Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, Morgan Freeman, Jay Chou, Sanaa Lathan, Michael Caine, David Warshofsky, Tsai Chin
Ten questions you need to ask yourself while watching Now You See Me 2:
Why would prison authorities allow convicted criminal Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) access to computer equipment that would enable him to make threats against the Four Horsemen (“You will get what’s coming to you. In ways you can’t expect.”)?
Pigeons? (Yes, pigeons.)
How does Lula (Caplan) know so much about the Four Horsemen, including the reason why Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher’s character from the first movie) isn’t around any longer?
Why is Dylan Rhodes’ (Ruffalo) attendance at a Four Horsemen “event” more suspicious to his FBI colleagues than his talking into his sleeve?
How convenient is it that Bradley has just the form Rhodes needs to get Bradley out of jail?
Chase McKinney (Harrelson) – unfortunate stereotype or unfortunate stereotype?
How likely is it, in a sequence that lasts nearly four and a half minutes, that not one of the security guards notice the playing card as it’s whipped, zipped and slipped from one Horseman to another?
How do lines such as, “But I don’t agree that we have a sackful of nada, ’cause we’re all here. That’s a sackful of something” get past the first draft stage?
When did the FBI’s remit extend outside of the US?
Could the screenplay by Ed Solomon have ended on a more absurd, ridiculous note than the surprise reveals made by Bradley?
Rating: 4/10 – another poorly constructed sequel that plays fast and loose with logic, Now You See Me 2 wants the audience to like it as much as the mass London crowds go crazy for the Horsemen; slickly made but soulless, only Caplan makes an impact, and the magic tricks lack the first movie’s sense of fun, leaving the movie to rattle on for two hours without anyone having to care what happens to the characters (which is both a bonus and a relief).
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, Jamey Sheridan, Paul Guilfoyle, Len Cariou, Neal Huff, Michael Cyril Creighton, Richard Jenkins
In 2001, the Boston Globe newspaper hired a new editor, Marty Baron (Schreiber). Baron noticed a column in the paper about a Catholic priest, John Geoghan, who was known to be a paedophile, and a lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian (Tucci) who claimed he had evidence that the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law (Cariou), knew all about it and did nothing to stop Geoghan’s activities. Urging the paper’s Spotlight section – an investigative team made up of four people – to look more closely at the matter, Baron set in motion an investigation that would expand rapidly to reveal a far greater problem than one errant priest.
This is the story that Spotlight tells: the investigation into one priest’s predatory behaviour that revealed the systemic abuse of children over decades, and which had been covered up by the Catholic Church. It’s a tale of widespread abuse, and the political and legal corruption, and immorality, that goes with it. As the team – editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Keaton), and reporters Mike Resendez (Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams), and Matt Carroll (James) – begin looking into the story they learn that the Globe was aware of some of the allegations being made as far back as 1996 following a similar case, but these were never followed up. They speak to the founder of a support group for people who have been abused by priests, Phil Saviano (Huff), who reveals that, based on what he’s been told, Goeghan is one of thirteen priests in the Boston area that have molested children over the years.
Shocked by this, the team divide their attention in different areas: Resendez contacts the lawyer, Garabedian, in order to find out what evidence he has; Pfeiffer meets with a victim, Joe Crawley (Creighton); and Carroll starts looking into the backgrounds of the priests Saviano has named. What emerges is a picture of abuse that appears to have been ignored or covered up by the Church, and which is still continuing. They also get in touch with an ex-priest, Richard Sipe (Jenkins), who worked at a “treatment centre” back in the Sixties. Since leaving the Church he’s made a thorough study of the “phenomena” of sexual abuse wihtin the priesthood, and in one particularly chilling telephone conversation with the Spotlight team he tells them his findings indicate that 6% of priests abuse children. Now the team has to rethink their strategy: based on Sipe’s findings, they’re no longer looking at thirteen priests in the Boston area, but ninety.
With the enormity of the problem now fully revealed, the team have to tread even more carefully, and refocus their investigation; it’s no longer enough to target Cardinal Law and his tacit allowance of the abuse. It’s now obvious that the abuse isn’t confined to Boston, it happens everywhere. The story becomes about how the Church itself allows this to happen and never disciplines its priests, preferring instead to move them around and still allowing them to have unsupervised access to children.
