Film Review of the Week


Horizon: An American Saga - Chapter 1 (15)

Review: Oscar-winner Kevin Costner returns to the director’s chair for the first time since Open Range in 2003 to helm a sweeping historical drama set during the first half of the 1860s against the backdrop of the Civil War. “You just gotta keep going,” his weary horse trader growls at a co-star towards the conclusion of this first chapter of a proposed four-part odyssey. Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 certainly does keep going, and going, and going, trotting leisurely towards a three-hour running time to establish characters from three gently intertwining storylines that leave hoof marks in Wyoming, Montana and Kansas.

Audiences should expect a little saddle soreness over the coming years as narrative threads unravel while others are neatly tied up. The script co-written by Jon Baird and Costner isn’t overstuffed with detail and surprisingly little happens, aside from explosions of impeccably choreographed violence. Performances are consistently strong and understated except for Jamie Campbell Bower’s unhinged and vengeful son, who is several sleepers short of a railroad and brings intentional chaos to his scenes. Cinematographer J Michael Muro, who first worked with Costner on Dances With Wolves, captures the stark, untamed beauty of desertscapes where freshly spilt blood barely has time to settle on sun-baked ground.

Pionsenay (Owen Crow Shoe) and brother Taklishim (Tatanka Means) defy the orders of their father, White Mountain Apache tribe leader Tuayeseh (Gregory Cruz), to spearhead a night-time attack on the Wyoming community of Horizon. The Kittredges, comprising father James (Tim Guinee), mother Frances (Sienna Miller), daughter Lizzie (Georgia MacPhail) and teenage son Nate (Hayes Costner), fight for their lives against overwhelming odds.

Meanwhile in Montana, embittered matriarch Mrs Sykes (Dale Dickey) dispatches sons Junior (Jon Beavers) and Caleb (Campbell Bower) to hunt down the mistress of her no-good husband (Charles Halford). The “other woman”, Ellen (Jena Malone), has an infant son and Mrs Sykes is determined to forcibly introduce her husband’s illegitimate offspring to their bloodline. Horse trader Hayes Ellison (Costner) and sex worker Marigold (Abbey Lee) are inadvertently caught in the crossfire. On the Santa Fe Trail, a wagon train of pioneers including Matthew Van Weyden (Luke Wilson) hope for a brighter future but they are under the surveillance of Indigenous scouts.

Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 whets appetites with beautifully crafted yet insubstantial morsels. Technical credits including production and costume design are top notch and evoke a savage, lawless era with aplomb. Concluding minutes are reserved for a slick trailer for Chapter 2 to persuade us that the investment of three precious hours will reap rewards when the next instalment canters into cinemas on August 16. I’m not wholly convinced.

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Kinds Of Kindness (18)

Review: The pulsating bassline of Eurythmics’ chart-topping 1983 hit Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) plays over the opening sequence of Kinds Of Kindness then reverberates from inside a car as it pulls into the driveway of a well-appointed house. “Hold your head up, keep your head up…” trills lead singer Annie Lennox. Her encouragement should be taken literally by the characters in a blackly humorous anthology of three loosely interconnected stories, which reunites Oscar-nominated director Yorgos Lanthimos with actors Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe and The Lobster co-writer Efthimis Filippou.

After the supremely entertaining and visually ravishing double whammy of The Favourite and Poor Things, this fanciful triptych is an uncharacteristic slog from the Greek filmmaker. The first character to demonstrate genuine kindness on screen doesn’t manifest until the third hour and attention is wavering. Considered individually, the three stories are intriguing diversions that ramp up the weirdness but neglect the wonder, observing human frailties at close quarters. As a compendium, Kinds Of Kindness proves more tiresome than tantalising. Jesse Plemons snags the meatiest role in two of the three chapters and is especially compelling as a spineless yes man, who dares to utter “no” for the first time.

