Tag Archives: Tom Hanks

THE POST

Four Star Rating

“Spielberg’s film is an absolute masterclass in tension and suspense” – Wayward Wolf.

“The press is for the benefit not of the governors, but of the governed…”

Never a truer word spoken, though a hugely debatable sentiment within today’s rather one-eyed, less than transparent media, I’d suggest.

I’m sure I’m not alone in welcoming the return of the master of popular story telling, Steven Spielberg.

His latest piece, The Post, chronicles the uber-tense set of circumstances leading up to the enormously brave decision by the ‘Free Press’ to publish a huge number of leaked documents revealing successive U.S Governments’ cover up of the truth behind the Vietnam War.

Daniel Ellsberg, an American military journalist stationed in the thick of the combat, returns to his homeland determined that the U.S Government’s on-going thirty year deception of its public should no longer be allowed to continue, and makes the bold decision to make available reams of classified national defence information to The New York Times, who in turn proceed to publish many of the files.

This is indeed a courageous move for both Ellsberg and The New York Times, but one which will soon be closed down by way of a court injunction.

Meanwhile, the new Editor of The Washington Post, Ben Bradlee (a slightly darker role for the usually squeaky clean Tom Hanks), is determined to make a splash for his paper, and despite the injunction hanging over all of the country’s press, when opportunity presents itself, he is undeterred and decides, against much legal advice, that The Washington Post will show no reluctance in publishing more of this classified content.

This is all well and good, but Bradlee’s decisions must be approved by not only a board of directors, but more importantly, by the paper’s slightly reluctant owner, Kay Graham (a top drawer performance from the ever reliable Meryl Streep).

Such a predicament will inevitably lead to much hand-wringing and soul searching.

Set to the backdrop of civil unrest and a rapidly swelling anti-war sentiment amongst the people, Spielberg’s film is an absolute masterclass in tension and suspense. Not only is this a race against the clock, but a test of nerve and one big collective wrestle with morality. Very much a case of the people versus the State.

We only have to look at the more recent actions of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden for their ‘so-called-treachery’ against their respective Governements, to know that anarchy, the distrust of authority and the quest for justice are very much alive and well in modern society, but the revelation of The Pentagon Papers (as the leaked Vietnam files were to become known), was, in 1970, a somewhat unprecedented action, and one that raised the moral dilemma: To whom must one be more dutiful? To the people, or to one’s own Government?

This painfully awkward scenario is quite brilliantly captured by the cast, but in particular through the performances of Hanks, and especially Meryl Streep.

Streep’s portrayal of Kay Graham is one of a woman who initially, despite being the Paper’s owner – albeit by default – seems to lack authority amongst her peers, and the courage of her own convictions in such a male-dominated environment. However, over the course of the film, she gradually grows into the role and the responsibility that it entails, and in the face of huge opposition by much of her paper’s board of directors, she wrestles gamely with her own conscience, all too aware of the potential implications, to ultimately come to what she feels to be the right decision.

It’s a superb, nuanced portrayal of a gradually empowered woman who never sacrifices principles to gain authority.

Spielberg once again teams up with legendary composer John Williams, whose score is bold and influential, yet never overpowering. Just another example of the pair’s perfectly complimentary partnership in film.

The Post is a piece that examines morality and just what it means to uphold the Constitution of the U.S.A in the face of potential severe national threat, and it’s all done with Spielberg’s trademark energy, heart and quite brilliant characterisation.

A must see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: A hologram for the King

Tom Tykwer’s tale of a struggling sales rep tasked with sealing the deal of his life in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is on the surface a story of a clash of cultures, and in the world of films, it’s under such predicaments that alarm bells immediately start ringing in my head. You know the drill: folk from two disparate cultures collide, initially struggle to understand one another, but with the passing of time come to understand and more importantly respect each other and each other’s ‘ways’ – each learning important life lessons about themselves in the process.

Yes, there is a bit of that. I don’t think it’s possible to take two so apparently differing cultural approaches and expect any sort of film narrative to develop without at least addressing such a backdrop, particularly when one considers the rather extreme peculiarities of such a repressive regime as exists in Saudi Arabia.

It’s refreshing therefore that A Hologram For The King (AHFTK) is not purely a vehicle for smoothing U.S / KSA diplomatic relations, but contains a simple, rather poignant story within it too.

Tom Hanks is as ever well cast as the man charged with leading the film’s charm offensive, portraying Alan, a man whose current life experience is one of dissatisfaction, bordering on desperation at times; hence, here he is, a stranger in a strange land attempting to nail the big deal; not for some huge personal financial gain it should be added, but to kick-start payments once again for his daughter’s temporarily stalled college education.

