Tag Archives: Rachel Weisz

THE MERCY

Three and a half Star Rating

​”It’s a poignant tale made additionally so given the recent untimely death of Jóhann Jóhannsson, the Icelandic composer whose score predictably beautifully embellishes James Marsh’s heart-felt piece…” – Wayward Wolf.

When I were but a wee slip of a lad I was whisked here and there all over the City of London by my quite frankly incredible Grandma. She seemed absolutely hell-bent on introducing me, my sister and two of my cousins to just about every last historical landmark on the map. Always one to stress the importance of history upon us.

One such landmark was The Gipsy Moth IV yacht. It stood land-locked for just over thirty years in Greenwich, London, alongside the Cutty Sark tea clipper – a lasting testament to Sir Francis Chichester who, aboard this fine vessel, had become the first ever yachtsman to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe, stopping just once en route out of absolute necessity.

A year or so after his heroics, Sir Francis was to throw down the gauntlet to the next generation of yachtsmen. The challenge was simple. Was there anyone that could single-handedly circumnavigate the globe, but do so without stopping at all?

 

James Marsh’s film, The Mercy, paints a picture of Donald Crowhurst, the much loved husband of Clare, and the father of three children on whom he dotes. Quite why this man was so drawn to Chichester’s challenge is perhaps never truly revealed, but being a keen weekend sailor himself, and with a strong background in engineering, Crowhurst is confident enough that he’s up to the task. Afterall, as he himself suggests – albeit from the security of dry land: “if you know how to sail, then circumnavigating the globe just requires one to keep on sailing for an extended period of time…” – or words to that effect.

There is of course some logic to such an opinion, yet, whether this is just a show of bravado or not, in the context of his proposed voyage, it is undeniably something of a naive statement. Nonetheless, Crowhurst seems determined, and sets about not only building his own trimaran, but kitting it out with a number of gadgets and devices of his own invention.

Bringing financial sponsorship and press interest on board brings a greater degree of professionalism and realism to the project, but the unforeseen set backs are numerous and not only delay Crowhurst’s departure – and thus his chances of winning – but result in ever greater financial burdens. With his family’s house and possessions now in jeopardy should he fail, this amateur sailor’s predicament is becoming increasingly precarious.

With nagging doubts now racing through his mind, a boat that’s barely fit for purpose, and having painted himself into a corner through his considerable financial obligations, Donald Crowhurst nevertheless makes the bold decision to proceed regardless.

The Mercy, whilst at one point threatening to become some sort of heroic sea-faring yarn of derring do – bringing to mind Robert Redford’s dramatic 2013 solo vehicle, All Is Lost, in the process –  in fact takes an unexpected turn (unexpected that is for those that are unaware of the story).

A couple of months into his journey, Crowhurst becomes increasingly aware that, all considered, any attempts to continue would be akin to suicide. Drastic times so often call for drastic measures and against his better judgement and moral values he makes the unthinkable decision to fake his ‘progress’, relaying a sequence of impressive reports at strategic intervals back to HQ, all the while seeing out the days in relatively calm waters. A far cry from some of the perilous waters of the Southern Hemisphere.

James Marsh’s film does a fine job of contrasting the guilt, chaos and both physical and mental sufferance of Crowhurst’s doomed voyage with the rose-tinted perceptions – and therefore heightened expectations  – of his family, the community in which they live, and the local (and later national) press who positively lap up each and every false statement of achievement that Donald ashamedly wires across – digging himself further and further into an ever expanding hole in the process.

Firth’s portrayal of this desperate man is sincere and at times commanding. With the weight of the world upon his shoulders, and realising that he’s simply way too far out of his depth now to consider turning back, his ultimate descent into disgrace and madness borders on heartbreaking.

Rachel Weisz’s portrayal of his loyal suffering wife is sweet and tender yet quietly powerful, and David Thewlis and Ken Stott both weigh in with reliably solid, believable performances as a local press hack and Crowhurst’s chief financial sponsor, respectively.

It’s a poignant tale made additionally so given the recent untimely death of Jóhann Jóhannsson, the Icelandic composer whose score predictably beautifully embellishes James Marsh’s heart-felt piece, and whose score for the duo’s previous outing, The Theory of Everything, had in fact picked up a Golden Globe award. Just recognition of a brilliant composer whose passing is a massive loss both to cinema and the world of music in general.

