Saturday, 23 January 2010

Today's Viewing - Still With Reviews!: The Boys Are Back + The Hide

The Boys Are Back

You know what you’re in for as soon as you even consider seeing it. A widower struggles to raise and connect with his sons while coping with the loss of his wife. Not the most rousing subject especially when burdened with the apocryphal, disheartening ‘inspired by a true story’ motto.

I’ll confess that I’m a sucker for a weepy if it’s played right and this manages on a base level – although it will always struggle to rise far about the distinctly average. All that marks this out from a hundred other similarly-themed lachrymose melodramas is the Australian backdrop (perfect for tortured walks, endless driving scenes and shoehorned-in kangaroos). To give it credit, it doesn’t dwell on an initial lingering death scene but just about everything else plays out with somewhat banal efficiency. There’s the vaguest attempt to keep this topical with a Skins-esque problem party subplot that comes from nowhere and disappears just as fast. Clive Owen’s character has a filmically prerequisite, typically interesting job (sports journalist) which requires him to sound knowledgeable about the contemporary tennis references which litter the film – as well as be away from his family a lot. Groan.

It is nice to see Clive playing something requiring a semblance of characterisation despite him always struggling to hold my interest, even when using a carrot as an offensive weapon in brainless stuff like Shoot ‘Em Up. His vacant, (almost) emotionless performance at least delivers here as a character drained of sensation and seemingly void of any spirit. The children are about as annoying as is to be expected, ticking the boxes of adorable, long-haired moppet and issue-plagued teenager, played by Rupert Grint’s wet clone.

Sure it’s earnest and predictable and life lessons are learned but it stands as a pretty decent example of this kind of thing. If that is sort of thing you like.

Winsome, lose some.

(Just scraped) 3/5

The Hide

In the realm of the low-budget Britflick the dialogue-heavy, two characters/one location drama is a standard fallback response to financial constraints and can be brutally efficient. The Hide is just such a film. Set entirely on the marshes in a clapped-out birdwatching hide, two dissonant characters meet and the talking begins.

Roy Tunt (Alex MacQueen - best known as The Thick Of It’s blue sky maestro, Julius Nicholson) is the fastidious, fairly one-note twitcher visited by a haggard stranger (Phil Campbell), all tattoos and booze-slugging. As the two tentatively try to suss each other out, the conversation takes in grammatical correctness, Scotch eggs and ornithological procedure. There’s humour to be had from this minutiae and the mismatched pairing never seems overplayed. MacQueen’s performance holds the film together and his Middle Englander ruing the disruption to his routine, while never groundbreaking, proves well nuanced and seemingly second nature. It’s an interesting choice not to have his character turn to simpering fool when faced with a tense situation, instead trying to take control through simply carrying on as normal. There is a power struggle at work but it’s underplayed, with the priggish Roy seemingly more aghast at the lack of social grace displayed by his compadre than concerned with who’s in control.

The film has the washed-out, muted palette favoured by low budget filmmakers (to mask deficiencies?) but it looks great and the location is suitably weather-beaten and atmospheric.

The film’s biggest problem, and it is a big problem, is that this genre relies upon an inevitable twist and this particular set-up only really presents one viable option. In its attempts to lead you in a particular direction you instinctively stray in the opposite and hit upon the crux. It all gets a bit silly towards the end but the build up is pretty masterful.

Very much in the same mould as stuff like Exam, its dark humour and fine performances mark it out above other comparable works. Above all else, it taught me a few fine facts about our avian friends.

A taut, tense thriller likely to make you twitch. (Sorry).


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