FILM REVIEW: My Scientology Movie

Scientology is something of an easy target.

But in many ways, it’s arguably no more nonsensical than any of the other man-made religions that people choose to pin their colours to, frequently in complete defiance of logic, common sense and the wider needs of mankind.

Scientology was the brain child of one L.Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer. Its origins go back to Hubbard’s initial work with Dianetics back in the 1950s. It is classified as being a form of: “spiritual healing technology and an organized science of thought,” where the intent is to free individuals of the influence of past traumas by systematic exposure and removal of the engrams (painful memories) these events have left behind…”

Dianetics was later to morph into and become known as, Scientology.

Louis Theroux is certainly not alone in having his curiosity piqued by this apparently most cultish of all religions.

Predictably, this most secretive of institutions was never going to welcome an investigative reporter like Theroux with open arms, and thus Louis is forced to find an alternative angle from which to approach his research.

Fortunately for him, there are any number of disgruntled ‘bitter’ (according to the Church of Scientology), high profile ex-members only too willing to spill the beans concerning the Church’s inner secrets and practices, and Louis takes full advantage of their knowledge.

One ex-member in particular will prove to be key in gaining as authentic an insight as possible. Mark ‘Marty’ Rathbun, an ex-senior official of the church, will, along with Louis, audition a number of young aspiring actors for the role of David Miscavige, (the current and long time head of the church of Scientology), and the ‘chosen one’ will then recreate a number of disturbing scenes from the depths of Rathbun’s own recollections.

David Miscavige, short in stature he may well be, but by all accounts he’s a pretty ruthless customer, having been accused over the years of numerous wrong doings including acts of violence.

Before too long, word of Louis’ experiment has spread, and sure enough, members of the Church of Scientology begin to emerge, armed with their own video cameras, and to a man, remain completely non-compliant with Louis’ line of questioning. Theirs is a counter-campaign of intense pressure, the sole aim of which being to intimidate to such a degree as to force Louis to call a halt to his reenactments.

But of course, as we all know, Louis’ nerdish, apparently affable innocence and naivety belies an unflappable presence, whose subtle, dogged insistence has faced up to far more threatening a foe than this before.

It all makes for some frequently odd, yet very amusing confrontations, through which the Church, in some ways, inadvertently gives away far more about itself than it would have done if it had just maintained an air of aloof mystery, and left well alone.

Theroux’s documentary, driven along by the strains of a lavish, overbearing and, it should be said, slightly out of place soundtrack, announces its intentions clearly as a cinematic piece rather than any sort of low-key documentary. It provides us ably with a general overview of Scientology for the uninitiated. Everything from the perceived negativity of an SP (suppressive person), to the concept of squirrel-busting. From Thetans to E-meters. It’s all here. It’s a steep learning curve, and one which on the surface at least, paints Scientology to be a little absurd to say the least, dressed up as it is in its science fiction finery, metaphorically speaking.

It’s only then once one breaks it all down into its constituent, functioning parts, that the nuts and bolts of scientology begin to bear quite a startling, if predictable resemblance to any number of established and ‘accepted’ religions:

Talking of the human body as being merely a vehicle for a Scientologist’s time on earth –  Aspiring to ascend to a more enlightened state of being – The rejection of logic and common sense in favour of an accepted, mythical ‘truth’ no matter whether it stands up to scrutiny or not – and adopting a sense of like-minded community and the subsequent frowning upon, and at times ostracising of those who abscond from its clutches. Theroux reveals that this aspect in particular has led to whole families being ripped apart, potentially never to be reunited again whilst the spell of Scientology retains its hold.

Possibly it’s only really therefore the sense of Scientology being a rather rigidly-policed, apparently paranoid, Masonic type of institution, veiled in its self-imposed secrecy, that leaves this most Buck Rodgers-esque of ‘religions’ so wide-open to ridicule and idle speculation?

Perhaps so, but as one of Scientology’s favourite sons, Tom Cruise, is at pains to say: “Ignorance breeds bigotry.”

A fair point, and Amen to that.







