Writers as diverse as Ed McBain and Angela Carter have attempted to read between the lines of the court case of Lizzie Borden, accused of killing her father and stepmother with an axe. Here, working from a script by Bryce Kass, director Craig William Macneill views lurid events through the prism of the #MeToo movement, aided by a strong sense of visual austerity and two ideally cast leads.

First encountered in 1892, Borden (a glacial, dialed back Chloë Sevigny) is a young girl restricted by the mores of her time. The arrival of Irish maid Bridget (Kristen Stewart) offers a dangerously transformative influence on Lizzie, and the pair take tentative steps towards an illicit affair that threatens the patriarchy’s cruel rule.

The considerable time devoted to depicting their constrained relationship is the point; the final violent explosion of rage is held back until a full and bloody depiction in the film’s finale.

A hit television series like This Is Us wins you a lot of good will. Life Itself trades on that, as series creator Dan Fogelman unleashes a sprawling, unruly, multi- generational tearjerker that attempts to transfer his television template to the more constricted space of a two-hour movie.

Unreliable narrators and imperfect men are the recurring themes in a film divided into five chapters. Fogelman begins playfully enough with a focus on Will (Oscar Isaac) and conversations with therapist Cait Morris (Annette Bening) in which he tentatively confronts the giddy highs and bruising lows of his marriage to Abby (Olivia Wilde). The circle is gradually widened to include the lives of Will and Abby’s friends, family, loved ones and subsequent generations including their fierce daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke). The mood becomes more reflective when the story shifts to Spain and philosophical olive grower Saccione (Antonio Banderas).

What’s argued by Macneill’s uneven but pertinent We do eventually learn all the ties that bind the

drama is that society was firmly rigged in favour of men, and that systematic abuse resulted. Lizzie Borden’s violence is depicted as a feminist reaction to male oppression; a relevant thesis that’s baldly, but plausibly expressed here. (Eddie Harrison) General release from Fri 14 Dec. characters but to get there we are subject to a manic, messy film in which screwball comedy gives way to breathless romance and then sentimental melodrama. It is a film that feels restless and agitated, offering glib thoughts on profound matters. (Allan Hunter) Limited release from Fri 4 Jan.

The cautionary tale of a politician who went from hero to zero in just three weeks, Jason Reitman’s tantalising drama promises much in its intention to portray how the American political landscape shifted seismically in 1988. Gary Hart (played impressively by Hugh Jackman)

was a US Senator from Colorado who had a commanding lead in the polls over his Democrat rivals to run for the presidency. Alas, he couldn’t keep his pants on. And while, historically, the media had long turned a blind eye to the hanky panky of presidents and likely leaders, something had changed. It would have been nice to know what was so great

about Hart’s big ideas. There are a lot of Altman- esque scenes in which everyone is talking over each other, which add to the growing sense that no one is terribly clear about what this film is trying to say. It’s also a let-down that the women are underused, especially Vera Farmiga as the humiliated Mrs Hart. JK Simmons steals the picture as Hart’s campaign manager, with his terse, ripe one-liners conveying much-needed passion and fury. Otherwise, despite the talented cast and meaty themes, this comes off disappointingly mealy-mouthed, and it’s hard to care. (Angie Errigo) General release from Fri 25 Jan.


Scottish filmmaker Jon S Baird’s Stan & Ollie opens with a bravura tracking shot as world famous double act Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C Reilly) walk through a bustling film studio. Gossiping and arguing with studio boss Hal Roach (Danny Huston), they finally arrive on set to perform a scene from 1937’s Way Out West a cowboy-themed story that would, in time, become regarded as their masterpiece.

Aside from being technically impressive, it’s a beautiful way to encapsulate this comic duo at the height of their fame. But Baird’s film, written by Jeff Pope (Oscar-nominated for scripting Philomena), is not about two men conquering Hollywood. The story winds on 16 years; Laurel and Hardy are still together but no longer so in demand. Back in postwar Britain, they are on a live tour, in the hope of bankrolling their next picture. But has their time passed?

After football hooligan tale Cass and Irvine Welsh adaptation Filth, this is undeniably Baird’s most ambitious film a classy look at the grueling nature of showbiz, and issues of loyalty and trust that come with being a double act. The film particularly livens up when Hardy’s wife Lucille (Shirley Henderson) and Laurel’s partner Ida (Nina Arianda) arrive for moral support. Old wounds are inevitably opened; notably, Hardy’s decision to briefly go solo.

Coogan is particularly good at Laurel, totally nailing his on- screen comic persona (one moment, where he tries to entertain a receptionist with a bowler hat trick is done to a tee). Reilly manages to inhabit Hardy too, although the heavy prosthetics do leave him hampered at times. But with Baird and Pope subtly weaving Laurel and Hardy’s routines into the very fabric of the story, it’s a very loving, affectionate nod to two of cinema’s greats. (James Mottram) General release from Fri 11 Jan.

1 Nov 2018–31 Jan 2019 THE LIST 97