Tag Archives: monica bellucci

Larysa Kondracki’s The Whistleblower

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.

-Nate Hill

Christophe Gan’s Brotherhood Of The Wolf

Films don’t often come as ambitious, stylish or slightly overstuffed as Christophe Gans’s Brotherhood Of The Wolf, an ultra violent, primal period piece with roots in an obscure cryptozoological myth from 18th century France, and packing enough leather clad, blood dripping kinetic creativity to fuel a whole franchise. Less is more being the one thing Gans could have benefited from in order to truly make his film a classic, as there’s a few bits here and there that bog it down, but for the most part it’s a fearsome genre flick with class and bite. A monster is terrorizing rural France, mauling people and earning the dreaded moniker ‘Beast of Gevaudan’ (this was apparently a real thing back then, as Wikipedia will enthusiastically inform you). Soon roguish nomad huntsman Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his deadly native warrior sidekick Mani (martial arts guru Mark Dacascos) bluster into to town, ruffling a few feathers and setting their sights on taking the beast down for good. That’s the jumping point from which the story explores more ideas than it almost has time for, even in a two and a half hour span. Decadent French opulence, corruption in the ranks, feral forest dwelling cults, kinky brothel escapades, Matrix style action choreography, slasher elements, you name it and they’ve got it here. Most of it works, a few bits drag and land with a clunk. Much of the film is a darkly primeval wonder to behold, with striking imagery, highly disturbing gore and a sense of danger that hangs in the air like the most over this doomed portion of the European countryside. French superstar Vincent Cassel plays a mysterious nobleman, and Monica Bellucci is his secret harbouring, seductive sister as well, whose collective presence adds to the WTF factor later in the third act when the plot gets all out mental. The early scenes in the threatening village are terrific, as is an eventual confrontation deep in the forests where the monster’s origin (you’ll do a double take) is laid out, and one jarringly violent showdown takes place, with Dacascos taking more bodily trauma than most could imagine, and taking it like a champ. He also doles it out too, his extensive training strangely looking more at home when it’s out of place in a period horror piece than his usual super-cop shtick, especially in a rain soaked combat scene involving wooden poles and broken ribs. It works wonders as a creature flick, it’s solid as an actioner and the beautiful Sleepy Hollow-esque cinematography services both exceedingly well. Could have left a few of the languishing aristocratic and whorehouse sequences on the editing room floor, but it doesn’t hurt the film too much, and nothing can take away the mystic visual splendour and gnarly edge it has in the horror department. Truly one of a kind. 

-Nate Hill

Stephen Hopkin’s Under Suspicion 

If Stephen Hopkin’s Under Suspicion were a meal I was served at a restaurant, I would throw it against the wall, flip the table, walk promptly back to the kitchen and knock the chef out cold. It’s a hollow, pointless piece, like digging into a pie that’s put before you only to find that under that layer of crust there’s no filling, only air. The premise is promising: wealthy businessman Gene Hackman who has political ties is grilled out of the blue by longtime friend and police detective Morgan Freeman and his partner Thomas Jane, regarding the murder of a thirteen year ago old girl in the slums of San Juan. Hackman is a successful, assured alpha socialite, and these type of men always have some type of close guarded secret which comes to light. Freeman is a dogged working man who probes him until it almost seems personal rather than routine. Sounds terrific, right? You would think. The acting is of course fine, as these guys couldn’t miss a beat if they tried, but the way the story is set up just rips the viewer off blind. These two thespians soar spectacularly, but their duel is structured around purposefully unreliable flashbacks, beating around the bush and oodles of red herrings that treat the audience like sixth graders watching a low rent magician at a birthday party. Hackman has a pretty trophy wife (Monica Belluci, underused) and a host of personal demons that he projects onto Freeman’s simple blue collar rhetoric like a defence mechanism. None of these narrative fireworks can save it though, especially when an ending rolls around that is the very definition of a letdown, through and through. In an attempt to explore the forces that drive a man to the edge of admitting guilt whether he is responsible or not, the filmmakers miss the boat on providing a focused treatise that takes itself seriously with these potentially fascinating themes, instead settling on an overcooked, ultimately vacant that could have been so much more.  

-Nate Hill