In the end, Spotlight broke the story in early 2002. It was the major news story of its day, and the movie recounts those days with a measured simplicity that avoids any potential hyperbole or grandstanding. Thanks to an intelligently constructed script by McCarthy and Josh Singer, the way in which the story unfolded is handled with a sensitivity and compassion for the victims that is offset by the Spotlight team’s increasing sense of disgust at the Church’s mistreatment of them. Each of the team is affected in their own way, showing just how pervasive the issue was, and without anyone realising. It’s a sobering realisation, that the abuse of children by a powerful organisation such as the Catholic Church – such a huge presence in so many people’s lives – can have such far-reaching consequences.
Thanks again to the script, the legal and moral issues surrounding the cases are clearly laid out on both sides, and Mitchell Garabedian aside, the lawyers involved in out of court settlements fare badly, as they put ethical issues aside and justify their actions by virtue of “just doing their job”. As one of these lawyers, Billy Crudup has a small but crucial role that highlights just how much one section of the Boston legal system was prepared to look the other way. And the Cardinal’s spokesman, a wily operator called Joe Connelly (Guilfoyle), is on hand to show how the political machine tried to keep the Church from being exposed by attempting to make it seem that the revelations would be bad for the city.
It’s safe to say that the movie exposes a lot more than the hypocrisy of the city’s movers and shakers, and it does so in a low key dramatic manner that allows the horror of the situation to seep through as the movie progresses. McCarthy and his talented cast never let us forget just how awful the amount of abuse was, and through their pursuit of the truth we get to see levels of betrayal that most of us would be hard pressed to even consider let alone believe in. And when a necessary delay in printing the story leads to an angry outburst by Resendez, we can sympathise with him, because by then the audience wants the story to be told equally as much as he does.
In many ways, Spotlight‘s steady pace and determined approach is unexpectedly gripping. As each new development unfolds, the movie steps up a gear, until the viewer is completely enthralled and can’t look away. It doesn’t matter that you know the outcome in advance, this is one of those movies that is so well constructed that you can’t help but be drawn along with it. Helping McCarthy make such an impact is his cast. Keaton is the wise old newspaperman, determined not to let the story get away and the Church off the hook, and patient enough to wait for the right evidence to come along. Ruffalo is the cocksure reporter who feels too much too often, and who uses his anger and disgust at the abuse to fuel his work. By contrast, McAdams’ lone female is affected in small ways, as in the way in which the news will be hurtful to her devout grandmother. And James’ dogged researcher learns that the issue is much closer to home than he’d realised (and which leads to one of the movie’s rare moments of humour).
It’s a powerful movie about a powerful subject and although the naysayers will point to diffusions and imperfections in the story – this didn’t happen like that, that didn’t happen like they say it did – the truth is still clear: abuse happened and the Church covered it up. In 2002 alone, Spotlight ran a further 600 articles based on what they learned from victims. What the movie reminds us is that looking the other way can be even more uncomfortable than looking straight at something that’s too horrible to contemplate.
Rating: 9/10 – one of 2015’s best movies, Spotlight is tense, absorbing, horrifying, and a must-see, with superb performances and and one of the year’s best scripts; it’s already won a shedload of well-deserved awards, and as a movie that tackles a disturbing subject with tact and sensitivity, should gain even more further down the road – it’s that good.
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Jordana Brewster, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Kurt Russell, Nathalie Emmanuel, Elsa Pataky, Djimon Hounsou, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey, John Brotherton, Lucas Black
Having bested Owen Shaw and his gang in the previous instalment, now Dominic (Diesel), Brian (Walker), Letty (Rodriguez), and what seems like every main character from the series, have to pull together – with the aid of the mysterious Mr. Nobody (Russell) to take down his vengeful brother, Deckard Shaw (Statham). Throw in the hunt for a software programme, and its creator (Emmanuel), that can track anyone anywhere in the world, a trip to Abu Dhabi, and the usual amount of hyper-realistic cartoon violence, and you have the most successful entry in the franchise to date with, at time of writing, a worldwide gross of $1,352,724,000 (making it the fourth highest grossing movie ever).
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
D: Joss Whedon / 141m
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, Linda Cardellini, Claudia Kim, Thomas Kretschmann, Andy Serkis, Julie Delpy, Henry Goodman
In an attempt to retire the Avengers from group duty, Tony Stark (Downey Jr) creates a robot that comes equipped with artificial intelligence. Only there’s a flaw: the robot, named Ultron (Spader), sees the best way of carrying out his peacekeeping mission is to wipe out the human race (and thereby ensure a peaceful world). With internal conflicts hampering their efforts to combat Stark’s creation, the introduction of Quicksilver (Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Olsen) to the mix, a showdown between the Hulk (Ruffalo) and Iron Man in his Hulkbuster suit, and Ultron planning an extinction level event, you have a sequel that has made $424,460,000 at the box office in just over a week.
