Three very different films hit Australian cinemas this week. The late, great James Gandolfini’s final film, The Drop; Maggie Smith & Kevin Kline’s Parisian comedy-drama, My Old Lady; and the 2014 Palm d’Or Winner, Winter Sleep. Our brief thoughts on all three are after the jump.
The Drop (Michaël R. Roskam, 2014)
Based on Dennis Lehane’s 2009 short story Animal Rescue, The Drop finds local barman Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) at the centre of a robbery gone wrong. Cousin Marv’s (owned by Marv, James Gandolfini), the bar he tends is known as a ‘drop bar’, a place for illegal funds to be safely stored before it is picked up by the appropriate people. The cash stolen belonged to some nasty New York gangsters and they want it back. Investigations by Bob take very odd turns and he finds himself questioning all of those around him.
The Drop is an interesting beast of a film. It’s a low-level gangster film, but the premise, as well as the plot twists, are a little more original than the usual ‘drug schemes gone bad’ type of gangster film. Hardy’s character is bizarre – socially awkward in many ways, but also incredibly intense and intimidating. Hardy does a good job here and I like that he is continuing to pick interesting, challenging roles. Gandolfini is fine here and I must admit I welled up when I saw the film was dedicated to him. I can’t exactly pick why I didn’t like this film more, but perhaps it’s because I couldn’t believe these characters existed? I didn’t entirely buy where it went, especially with Noomi Rapace’s character. It’s a well made film that has the atmosphere of a dingy, dodgy bar and is worth giving a shot for Hardy’s performance alone. ☆ ☆ ☆ [Sam]
My Old Lady (Israel Horovitz, 2014)
Mathias (Kevin Kline) has traveled to Paris after the death of his Father to claim his inheritance, an apartment in an upscale Parisian neighbourhood. Mathias is broke and without much in the way of assets and he sees this apartment as his saviour. When he arrives he finds the apartment has two residents, Mathilde (a very frail-looking Maggie Smith) and her daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott-Thomas), and he can’t evict them. Mathilde is living there as part of a ‘viager’ contract – an old French custom which means she is entitled to stay until her death. Mathias is beside himself and moves in to the apartment while he looks into his options. The longer he stays, the more he learns about the apartment’s inhabitants and their interesting past.
This film works when it is Mathias and Mathilde sparring – their words are their swords and they’re both exceedingly sharp. Kline and Smith are two accomplished actors and their comedic timing is impeccable. I really did enjoy the early stages of this film as Mathias was trying to figure out what the heck the situation was and Mathilde was sizing up her potential foe. Unfortunately as the film goes on it gets rather silly and quite convoluted in its attempts to create a dramatic situation. It also goes to rather grim, dark places and puts its characters through the ringer without great cause. Kristin Scott-Thomas’s character is nonsensical and her only purpose seems to be manufacturing tension and drama. My Old Lady has its moments, but I can’t really recommend it. ☆ ☆ [Sam]
Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2014)
This Year’s Palme d’Or winner from Nuri Bilge Ceylan (the extraordinary Once Upon A Time In Anatolia) is a riveting, beautifully photographed portrait of middle-age re-evaluation and revelation in historically and economically crippled Anatolian isolation. In addition to being an honest and insightful study of a writer and their creative influence, it is about the divide between the rich and the poor in Turkish society, a strained marriage emotionally unravelling and a clinical observation of how a man reacts when his character, his deceptively content personality, is dissected and criticized. After an incident with one of his tenants, a member of a struggling family who have fallen behind on rent, Mr Aydin (a wonderful Haluk Bilginer) is forced to re-consider not only his closest relationships, but also the way he carries himself and how he is viewed by the very town he ‘presides over’.
Once a celebrated theatre actor, he now runs the hotel formerly owned by his wealthy father and is the landlord for most of the village. He also pompously and self-importantly expresses his opinions in a weekly column for the local newspaper, topics drawn from his dissatisfaction with humanity, and the actions of the lower classes. This is a very long film – 196 mins – but the lengthy conversations (often debates and arguments) are so engrossing, the characters so interesting, and the thematic density so challenging, that it was never a burden. Set amongst one of the most stunning film locations in recent memory, this leaves a viewer with an immense amount to process. ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ [Andrew]