Larysa Kondracki’s The Whistleblower requires a strong stomach to sit through some of the true life atrocities depicted, but it also begs that one doesn’t look away, or the efforts of one intrepid UN worker (Rachel Weisz) would have gone unheeded, because almost everyone else besides her turned a blind eye when scores of young woman in post war Bosnia were being held captive and brutalized in the illegal sex trade. I can’t think of anyone more adept than Weisz at playing someone this relentlessly compassionate; there’s just something in her warm brown eyes, comforting voice and genuine aura that that camera and dialogue practically melt over. Horror like this almost always follows the fog of war, when the barriers of civilization have taken a hit and the darkness they held at bay roams free for awhile, plus it’s hard to keep track of people after something like that wipes records, destroys towns and fucks up infrastructure. In any case, Weisz’s Kathryn Bolkovac discovers dozens of underground brothels where young girls are held, raped and tortured by mercenaries every day. Her boss at the UN (Liam Cunningham in a chilling portrait of casual indifference) tells her to lay off and they they’re “whores of war, that’s how it works.” Faced with that kind of betrayal from her own people snaps something in Kathryn and she feels deeply compelled to launch her own personal crusade to save the girls, but it proves to be a dangerous task when she realizes that not only do organizations not really care, but some may actively have interests in stopping her. Using contacts in various departments including Monica Bellucci, a kindly Vanessa Redgrave, Benedict Cumberbatch and a fantastic David Strathairn, she gradually gets to the centre of this evil maze, towards truth and freedom for hundreds of innocent girls. The great thing about this film is that it functions as both a superbly exciting political thriller in the vein of Bourne, but really it’s a deeply human, very personal and harrowing study of evil taking root in a region, as the light that Kathryn keeps in her heart wth which to fight it. This is represented in a key relationship between Kathryn and a young Bosnian girl named Raya (Roxana Kondurache, phenomenal) who she takes a special interest in and becomes poster child for these girls. Also, it’s a very carefully researched true story too and that always makes events like this far more affecting onscreen. Just go in with the right mindset and guardrails up because the scenes of sexual abuse and torture are almost unbearable, but necessary to the story arc. A winner in every sense of the word.
Safe House is cut from the same cloth as many a spy movie, but this horse doesn’t have quite as much piss and vinegar as other ones in the stable, notably the Bourne trilogy. It’s more of a slow burn, peppered with a few purposeful action sequences and quite a lot of time spent with Denzel Washington’s world weary spook Tobin Frost, a veteran operative who has gone severely rogue after escaping the grasp of a nasty CIA interrogator (Robert Patrick). He’s soon in the hands of rookie agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) who has been left to guard an agency safe house in Europe, now overrun with shadowy special ops dudes out to snuff Frost. The two of them are forced on the run together, and attempt to smoke out those behind the chaos, who turn out to be a little closer to home than they thought (don’t they always, in these types of movies?). Weston is young, naive and idealistic, Frost is bitter, jaded and ready to burn the agency down around him for what his career has made him do. They’re a formulaic pair made believable by the two actors, both putting in admirable work. Brendan Gleeson is great as Westons’s dodgy handler, Vera Farmiga shows moral conflict in those perfect blue eyes as another paper pusher in Langley, and Sam Shepherd smarms it up as the CIA top dog. It was nice to see Ruben Blades as well, who doesn’t work nearly enough, and watch for a sly cameo from Liam Cunningham as an ex MI6 agent. It’s not the greatest or the most memorable film, but it does the trick well enough, has a satisfying R rated edge to its violence and benefits from Washington being nice and rough around the edges. There’s a downbeat quality to it to, as Weston watches the futility inherent in the life of a spy unfold in Frost’s actions, which are leading nowhere but a self inflicted dead for a cause that’s bigger than both of them, but ultimately leaves them in the dust. Solid, if just above average stuff.