FILM REVIEW: Hell or High Water

There are moments during David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water when you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were watching a Coen Brothers movie.
Whilst on one level it’s a serious tale of the evening of scores, of revenge and of payback (literally), it’s also what you might refer to as a darkly humorous small town yarn.
Two brothers, Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster, respectively), rob banks. More specifically, they rob branches of the Texas Midland Bank. There are no major cash hauls, just quick ‘in and out’ smash-and-grab hits for those loose, unmarked dollar bill stashes in the bank cashiers’ draws. Whilst snatching a few thousand here and there may be better than nothing, it hardly seems worth the hassle, all things considered.
It soon transpires though that rather than simply being a pair of desperado chancers, there is in fact method to their small-scale madness.
It turns out that the Texas Midland Bank has had a sizeable loan secured against the family ranch which has, for some time now, crippled the boys’ family with debt – the stress from which is something that Toby directly attributes to the recent death of his dear mother.
Toby, being an honourable sort without so much as a blemish to his good name, believes in doing the right thing. He wants to repay the bank. He just wants to do it on his terms – by using the bank’s own money.
Tanner, on the other hand, is something of a career criminal. In and out of jail, he’s missed large parts of his brother’s life, and whilst not feeling the same levels of resentment as his brother, feels duty bound to aid him in his venture. Tanner’s ‘fuck you’ attitude to the system is of particular benefit under these circumstances. More than anything though , one senses that Tanner just enjoys his self-styled role as a hot-headed ‘loose cannon’.
Not so ‘hot’ on their trail, (this is small town Texas, after all), are veteran sherif, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), and his deputy, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), who is soon to take over from Marcus as the town’s sherif.
Hamilton’s slow-burn approach to tracking down these errant rogues is of great frustration to Alberto, but he has a plan, and little by little, the net closes in.
When one breaks it down, there’s really not too much to Hell or High Water. It’s a simple tale of simple folk in small town America, but the film’s simplicity is its greatest asset.
Granted, a film whose central theme is one based around a sequence of bank robberies, needs to have some element of action about it, but essentially this is more a film about characters, and David Mackenzie’s direction is key to their full and rounded development.
The film’s serious overtones are punctuated frequently by exchanges of bone-dry amusing dialogue, and a handful of truly comical characters thrown in, providing a small-town quirkiness to proceedings. Not that they’re needed in the sense of breaking up any sort of monotony or puncturing any elements of directorial self-importance as such, for the truth is that Hell or High Water is beautifully paced and rolls along ever so sweetly, remaining thoroughly engaging until its final, ‘blaze of glory’ conclusion.
Hell or High Water. A sort of timeless, twisted Robin Hood revival for our times, and a damn good one at that.

FILM REVIEW: The Girl On The Train

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or two, you’ll be aware of the Paula Hawkins novel, The Girl on the Train, (TGOTT). 

Inevitably, as with most best sellers, there was always going to be a film adaptation, and that particular honour has on this occasion gone to Director, Tate Taylor, who has adapted Erin Cressida Wilson’s screenplay for the big screen.

For those not familiar with the story: Rachel (Emily Blunt – more about her later), a lady deeply affected by post-divorce turmoil – to the point of having taken heavily to the bottle – catches the train to work each day and in doing so, passes her old home in which her ex-husband still lives, along with his new wife and baby. This is understandably a source of great daily pain and anguish for Rachel, and as a result, she has come to fixate instead upon another property, a few doors along, in which the ‘perfect’ couple reside.

This couple, Megan Hipwell (Hayley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), live a demonstrably idyllic, loving life – very much on show for anyone on Rachel’s train that would care to glance in their direction. Rachel is only too happy to oblige.

On one particular day, however, as she passes, she spots something at the couple’s house that shatters her blissful illusion of their union, generating a deep anger within her. The following day she awakens to find herself bloodied and bruised and with no recollection of what happened the day before. More concerningly though, Rachel has suddenly become a chief suspect in Megan’s sudden, mysterious disappearance.

The film then strategically pieces together the back story that has led up to this point in time, through examining the lives and actions of the film’s key characters, whilst the actual events of the ‘forgotten’ day are gradually spoon-fed throughout, using a sequence of hazy, drunken flashbacks of Rachel’s gradually recalled, half-remembered memories.

Indeed, it’s Rachel (and Emily Blunt’s superlative portrayal of her, to be more precise), that steals the show here. Blunt has successfully achieved that most illusive of goals – a convincing portrayal of a drunk.