And so we have the first two candidates for 2015’s Mega-Blockbuster of the Year Award. In the red corner we have the testosterone-fuelled, carmageddon-inspired Furious 7, and in the blue corner we have Avengers: Age of Ultron, the latest juggernaut designed to increase Marvel’s grip on the world and its wallet. The inclusion of their box office takes is deliberate, as this is really what both these movies are about: making as much money as possible off the back of a heavily marketable idea. That the idea is becoming stale (Furious 7) or showing signs of running out of steam already (Avengers: Age of Ultron) is neither here nor there. These movies are guaranteed crowd pleasers, and all the studios that make them have to do is give the fans enough of what they like most to ensure those big box office grosses.
It’s a well-known fact that recent entries in the Fast and Furious franchise have been built around the action sequences: the stunts come first and then a story is created around them. Such an approach isn’t exactly new, but as the series continues, it appears that the writer, Chris Morgan, is fast running out of ways to keep it as real as possible given the absurd, physics-defying world Dominic and his family live in. Morgan has scripted every movie since The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), and this time round the law of diminishing returns has clearly set in with a vengeance. With its dodgy timescales, crude attempts at characterisation, and action sequences that go on and on and on without ever changing pace (or should that be, gear?), Furious 7 is a movie that believes in its hype so much that it’s forgotten it still needs to make an effort beyond what’s expected of it.
Of course, script revisions had to be made due to the untimely death of Paul Walker, but like so many of the cast, he’s marginalised in a movie that has too many characters and too little time to do much with them apart from put them in continual jeopardy. Brewster is sidelined in the Dominican Republic (admittedly, not so bad), Johnson winds up in hospital until needed at the end, and Walker’s contribution seems reduced to fighting Tony Jaa. But with the script showing more interest in the villains (Statham, Hounsou, Russell maybe) than its heroes, it comes as a bit of a shock to realise that the main characters have nowhere to go – everyone, even Letty with her amnesia, is still the same as they were when they first appeared. Maybe this kind of familiarity is what the fans want but ultimately it just means that future entries – and there are three more planned for release – will continue to mine the same formula and with less satisfying results.
The same problem that occurs in Furious 7 occurs in Avengers: Age of Ultron, namely what to do with so many different characters, especially the new ones. Writer/director Whedon doesn’t appear to be as sure this time round as he was on the first Avengers movie (and it may be why he won’t be helming the two Avengers: Infinity War movies). While he does effective work exploring the personalities and idiosyncrasies of the Avengers themselves – Stark’s continuing egotism, a burgeoning relationship between Bruce Banner and Black Widow (Johansson), where Hawkeye (Renner) spends his downtime – he’s less successful when it comes to the villain, the villain’s sidekicks, and the whole let’s-level-a-city-and-cause-as-much-destruction-as-possible angle.
With so many characters to deal with, it’s inevitable that some of them don’t receive as much attention as others. The introduction of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch is a case in point, with Taylor-Johnson reduced to asking people he’s knocked over if they saw that coming (and not just once), and Olsen saddled with a perma-frown as she casts spells on people. They have a back story but it doesn’t impact on how they behave in the movie, and their teaming up with Ultron seems convenient rather than a well thought out plot development. Likewise, we have appearances by Kretschmann (dispensed with too quickly), Serkis (as an intro to his character’s appearance in Black Panther), and Delpy (as Natasha Romanoff’s childhood instructor). All great actors, and all reduced to walk-ons in the service of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But all great superhero teams need a great villain, and while Ultron seems to pass muster, the main problem with him is the actor cast to play him. Now it’s not that James Spader is a terrible actor – far from it – but what’s clear from his performance is that, rather than come up with an entirely new characterisation, he’s gone for a slight deviation on Raymond Reddington from The Blacklist… and it’s been encouraged. As a result we have a robot that often sounds whimsical rather than destructive, and petulant when he should be megalomaniacal. Whedon is good at injecting comedy into his movies – here, the throwaway line “No it wasn’t” is used perfectly – but when he tries too hard, as he does with Ultron, the effect is lost, and the viewer could be forgiven for wondering if Ultron is meant to be so eccentric.
