The growing number and variety of films geared toward mature audiences is apparent this September, starting with that old staple, the cerebral thriller. Dutch Director Anton Corbijn’s (Control, The American) ambitious new feature, A Most Wanted Man, is a coherent and thought-provoking adaptation of John Le Carré’s 2008 novel, set in Hamburg, where Le Carré was an agent. But A Most Wanted Man suggests how times have changed.
It is not the damp, dark atmosphere and Communist menace that troubles German spy leader Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman), but whether or not the disingenuous American diplomatic attaché Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) and impatient German Security head (Rainer Bock) will wreck his intricate plan.
Bachmann wants to use a Chechen refugee (Grigoriy Dobrygin), deemed a terrorist suspect, a dodgy Muslim philanthropist (Homayoun Ershadi), and a compromised banker (Willem Defoe) to entrap the terrorist ringleaders behind the money-laundering. Bachmann, whose informants were killed in a previous operation, is guarded, but in modern espionage it’s not the enemy, but your allies you have to worry about. While it is disappointing that German characters all converse in English, Philip Seymour Hoffman is so good in this, his final film, that you are quickly drawn into the compelling story.
Another thriller, albeit far more sordid and gory, is A Walk among the Tombstones. The talented Hollywood scriptwriter Scott Frank directed his adaptation of Lawrence Block’s crime novel. Liam Neeson plays the unlicensed gumshoe and recovering alcoholic Matthew Scudder with such a convincing mix of pain, authority and experience that you overlook all the clichés and marvel at the 62-year-old actor’s every move.
There are some true stories that, when adapted for cinema, seem too good to be true. Pride is one of those, although Director Matthew Warchus’s comedy about the unlikely alliance between a group of London-based gay activists and a Welsh mining village has a lot going for it.
The ensemble cast is headed by 64-year-old Bill Nighy as the miners’ welfare secretary and a closet homosexual. Imelda Staunton (58) is at her forthright best as his feisty friend who has suspected it ‘since about 1968.’ Dominic West plays a flamboyant activist who breaks down the barriers in Wales with his contagious love of dancing. He later contracts Aids. If Warchus and writer Stephen Beresford hadn’t felt compelled to attach a character and story to every single gay issue, and had instead tightened their focus, the film would have packed a firmer punch.
Helen Mirren and Om Puri play rival restaurateurs in a provincial French town in The Hundred-Foot Journey. This predictable, polite comedy-of-cultural- clashes doesn’t spare a cliché in its desire to win our hearts through our stomachs. Mirren and Puri guarantee solid performances, but their transformation from saboteurs to lovers is unconvincing. Middlebrow Director Lasse Hallström tries so hard to manipulate our emotions that it leaves a sour taste.
Is Woody Allen going sentimental on us at age 78? Magic in the Moonlight is a literal interpretation of the link between love and magic. In 1920’s Berlin, celebrity magician Stanley, AKA Wei Ling Soo (Colin Firth) is persuaded by a friend and former rival (Simon McBurney) to accompany him to the French Riviera to expose Sophie (Emma Stone), a free-spirited clairvoyant who has captivated a rich and gullible American family. Predictably, both fall under one another’s spell. Though entertaining and beautiful to look at, Firth and Stone are an odd pairing, while Allen’s script lacks the magic to make this a classic.
Also highly recommended is the Dardenne Brother’s Two Days, One Night. Another Oscar-worthy performance from Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) is only one reason to see this insightful drama about dignity and employment. John Waters’ 1971 suburban comedy Polyester, starring Divine and Tab Hunter, is one of many cult classics to be featured in Scalarama’s September celebration of cinema taking place throughout the UK.