list.co.uk/ﬁ lm Reviews | FILM
SCI-FI ROMANCE HER (15) 125min ●●●●●
DOCUMENTARY THE ARMSTRONG LIE (15) 124 min ●●●●● RE-RELEASE DARK DAYS (15) 80 mins ●●●●●
After his adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, Spike Jonze returns in blazing form with the beguiling Her. Set in the very near future, it stars Joaquin Phoenix as Ted, a lonely introvert heartbroken by his impending divorce from childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara).
He spends his days shuttling between a high-rise
apartment (where he immerses himself in videogames) and work, where he’s paid to compose letters for people too lazy to write to their loved ones. Everything changes, however, when he acquires a new operating system, voiced with seduction by Scarlett Johansson. Before he knows what’s happening, Ted is falling for the charms of this virtual vixen.
Her is an elegantly constructed piece that raises a host of questions about how we interact with technology and each other. Phoenix and Johansson deserve props for the virtual bond they build, and there’s credible support from Amy Adams. Jonze’s first self-penned solo script may not boast the madcap genius of the films he made with Charlie Kaufman but it’s thoughtful and tender, and it bristles with invention. (James Mottram) ■ General release from Fri 14 Feb. See feature, page 56.
Alex Gibney delivers another smart and enthralling documentary with The Armstrong Lie, a look at cyclist Lance Armstrong and his spectacular fall from grace following confirmation, after many years of allegations, that he had been involved in doping. In 2009 Gibney began to document Armstrong as he prepared for the Tour de France, a race which he had already won seven times previously. During this time the cyclist vehemently protested against repeated allegations of doping. However in 2013 he would go on to admit, in a now-famous interview with Oprah Winfrey, that he had indeed been involved in drug-taking. Astonished that Armstrong had lied so convincingly to his face, Gibney returns to interview the athlete again.
The Armstrong Lie doesn’t just record one man’s attempt to prevent the truth from being uncovered, it also reveals something about human nature more generally. Why do we lie? And why do we sometimes choose to believe lies? Gibney’s latest doc might not have the impact that some of his most acclaimed films do, but he manages to find an interesting resonance here that goes beyond Armstrong’s sorry tale. (Gail Tolley) ■ Selected release from Fri 31 Jan.
Marc Singer was a young Briton adrift in New York City when he discovered a community of people who had made their homes in disused underground tunnels, moved in with them to offer help, and then, with no filmmaking experience, begged and borrowed camera equipment to tell their story. The result was this justly praised documentary: a work at once intimate, irreverent and respectful, from which unforgettable characters emerge, beautifully shot in black and white. Fourteen years later, Singer’s film still feels
extraordinarily warm and genuine; there’s nothing showy or self-promoting in his presentation of his material. Being shot on actual 16mm film stock at a historical moment just before digital became de rigueur also makes Dark Days an intriguing historical document for those interested in the technical processes of documentary filmmaking; a true labour of love with an aesthetic at once spontaneous and classically elegant, it’s unlikely anything much like it will ever be seen again. As for Marc Singer, he’s barely been heard from since making one of the most auspicious debuts in the history of documentary. (Hannah McGill) ■ GFT, Glasgow, Fri 24 Jan–Mon 27 Jan.
DRAMA DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (15) 117min ●●●●●
You don’t have to cast your mind back far to remember Matthew McConaughey as the star of a slew of mediocre romcoms, a man who seemed to have put his early promise behind him. But over the past year or so he’s had an extraordinary run of performances in wonderfully eclectic fare – Bernie, Killer Joe, The Paperboy, Magic Mike, Mud and most recently The Wolf of Wall Street – and suddenly we’re looking at the most exciting actor in Hollywood. Dallas Buyers Club takes McConaughey onwards and upwards via the meaty, murky, true-life story of Ron Woodroof. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria, C.R.A.Z.Y.), the film sees the promiscuous, chaotic Ron – an electrician and rodeo rider – diagnosed with HIV in 1985. Given a mere month to live, he begins taking the experimental drug AZT, but it’s only when he’s prescribed a different cocktail of pills by a disgraced physician (Griffin Dunne) that his health begins to improve. In the absence of an effective legal treatment Ron sees the opportunity to cash in. When he begins selling to the gay community via a ‘buyers club’ system (which works by selling memberships rather than the drugs themselves) he’s forced to confront his homophobia. Jared Leto plays his transvestite business partner Rayon while Jennifer Garner is a sympathetic doctor.
Dallas Buyers Club highlights the corrosive influence of
big pharma on the medical profession but foregrounds Ron’s reinvention and his burgeoning friendship with Rayon. The two make a charming odd couple, and Leto and the ever-charismatic McConaughey inhabit their characters inside and out. Vallée’s sensitive direction ensures the relationship unfolds with credibility and, while tenderness between the pair might be fleeting, when it’s glimpsed it packs a heavyweight punch. (Emma Simmonds) ■ General release from Fri 7 Feb.
23 Jan–20 Feb 2014 THE LIST 57