the climax. It could have been cut down, but that would have meant less screen time for Boyega which would have been a crime. The logic of the main chase sequence of the film is also questionable, but I feel this isn’t too hard to overlook, as the story is so captivating. The dialogue isn’t too great either. It sometimes feels like exposition overload. There is also a character death with felt a little wasted. After so much build up, it was hard not to feel a little like “Is that it?” It’s hard to judge whether all the decisions paid off, after all it’s the middle film of a trilogy, and I think that whether you have more negatives depends on whether you liked where the story went or not.

 

Overall, the film is great. The best Star Wars movie ever, that’s hard to say without knowing how it will stand up in thirty years, but I left the cinema feeling like it was. I loved the characterisation, how it raised deeper questions about this universe. There was also a subtle animal rights message which I enjoyed. The action was some of the best in the whole series and it was by far the best looking film of the series. It felt new, and fresh, and there was an emotional under current previously missing. Where the story goes from here is anyone’s guess, but that’s the great thing about Star Wars now, it’s regained the element of surprise.

9/10

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle

2017, Uncategorized

Dir. Jake Kasdan

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Rhys Darby

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle is a sequel 22 years in the making. How you feel about the original Jumanji probably depends on how old you were when you first saw it. As someone who grew up in the 90’s, Jumanji was one of my favourite action adventure movies. A great child friendly romp, with a fantastic performance from Robin Williams at the centre. This sequel from director Jake Kasdan, best know for his work on TV and 2014’s Sex Tape, also acts as reboot for a new generation. Kids don’t want to play board games any more so the game morphs itself into a 90’s action adventure video game. Welcome To The Jungle trades the game coming alive elements of the original for a more Tron like dynamic to mixed results.

 

In Jumanji, Robin Williams is sucked into the game as a boy, and when two children start to play the game years later, he appears out of it as an adult, having been stuck in the game all those years. Where was he for all those years? Welcome To The Jungle aims to answer that question. The film centres around four main characters/stereotypes. There’s nerdy, video game playing Spencer, football playing jock Fridge, self-obsessed, mobile fanatic hot girl Bethany, and shy Martha. The four of them find themselves in detention together where they stumble across an old video game called Jumanji. When they start to play they are sucked into the video game, where they appear as the avatars they selected to play as. Spencer is now Dwayne Johnson’s Dr. Smolder Braveheart, Fridge is Kevin Hart’s Moose Finbar, Bethany is Jack Black’s Professor Shelly Oberon, and Martha is now Karen Gillian’s scantily clad Ruby Roundhouse. They are now trapped in a generic action adventure game, think 90’s version of Uncharted, which they have to complete in order to get home. Along the way discovering who they really are in some Breakfast Club-lite bonding.

 

There’s a lot wrong with Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, so I’ll start with what I liked about the film. The comedy centres around defying the expectations of what audiences expect from the cast. Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson have starred in a lot of comedies together, and here the switch is flipped slightly. Johnson is a nerd trapped in a action hero’s body, and Hart is a jock who is missing his height and muscles. It’s fun to see Johnson turn around and tell himself not to cry, or Hart berating Johnson only to find out Johnson is incredibly strong. This vein of comedy is mined throughout the film, and Jack Black has a ball with it.  Channelling a teenage girl, he all but steals the show. Karen Gillan fares less well, but mainly because she is less known, and so the audience aren’t carrying any baggage of expectation for her to play off against. A lot was made of her costume when the first pictures appeared online. The film makers said that their was a good reason for that, and for the most part I buy it, it works for the story. Kasdan also does well balancing the action and comedy, with the film moving along at a breezy pace.

 

The faults of this movie though soon outweigh the positives. The video game nature of the movie becoming its biggest crux. The plot is set out like levels of a game, incredibly episodic, but this soon just feels like background to tell some jokes, and the jokes are fine, although it really is just the same joke again and again. The characters are also given three lives each, which removes the film of any tension or real stakes. The original Jumanji felt like it had huge stakes. The game coming to life destroyed their home, and started to destroy their hometown. The dangers of the Jungle felt real, with Robin Williams look of dread at each role of the dice really brining it home. Here the dangers are either easily fought off, or death scenes are played for laughs. The first film was also about bravery. Having the courage to play the game, and role the dice. Here no bravery is needed as the characters are already imbued with the qualities they need to pass each test. Even as the film preaches a message of working together as a team, it seems to be a solution they stumble upon rather than really take to heart.