No hip flask-waving, overly-slurred speech or swivel-eyed exaggerated staggering, here. Blunt’s is a far more nuanced performance, successfully conveying both the desperation and shame that it’s very clear she experiences daily, as she ‘manfully’ attempts to keep life and soul together, under the most crushing of personal circumstances.

Indeed, the performances in general are all solid and emotionally engaging to a point. In addition, it’s a film that possesses just the right kind of momentum at the right sort of times. It’s all beautifully shot and edited and it’s well pieced together – for what it is – with a lavish Danny Elfman score to boot, providing considerable sonic varnish.

It’s indisputable therefore that there are a whole host of key ingredients in place to provide a winning formula here, which makes it all the more baffling as to why TGOTT feels less like the epic cinematic event that it’s meant to be, and rather more like a high-budget, made for TV movie.

Certainly, if I’d watched this instead on a 40 inch, flat-screen television, in my living room, I’d not be overly concerned at having missed out on anything that the big screen experience could have had to offer.

I have my suspicions, but, in all honesty I’m still at a loss as to why this should be.

It’s a hard one to put your finger on…

Perhaps it’s the predictability of the film’s final act which feels like a bit of a cop out after what has preceeded it? Possibly the tension is simply not ramped-up sufficiently in the closing stages, rendering the film’s overall impact less than it might have been? Or maybe, the whole thing, no matter how well acted and technically proficient it may well be, just leaves the residual impression of having been both lightweight and glossy – like a bit of holiday reading that one can dip in and out of, at will, in between swimming lengths of the beach resort’s pool?

In fact, it’s probably fair to assume that The Girl on the Train has been a rather well thumbed-through, ubiquitous presence within many a resort, along the many coasts of the Mediterranean and beyond, this summer.

Then again, it’s perfectly conceivable that that’s a harsh and unfair summary.

I’m torn, so you really will have to see for yourselves.

One man’s trash is, after all, another man’s treasure – or some other such nonsense.


FILM REVIEW: The Infiltrator


Brad Furman’s The Infiltrator, is a tense thriller based upon a true story, starring man of the moment, the omnipresent, Bryan Cranston. He plays Robert Mazur, a U.S. Customs official tasked with exposing a notorious money laundering scheme that’s linked at its very highest levels to the man himself, Pablo Escobar.
In the twilight of his career, with retirement just around the corner, Mazur is presented with the option to ease himself out of the job quietly, but call it fate or sods law, his final ‘take it or leave it’ role thrusts him into the biggest job of his life, and much to his long-suffering wife’s concern and displeasure, his commitment to his colleagues and to his position renders him unable to say no.
Together with a team of fellow undercover operatives, they seek to infiltrate this money laundering ring and expose its inner circle; working their way up into its upper echelons as they go.
Mazur adopts the guise of business ‘money man,’ Bob Musella, through whom financial transactions ‘get done,’ no matter their dubious nature. John Leguizamo stays true-to-type, playing his partner, the street-wise, cocksure, Emir Abreu. Emir supplies considerable know-how to proceedings, possesses considerable cojones, and generally adds an authenticity that’s so crucial at the ‘street level’ of this particular operation.
Mazur and Abreu must mix it up with an assortment of street hoodlums, and latterly, Mazur in particular, with a selection of ultra-moneyed, crooked tycoons.
A number of false friendships are made and their confidence is duly gained. One bond of friendship ultimately proves so strong that the sense of guilt that Mazur experiences when faced with the inevitable act of betrayal, borders on deep remorse.
Within such a highly volatile predicament, the possibility of being found out – or sold out for that matter – at any moment, is never far from Mazur’s thoughts . Everything is balanced precariously on the proverbial knife edge and the resultant tension from a number of incredibly near misses will leave your heart in your mouth.
But the film’s chief success comes from the exploration of Robert Mazur’s character,  and more to the point, from Bryan Cranston’s excellent portrayal of him.
Rather than the swashbuckling all-action hero that Mazur’s character could very easily have been made out to be in the wrong directorial hands – whether true to life or not – Cranston, one senses, provides a far more realistic portrayal. A family man, and a man that’s fully aware of the folly of accepting this one final job, and the far reaching consequences that it could so easily bring about.
Robert Mazur is a man that engages in high-risk role play by day, living an enormously decadent high-flying lifestyle so as to ingratiate himself with those that he seeks to bring down, after which he must adapt back to his sedate, middle class existence by night. More to the point, he must continually square these two, disparate existences with both his own conscience, and with his wife, Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey), a task that becomes increasingly difficult the further he is drawn into the cesspit of the mafia inner circle.
For this, Mazur’s final assignment, he is even required to adopt a fiancee into his life, Bonni, (played here by the excellent Amy Ryan), a dedication to the role which whilst necessary and admirable, pushes Robert’s wife to her very limits of tolerance, particularly when sinister elements of Mazur’s work begin to encroach negatively upon his marriage and family life.
Director Brad Furman’s piece is commendable on a number of levels, most notably for not being sucked into the trap of turning the whole piece into an excuse for umpteen gangster shoot-outs and relentless car chases, but the overall impression is one of a film that falls a little short of being considered of any great importance within its genre, as watchable as it most definitely is.
Not pandering to the temptation to overly titillate or indulge in the gratuitous is all well and good, but there’s a nagging sense that Furman’s direction could have benefited from being maybe a little more ‘down and dirty,’ in order to achieve maximum impact. That said, there’s certainly enough here overall, particularly given such genuinely excellent performances right across the board, and a succession of hyper-tense set pieces, to make The Infiltrator a perfectly decent and entertaining watch.