On the action front, once again we’re treated (if that’s the right word) to another massive showdown where buildings are levelled, the Avengers fight off an army of attackers (last time the Chi’tauri, this time Ultron’s robots), and the special effects budget goes through the (recently blasted) roof. The whole massive destruction approach is a huge disappointment, having been done to death already in movies such as Man of Steel (2013) and the previous Avengers outing (and even Furious 7 with its car park demolition). (If anyone is listening, please let Thanos take on the Avengers on his own when he finally “does it himself”.)
Furious 7: 6/10 – overblown (though no surprises there) and lacking a coherent story, Furious 7 has all the ingredients the fans love, but as a tribute to the late Paul Walker it falls short; a triumph of hype over content, someone seriously needs to look under the hood before taking this particular baby out for another drive.
Avengers: Age of Ultron: 7/10 – overblown and lacking in any real drama, Avengers: Age of Ultron skates perilously close to being Marvel’s first dud since Iron Man 2 (2010); saved by Whedon’s attention to (most of) the characters, it lumbers through its action set-pieces with all the joy of a contractual obligation.
Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd
Brothers Mark and Dave Schultz (Tatum, Ruffalo) are both wrestlers who have won gold at the 1984 Olympics. Despite his achievements, Mark lives in the shadow of his brother, and also lives alone while Dave has a wife (Miller) and two children. When Mark is approached by John E. du Pont (Carell), heir to the du Pont family fortune, and offered the opportunity to train at du Pont’s estate as part of a wrestling team called “Team Foxcatcher” (after the estate’s name), he accepts. Du Pont urges Mark to enlist his brother as well, but Dave declines the offer, wanting to keep his family where they are.
Mark begins his training, and in the process he and du Pont become friends. At the 1987 World Wrestling Championships, Mark wins gold. Shortly afterwards, du Pont coaxes Mark into taking cocaine. As Mark begins to take it more and more, du Pont becomes more open about his relationship with his mother (Redgrave), which is adversarial; she believes that wrestling is a “low” sport and doesn’t want him involved with it. But with this new openness comes a gradual change in du Pont’s attitude towards Mark, and when Mark and the team take a morning off from training to watch MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), du Pont is hostile and tells Mark that he’ll enlist Dave any way he can.
Du Pont succeeds and Dave and his family move onto the estate. Mark takes it badly and keeps to himself, pushing everyone away. At the preliminaries for the 1988 Olympics, Mark fares badly and loses his first match. He reacts by trashing his hotel room and going on an eating binge. Dave finds him and gets Mark exercising frantically to remove the excess weight; du Pont tries to help but Dave doesn’t let him. Mark manages to make the Olympic team but by then du Pont has left, having learnt that his mother has died. When Mark returns to du Pont’s estate after finishing in sixth place at the Olympics, he makes the decision to leave. Dave and his family remain, however, Mark’s brother having negotiated a deal with du Pont that allows him to train and still enter competitions.
Eight years pass. Mark becomes a teacher, while Dave continues to live on du Pont’s estate. Du Pont watches an old promotional video he had made that includes a glowing endorsement from Mark. He decides to pay Dave a visit, but what happens when he gets there proves to be as shocking as it is unexpected.
There are several moments in Foxcatcher where the viewer sees John E. du Pont sitting – usually in profile so as to show off the impressive prosthetic nose Carell sports – staring at nothing we can see with his heavy-lidded gaze, and giving the impression of a man wrestling with his own problems. These are metaphorical moments that prove to be literal, and taken as grim foreshadowings of what happened in 1996, are all the more effective. But these moments are also indicative of the problems that beset Foxcatcher‘s script – by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman – from the outset: how do you link someone’s behaviour from one time period to another (even if the gap is less than ten years), and how do you show a causal link between the two?
If the movie never really resolves the issue then it’s not through want of trying. The story of the Schultz brothers and their involvement with John E. du Pont is like a modern day fairy tale, with Mark Schultz as an unwitting Little Red Riding Hood and du Pont in granny clothing as the Wolf. Mark is shown as a little backward, certainly aloof, and so clearly in need of approbation that his decision to accept du Pont’s offer is a foregone conclusion. He’s a man who sees a new comfort zone open up to him, but is so enamoured he doesn’t see the potential downfall of such an arrangement. His trust in du Pont’s philanthropic nature is touching but naive, and by accepting his hospitality he’ll lose what little sense of himself he has. It isn’t even about being impressed; it’s about being acknowledged.