 

The plot of the film is incredibly predictable. It’s the same storyline as any middling, generic, 90’s action adventure video game. The action scenes are uninspired. The less said about villain Bobby Cannavale the better, with his scenes at best inconsequential, and at worst laughable. They also try to tie the film in with the original, in a really ham fisted way which doesn’t make any logical sense. It can also feel very contrived. When Spencer is playing video games at the beginning of the film, I was annoyed by the fact that he kept saying the moves he was using out loud to himself, something no one in real life does. This is just so that when Dwayne Johnson says all his thoughts out loud it makes sense.

 

I didn’t hate the movie by any stretch. It’s not very good, but it is fun. It’s a big, dumb, action comedy, with some big laughs. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and is sure to be a crowd pleaser, although I’m not sure fans of the original are going to love it as much as they loved the first. In a way it feels like an original screenplay which has been molded into a Jumanji sequel. It starts off well but soon runs out of steam, and the jokes become stale.

 

5/10

Wonder

2017, Uncategorized

Dir. Stephen Chbosky

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson, Julia Roberts, Izabela Vidovic

 

Wonder is the kind of movie I love. I saw the trailer and had to fight back the tears as my eyes welled up. I haven’t read the best-selling book which the film is based on, but I had seen Stephen Chbosky’s previous directorial effort where he adapted his own novel, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. I had read that book, and really enjoyed that movie. So I went in to Wonder, expecting to enjoy it, but with the slight trepidation that it could be too saccharine or mawkish. I shouldn’t have worried. The film didn’t disappoint.

The film centres around August Pullman, or Auggie, and his family. Auggie is a boy born with facial differences, and has been home schooled all his life. Now about to go to school for the first time, his family worry about how he will cope when all his other social experiences have resulted in other kids running away or crying. His sister Via, played by Izabela Vidovic, is having her own problems with friends, but feels her parents won’t notice as they’re too busy worried about Auggie.  Auggie’s mother, played wonderfully by Julia Roberts, is learning how to deal with Auggie flying the nest, and trying to re-embrace the path she was on before kids. Owen Wilson, his usual charming self, plays Auggie’s father, is just there to reassure Auggie, and tell jokes. Not that it’s a bad performance from Wilson, just that the script requires a lot less of him than the other players.

The best thing about Wonder is that Auggie’s journey through his first year of school, is everyone’s experience of school. Yes, his is magnified by the fact that he looks different, but everyone has had a first day where they know no one. Everyone has struggled to make friends, and lost friends. Most people have experienced some kind of bullying, or even inadvertently been the bully. Stephen Chbosky opens the film by focusing on Auggie’s perspective, and he provides the voiceover, but we soon switch to other perspectives, and other characters delivering the voiceover. This helps to deliver the films central theme, that we are all battling between the requirement to fit in and the need to be ourselves. We get to know Auggie first, which builds up the emotional tension when he is bullied at school, but the other perspectives show that he has his flaws too. He can be self-centred and demanding. Just like any other normal child.

The performances really hold the film together. The cast create a group of characters whom I could happily watch, and spend time with for hours. Julia Roberts is great in an understated performance, and Owen Wilson oozes his causal charm. The real stand out however is Jacob Tremblay, which should be no suprise to those who saw his break out performance in Room. Tremblay shows us he is no fluke, and is wonderful even under the heavy prosthetics required to play the role. Chbosky handles the film with great restraint. He allows every scene to bubble away with emotion, but not in a mawkish way, interjecting with moments of surreal joy which flow from Auggie’s imagination, including extended Star Wars cameos. Yes, the film is manipulative, but with this group of characters, you’re happy to allow yourself to be manipulated. Part of this trick is to make you empathise with all the characters. Even the bully kid has his own problems to deal with. Namely his rich parents, who believe that their son is only a bully because he is too young to be exposed to someone who looks like Auggie. The same rhetoric used by parents who don’t want their children going to the same schools as gender fluid children. Chbosky delicately balances all of his characters motives and feelings,  So when the third act arrives, along with the emotional climax, you are left fully satisfied. It would take a cold, cold, heart for anyone to sit through this film and not shed a tear.

The relatabiltity of the movie is a strength, but at times acts as its weakness. The problems Auggie goes through, whilst heartbreaking to witness, are the same problems a lot of kids face. The stakes aren’t raised that much higher, and when they are it can feel a little forced. Most notably, a third act violent encounter. Arguments are ended quickly, and everyone makes it out okay and still friends, but you’ll never really feel like that was in doubt. It’s a well trodden road that you’re being led down, but it’s still an enjoyable and moving one.