FILM REVIEW: The Beatles: Eight days a week – the touring years

“Where are we goin’ lads?”

“To the toppa most of the poppa most!”

The Beatles are the greatest popular music band of all time. There’s no contest.

They’re not my personal favourite, as much as I do love and admire them, but for sheer impact, influence and innovation, it’s indisputable. Their consistency in producing such a large volume of defining, classic music was and is unrivalled, and their influence reaches further and wider than any other band in history.

Ron Howard’s new film, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The touring years – to be known as (TB:8DAW) from this point onwards assembles both previously seen and unseen footage, along with rare audio snippets, photographs and newspaper cuttings, given an effective, lightly-animated, 3-dimensional makeover in places. It’s memorabilia amassed from those early years of what proved to be a remarkable career, when, as a band, they took to the small venues of Britain and Hamburg, playing themselves almost to a standstill whilst undertaking the most gruelling of tour schedules.

But it would all come to serve them well.

Years of honing their craft on stage gave their live performances an outstanding edge. Tight and bang on the money they delivered their own particular fusion of Rhythm and Blues and skiffle-infused Rock n Roll to the masses, with devastating affect. Millions of swooning, screaming, fainting girls, beside themselves with emotion, can’t be wrong after all .

Every generation has its own band or two that re-write the rules to an extent, but it’s largely within already well-explored areas and well-defined parameters, so it must have been something else altogether to have been there and experienced The Beatles usher in a new dawn of genuine originality and brilliance. Of course the boys were never ones to accept any fawning or sycophantic acclaim from a clearly bewitched media who would routinely proclaim them to be the most important cultural event of the times. Paul and John were usually quick to retort with something along the lines of: “Nah, we’re just having a laugh.”

And indeed they were, at least until the charm of frenzied fame inevitably wore off and what was once the huge adrenalin kick of live performing gradually turned into an act of going through the motions – just an every day routine of drudgery for the band. Add to this the realisation that they were increasingly turning into performing monkeys for the tour promoters, in the full glare of celebrity and everything that that particular freak show brings to the table.

From the early days of Brian Epstein’s significant and enduring influence, to being the first band in 1965 to perform a gig at anything as high capacity (56,000) as New York’s Shea Stadium, right through to the band’s later years in which they increasingly sought the sanctuary (and the greater creativity it afforded them), of Abbey Road studios, not to mention the calming influence of their later guide and producer, George Martin; (TB:8DAW) covers it all, and with a confident swagger.

It’s edited beautifully. Seamlessly. And it rattles along with tremendous momentum and flow, much as we’ve come to expect from the Ron Howard school of slick, no-nonsense direction, capturing the all important feel and emotions of the time – a sense that everyone was just riding a wave and winging it the best they could – and helping those that were lucky enough to remember it to relive the magnificent, society-disrupting insanity that was ‘Beatle-mania!’

