In cinemas this week: Concussion, How to Be Single, Ride Along 2, 45 Years, Risen, Trumbo
Concussion – While conducting an autopsy on former NFL football player Mike Webster (David Morse), forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) discovers neurological deterioration that is similar to Alzheimer’s disease. Omalu names the disorder chronic traumatic encephalopathy and publishes his findings in a medical journal. As other athletes face the same diagnosis, the crusading doctor embarks on a mission to raise public awareness about the dangers of football-related head trauma. There have been positive reactions to Will Smith’s performance, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe, but the film’s traditional structure and lack of punch has been the subject of criticism.
How to Be Single – After four years of college, young Alice (Dakota Johnson) decides she needs a break from her long-term boyfriend Josh. Excited and ready for new challenges, the eager grad moves to New York to take a job as a paralegal. Helping her navigate her way through an unfamiliar city is Robin (Rebel Wilson), a fun-loving, wild co-worker who enjoys partying and one-night stands. With Robin as her freewheeling guide, Alice can now learn how to get free drinks, meet men and enjoy the single lifestyle. Neither the rather annoying Johnson or Wilson come close to selling me on seeing this, and this feminist rom-com seems to lean too much on the genre conventions it is trying to subvert.
Ride Along 2 – Rookie lawman Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) aspires to become a detective like James Payton (Ice Cube), his future brother-in-law. James reluctantly takes Ben to Miami to follow up on a lead that’s connected to a drug ring. The case brings them to a homicide detective and a computer hacker who reveals evidence that implicates a respected businessman. It’s now up to James and Ben to prove that charismatic executive Antonio Pope is actually a violent crime lord who rules southern Florida’s drug trade.
45 Years – There is just one week until Kate Mercer’s forty-fifth wedding anniversary and the planning for the party is going well. But then a letter arrives for her husband. The body of his first love has been discovered, frozen and preserved in the icy glaciers of the Swiss Alps. By the time the party is upon them, five days later, there may not be a marriage left to celebrate. Like Weekend, writer/director Andrew Haigh gives his brilliant performers every chance to shine, relying on the quiet pauses between exchanges, and looks that tell more than any words could. His efficient screenplay is simple on the surface, but as the ghosts from the past invade the relatively peaceful present, it is an emotionally draining experience. He tugs at and pries open the nuances of the contract of marriage and the psychology of what it means to truly understand another human being. Nothing really to fault here, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are stunning. It made it on to Sam’s Top 15 of 2015 list (at the link).
Risen – Roman military tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) remains set in his ways after serving 25 years in the army. He arrives at a crossroad when he’s tasked to investigate the mystery of what happened to Jesus (Cliff Curtis) following the Crucifixion. Accompanied by trusted aide Lucius (Tom Felton), his quest to disprove rumors of a risen Messiah makes him question his own beliefs and spirituality. As his journey takes him to places never dreamed of, Clavius discovers the truth that he’s been seeking.
Trumbo – In 1947, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was Hollywood’s top screenwriter until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs. Trumbo recounts how Dalton used words and wit to win two Academy Awards and expose the absurdity and injustice of the blacklist, which entangled everyone from gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) to John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger. Cranston has been nominated for all the major awards for his performance, so even if it doesn’t eschew standard biopic tropes, it will be worth a look (on home entertainment for us) for him alone.
Weekly Recommendation – 45 Years will be one of the more powerful dramas you are likely see this year; a mature and intelligent film from a very good filmmaker. If you haven’t yet seen Brooklyn, released last week, be sure to catch up with it.