THRILLER THE NEXT THREE DAYS (12A) 132min ●●●●●
This unremarkable thriller represents a low for writer/director Paul Haggis, who not so long ago was being showered with Oscars for his work (Million Dollar Baby, Crash). It’s a remake of Fred Cavayé’s
Anything For Her from 2008, and while it’s easy to understand Haggis’s desire to delve into the story’s moral grey areas for himself, he so completely smoothes over any rough edges in this retelling that he blunts every potentially interesting aspect of the film.
Russell Crowe gives a bland performance as John Brennan, an ordinary schoolteacher and family man who takes the law into his own hands when his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is found guilty of murder and sentenced to long-term imprisonment.
Convinced of Lara’s innocence, but lacking evidence, Brennan concocts an elaborate break-in scheme that leads him into increasingly desperate and potentially criminal actions of his own. Despite working from his own script, Haggis seems unsure whether he’s directing a fun action romp or a serious moral drama; this ends up being neither. The highlight is an unintentionally hilarious cameo from Liam Neeson as a grizzled veteran prison-breaker. (Paul Gallagher) ■ General release, Fri 7 Jan.
DRAMA LEAP YEAR (ANO BISIESTO) (18) 92min ●●●●●
Set almost exclusively within the four walls of a gloomy Mexico City apartment, this minimalist chamber drama is the debut feature of Australian- born writer-director Michael Rowe. Its protagonist is the depressed Laura (Monica del Carmen from Babel), a freelance business journalist of indigenous origins. We’re soon aware of her loneliness and alienation in the capital: she lies to her widowed mother about the state of her life, masturbates while gazing out of the window at a young neighbouring couple, and crosses off the days on her calendar. And she begins a sado-masochistic relationship with an older man, Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez Parra): he relishes inflicting pain on her before and during intercourse, and she enjoys being the recipient of this punishment.
It’s tough to watch a vulnerable woman being choked, whipped, urinated upon and burnt by cigarettes at the hands of a male partner. Yet Leap Year is an undeniably serious exploration of its troubling subject matter, with its echoes of Last Tango in Paris and In the Realm of the Senses. The single setting heightens the sense of Laura’s emotional isolation, and Rowe reveals enough of her existence for us to understand why she might be drawn to such extreme activities. The rigorousness is extended to the film’s formal approach: there’s no soundtrack music (save for a song over the closing credits), and in the long takes the fixed camera keeps its distance from the characters. Above all, credit must go to Del Carmen, who produces such a brave and committed performance, which is shorn of all vanity. (Tom Dawson) ■ Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 7–Thu 13 Jan.
DRAMA/ROMANCE BLUE VALENTINE (15) 111min ●●●●●
Ten years in the making, Derek Cianfrance’s extraordinary feature film debut, which can be best described as a marital cautionary tale, draws from the very best of the American independent inheritance (the uncompromising work of John Cassavetes being a clear reference point). The narrative centres on the heady intoxication of initial romance and the excruciating final days of a marriage in inexorable decline. ‘Hellish’ is too meek a word to describe the emotional abuse and neglect that Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) visit upon one another.
Visually striking and beautifully edited, this film nonetheless belongs wholly to the two lead actors who deliver performances of such commitment and intensity that certain moments verge on being not
merely uncomfortable, but unwatchable. Gosling, in particular, demonstrates once again that he is capable of anything given the right material (see his astonishing work in Half Nelson from 2006). In the latter section of the film, his entire
comportment shows a man left disappointed, strained and weary from the sheer effort put into sustaining his love for a woman who has grown to be completely indifferent to him. Filmed almost entirely in close-up, Blue Valentine is
a highly claustrophobic viewing experience; Cianfrance may have put his actors through their paces during the making of the film (through months of arduous improvisation), but his audience does not come away unscathed either. This is as far from a pleasant and heart-warming experience as you can have in the cinema, but it is an exceptional and brutal piece of filmmaking. (Anna Rogers) ■ Selected release, Fri 14 Jan. See profile, index.
6–20 Jan 2011 THE LIST 47