The Mercy, as much as anything, conveys something of a moral message centring around the need to be true to oneself and the ones that we love, lest we suffer the psychological implications of straying too far from such a path.

Contrary to the conclusion that Crowhurst is ultimately believed to have arrived at, nothing is ever quite so bad or quite so irredeemable, that it can’t be forgiven or overcome.

At least that would be the conclusion most likely arrived at by the sane and the rational.

The hallucinatory mind of a man racked by guilt and having been alone at sea for way too long, on the other hand, is another matter altogether.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FILM REVIEW: Denial

There are a number of ‘accepted truths’ that the human race seems to settle upon. Some are considered so incontrovertible and utterly sacrosanct, that to even consider questioning them is to risk the wrath of the majority.

Such ‘truths’ are very often linked heavily to people’s emotions and there’s therefore a considerable amount of personal-attachment or vested interest that one must tip-toe around and take into account before daring to offer anything resembling a difference of opinion.

Unless your name is David Irving, that is.

Director Mick Jackson’s film, Denial, recounts the Irving vs Lipstadt libel case which came about as a result of Deborah Lipstadt’s alleged defamation of Irving and his own historical conclusions regarding the Jewish Holocaust of World War II.

David Irving caused quite the stir with his insistence that no Jews were actually gassed at Auschwitz during World War II, and that any claims that they had been, were merely guess work – essentially unfounded.

Waving a wad of one thousand pounds above his head as a reward, Irving stands at the rear of the auditorium in which Lipstadt is giving a seminar, and challenges both Deborah and anyone there that subscribes to her version of history, to produce just one single document to prove him wrong. Deborah’s flat refusal to debate with anyone that she terms to be a ‘denier’ he takes as proof that she can’t.

The unfolding scenario is quick to capture the imaginations of the media and naturally therefore the general public, ultimately leading the pair towards their big show-down at London’s Royal Courts of Justice.

On paper, this is the kind of subject matter that’s absolutely made for the big screen. An apparently outrageous suggestion, an allegedly defamatory reaction, with one huge mother of a legal battle to follow.

Roll V.T…

Mick Jackson’s film however somehow manages to miss most of its cues and opportunities, and succeeds only in converting the film’s contentious, somewhat prickly talking points into a remarkably tepid affair, and it’s not difficult to see why.

It is true that Rachel Weisz is perfectly decent as the emotional and rather sanctimonious, Lipstadt, whilst Tom Wilkinson’s depiction of Richard Rampton QC, is reassuringly weighty. The real problem lies with Timothy Spall. There’s nothing wrong with his performance per se, there’s just not enough of it. Whereas Lipstadt’s character is examined in some depth throughout the piece, Irving’s character is almost brushed off as an irrelevance in this contrived fight between good and evil. Half-drawn as some sort of a cartoon villain, complete with hangers-on from assorted right-wing groups of dubious purpose, his character is then, to all intents and purposes, abandoned –  starved of oxygen, much in the same way that his highly contentious opinions were deliberately given no platform whatsoever within the court room – a tactic employed by Lipstadt’s legal team that would ultimately prove to be decisive.

No matter what your opinion of Irving’s ‘work’ may be, and no matter the possibly spurious nature of his motives, the fact remains; if a film presents nothing but a deeply one-sided argument – such as is the case here – it really is no argument at all; more a fait accompli, and that, in the context of film-making is, quite frankly, disappointing.

There are however areas in which it’s only fair to suggest that Denial film does deliver. It’s not all insubstantial. In particular, the vastly differing approaches exemplified within the defence. The emotionally-driven approach of Lipstadt and a number of Holocaust survivors who assemble daily at the court – and whose voices Lipstadt firmly believes should be heard as evidence – is in stark contrast to the more reserved, measured and logic-driven decisions of her legal team, and at times makes an insightful and intriguing spectacle. It doesn’t, however, alter the fact that there’s a definite sense of underwhelming superficiality about Denial. It’s a film which, on balance, lacks inspiration, glosses over content far too readily, fails to probe sufficiently into the life and motives of Mr Irving, and consequently simply falls flat. It fails to really ask too much of its viewers other than to insist that they all come along for the ride, on a fast-tracked, pre-determined journey to a well-known, agreed upon destination.

