Kirsten Dunst

The Beguiled (2017)

I’m unsure what it is at the moment, but period dramas are becoming my highly anticipated films of the year. The first instance was My Cousin Rachel, and the second is Sofia Coppola’s latest venture with The Beguiled.

Set in the 1800s during the American Civil War, the film had the promise of being a rather tense affair. It’s clear that Sofia Coppola’s has adoration for costume pieces, especially after Marie Antoinette but also the use of clothing and accessories in less-than-forgettable The Bling Ring.

It has to be said though, the opening forty or so minutes of The Beguiled do slog their way through the narrative as it tries building toward the tense and gripping affair it looked to be. As the Civil War is underway, the placement of the school in Virginia is excellent, as you hear to not-so far off gunshots and explosions as the war rages into it’s third year.

But with that comes a certain sense of innocence, as Amy (Oona Laurence) hums a playful tune whilst looking for mushrooms to pick. Amy stumbles across the injured John McBurney, (Colin Farrell) an injured Corporal of the Union army, who happens to have deserted the war effort. With good intentions, she brings him back to Miss Martha’s school, which causes an immediate disruption to the school.

Although the film does stand at around an hour and a half, it is a slow burner to begin with, which makes it feel longer. But Coppola dresses the screen with this aforementioned adoration of the dresses and the setting of the house, interior and exterior. The cast all eventually come into their own as they fight for the affections of Corporal McBurney, which does reach breaking point. The tension between Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning) is brilliant, especially as Elle Fanning channels her performance from The Neon Demon.

Each of the girls within the school is given apt time on screen, with the large chunk revolving around Miss Martha, (Nicola Kidman) Edwina and Alicia. Farrell is given enough time to spin his web within the house and what began as resentment for the ‘Yank’ soon became affection as each of the girls begin tussling for his attention and affection.

Her choice to leave the screen almost devoid of music for the first forty to fifty minutes really helped accentuate the wartime effort that engulfed Virginia. The natural noises mixed perfectly with the placement of Miss Martha’s home and often at times gave it a claustrophobic feeling as the film progress towards it’s climax. But when the tension of the music kicked in, it elevated the screen tenfold.

My only issue with the film is that opening forty minutes. Once it is past this hump and John McBurney incites the line ‘vengeful bitches’ The Beguiled really comes into it’s own. Especially with the performances from Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning as they try to play off each other. Sofia Coppola continues the trend of having intriguing female characters and created enough of a story to keep it’s head above water going into the final half of the film. And that last shot is just gorgeous.

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Midnight Special (2016)

Midnight Special was one of my highly anticipated films of last year, but unfortunately did not manage to get to see it in the cinema, but eventually it made an appearance on a streaming site that I was able to access. Jeff Nichols’ fourth feature length film looked to be quite the science fiction thriller piece, so I was excited to finally watch it.

Majority of the promotional footage and trailers featured the image of a young boy that seemed to radiate a blinding blue light from his eyes. In Midnight Special, our first meeting with the young boy, he is wearing goggles and noise-cancelling ear mitts whilst reading a comic book. During this introduction with Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), we see Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton watching the news, regarding the kidnapping of Alton and the case being placed on amber alert.

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Already Nichols has managed to tell the opening segments to the story with enough vigour to grip me, but also with the help of an intense car journey down the back lanes of the southern states of North America. Without relaying too much information, the film quickly changes the pace with an FBI-raid on a ranch, which houses a cult.

What becomes clear is that Roy Tomlin, (Michael Shannon) the man responsible for the kidnapping of Alton, is actually the boy’s father. But also that Alton has a special ability to intercept secret encoded satellite messages. This obviously is quite the concern for the FBI and the American government, so they want Alton located, as much as the cult to bring him back ‘home’.

Jeff Nichols’ manages to keep up the fast pace as Roy and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) continually avoid the police, but also the cult members that were sent by cult to find Alton. But the trouble is during this rip-roaring pace; the question remains as to why this is all happening?

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What begins as a rip roaring pace and filling the opening segment with mysterious characters, Midnight Special begins to lack in a strong storyline as it enters the latter half of the film. In instances, a strong storyline is sometimes superseded by the strong characters and with a strong cast containing Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver, one would suspect Midnight Special is one of those instances.

It isn’t.

The plaudits of acting would rest on Jaeden Lieberher’s shoulders, as Alton seemingly becomes weaker and the film bores into it’s second hour, and Lieberher’s performance is convincing amongst the others, well, less than convincing performances.