The Death Of R.M.F. introduces sharp-suited corporate lackey Robert Fletcher (Plemons), who allows his boss Raymond (Dafoe) to dictate every aspect of his life including the clothes he wears, the time he makes love to his wife Sarah (Hong Chau) and the food he eats. “Skinny men are the most ridiculous thing,” scoffs Raymond. Robert’s unerring dedication is tested when Raymond issues orders to commit vehicular homicide by intentionally driving into the car of the enigmatic R.M.F. (Yorgos Stefanakos).

Next in R.M.F. Is Flying, police officer Daniel (Plemons) awaits news about his marine biologist wife Liz (Stone), who is lost at sea. A telephone call confirms she has been found alive but Daniel’s joy is short-lived as he observes radical changes to Liz’s behaviour. “That woman is not my wife!” Daniel whispers to best friend Neil (Mamoudou Athie). Finally in R.M.F. Eats A Sandwich, sex cult leaders Omi (Dafoe) and Aka (Chau) despatch acolytes Emily (Stone) and Andrew (Plemons) to search for a living female twin blessed with the power to reanimate the dead. A veterinarian named Ruth (Qualley) may fulfil the prophecy but Emily is “contaminated” by an urge to reconnect with her husband (Joe Alwyn) and daughter (Merah Benoit).

Kinds Of Kindness performs some of the same narrative tricks as Lanthimos’s earlier films but without a sense of urgency or clear purpose. The ensemble cast navigate each chapter with unwavering trust in their filmmaker. Full frontal nudity and graphic sex scenes support a running theme of domination but also feel gratuitous. Kind of disappointing.

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A Quiet Place: Day One (15)

Review: Silence was golden – and imperative for survival – in director John Krasinski’s 2018 post-apocalyptic horror A Quiet Place about a family combating sightless creatures, which hunt by sound. In the sequel, a tense opening sequence offered us a tantalising glimpse of the moment the otherworldly menace arrived on our planet as a meteor shower and interrupted a little league baseball game in the quiet town of Millbrook.

The battle between puny homo sapiens and merciless beasts known as Death Angels moves on to the mean streets of New York City in a nerve-jangling prequel written and directed by Michael Sarnoski that, sadly, affirms the law of diminishing returns with movie franchises. A Quiet Place: Day One quickens the pulse in fits and bursts with breathlessly orchestrated action sequences including a frantic descent into flooded tunnels with echoes of the Alien franchise. A special effects-laden bloodbath is inevitable once we relocate to a bustling metropolis where noise levels regularly reach 90 decibels (equivalent to a persistent human scream).

We have held our breaths for a home birth in a bathtub and a nail through a foot so the tension is easier to withstand third time around. Stakes are not as high when ambient noise (thunder, rain cascading off rooftops) and screeching car alarms can conceal screams, whimpers and whispered expository dialogue. Sarnoski’s script handpicks when a noise will attract attention or pass unnoticed to support a steadily increasing body count.

The emotional fulcrum is terminally ill cancer patient Sam (Lupita Nyong’o), who self-manages her pain with fentanyl skin patches as a resident of Little Firs Hospice Centre. During a day trip to the city to watch a theatre performance with nurse Reuben (Alex Wolff) and her emotional support cat Frodo, Sam witnesses our terrifying first contact with the Death Angels. Calmly resigned to her demise, Sam embarks on a lonely trek to Harlem to enjoy one final slice of pizza from the restaurant where her late father took her as a child. En route, she bonds with panic-stricken British lawyer Eric (Joseph Quinn), who states the obvious when he surmises, “I think the world may be ending…”.

A Quiet Place: Day One is a ruthlessly efficient thriller punctuated by infrequent jump scares, anchored by Nyong’o’s heartrending performance (Quinn materialises around the halfway point). Instances of stillness in Sarnoski’s picture are the most impactful, especially the touching scenes of compassion and dependency between Sam and Eric in the face of certain death. A returning character provides narrative glue between the three instalments so far, with a fourth in development that will presumably give more context to an otherwise superfluous scene of a Death Angels nest. Keep calm and carry on with the slaughter.

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