FILM | REVIEWS
COMEDY WESTERN THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (TBC) 132min ●●●●●
Originally intended as a multi-part television series, the new, Netflix-backed Coen Brothers movie has instead become an anthology film, comprising six stories of the American Old West. Each tale is presented as a chapter in a dusty storybook. The film opens in high style with the titular tale, in which singing sharp-shooter Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), resplendent in a white suit and hat, gets himself into a spot of bother in a cantina full of bad hombres. Showcasing Nelson's 'pleasing baritone' and peppered with great dialogue, it's a hilarious tale enlivened by the Coens' signature moments of sudden comic violence. Its somewhat unexpected ending holds the key to the rest of the film, as each segment becomes increasingly more melancholy, exploring themes of death and the stark brutality of the Old West. Accordingly, the remaining tales, which include James Franco as a decidedly unlucky bank robber, Liam Neeson as a travelling showman and Zoe Kazan as a wagon train passenger, are both haunting and macabre. And all are impeccably crafted, from Bruno Delbonnel's stunning cinematography to Carter Burwell's wonderful Western-themed score and Jess Gonchor's gorgeously detailed production design. A treat for Coen fans and Western fans alike. (Matthew Turner) ■ Available on Netflix and on limited release from Fri 16 Nov.
ACTION ASSASSINATION NATION (18) 108min ●●●●●
Has social media spawned the rise of self-righteous, pitchfork wielding bigots, quick to judge anyone who doesn’t fit into their bubble? Director and writer Sam Levinson’s modern spin on the Salem witch trials captures the chaos and confusion of living online with electrifying clarity. When a small town gets hacked by an anonymous force, with people’s secrets leaking into a public forum, a climate of hate and distrust spreads like a virus. The casting of singer Abra, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse and
Odessa Young as a group of rebellious teenagers is one of the many genius moves this film makes. They share a natural chemistry that adds to the authentic flavour of their friendship, and this credibility means that, when it all kicks off and they feel pain, fury and distress, the audience feels it too. Levinson’s cine-literate approach references a multitude of films including American Beauty and the Stray Cat Rock series, while an intense tracking shot from outside a house brings to mind Dario Argento’s Tenebrae. Levinson’s brutal visuals compound with the high-pitched mass hysteria to paint a bloody portrait of modern America that plays out like a terrifying horror film. (Katherine McLaughlin) ■ General release from Fri 23 Nov.
CRIME DRAMA WIDOWS (TBC) 128min ●●●●●
Slick, smart, suspenseful and brimming with pathos for the women whose lives are trampled under the boots of men, Steve McQueen’s follow-up to 12 Years a Slave trades historical horrors for present-day cynicism; its characters might be free but, for that, they’re paying a crippling price. This densely populated, richly realised crime drama is based on the 1980s TV series by
Lynda La Plante, with the milieu shifted to contemporary Chicago. Hardboiled dialogue comes courtesy of McQueen himself and Gone Girl scribe Gillian Flynn in the kind of politically disaffected tale that’s a good fit for our troubled times.
Viola Davis plays Veronica Rawlings, the spouse of Liam Neeson’s career criminal who talks the wives of her husband’s associates (Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez) into a heist when a job goes awry. Meanwhile, in a film that views violent crime and political corruption as equivalently destructive, the outgoing alderman of the 18th Ward (a vile Robert Duvall) hopes to hand the upcoming election to his jaded, morally tarnished son (Colin Farrell). However, a local gangster turned unscrupulous businessman (Brian Tyree Henry) has other ideas.
Although three very different females are the ultimate focus, the movie has no truck with Ocean's Eight’s brand of screwball criminality. These women are grafters and pragmatists who staunchly refuse to be collateral damage to male misadventure. Working with a cast which bear the weight of his scrutiny, McQueen’s contemplative,
soul-searching style is in evidence enough without detracting from genre thrills and feminist fury. ‘No-one thinks we have the balls to pull this off,’ spits Veronica. Just watch them prove everyone wrong. (Emma Simmonds) ■ General release from Tue 6 Nov.
HISTORICAL DRAMA PETERLOO (12A) 154min ●●●●●
Mike Leigh’s latest arrives painted on a far greater canvas than he’s previously attempted in his illustrious career. While you can still expect intimate domestic exchanges, the backdrop is a real historical event: the 1819 massacre at St Peter’s Field in Manchester, when a pro-democracy protest was overrun by the military.
Beginning on the battlefields at Waterloo with a young bugler (David Moorst) surrounded by carnage, the tone is set for what will be – on Leigh’s own terms – an epic. The shell-shocked soldier soon returns to the bosom of his family, his mother Nellie played by the
great Maxine Peake, an actress who could have been working with Leigh her whole life.
Leigh crafts an ensemble story that follows various parties – magistrates, reformers, the Prince Regent – until they coalesce in Manchester, showing what it takes to achieve change, epitomised by the excellent Rory Kinnear as radical orator Henry Hunt. With so many disparate characters, Peterloo struggles at times to gel. But there can be no denying the film’s passion, or the craftsmanship that brings 19th-century England so vividly to life. And, as powerful as the final scenes are, it’s the quieter moments that linger. (James Mottram) ■ General release from Fri 2 Nov.
92 THE LIST 1 Nov 2018–31 Jan 2019 92 THE LIST 1 Nov 2018–31 Jan 2019