Tomb Raider

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Roar Uthaug

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Derek Jacobi.

We’ve seen a Lara Croft movie before. The Angelina Jolie vehicle was a terrible adaptation of the video game, which has aged horribly. The sequel was even worse. In recent years the games have rebranded, with a more realistic feel, taking Lara’s story back to the beginning. Tomb Raider takes its cues from these more recent games, functioning as both a gritty reboot, and an origin story. Alicia Vikander is now in the lead role, transitioning from OSCAR darling to action star, and Norwegian director Roar Uthaug is the man behind the camera. I had a lot of faith going in, but it turned out to be a bumpy voyage.

Tomb Raider follows Lara Croft (Vikander), a young woman making her own way in modern day London. She regularly attends kick-boxing lessons, and struggles to make ends meet with a job as a bicycle courier. We soon find out that she’s actually the daughter of Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), who has been missing for 7 years. Lara is in line to inherit his fortune, but is unwilling to sign him off as dead. When she uncovers a secret room within the grounds of Croft Manor, she discovers that her father disappeared whilst searching for an ancient Japanese tomb, one which he believed housed a terrible evil. Lara sets off to Japan to uncover the truth behind her fathers disappearance.

This version of Tomb Raider is a hell of a lot better than the last one we got. The route they’ve decided to go down is the same one James Bond went down with Daniel Craig. If the Angelina Jolie movies were equivalent to Bond during the Pierce Brosnan era, than this is definitely Craig era. It’s gritty, and grounded in realism. It even shears off the supernatural edge that the games still retain. It strips Lara of everything that makes her iconic. There’s no ponytail, no dual gun toting, and definitely no shorts. This time around Lara has to earn all of it, and the film is better for it. We don’t even see inside Croft mansion. It’s a good place to start, but the film spends too much time layering on the grit, that it forgets that it’s supposed to be fun.

If the quick pitch for this film is Indiana Jones meets James Bond, with a female lead, than the final product doesn’t match the idea. We spend so much time with Lara wallowing in the loss of her father, that you wonder if the film makers realise they are making a film called Tomb Raider. It should be fun, it should be slightly ridiculous, and it should feature more tombs. When the film started I thought we might get a female empowerment movies along the lines of Wonder Woman, but the film never really plays up to that. The film makers make smart choices, the video game Lara became a nerd sex symbol, but they never sexualise Vikander, and they give her friendships not romantic relationships. It’s the story though that lets it down, by having her pining over her father for so long, it robs the film of its independent woman kicks-ass message.

The real joy of Tomb Raider is Vikander’s performance. She makes a fantastic Lara Croft. She’s talked about her extensive training regime to get in shape, and it’s paid off. She is completely believable in the role. If anything she is let down by the script. She gives Lara a charm which doesn’t seem to be there on the page, and the only reason half the jokes land seems to be through her just willing them to. Walter Goggins makes a great villain too, and when the two of them face off against each other it makes for some of the best scenes in the movie. The action is all serviceable, and they’ve matched the aesthetic of the new Tomb Raider games perfectly. It’s a shame that we’ve seen all the best bits in the trailer, including the last shot of the movie.

Tomb Raider is a serviceable action movie, but its majorly let down by the story and the script. It’s competently enough directed, but never gets the heart racing. If they had leaned more towards an Indiana Jones tone, they could have gotten so much more out of it. Alicia Vikander shines, but in a better film she could have made her version of Lara iconic.


Darkest Hour

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Joe Wright

Starring: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Ben Medelsohn, Ronald Pickup, and Stephen Dillane.

Joe Wright is a curious director. Hailed as a visionary by many, his CV is an eclectic mix of action movie (Hanna), fantasy romp (Pan), and futuristic television (he directed the episode Nosedive for Black Mirror). Wright always comes back though, to what could be described as his bread and butter, historical dramas. It’s in period pieces such as Pride and Prejudice, and Atonement where Wright really made his name. Here, he returns to the well once again, in fact the most famous shot in Wrights career was the Dunkirk beach sequence in Atonement, the events of which this movie is based around. It’s a return to form after the bizarre mess that was Pan, and sees the director pair one of Britains greatest ever actors with one of its most iconic men.

Darkest Hour starts with the resignation of Neville Chamberlain, a war time Prime Minister who has lost the support of the house. The Conservative party decide to place Winston Churchill in charge, a man who whilst controversial within his own party would have the support of the Labour Party. Churchill is elected at the beginning of May 1940, and the film tells the trials and tribulations of his first month as PM. He has to deal with a Europe which is slowly succumbing to the onslaught from Nazi Germany, the crisis at Dunkirk, and dissent from within his own party, who are looking to oust him if he doesn’t consider peace talks with Hitler.

It’s almost unavoidable to talk about this film and not mention the acting. Gary Oldman gives us a true masterclass in the craft. Joe Wright and Oldman blend make-up, acting, writing, and direction together to portray a completely believable, absorbing character. At first you marvel at the job that Oldman is doing, and then you forget it’s Gary Oldman, for the next hour and a half you are watching Winston Churchill. Oldman doesn’t just play the icon though, he imbues Churchill with a humanity. If the blustering speeches get the headlines, it’s Oldman’s work at showing us the frailty of the man which is truly spectacular. Wright surrounds Oldman with fantastic actors as well. Lily James is wonderful, but it’s Kristin Scott-Thomas and Ben Medelsohn who really shine, having a huge impact with very little screen time. Scott-Thomas, as Churchill’s wife portraying the stoic nature of her sacrifice, and the love she has for her husband. Mendelsohn as King George, putting in an understated but moving performance.

Wright makes the history and politics easy to follow, and accessible. It’s a character piece which takes it cues from Shakespearean plays, and the stories of Roman emperors. The action is confined to the war room, and to the back stabbing political world. The war is reduced to aerial shots, offering us context to Churchill’s inner turmoil. It’s in Wright’s direction that the film excels. For a film whose characters actions have such wide spread global repercussions, Wright keeps it incredibly claustrophobic. It’s mostly shot inside, with very little light. Wright takes joy in juxtaposing Churchill’s political position with that of his nation. See how the camera gets tighter on Churchill’s face as both the fate of those at Dunkirk gets more dire, and his party push him towards peace talks; or how he frames a telephone call between Churchill and President Roosevelt, linking how isolated Churchill had become, and in turn Britain had become. Wright ratchets up the tension to unbearable levels, similar to the feat Christopher Nolan pulled off with Dunkirk.

This is not a flawless film though. Having such a tight focus on just one month of Churchill’s time in office, there will always be avenues you wish had been explored further. Kristin Scott-Thomas does fantastically well with very little, but you do wish this relationship had been explored further. Similarly, Lily James’ Elizabeth Layton, acts as a great entry point for the audience, but you wish she had been given a bit more character. There is also a sequence on an underground train, which has the potential to de-rail the whole film. Although Churchill had a reputation for popping up in different parts of London to speak to the public, there is no evidence of this scene ever taking place. It’s placement in the film feels very convenient, and for a film which had done so much with subtleties, it feels too on the nose. It also destroys the momentum that had been building.

Darkest Hour is a terrific character study of Winston Churchill, and Gary Oldman’s performance will go down as one of the all time greats. Wright uses his film to say some great things about standing behind your convictions, and having courage under fire. It’s about making those hard decisions, to stand behind your principles even if it means complete annihilation. It’s minimalistic in style, but Wright still adds some flourishes, a transition from a bombed battlefield to a fallen soldiers face being a stand out. It’s a well put together film, that can’t help but stumble in places.