Tatum, in his most challenging role to date, plays Mark like a wounded child, somehow bereft of feeling but yearning to be better at his life. It’s a role you might not consider him as being the first choice for, and while he does come perilously close to Lenny from Of Mice and Men territory at times, he reins in that impulse to provide a carefully considered and subtle portrayal of a man struggling to deal with newfound impulses and a relationship that deforms from friendship into abuse. His hurt features, like those of a child told off for something but not knowing what it is he’s actually done, are often heart-rending because of how confused Mark is feeling.
As du Pont, Carell is excellent, portraying him with a detachment that makes his attempts at friendship doomed to failure at every turn. He can impress, and he can persuade, and he can maintain a polite façade, but inside he’s empty, unable to connect to other people in a way that’s meaningful or rewarding. He’s on the outside looking in, but with no clear desire to go inside; it’s as if he purposely keeps himself apart from people so as not to have to deal with such messy problems as feelings and emotions. Carell holds all that in but you can see it in his eyes, the inability to empathise with other people, even his mother, and most importantly, the pain it causes him (even if he would never admit it). It’s a virtuoso performance, restrained, drained of surface emotion and terrifying.
There is equally fine work from Ruffalo as Dave. He’s the normal guy, the guy with a wife and two kids and a steady job. It’s not surprising that du Pont doesn’t understand him, or that he can’t reconcile his feelings about him. Ruffalo, sporting a receding hairline that surprisingly suits him, is the movie’s most relatable character, and he uses Dave’s quietness and good sense as a counterweight to the instability shown by Mark and du Pont. It’s a confident, almost effortless performance, and one that acts as a touchstone for the audience; he’s a welcome relief from the psychodrama going on elsewhere.
It’s a good thing that the performances are so good, because otherwise Foxcatcher would play out at a pace even more stately than it does already. At times it’s a painfully slow movie to watch, with Miller adopting a painstaking, but also despair-inducing approach to scenes that numbs the mind and has the viewer wishing he’d get a move on. The more measured the scene, the more likely it is to feel twice as long as it really is, and with the script barely moving out of first gear on most occasions, Miller seems unable to inject any sense of urgency into things (with the exception of Mark’s need to rapidly lose weight at the preliminaries – then it’s practically a thriller by comparison with the rest of the movie). It may well be a deliberate choice on Miller’s part, but it hurts the movie in ways that will leave some viewers cold.
Rating: 8/10 – a rewarding movie ultimately, Foxcatcher risks a lot in its (true) tale of a multimillionaire and a wrestler and their unlikely relationship; hard-going, but with a trio of knockout performances, the movie serves as a timely reminder that gift horses are not always what they seem.
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, James Corden, Yasiin Bey, Catherine Keener, CeeLo Green
Record label executive Dan Mulligan (Ruffalo) is struggling to keep up with the changing pace of the modern music industry. Separated from his wife Miriam (Keener) and estranged from his daughter Violet (Seinfeld), Dan’s partner in the record company he co-founded, Saul (Bey) fires him. He goes on a drinking binge that sees him end up in bar where English singer-songwriter Gretta James (Knightley) is persuaded to take to the stage by her friend, Steve (Corden). The song she sings captivates Dan and he approaches Gretta with the offer of signing her.
Gretta isn’t interested in Dan’s offer because she’s planning to return to England the next day. She’s in the US because she came over with her boyfriend, Dave Kohl (Levine), when he was signed to a record label. While on a promotional jaunt, he slept with a record label executive; unhappy and discouraged, Gretta just wants to leave and put her relationship with Dave behind her. The next morning, though, she takes up Dan on his offer. This forces him to come clean about his position, but he convinces her to go with him to see Saul; Dan is sure Saul will sign her, but without a demo to give him, he passes.
Undeterred, Dan comes up with a plan to make an album of Gretta’s songs by recording them all over the city: on rooftops, subway platforms, alleyways, wherever they can. Dan assembles a team of musicians that includes Steve, while Gretta, in an attempt to reunite him with his daughter, arranges for Violet to play guitar on one of the songs. With the album completed they see Saul again but leave without a deal having been reached (Gretta wants Dan to get his job back as well as a bigger cut of the profits).