The central message of the film is to be nice and understanding to everyone, as you don’t know what it’s like to be them, or what they’re going through. In a way it’s a very similar message to another recent film, one centred around a bear in a rain jacket. Auggie has much in common with Paddington, he looks different to everyone else, but his good heart acts as a kind of everyday heroism, which helps others be the best they can be. It’s a lovely message, and one we need now more than ever.

8/10

 

Molly’s Game

2017, Uncategorized

Dir. Aaron Sorkin

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera

 

I was in the bag for Molly’s Game before I’d even walked into the cinema. I’m a huge Aaron Sorkin fan. Whether it’s his movie screenplays; The Social Network and Steve Jobs being amongst my favourite films of the last decade; or his television writing; I loved both The West Wing and The Newsroom. So whenever a new Aaron Sorkin movie comes out, anticipation is high. Molly’s Game of course marks Sorkin’s directorial debut, so knowing what magic he can conjure up with words I was interested to see what he could do with images.

Molly’s Game is the story of Molly Bloom. An exceptional woman from a family of exceptional children. An Olympic level skier until an accident puts an end to her career. With a place at Harvard waiting for her, she takes a year off to find herself. First working in a bar at LA, which leads to a job as an assistant. She soon starts running private poker games for her boss, games which are attended by all of Hollywoods elite. Earning thousands of dollars a night through tips, she prepares for her eventual firing by setting up her own private game, one which she would turn into a multi-million dollar business. The framing device for the film is a court case. Set two years after Molly has stopped running poker games, she is being indicted for her connections with the Russian mob. Molly claims she never knew they were mob, but she’ll have to convince the judge and her own lawyer, Idris Elba.

There is a lot to admire about Molly’s Game. First of all there is the amount of information supplied in such a short amount of time. This of course is where Sorkin built his career, with whippet quick dialogue, which manages to be witty, intelligent, informative, and laugh out loud funny, all at the same time. There’s a lot to digest, but it’s never less than entertaining, and never drags. Stylistically it comes across as The Wolf Of Wall Street meets The Big Short. The latter being an obvious influence at the beginning of the film, with Jessica Chastain’s voiceover being cut to images of stock footage, and the way that poker is explained to the audience. That’s another plus of the film, you don’t have to know anything about poker to understand what’s going on, and Sorkin doesn’t waste time trying to explain the basics of poker to novices.

Jessica Chastain is fantastic in this film. Her career as a leading lady hasn’t always gone to plan, but she is never less than watchable, and here you can tell she’s enjoying herself with this character, and the fantastic dialogue. In fact all the actors seem to relish the opportunity to use Sorkin’s words. Best of all are the scenes between Chastain and Idris Elba, in possibly his best big screen role yet. If there’s a weak link amongst the cast it’s Michael Cera, who doesn’t really register in his moments on-screen.

I mentioned The Wolf Of Wall Street earlier, and I do think that it’s a good comparison. Where Sorkin’s directorial style doesn’t have the kinetic energy of Scorsese’s film, I did enjoy the story more. Sorkin does well to show us the glamour of the poker lifestyle. The man cave that Molly built is full of good food, fine wine, and beautiful women, but Sorkin also shows the dark side of gambling; the lives ruined, and the addiction. The Wolf Of Wall Street was criticised for never judging Leonardo Dicaprio’s character Jordan Belfort, he was an asshole who ever stopped being an asshole, whereas Molly is inherently a good person who got lost along the way. She’s easier to route for.

The film doesn’t quite knock it out the park though, and there were a few elements which I had issues with. We hear a lot of characters tell us that Molly is a caring person, who won’t even help herself if it means hurting others, but all we see is a couple of attempts to talk to punters who are perhaps gambling a bit too much. We don’t see her really connect with any other characters, which can make her come across as quite cold, and lessens the impact of the emotional climax. Another problem I had was with Kevin Costner, playing Molly’s father. He’s a psychologist, and shows up out of nowhere in the third act to explain to Molly, and us, why she’s like she is. This scene did feel a little forced, and a bit on the nose. Again, if this was handled better it would have had a deeper emotional resonance.

Overall, I found the film really engrossing. I enjoyed watching the story unfold, and I could spend all day just listening to Sorkin’s dialogue. I felt he made a really solid effort at his directorial debut, but the film didn’t quite deliver on the initial promise. The fast cuts of the opening act soon give way to a more traditional method of filmmaking that don’t quite sustain that initial momentum.