There was something of a sense of personal unworthiness I felt as I watched this beautifully restored footage of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr on the big screen, performing with such energy and innate playful brilliance to a whole swathe of audiences around the globe. A real feeing that I was witnessing something remarkable, the like of which we will never see again. The all-time greatest band.

They were a true phenomenon. As Whoopi Goldberg remarked: “It was fine for absolutely anybody to love The Beatles…” They were boundary-less. Their influence transcended race, class and status. Four hugely talented, charming, and very witty fellas from Liverpool. Just having a laugh. And everyone could be in on the joke.

The Beatles’ story, in all of its wonder, writes itself, it’s true, but it still takes something special to deliver their story with as much power and impact as Ron Howard’s film undoubtedly does. It comes across as more of a homage than a straight forward bio-pic. All signs point to (TB:8DAW) as being every bit a labour of love – and that can only be a good thing.

Not even footage of a spontaneous Beatles sing-along by Liverpool supporters at Anfield could dampen the mood of this one.

With a grin as wide as the river Mersey, I watched this, and you will too.

Absolutely joyous.




















FILM REVIEW: The girl with all the gifts

The zombie genre has undergone a metamorphosis or two over the years. From Romero’s seminal Night of the living dead, and the succession of thought-provoking sequels that it spawned, to the grisly, elongated soap opera of AMC’s The Walking Dead and its various spin-offs, right through to the re-imagined ‘crazed’ warp-speed zombies of the 28 Days Later franchise. Each of these well known offerings – and pretty much everything in-between for that matter – whilst differing stylistically, essentially all tell the same story of man’s struggle against the undead in the ultimate game of survival.
It must be a tough task to bring something new to the zombie table with most avenues seemingly explored and exhausted by now, but The girl with all the gifts (TGWATG) – Colm McCarthy’s adaptation of Mike Carey’s book and screenplay of the same name – is an attempt to do just that with a slightly different take on things.
A predominantly military set of survivors are holed-up in a secure base. Here, their collective mission is quite simple: attempt to create a vaccine in order to combat the fungal illness that has afflicted the brains of the population, turning society into a land of flesh-eating ‘hungries’.
Glen Close (Dr. Caroline Caldwell), is convinced that she is just days away from finalising an effective vaccine through her work harvesting what she needs from a selection of subjects. These subjects happen to be children, and not only that, but children who possess an innate partial immunity to the illness. These are the second generation of the infected. Born to infected parents, they exhibit all the traits of normal children, until provoked that is, be that through hunger or ‘the wrong’ external stimuli.
For everybody’s safety they are therefore kept in underground cells, released daily only to attend their schooling, and even then, only once securely restrained; strapped into wheelchairs, at gunpoint.
Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton), is the children’s teacher and very obviously the only person to treat them with anything approaching a level of human kindness. To the others they are functional pawns in a necessary game of survival.
One girl in particular, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a highly intelligent and valuable ‘asset’ to the camp, forms a particularly strong bond with Helen, but when the base’s defences are finally breached by the sheer weight of hungries at the perimeter fence, a sequence of quick-fire circumstances leads to Melanie being whisked away from the compound in an armoured vehicle, accompanied by Helen, Dr. Caldwell, Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine), and a couple of other members of the military.
Alive but shaken, they must all now fend for themselves on the outside.
Much like many a zombie film, the group will need to navigate the extraordinarily dangerous challenges that exist outside the safety of their previous home, but unlike many of its contemporaries, TGWATG conjures up a scenario in which the group must contend with the level of unknowns that Melanie’s presence offers. A necessary evil, if you like. Disabled from biting by strapping a perspex mask to her face, it’s no longer a case of what danger Melanie represents, but more a case of what use she can be to aid them in their quest.
McCarthy’s film is one which produces a number of interesting observations. The importance of having respect and empathy for both those we know and understand, as well as for those that perhaps we don’t. The advantages of developing symbiotic relationships in order to maximise our chances of survival, and then, perhaps most importantly of all, in light of a new, more advanced second generation of the infected, the question is posed: Is it more important for ‘man’ to preserve his way of life at all costs, or is man’s life in fact worth no more than this new domineering force of the land that has now arisen – the hungries.
It’s a good set up, and a story that has substance and forces the viewer to think in ways that perhaps one wouldn’t expect to do when dealing with this particular subject matter. On that basis alone, TGWATG deserves a lot of credit.
Disappointingly though, it’s a film that, on balance, struggles to deliver an end product  worthy of the book’s innovative concepts.
For a book that centres so crucially upon the role of children in this harsh new world, it’s a little surprising therefore that it’s actually once TGWATG introduces scenes in its latter stages containing any number of feral, conniving youths – think Lord of the Flies meets the cast from Oliver – and indeed once Melanie really takes centre stage and begins to exert her influence on proceedings, that the film noticeably loses impact, and all levels of tension and foreboding that have been carefully-nurtured up until this point, quickly dissipate.
And then there’s that ending. As absurd as it is clever. An accomplishment that I imagine wasn’t actually McCarthy’s intention. See for yourselves. Make up your own minds. In all honesty, I still can’t decide.
It all leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the performances that you can put your finger on. The effects are convincing enough and it’s hard to think of anything that leaps out at you as being overly-naff or in any way contrived. I suppose the kindest way to look at it is that TGWATG is just simply a film that runs out of puff. It fails to sustain that crucial level of intensity and credibility for that matter, and exhibits too many awkward moments of clunkiness as it limps unconvincingly towards its rather ambivalence-inducing conclusion.

