Thread Kapiti Review: THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST

The following is a review I wrote for Thread, a new publication on the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand. Pick up a copy if you’re in the area, or you can visit their blog version here. Hopefully this will be a somewhat regular thing, so support a really cool new thing!

film_review_the_reluctant_fundamentalist_519db05499It’s an admirable move by director Mira Nair to centre an American thriller around a Muslim leading man, if only she was willing to take as many risks with the story telling. The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a Hollywood-Qatar co-production with a terrific supporting cast alongside a little known leading man (Riz Ahmed), is a convoluted pastiche, trying to say so much that it ends up saying almost nothing.

The film plays out largely in flashback, after Pakistani Changez (Ahmed) and his family are implicated in the kidnap of a foreign colleague, and he is forced to prove his innocence by recounting the story of his life to a shady American journalist (Liev Schreiber) embedded in Lahore. The problem is that despite what the marketing would have you believe, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is only about one third of an effective thriller.

Understandably for a film dealing with complex American-Islamist geopolitics, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is heavy on 9/11 drama, attempting to offer a fresh look by showing the fallout from the attacks from the other side. It’s an idea with potential for an issue that is already well-trodden cinematic ground, and as such it’s a great shame that the film’s capitalism/terrorism parallels are glaringly obvious, and rather than truly confronting the audience with anything new and challenging, Nair gets bogged down in tired tropes and an unlikely and unnecessary romantic sub plot that sucks up the already long screen time. 

One or two of these elements drawn out and explored with an increased focus might have made for a more satisfying experience, but Nair seems to have taken the approach to throw as much as she could at the screen hoping that most of it would stick, but instead there are mere glimpses of a good film buried under far too much clutter.

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Thread Kapiti Review: KON-TIKI

The following is a review I wrote for Thread, a new publication on the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand. Pick up a copy if you’re in the area, or you can visit their blog version here. Hopefully this will be a somewhat regular thing, so support a really cool new thing!

jakob-oftebro-tobias-santelmann-kon-tiki-01-1900x1267Amongst the trivia clutter that has seeped into my head over the years, there are historical figures whose names I have been aware of without really knowing precisely who they were. Having a thirst for true adventure tales, unearthing these stories through books or films is like making my own discoveries, and I feel a little surge of excitement, insignificant as it may be compared to the subjects I’m exploring. Thor Heyerdahl is one such figure, and his story, as told in Kon-Tiki, is a wonderful encounter.

Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen) is a man driven by a ruthless ambition and a desperate quest for validation from the post-war scientific community. After spending a number of years on the idyllic Pacific island of Fatu Hiva with his wife Liv (Agnes Kittelsen), he develops a heretofore preposterous thesis that the settlers of Polynesia came not west from Asia as accepted, but from the east, drifting towards the setting sun from Peru.

As chronicled in Kon-Tiki, Heyerdahl and a motley band of inexperienced but similarly determined accomplices embark on a visionary journey, following a hypothetical path some 5,000 miles across the Pacific to prove the impossible. Kon-Tiki is a considered, old-fashioned adventure yarn, with moments of heart-stopping thrills amongst an examination of one man’s obsession. 

Heyerdahl is driven to the brink of sanity in his enterprise, but rather than being a narcissistic portrayal, directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg show the anguish of the great man, who wrestles with his obligations to the men sharing his raft, the family at home in Norway, and his duty as a scientific explorer right to the nail-biting conclusion. His is a story that deserves its place among Hillary, Scott and Amundsen, and Kon-Tiki is one of the year’s most unexpected pleasures. 

Thread Kapiti Review: RUST AND BONE

The following is a review I wrote for Thread, a new publication on the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand. Pick up a copy if you’re in the area, or you can visit their blog version here. Hopefully this will be a somewhat regular thing, so support a really cool new thing!

Rust-and-Bone---whalejpg

Jacques Audiard’s follow up to the remarkable 2009 film Un Prophète, Rust and Bone tells the story of Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) and Ali (Matthias Schoenarts), two people struggling for purpose who form an unlikely bond following a tragic workplace accident that leaves Stéphanie permanently disabled. 

It is a challenging film that presents its audience with two leads who aren’t exactly the easiest characters to like, with Stéphanie initially sinking into self-pity following her accident, and Ali selfishly putting himself ahead of everyone else in his life, even his young son Sam (Armand Verdure). 

However, Audiard never demands sympathy, instead choosing to simply present his characters as real people with both physical and internal flaws, and the very stark, at times overexposed look effectively puts them all on display. It is fascinating in particular to watch Cotillard bring Stéphanie out of her depression as the unconventional friendship unfolds, spurred on by the brutish Ali. 

It’s also an often surprising film, taking turns that may not work as well had the characters not been so well fleshed out through the excellent performances. There are moments of genuine emotional impact (one of which is set to a Katy Perry song of all things), both uplifting and devastating.

It’s arguable that the unfocused narrative and perhaps under-explained catalyst for Stéphanie and Ali’s relationship work to the film’s detriment, but Rust and Bone is clearly more concerned with character than story. We’re not asked to enjoy the time spent with Stéphanie and Ali as such, but rather to observe and understand the bitter loneliness of this duo who desperately support each other through the trauma of their existence. By turns gruelling and hopeful, Rust and Bone is a physical, gritty film of uncommon power.