 

7/10

Battle Of The Sexes

2017, Uncategorized

Dir. Valerie Faris and Johnathan Dayton

Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Bill Pullman, Sarah Silverman, Natalie Morales, Alan Cumming, Elizabeth Shue

 

I’m not a huge tennis fan, and 1973 was a good twenty years before I was born, so I went into Battle Of The Sexes with next to no expectations. I had seen one trailer, which made the film seem like a generic sports movie with a period setting. Re-telling the story of the famous Battle Of The Sexes, where women’s number one Billie Jean King faced off against 55 year old, ex-champion Bobby Riggs. I went in with an open mind, but was concerned with the lack of buzz surrounding the film. It should be ideal awards bait, with Emma Stone in the lead role, playing a real life character, with strong issues at the heart of the plot. I went in expecting a glossy by the numbers sports biopic, but ended up getting a lot more.

 

The story revolves around Billie Jean King, played by an almost unrecognisable Emma Stone. The film may pitch itself as a two hander with co-lead Steve Carell, but this is Emma Stone’s film. We’re introduced to Billie as the number one women’s tennis player, who is battling for equality in not just her sport, but for women everywhere. When she finds out that Bill Pullman’s sexist Jack Kramer is putting on a tournament where men are being paid 8 times that of women, she forms her own all women’s tour with her manager played by Sarah Silverman. On tour she meets hairdresser Marilyn, and starts to struggle with her own sexuality. Meanwhile, Bobby Riggs, played fantastically by Steve Carell, is struggling with his gambling addiction, which is causing his marriage to collapse. To compensate, the 55 year old puts on The Battle Of The Sexes, where he pits himself against female tennis players. At first Billie Jean wants nothing to do with it, realising that a loss would set her movement back years, but soon realises she’s on a collision course which she can’t get off.

 

One of the great strengths of Battle Of The Sexes is that most of the tennis is played off-screen, with the only real tennis being seen in the final act. The film is much more interested in the characters, not just their achievements. The majority of the film is a love story played out between Billie Jean and Marilyn; when they first meet the cinematography is reminiscent of Todd Haynes’s Carol, with lots of soft colours, and out of focus shapes, helping to portray the sensuality felt from the moment they meet. In lesser hands this could make Billie out to be unlikeable, as she is both being unfaithful to her husband, and not being fair with her feelings towards Marilyn, but the directors here really make you see how complicated her position was. Billie had to take it one battle at a time, and her fight for gender equality would have been hindered if the public knew about her sexuality. Emma Stones’s scenes with Riseborough sizzle with sensuality and sexuality, and her scenes with her husband are equally as heartbreaking.

 

Steve Carell is great as Bobby Riggs, using all his comedic charm, and pairing it with his serious acting chops. Bobby could easily be the villain of the piece, with all his proclamations of being a male chauvinist pig, and how women belong in the kitchen. It’s clear though that these aren’t Riggs’s actual views, and that he’s just a great hustler and showman. In one scene Billie Jean tells Bill Pullman’s character that she’s not worried about Riggs as he’s just a clown, but she is worried about Pullman’s Jack Kramer as she thinks he really believes that women are inferior. It’s not hard to draw parallels between Carell’s Bobby Riggs and a certain US President. The way they talk in hyperbole, and promote themselves. If Riggs  is Trump, then Kramer could easily be seen as Mike Pence.

 

The focus on character really pays off in the third act, where in another sports film it’s good guy versus bad guy, with only their pride at stake. Here the stakes feel huge, and that’s because they are. The final tennis match is a match for female equality with the weight resting firmly on Billie Jeans’s shoulders, and Emma Stone makes us feel that weight. I have to wonder if this film would have been better received if Clinton had won the election. It’s an uplifting film, but that uplift comes with the sadness that the world we live in today isn’t too different from the 70’s. Women are still fighting for equality. There’s a scene near the end which really hits home. Billie Jean sitting in her changing room after the match, crying. It’s the realisation that yes, she succeeded, and yes, she made it through, but the sad reality is that she shouldn’t have had to. She should never have been forced into that position.

 

The film is quietly affecting throughout, and you can’t help but feel moved by the end. The performances are great, and the issues are dealt with sensitively without losing their impact. I still think that it will be looked over during awards season, and that’s because of the direction. It lacks the verve and style that would really make it stand out. I really enjoyed the movie, and got a lot more out of it than I would have expected, but it was just missing that little bit of magic to make it truly special.

 

7/10