FILM REVIEW: Amanda Knox

There’s nothing particularly clear cut about the Meredith Kercher case. Back in 2007, as (arguably) now, we knew but one indisputable fact; Meredith Kercher was murdered.

Lord knows how her grieving family is meant to have got any sense of closure when the whole sorry shebang seems to be – despite countless court hours – pretty much inconclusive. The archetypal, interminable crime case.

That said, in 2015, there was finally at last some semblance of closure when both Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were acquitted by the Italian courts for a second, and one would assume, final time.

The makers of this new Netflix documentary, Amanda Knox, were on site at the Knox family residence to capture that all important moment when the verdict was delivered. The combined relief and joy on Amanda’s face was something to behold, and the phone call she received just moments later from Raffaele makes for a genuinely emotional and touching scene: “Raffaele, we’re free…!”

It’ll be of no consolation to the Kercher family of course, but at least someone finally can take something positive from the train-wreckage of this most unfortunate of affairs.

It’s genuinely tricky to say whether Amanda Knox, the documentary, deliberately sets out to paint a favourable (or at least neutral), picture of the ‘infamous exchange student’ from Seattle. Certainly her new shorter haircut, absence of make-up, and low-key dress sense would hint at this being the case. Not quite the funky wild-child temptress that the Italian – and subsequently world – press would have had us believe her to be at one time. Then again, a lot of water’s passed under that particular bridge since then, hasn’t it?

There was a murder conviction, serving three or four years of a twenty-six year jail sentence, and an unrelenting press campaign of intrudence which has effectively extinguished any chance that Amanda Knox might have had to slide away from the public eye and lead something resembling a normal life once again.

I’d imagine that that’s a collection of circumstances which would have quite some adverse affect on anyone’s personality.

There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking stylistically-speaking about Amanda Knox, a documentary which simply lays out the ‘facts’ and allows a number of talking heads to have their say – leaving its audience to make up their own mind.

Amongst those interviewed is the head of prosecution, Giuliano Mignini, whose motives and actions are questionable to say the least, as he seeks to curry favour with those of power and influence, hell-bent on proving that he and Perugia’s police force are up to the job of cracking this most high profile of cases. And then there’s the almost insatiable pursuit of the perfect ‘scoop’ by textbook, slippery eel, Daily Mail journalist, Nick Pisa, whose approach is at once both impressive and inappropriate – likening the enormity of his new found journalistic fame and subsequent ego boost in light of these terrible events, to having sex. In fairness, it is after all only journalism and he is after all a journalist. I’m fairly confident that you won’t rise to that sort of level within the industry without being unscrupulous on some level at least.

Of course, it’s the individual testimonies and back stories regaled by both Amanda and Raffaele themselves though that hold the most intrigue. Scrutinising the pair for tell-tale ‘signs’ from body language and dialogue, you’d be hard-pushed to witness any psychopathic traits or signs of the cold hearted blood-lust that some would have you believe is their way and want; but I am of course no expert.

