Friday, 23 November 2012


There are those that can be cursed with being remembered for the one mistake that you've made rather than the ones you didn't. Director David O'Russell was destined to be one of those - the director that was punched in the face by his own star for being overly "mean" to another one of the cast/crew (Clooney on the set of Three Kings).

With his previous effort receiving Oscar recognition, it looks like with The Fighter that O'Russell could now leave that incident behind. So, it's with some irony that his latest effort sees a man struggle to show that an incident in his past is just that and needs to be classed as such and everyone should just move on...

Mental health issues. Its portrayal can be sketchy at best upon both the small and big screen. Classics such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest tackle it head on very successfully. Others touch on it but wrap it up in a storyline that is easier to swallow such as As Good As It Gets. Others try for all out comedy and run the risk of belittling not only the character but their illness at the same time - What About Bob? Silver Linings Playbook sees itself fall between the first two categories, and it owes this creative success and high praise from the performances of Cooper and Lawrence. Yes, they may have some solid writing to base their performances on, but in the end, if their characters don't hook you somehow then they've lost.

Cooper, yes he from The Hangover and The A-Team, right from the get-go, as he sits in his shrink's office desperately trying to reason with himself and the doctor about his actions, is a man who asks for and needs your attention and your empathy. As the movie unfolds you become privy to the "incident" that caused his stint in the hospital and it is this somewhat shockingly graphic reveal that shows just how strong your connection with Cooper's bi-polar teacher is as, rather than wanting to cut the ties with him, you would rather just want to ride it through to the end with him no matter what. He deserves his "silver lining" and you want him to have it. The books he reads to try to connect with his estranged wife that have no "happy endings" should not be for him.

Of course though, his "happy ending" should not be with his wife but with Lawrence's equally mis-understood and singled out individual that offers Cooper's still love-struck husband a way back into his wife's life. Here, the young woman that blew away the small-but-lucky audience that saw her debut in Winter's Bone and showed that a strong female lead CAN bring in both male and female crowds with her The Hunger Games, shows that these previous performances were not flukes. Lawrence as the recently widowed young woman who reaches out for comfort and solace in sex also has an uncomfortable scene not unlike Cooper's where her disorder causes trouble for him but her face brilliantly shows her struggles with what she's done and what she should do, without her uttering a word. It's this kind of thing that smooths over the obvious age gap between them and has you instead just concentrate on their words and actions rather than their years.

What it manages to do is make you accept the characters because of their flaws and their incidents but not only accept them, but embrace them too. Through such moments as exactly who started the hand-holding - both believe it to be the other - and the who-is-stalking-who through jogging around the neighbourhood, both Cooper's bi-polar Pat and Lawrence's clinically depressed Tiffany create a couple that most average rom-con's would die for - a believable, grounded and "fingers crossed they make it" duo.

Like the best rom-com's (don't be confused though, this is more than a rom-com) it's not just the central characters that help events unfold or win you over. Here, some recognisable individuals step up to the spotlight and, for some of them, banish their recent "phone it in" performances - yes Mr DeNiro, you! The supporting cast help to make it feel like that you're watching friends and family trying to deal with the problems that mental health issues can cause rather than some extras wandering into the camera shot. And for those who still have hearing problems from The Fifth Element and the Rush Hour films, Tucker will be a complete surprise not unlike Cooper.

Silver Linings Playbook does concern itself with a sport - here its American Football - but just like Field Of Dreams, the sport is not important. It's something that the father (DeNiro) and the son (Cooper) can try to bridge the ever-widening gap between themselves but doesn't need you to understand the in's-and-out's of to get it all. Then throw in a dance competition that refuses to go all Hollywood and cheesy and you have a film that never dumbs down itself to bring itself into your good books - and for that it should be seen. Wonderful.

UK release date: 23.11.12
Certificate: 15

Friday, 9 November 2012


Think back if you will, or indeed, if you can. The name Ben Affleck. Causes you to smirk? Or think "that Matt Damon did alright for himself, wonder what happened to his mate?" Who would have thought that Affleck would not only come so far, but be so good?

For indeed he has. And is. Smirking is no longer an option.

With a steady slew on films on his CV that have both won critical and financial success, Affleck is a name that evokes a feeling not too dissimilar from Eastwood's when attached to a new release with his eye behind the camera and his face infront of it. One of anticipation and expectation - afterall, The Town and Gone, Baby Gone were fantastic pieces of work so can he replicate it again?

Simply put, yes he can. However, this is not the Affleck that we've been introduced to. There is no working class, family feuding drama from the streets of either his hometown of Boston or similar. Here he has truly spread his wings with the true story of the attempt to rescue six escaped American diplomats after the fall of their Embassy before the Iranians realise that they're missing. So, "how do we like them apples?" Alot.

Right from the outset, the attention to detail, or as the main American characters are trying to do here, the attention to deception, is outstanding. For a start there's the old style Warners' logo present from the very beginning. Then the filmstock used looks like it was filmed in the 70's to the point where the distinction between original footage and new is indistinguishable. At the beginning of the film, this confusion only helps to add to the tension felt by the viewer as the Embassy staff try to remain calm and follow protocol until the point where the front doors and windows are stormed by the worked-up crowd outside. And that's even before you've gotten to the beards and the flares!

Like the beards and the flares, there's two very distinct groups here throughout Argo - the Americans securely based in their sunny climate where all is suited-and-booted (albeit with back-stabbing, own-ass-saving motives) and of course the out-of-towners where the sun doesn't necessarily shine on TV and where the background of gunfire, hostile shouts and lack of sunshine is a constant reminder and threat throughout.

With careful plotting, depiction and narrative, Affleck and co place the story into three very different and recognisable categories - the suits in the American Government (CIA, The Whitehouse etc with this years unstoppable Cranston), the Hollywood Hacks (the sublime Arkin and Goodman) and the pawns in the bigger picture in Iran (the six fugitives and their helpers including the incredulous McNairy as the "you've gotta be joking?!?!" fugitive) - each with their own tone of lighting, mood and pace. It's not until all the three start to meld together in the final 25 minutes that everything becomes blurred to the point of nail-biting, armrest-grabbing anticipation.  It's been that well thought out.

Now, the issue with all "Based On A True Story" movies is that pretty much all of them are on the edge of far-too-good-to-be-true and leave you feeling that alot must have been embellished along the way to make it into a two hour-plus film. There is only one point throughout it;s entirety when Argo feels like the screenplay writers have stepped outside the boundaries of realism to help make an entertaining movie and even then it comes across as the Grandad to the finale of Die Hard 2.

A truly gripping piece of film-making, Affleck has proven that his last two previous efforts were not flukes and that he can now stretch himself away from Boston-based family dramas and is indeed truly a force not only to be reckoned with but one to be taken note of in the future. His handling on a subject that Spielberg would have considered is a testament not only to his guts but to his glory too.

Essential and downright enthralling viewing.

UK release date: 07.11.12
Certificate: 15