The Tournament is just about as awesome as action movies can get, and just about as bloody too. I love films involving assassins, contests, games, violence and such. The Running Man was clearly a huge influence on this one, right down to the inclusion of a larger than life game show host, here played by Liam Cunningham. Liam plays a shadowy nut job named Powers, and every four years he arranges an elaborate and incredibly destructive Olympic games for contract killers and psychos alike. Every time he hosts it in a new city, using hidden cameras and explaining away the damage with disasters and attacks. If this sounds so very 80’s, it is. We’re in throwback city here, with a touch of modern tone not unlike Joe Carnahan’s Smokin Aces. The reigning champion is Joshua Harlow (Ving Rhames), a brutal warrior who has been coaxed back into the game with revenge on his mind. Each assassin is fitted with a tracking device so they can track each other, an idea which goes haywire when a civilian accidentally gets stuck with one and ends up in the cross hairs. The civilian in question is a drunken priest (lol) played by Robert Carlyle, who has no idea what’s going on and suddenly has a dwindling life expectancy. He catches a break when a lethal but sympathetic female competitor (beauty queen Kelly Hu is an angel of physicality) takes pity and decides to help him out. They’ve got quite an armada to cut through though, including a rowdy cockney whacko (Craig Conway) a parkour master (Sebastian Foucan), an ex Spetsnaz freak (Scott Adkins) with a habit of blowing shit up left right and center, and lastly a Texan pretty boy lunatic played cheerfully by Ian Somerhalder. He’s so evil they just had to include a bit where he shoots a stray dog in the face without batting a perfect eyelash (animal lovers, you’ve been forewarned). All this mayhem is taken in by Powers and his sickening audience of wealthy kingpins, who sit in a great big boardroom and bet on the outcome of the carnage. Cunningham is a blast of devilish charm as Powers, an amoral villain of dark showmanship and sociopathic class. Between exploding heads, grenades ripping through the streets of London, frenetic hand to hand combat, colorful personalities, over the top depictions of bad human behavior and a general sense of hedonistic, slash and burn glee, this is one for the books.
Into The West is a charming Irish folktale with two excellent lead performances from Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Barkin, who have been married in the past and therefore have a natural, easygoing chemistry. The film takes place in rustic Ireland, where two young boys are given a magnificent and mysterious white stallion by their gypsy grandfather (David Kelly). They come from a poor neighbourhood, somewhat left to their own devices by their downbeat alcoholic father (Byrne), who lost his wife and their mother years before. The horse seems to have some type of sixth sense related directly to their family history. The two boys are in that state of wonder where fables and magic still exist, and follow the horse wherever it leads. Byrne desperately pursues his sons to whatever end, helped by a fellow Traveller and old flame (Ellen Barkin, excellent and passing quite well as an Irishwoman). The horse seems to know his past and leads him to places which have sentimental value to him, leading him one step closer to his kids, while teaching him an esoteric lesson along the way. Great stuff, kid orientated but still has an eerie and mature atmosphere. Watch for early appearances from Brendan Gleeson and Liam Cunningham. Beautiful film.
Perrier’s Bounty tries hard to be as pithy and witily profound as In Bruges, but doesn’t quite manage the task. To be fair, Bruges is a masterpiece and a Goliath of a script to aspire too, but this one has its own brand of scrappy crime fun, full of enough beans to keep the viewer jumping for its slight running time. Few films can boast narration provided by the Grim Reaper, and fewer still can say that said Reaper is voiced by Gabriel Byrne. But indeed, Byrne beckons us into this violent fable with his patented tone, both baleful and quaint. The fable in question concerns Michael McCrea (Cillian Murphy) an irresponsible young Irish lad who is seriously bereft of both luck and common sense. He lives in a small town in northern Ireland and owes a hefty loan to local crime lord Darren Perrier (Brendan Gleeson). Because of how tiny the town is, it’s pretty easy for Perrier’s goons to find and engage him in a road runner goose chase all about the area, forcing him to scoop up his on and off girlfriend (Jodie Whittaker), and head for the hills. He’s also joined by his uber eccentric father (Jim Broadbent) who believes that the Grim Reaper has visited him at night and given him the alarming prognosis that he will die the next time he falls asleep. Broadbent is a solid gold asset to any film he’s in, and practically spews perfectly timed comic banter non stop. Michael thinks he has a way out of trouble with local petty thief The Mutt (Liam Cunningham, aka Ser Davos Seaworth, also a comedic treasure here), which turns out to be another notch in the belt of bad judgment. Meanwhile, Perrier’s crew reels after one of their slain thugs (at Michael’s hand) turns out to have been involved in a love affair with another, who now has the wrath of vengeance in his eyes. There’s a scene where Gleeson comforts the bereaved hoodlum and seems deeply wounded at the couple’s reluctance to tell him of their love. Gleeson assures them he has no issue with homosexuality and wishes they would have shared with him. In the context of hardened criminals out for blood, this kind of exchange is priceless and brings rigid archetypes right down to earth, for maximum hilarity and well earned pathos. The film meanders a bit, but never out ran my attention span, following through with it’s story in ways both welcomingly bloody and predictably quirky. It doesn’t add up to anything life altering when all is said and done, but damn if the things which are said and are done along the way aren’t just pure genre entertainment, inducing chuckles, thrills and nostalgia for other films withing the niche. In the troupe of writers who look up to Guy Ritchie, Quentin Tarantino and Martin McDonough, this scribe is on to something. Keep an eye out for Lord Varys, Roose Bolton and a young Domhall Gleeson too.