lm Reviews | FILM


DRAMA LABOR DAY (15) 111min ●●●●●

Ralph Fiennes’ second directorial effort is impressive in its evocation of restrained emotion. Based on Claire Tomalin’s book about Charles Dickens’ relationship with an 18-year-old aspiring actress named Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), the film is structured on two timeframes and transitions between Nelly’s fateful initial encounter with Dickens (and the inception of their affair) and her later state of isolation and grief. The film’s tension comes not only from the

necessarily chaste and somewhat clumsy nature of Dickens’ pursuit of Nelly, but also from the evident risk of scandal that could (and eventually does) arise as a result of his fascination with her. Dickens may give up his wife and family for Nelly, but the viewer is left in no doubt that the greater loss is hers: for in accepting his love she loses her own voice. Fiennes gives a measured and intelligent performance as Dickens, but the film really belongs to Felicity Jones and Joanna Scanlan. As the writer’s mistress and wife respectively, both of them are condemned to invisibility and their exchanges are rife with a resigned and sad complicity over the female lot. (Anna Rogers) General release from Fri 7 Feb.

All dressed up with nowhere to go, Scott Cooper’s follow-up to his award-garlanded Jeff Bridges drama Crazy Heart is a languid thriller, garnished with meaty performances in service of a deeply conventional narrative. Russell Baze (Christian Bale) is a furnace worker

whose protective feelings run high for his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), a war veteran who struggles to make a living in illegal bare-knuckle boxing. Although John Petty (Willem Dafoe) is pushing Rodney to fight more, the real danger comes from fight promoter Harlan DeGroat, played with intensity by Woody Harrelson. When Rodney’s experience turns sour, Russell is forced to start a turf-war with DeGroat, leading to a desolate showdown. With this kind of talent, Out of the Furnace is never

boring, but the result is not particularly interesting either. Affleck, Dafoe and Harrelson all do their best to whip up a storm, but Cooper is guilty of wasting A-list talent on a B-movie revenge scenario. The milieu of poverty and unemployment is convincing, but the forced melodrama of Out of The Furnace is likely to leave all but students of method acting feeling a little left out in the cold. (Eddie Harrison) General release from Wed 29 Jan.

Jason Reitman (Juno and Up in the Air) is the closest thing we have to a 21st-century Billy Wilder with his fondness for sharply written, tart-tasting explorations of modern mores. However, all of the satire and cynicism at the heart of his previous work sails out the window in Labor Day, a risible, sun- kissed melodrama. On a holiday weekend in 1987, reclusive divorcee

Adele (Kate Winslet) and her teenage son Henry (impressive newcomer Gattlin Griffith) make a rare trip to a local store where they are approached by blood-stained stranger Frank (Josh Brolin). They return home together and find themselves at the mercy of an escaped killer who happens to be the saintliest sinner in the world and extremely handy around the house. In his place you might keep a low profile but he is soon dashing outside to clear the gutters, replace a tyre and teach Henry baseball.

Reitman expects us to take this at face value, and the actors do their utmost to lend conviction to some unintentionally hilarious slush, but it only grows more preposterous and platitudinous as it rolls along. You assumed Mel Brooks had retired but after watching this misfire, you might think again. (Allan Hunter) General release from Fri 7 Feb.


The Coen brothers return with the 16th film of their remarkable careers, once again vaulting the exceedingly high bar they’ve set for themselves. Set in the smoky dive bars of 1961 Greenwich Village, Inside Llewyn Davis is (very) loosely based on the life of folk musician Dave Van Ronk. Like their chain-gang musical O Brother, Where Art Thou?, fiction and fact collide, as real-life figures or approximations of them flit in and out. Here, Llewyn Davis (the wonderful Oscar Isaac) is a singer-

songwriter on the slide. His musical partner committed suicide and he’s got a box full of unsold albums; barely scratching out a living, he’s existing on the goodwill of others. Meanwhile, Jean (Carey Mulligan), the folkie singer he’s been seeing behind her partner Jim’s (Justin Timberlake) back, has announced she’s pregnant.

This is just the first few scenes in what is a masterly Coen screenplay up there with A Serious Man and The Man Who Wasn’t There for its portrayal of male neuroses and failure. For hardcore fans, there are some blissful examples of the Coens’ typically surreal humour, led by John Goodman’s cameo as an ageing hepcat. As for those who think these brothers are cold filmmakers, the only thing chilly here is the wintry New York setting, evocatively shot by Bruno Delbonnel.

Best of all is Isaac, who delivers the performance of his career so far not least strumming a series of folk ballads in full with a soulfulness any serious musician might envy. Plaudits too should go to T-Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford for their behind-the- scenes work on musical arrangement. But, in the end, the credit really goes to Joel and Ethan Coen for being wonderfully on song again. (James Mottram) General release from Fri 24 Jan. See interview with Oscar Isaac on page 30.

23 Jan–20 Feb 2014 THE LIST 59