Perhaps the film’s rather one-eyed approach is best summed up by the words of Deborah Lipstadt, herself: “Now, some people are saying that the result of this trial will threaten free speech. I don’t accept that. I’m not attacking free speech. On the contrary, I’ve been defending it against someone who wanted to abuse it…”

In other words: you may say what you like, but you can’t say some things if I, and many others don’t agree with them – a.k.a, denying truly free speech.

All things considered, Denial is a neat and tidy little film, conveniently tied-up with a pretty little bow, but it’s badly lacking in a number of areas. Worse still, it’s a severely imbalanced piece, and perhaps worst of all, an enormous waste of Timothy Spall’s considerable talents.

FILM REVIEW: Youth

Any film that commences with a character spurning the slippery recruitment drive of one of her majesty’s sycophantic ‘yes men’, automatically has me on-side.
Happily, this remains the case throughout director Paolo Sorrentino’s poignant and thought provoking, Youth.
Retired composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and his friend, film-maker, Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), are relaxing at a beautiful health and wellness retreat in the Swiss Alps.
It’s a serene location; somewhere where two friends can unwind and contemplate their lot.
Fred’s position in life seems certain. He’s retired with no plans of a return, whereas successful film-maker Mick, surrounded by a group of eager and substantially younger up-and-coming writers, is using the trip to work on the script for his latest, and greatest (in his mind at least), magnum opus. Here, he thrives on the youthful energy and creative influence that his young cohorts inject into his project. Mick may be of older years, but he remains a man full of drive and ambition.
Unlike Fred… whose rebuttal of the Queen’s advances, whilst commendable in isolation, is not simply some anti-establishment stance that he’s chosen to take; there are far more deep-rooted, personal reasons for his dismissal of the offer placed on the table that will become clearer as scenes unfold. That is of no consolation though to a clearly staggered royal foot soldier.
Together with Fred and Mike at the resort is Fred’s daughter, Lena, (Rachel Weisz) who organises Fred’s affairs and schedule in her dual role as his assistant. It’s a loving yet strained relationship owing to Fred’s largely absent father routine during Lena’s formative years.
One of the chief triumphs of Youth is David Lang’s superbly evocative soundtrack. One quirky musical scene in particular stands out with Fred conducting a sort of cowbell ensemble in a field. The performers? The cows themselves.
There is however one key motif in particular taken from one of composer Ballinger’s renowned ‘Simple Songs’ which springs up time and again throughout the film in a variety of forms, from the rhythmic rustling of a sweet wrapper in hand, to a child’s afternoon violin practice, right up to its tumultuous, full-on emotional realisation at the film’s conclusion. It’s a theme that plays a key role in shaping the film’s structure and flow.
Indeed, it seems that Sorrentino is a director highly influenced by the power of music in film, as confirmed in Lang’s own words: “When talking to him [Sorrentino] about it, it was very clear that music was part of the organizing principle of the film.”
Youth is a piece that ruminates over those existential questions that we all mull over. In observation of a wide variety of weird and wonderful fellow resort dwellers, Fred and Mick try to contemplate what it is to be young, to be old, famous, reclusive, obese, decrepit or of body beautiful; a luxury perhaps only afforded to those that can truly say that time and worries are not pressing on them?
Try as they might, this is a luxury that neither Fred nor Mick can truly claim to have.
It’s a visually stunning, sonically sumptuous piece, rich in symbolism, and both Caine and Keitel are tremendous in their respective roles, as is Weisz. Whilst there are a couple of questionable, ‘clunky’ moments which appear to come straight out of left field – the Paloma Faith sequence in particular seems out of place and unnecessary within the whole scheme of things – such moments fortunately vanish as quickly as they appear, and crucially, leave no lasting negative impression.
Youth is a melancholic meditation on ageing, coming to terms with both life and mortality, and our attempts to find some semblance of inner peace as we inch ever closer towards our maker.
Alternatively, Youth is about the kind of levels of gratification that can only be achieved through finally being able to pass four drops of piss after three days of trying.
You choose.
Wonderful stuff.