For me, Kirsten Dunst’s maternal character was pretty much pointless in the story and did not add any width to the story. She didn’t have the intrigue that Roy and Lucas did during their introduction, but even their mysteriousness eventually slipped away. Adam Driver’s NSA analyst was an excellent inclusion as he accepts the mystery that is Alton, but Jeff Nichols’ did not manage to effectively incorporate this into the story enough, he focused on the mad chase that surrounded Alton and the mysterious coordinates that Sevier (Driver) works out.

As I previously mentioned, Nichols created what was seemingly a science-fiction thriller and there were certain aspects within the film that was enjoyable, including the pace to the opening of the film, and some wonderful shots of the sun setting and rising. Unfortunately for me, the enjoyable sections of Midnight Special were too few and far between when the film lost its way with the story, but also the less-than-convincing cast performances.

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Midnight Special could have become a cult classic, but the story seems to have taken a cop-out route and it just doesn’t seem to make much sense, for me anyway. The cast had me filled with promise, considering the ability of them but again, I felt let down by Shannon & co aside from Leiberher’s performance. Alas, the opening hour was good and thrilling, culminating in a meteor shower that looked majestic, but from there the film slowly begins to drop off and seemingly loses itself in free fall. As much as I enjoyed the opening hour, I could not shake the closing hour practically ruining the film for me. Unfortunately Midnight Special was a bit of dud.

The Two Faces of January (2014)

The Two Faces of January features two of my favourite actors, Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac, and strangely enough the trailer I saw, sold this film in a completely different light than the film worked out to be. This being director Hossein Amini’s debut, I rather enjoyed this, but this man is responsible for the screenplays of Drive and Snow White and the Huntsman – two films I have enjoyed in the past. Which admittedly are two different types of film, but if I was to liken this film to either two, it would have to be Drive, considering the thriller aspects in the film.

This film being an adaptation of Patricia Highman’s novel of the same name, unfortunately I would not be able to see the similarities, however that being said, the story involves the more exotic worlds of Greece and Turkey, in the year of 1962. Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Colette McFarland (Kirsten Dunst) are touring the acropolis, whilst Rydal (Oscar Isaac) is acting as a tour guide to a bunch of a girls, whom he later scams. Curious, Colette tails the young Rydal to find out more information about him, which leads to Rydal taking them around the flea market the following morning. He scams the McFarland’s there with his bogus exchange rates (similar to what he does to the girls earlier), to which a Greek congratulates him on his efforts.

Chester and Colette

From this moment on the thriller aspect of the film creeps in. During the evening, a private detective locates Chester McFarland and threatens him to pay back the money he owes to people he swindled, otherwise there will be consequences. After a brief scuffle, the private detective is killed and whilst trying to hide the body. Chester is discovered by Rydal who was returning a bracelet to Colette.

Instead of running (Because who wouldn’t be suspicious of a man you’ve just met dragging a lifeless body into a room), Rydal helps. And to make things more suspicious, they leave the hotel room immediately and Chester asks if Rydal knows anyone that can get them passports.

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This pretty much happens within the first twenty to thirty minutes. After this is where the film gets interesting due to the effort that Chester, Colette and Rydal go through to keep a low profile. It becomes a tale about paranoia very quickly as Chester watches Rydal and Colette grow closer and Chester as a result, ruffles Colette’s feathers often. But also the deep fear that festers in Colette who assumes everyone looking at her knows she’s on the run.

In all fairness, this is quite a difficult one to write about without giving away the crucial plot points, but I’ll let you know this. It’s more of a crime thriller, with the main themes centred around crime. For example, Chester’s main source of money is conning other people (which causes the private detective to appear) and that is the same for Rydal, as I previously mentioned.

With that being said, there usually isn’t much room for a spectacle side of the film in crime thriller’s, however, Hossein Amini filters in picturesque shots of Greece including the famed Acropolis, but uses the narrow streets of Chania to add to the suspense when Chester in a paranoid-induced frenzy tries to find Rydal and Colette. With a light tint throughout the film, it gives it that rustic time-period feel (but this is also helped with the extensive work in the clothing department).

Chester, the face of paranoia.

Chester, the face of paranoia.

Amina’s debut makes for an entertaining watch, considering the storyline not being the most riveting in this genre. My fixation on this film is with the characters, the most compelling being Rydal and Chester. They continually battle for the trophy that seems to be Colette, with their alpha-male dominance. The thriller sequences are shot brilliantly, with Amini’s great use of the narrow streets as I mentioned before. The film stands at a mere 96 minutes, but it feels longer, due to the nature of the characters and the long pauses between the story (Such as travelling to the ruins in Knossos sequence). All in all, between the characters, the picturesque shots of Greece and Turkey, Amini’s debut is a delight and a very enjoyable crime thriller, without being anything special within the genre.

7/10.