It’s a situation that she seems perfectly comfortable and understanding about, but it is nonetheless a pressured scenario in Alan’s mind, exacerbated by the ever-looming shadow of his ex-wife, who, it’s fair to say, possesses little faith in Alan’s ability to come up with the goods.

Right now, a long way from the comforts of home, he could do without any such anti-cheerleading in his ear.

Entering into the unknown, Alan and his I.T team need to prove their worthiness to be the prospective high-tech holographic presentation kit suppliers to the King of Saudi Arabia himself.

In theory it’s a quick in and out job and with a little luck, should put a smile on everyone’s face, be that the King, Alan, his wife or his micro-managing boss; only, this is Saudi Arabia, and with the King’s daily whereabouts unpredictable at best, Alan must wait things out, powerless, despite his protestations to anyone that will listen, to do anything about it.

It’s in these periods of waiting that AHFTK flourishes as a piece, for ultimately, this is not really a film about achieving goals or proving yourself to be the best, it’s a personal journey for Alan as he attempts to stay on top of things. Through a sequence of interactions with an assortment of colourful characters, inadvertently he is able once again to re-discover himself.

Alexander Black plays Yusef, a man dicing with death due to a clandestine fling he is having with a married woman. He’s inadvertently become Alan’s personal driver, a job that wouldn’t even exist were Alan able to peel himself out of bed each morning and not miss his scheduled shuttle bus.

Sarita Choudhury plays Zahra, initially Alan’s doctor, but whose charms steadily work their magic upon Alan’s impressionable self.

There are shades of Lost In Translation about AHFTK, and if one can get over the portrayal of a country with massively dubious, oppressive human rights issues as sanitised and ‘a bit quirky,’ and take it for what it’s probably intended to be, a re-assuring story of life-affirmation in the most unexpected of places, then it’s a perfectly decent piece of work, anchored ably as ever by the excellent Tom Hanks.

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Bridge of Spies

Whilst it’s a film with serious overtones and occasional moderate violence, Bridge of Spies is quintessentially Spielberg; that is to say that no matter the gravity of the subject in hand, his tendency is and always has been to focus more upon human character, spirit and emotion than any type of warts and all harsh sense of realism.

In many ways, that’s what makes Spielberg a director that can appeal right across the board to every generation.

In Tom Hanks, there is no better actor to convey Spielberg’s vision. Hanks, here cast as Jim Donovan, an attorney assigned the frankly thankless task of providing legal representation for captured Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (a low-key but fine turn from Mark Rylance).
Abel’s ‘defence’ in a 1950s America, gripped by the cold war, is of course purely lip service; a token nod to the constitution, but nothing more than a charade to appease the collective ‘conscience’ of the American public.
It seems however that Donovan hasn’t read the memo and is clearly a man that upholds the constitution’s words and sentiment; it being the one and only thing, he feels, that truly defines what it is to be an American.
Predictably Donovan’s attempt to overturn Abel’s three espionage convictions fails, but he does succeed in convincing the judge not to send Abel to ‘the chair’ – pointing out that in these days of the Cold War, Abel may well be a key bargaining tool should the U.S. authorities require some leverage at a later date.
Down-grading a capital sentence of course, does not go down well with a fearful American public.
Almost inevitably, with a U.S. pilot shot down and captured behind ‘enemy’ lines, not to mention a young American economics student wrongly imprisoned in East Berlin; very much at the behest of the CIA, Donovan begins his initially reluctant transformation from attorney of law into key U.S. negotiator, in a bid to have released, now, not just one, but two U.S hostages.
In another director’s hands Bridge of Spies I’m sure would have been a very different beast. Spielberg’s gentle handling of the Coen brothers’ and Matt Charman’s script leans heavily on character and dialogue and one genuinely white knuckle aircraft sequence aside, there are few thrills and spills to speak of. Any opportunity to confront the gratuitous head-on, tends to be neatly side-stepped, to the film’s benefit it should be said.
Hanks is excellent. The supporting cast are top notch, and it’s all beautifully shot and put together as you’d expect from a Spielberg offering, re-imagining well the harsh realities of a mid-twentieth century, winter-stricken Berlin and the glaring contrasts thrown up between its East and West regions.
Everything is knitted together well by a pleasant enough, clearly John Williams-inspired orchestral score, supplied on this occasion by veteran Hollywood composer, Thomas Newman.
Does this now mean that Newman is Spielberg’s ‘go to’ music man?
Time will tell…
I suppose any criticisms levelled at Bridge of Spies might revolve around whether the whole story is perhaps a little sugar coated, with Spielberg, as mentioned earlier, choosing to focus more upon one man’s emotional journey than the ugliness of cold war, but that would be harsh to say the least.
It’s possibly not one of Spielberg’s finest, but it’s fine nonetheless, and yet another Spielberg piece that will doubtless last the test of time.
Recommended.