What we can say though is that thanks to a litany of amateurish, bungled attempts by the prosecution to prove the young couple’s guilt – resulting in evidence being rendered inadmissible in court – it seems that the world will never be able to categorically say what really happened, on that regrettable November evening in 2007.

Will the files of the case of the murder of Meredith Kercher remain forever on ice? Has the now jailed chief suspect, Rudy Guede, actually been hung out to dry? The convenient fall guy in a much bigger and more complex scenario? Does Amanda Knox know more than she’s ever let on? Was Sollecito as innocent as he seems, or was he just easily led by the more domineering and seductive charms of Foxy Knoxy? A reluctant accomplice, if you will, in a gruesome murder?

So many questions that will remain unanswered, but one thing we do know now, beyond any reasonable doubt; Netflix’ Amanda Knox documentary leaves us absolutely none the wiser…














Forget the oft-opined notion that war is the heroic act of defending one’s country and fellow countrymen in some glorious display of do-or-die patriotism. War, we are informed, is business. Pure and simple.

And ‘War Dogs’ is the term used to describe folk that choose to make the industry of war their business, as well as the name of director, Todd Phillips’ excellent new film.

Based upon true events, it tells the remarkable story of David Packouz (Miles Teller), and his transition from unenthused masseur to big-time gun-runner, and the kind of massive life upheaval that you’d imagine would accompany such an unusual and dramatic career-switch.

 Reacquainted at a funeral with wayward childhood friend and former partner-in-crime, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), and on discovering the rather dubious line of business that he’s involved in, David is quickly tempted to throw in the massage towel – as it were – and team up with his old friend; lured by the promise of potential big bucks and the glamour and excitement of the murky world of gun-running.
Efraim has done well for himself and his business is profitable from his relentless scanning for opportunities, but he dreams of bigger things. With his new partner on board, through a combination of hard work and considerable dedication, he and David quickly begin to make a proper name for themselves.
Within such an unpredictable and volatile industry, however, trouble is never far away  and when logistics and multiple red tape seems set to scupper the deal of a lifetime that they’ve secured with The Pentagon, the boys have no alternative but to take matters into their own hands and fly out to the Middle East, where they soon find themselves right up to their necks in the ‘triangle of death’, in a last-ditch effort to see this particular deal through to some sort of satisfactory conclusion. Failure here is not an option.
Madness? Most certainly so. Naive? Undeniably. But lacking ‘cojones’ is not something you could level at this pair. Call it youthful exuberance or simply a devil-may-care attitude; it’s the kind of behaviour that may well get you killed, but ultimately gets the job done and succeeds in lifting this fearless pair right up into the big time.
Wealthier than in their wildest dreams, and very much the go-to team for shady war-mongers the world over, David and Efraim are set for life, and whilst not being entirely honest with girlfriend and soon to be mother of his child, Iz (Ana de Armas), about his business dealings, David’s life and outlook has never looked so good.
There is however always a nagging feeling that the pair of them are beginning to get in way above their heads, and that such runaway albeit potentially transitory success as this has a nasty habit of bringing about its own set of problems, particularly when in this case, the trio of ills – carelessness, greed and betrayal – begin to rear their ugly heads.
Ever Since Martin Scorcese’s masterpiece, Goodfellas, charted the rise and fall of mobster, Henry Hill, with such slick panache and effortless cool, many a film has either consciously tried to emulate this directorial style, or been accused of having tried to. Few however have succeeded.
War Dogs does indeed owe a great debt stylistically to Scorcese, and crucially, it succeeds where so many others have failed. It’s a truly rip-roaring and hugely entertaining affair that bounces along with considerable energy and momentum, and in Jonah Hill, it boasts an actor that’s right on top of his game just now. To some extent, his role here as Efraim, revives and expands upon his money-hungry character, Donnie Azoff, from another excellent Scorcese piece of more recent times, The Wolf of Wall Street.
Efraim and David’s story is one as remarkable as it is improbable; living the dream (of sorts) – although I suspect that most of us would consider driving assorted weaponry deep within enemy territory in Iraq, in order to fulfil American army requirements, to be more of a nightmare scenario – but each to their own.
David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli; they built a seemingly unassailable empire with all guns blazing, only to shoot themselves in the foot! War Dogs does a sterling job of recounting this most outlandish of tales.