London Film Festival 2011 Diary: Day 7

HEADHUNTERS (Morten Tyldum)

Norwegian author Jo Nesbo has recently had a real boost in popularity thanks to his books being marketed, at least in the UK, as reminiscent of the work of Steig Larsson, so it’s no surprise to see Yellow Bird, who produced the Millennium films, bet on Nesbo as their next big thing with this adaptation of his 2008 novel.

Headhunters definitely has some surprises up its sleeve; it starts as a simple seeming thriller about Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), who is so eager to keep his beautiful wife (Julie R. Olgaard) happy that in addition to having what seems to be a high flying job in recruitment he moonlights as an art thief. Roger senses a big score when he meets executive Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and discovers that he owns a very famous painting, but soon after the theft, Greve, an ex-special forces man, turns the tables, and Roger has to run for his life.

The film becomes more complex and shows new parts of its hand as the film goes on, some more convincing than others (the tracer technology doesn’t seem very credible to me) and it has a couple of sequences where the sheer outlandishness of the filmmakers is worth a giggle (the dog, for example), but overall the film just didn’t quite grab me. It’s hard to explain; all the ingredients are there, but somehow I watched this rollercoaster ride rather than feeling like I went on it. Perhaps it’s that, like the second and third Millennium films, it felt a bit televisual, perhaps it’s the lack of that one ultra compelling character to take you on the ride (Roger felt like a bit of a non-entity to me, despite a decent performance from Aksel Hennie), perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood for this at 10:30am, but something kept me at one remove here.

I’d say that I’d like to see it again, but I suspect that the film might come tumbling down in a cascade of plot holes if I looked at it knowing what happened and having the opportunity to really think about it. Your mileage may vary, but for me, this gets a solidly middling score.
2.5 / 5

LIKE CRAZY (Drake Doremus)

Perhaps contrary to expectations, I’m quite the romantic at heart (ladies), and so I was hoping to enjoy this drama featuring rising stars Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin as Anna and Jacob; a transatlantic couple who meet at college in LA, but find their relationship complicated when, having overstayed her visa for a summer, Anna can’t get back into the US after leaving without Jacob to attend a wedding. The film then follows Jacob and Anna as they attempt, in fits and starts, to make their relationship work.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of Like Crazy, the difficulty and frustration of maintaining (or not) a long distance relationship is something many of us can relate to, but I really disliked this film on a pretty intense level. The problem is really that I never felt I knew enough about these characters to buy into and thus be interested in the continuation of their relationship. The most we learn about either of them is that he makes chairs, she writes adolescent sounding poetry and they both like Paul Simon. That’s really not much on which to hang a relationship that we’re clearly meant to be hugely invested in. There’s barely a moment of simple human interaction here, nothing feels casual or natural, the shooting feels stiff, contrived and staged (especially the montage which has Anna and Jacob staying in bed for a month, cut like one of those youtube photo compilations) and throughout Jones and Yelchin mumble at each other in dry, passionless, tones.

Yelchin and Jones, within the confines of the script, are okay, but they’ve clearly been given little to work with in terms of character and are both directed into monotonous performances which, however much they say they feel it, never convinced me of these people’s need to be together.

Though they are very different films I kept thinking back to the scene in the listening booth in Before Sunrise, and how that, silently, said more about those two characters and their relationship, and contained more truth in two minutes than Like Crazy manages in 90. A clear touchstone for director Drake Doremus is Blue Valentine (which played at last year’s LFF, as it happens), but though I had issues with that film I at least felt invested in the relationship, because we knew something about it; why it worked, and why it didn’t.

Like Crazy annoyed me. I wanted Anna to stop being so self pitying about something that, after all, only happened because she was stupid and selfish, I wanted someone to say something I didn’t have to strain to hear, but mostly I just wanted to care, but I didn’t, and I don’t.
1 / 5

PARIAH (Dee Rees)

I seem to have, somewhat by accident, seen quite a few lesbian coming of age movies. There have been some great ones, like Fucking Amal and Water Lilies, and some that haven’t quite worked, but I’ve now seen enough that I’m beginning to notice that there is getting be an almost cookie cutter form to these films, with setting and language often being the real points of difference rather than story.

Perhaps that’s why I liked Pariah much more in its first hour, which is really a familial drama more than it is a ‘lesbian movie’, yes, you’re always aware that Alike (Adepero Oduye) is a masculine lesbian with parents who might well disapprove if she came out, but what’s compelling is the way that this tension, and that in her parents (Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell) marriage, plays under the surface for much of the first hour, creating an undertow of tension. It’s well acted too, with Parnell a standout, and Oduye making Alike a well rounded, three dimensional character who is especially interesting when interacting with her slightly older gay friend Laura (Pernell Walker).

Unfortunately Pariah lapses into histrionic cliche towards the end, with the inevitable coming out scene playing like an over the top outtake from Precious and Alike’s relationship with classmate Bina (Aasha Davis) also hitting all the obvious buttons. Overall Pariah is a solid effort, it’s not the most cinematic of films, with a murky and somewhat televisual look, but it is effective dramatically for much of its running time, and it suggests that Dee Rees might have some interesting things to say about family in future.
3 / 5

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