Shortly after, Gretta sees Dave accepting an award on TV and believing him to have sold out, pours out her feelings in a song she sings and leaves on his voicemail. Dave gets in touch with her and asks to meet when he’s back in New York. Greta agrees but finds that her feelings for Dan are changing from professional to personal. Unsure of which way to turn, Gretta meets Dave in the hope that she’ll be able to decide which path to take.
A fresh take on an age-old story, Begin Again belies its Svengali-like origins to give its audience a modern day interpretation that sidesteps many of its genre conventions with a knowing wink and a shrug of indifference. Working from his own script, director Carney fashions a story of two peoples’ separate roads to personal empowerment and redemption that neatly avoids the clichés inherent in such scenarios, and makes the movie feel like a breath of fresh air.
Playing around with the structure in the movie’s first half hour, Carney introduces the viewer to Dan and Gretta with a view to telling their back stories in such a way that by the time they begin to make the album they’re like old friends we’ve known for ages. We get to see Dan at his worst and Gretta at her most trusting. We see them come together and start to rely on each other as they begin to rebuild their lives. It’s in these opening scenes that Carney draws the audience in and sets up the dramatic elements that will pay off later on in the movie (but not in the way that you might expect). And he doesn’t fall into the usual traps, for example: despite the predictable nature of Gretta and Dave’s break up, it’s presented in the kind of “adult” way you rarely see in movies. It’s a relatively short scene but Carney packs it with an emotional punch that is frankly disarming (and he’s ably abetted by Knightley and Levine).
With Dan and Gretta’s relationship so well cemented the movie’s central section becomes a joyous evocation of making an album. This is Begin Again at its most winning and infectious, the sheer pleasure of making music in a live environment so evident you can’t help but tap your feet along with the songs. And thanks to the efforts of composer Gregg Alexander these are terrific songs indeed, catchy and effortlessly perceptive about life and love and the pitfalls of both. Knightley, who hadn’t sung before, is assured here, her soft, soulful voice a perfect match for the material.
Alas, the final third, with its need to wrap things up, undermines some of the good work Carney has put in. Gretta and Dan each arrive at a place that befits their individual struggles, but there’s a sense that they’ve been let down by Carney’s determination not to play it safe and to avoid the movie having a predictable ending. Even with this, his leads remain convincing throughout, handling their characters’ journeys from start to finish with skill, confidence and conviction. Ruffalo gives such an impressive performance it’s hard to take your eyes off him, while Knightley invests Gretta with a stubborn, earnest vulnerability that is mesmerising. When on screen together they spark off each other, each raising their game, each making the movie even richer. In support, Steinfeld, Keener and Corden all provide charming turns, while Levine (from Maroon 5) makes his feature debut and is very good indeed.
With its emotional content linked directly to, and expressively through, its songs, Begin Again is a musical drama that packs several unexpected punches, and if its near rags-to-riches feel has an unavoidable touch of whimsy wrapped around it, then it’s no bad thing. This is a feelgood movie, and unashamedly so.
Rating: 8/10 – guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s face during its musical numbers, Begin Again is a lively, effervescent movie that is both delightful and poignant in equal measure; with assured turns from its two leads, it’s a movie that entertains and rewards far more than it should do given its bittersweet ending.
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, Joely Richardson, Patrick Fugit, Alecia Moore, Carol Kane, Emily Meade
Initial expectations or perceptions would peg this as a romantic comedy, but in actuality this is a low-key drama with comic highlights (mostly provided by Gad). Focusing on Adam (Ruffalo), five years sober as a sex addict, his sponsor Mike (Robbins), and newbie Neil (Gad), Thanks for Sharing follows each addict as he tries to rebuild a particular area of his life: Adam begins a new relationship with Phoebe (Paltrow), Mike has to deal with the return of his ex-junkie son Danny (Fugit), and Neil has to want to be honest with himself and others.
The movie pitches its highs and lows effectively, even if there’s nothing particularly original on display here, and the different story lines are each given sufficient space to involve the audience and draw them in to each characters’ plight. Ultimately though, the movie lacks any appreciable depth, and what few dramatic moments there are have been done more persuasively elsewhere. That said, the script has some good one-liners and the cast does well with the material over all; Ruffalo and Paltrow have a definite chemistry together, and Moore (better known as the pop singer Pink) almost steals the movie. Blumberg’s direction is efficient without ever being spectacular, and the movie keeps the audience’s attention throughout thanks to the quality cast.
Rating: 6/10 – a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours but too lightweight to make more than a passing impression; a great cast let down by a script that needed more focus.