Friday, July 14, 2017

On DVD/Blu-ray: THEIR FINEST (2017) and DRONE (2017)

(UK/Sweden - 2017)

It's overlong, mostly predictable and hampered somewhat by a third act plot development that rivals 47 METERS DOWN in terms of unnecessary cruelty, but THEIR FINEST is an enjoyably old-fashioned "war at home" WWII saga that became a small word-of-mouth art house hit in the spring. In London in 1940, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) thinks she's getting a secretarial job with the Ministry of Information's film division. With most of the men called up as the war escalates, she's actually been hired as a screenwriter after department head Roger Swain (Richard E. Grant) was impressed with some comics she wrote for a newspaper in the absence of the regular writers who were off fighting. Teaming with in-house scribe Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), Catrin's job is to come up with inspiring scripts for movies to keep the British citizens' spirits lifted amidst constant air raids and concerns, as Swain puts it, "that there won't even be any theaters left to show them." Catrin is drawn to the story of twin sisters Lily and Rose Starling (Lily and Francesca Knight) who have found a certain degree of local fame for taking their father's boat, the Nancy Starling, to rescue soldiers at Dunkirk. The sisters have embellished the story significantly, as the Ministry eventually discovers that they tried to go to Dunkirk, but their engine broke down and they were towed back before they even left British waters. It's got too much crowd-pleasing potential to dismiss, so Catrin and Tom are instructed to fictionalize it, and to also add an authoritative male figure--a drunk uncle played by aging thespian Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy)--because no one will believe that two young women took a boat to Dunkirk.

Directed by Lone Scherfig (AN EDUCATION) and adapted from Lissa Evans' 2009 novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by veteran British TV writer Gaby Chiappe (HOLBY CITY, EASTENDERS, LARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD), THEIR FINEST is definitely a "they don't make 'em like they used to" kind of movie, at times playing like one of Woody Allen's period comedies, mostly pleasant and anchored by an appealing performance from Arterton. THEIR FINEST does a nice job of presenting a woman's struggle in a male-dominated job market (of course, she makes less money than her male colleagues), and her duties inevitably lead to the expected resentment of her artist husband Ellis (Jack Huston), who has no money coming in and can no longer serve because of a leg injury sustained in the Spanish Civil War a few years earlier. There's also some timeless jabs at the eternal struggle between artists and the powers that be, with the filmmakers forced by the Secretary of War (Jeremy Irons) to cast American soldier and Eagle Squadron hero Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy) to appeal to the US, even though he can't act and there were no Americans at Dunkirk. It's Arterton's film, but the scene-stealer is the always-outstanding Nighy, whose Hilliard is a pompous, past-his-prime egotist humbled by the sacrifices made by those around him and eager to do his part by helping Lundbeck hone his acting chops, even talking his agent down from demanding more money and better accommodations because the plucky, can-do spirit of those around him have inspired him to such a degree. It's a warm and at times touching performance that again demonstrates why Nighy is one of our great character actors. THEIR FINEST is a film that's impossible to dislike even if it's rather slight when it's all said and done, and that late-film story development is jarring but in a way that somewhat negatively impacts the film as it sets it up for some ham-fisted sentimentality near the end. (R, 117 mins)

(US/Canada - 2017)

A potentially interesting, politically-driven thriller, DRONE gets derailed when the filmmakers decide to make it overwrought and polemical, with its antagonist basically wearing a light that flashes "MESSAGE!" In Renton, WA, Neil Westin (Sean Bean) claims to be an IT troubleshooter for a software corporation. Unbeknownst to his wife Ellen (Mary McCormack) and 16-year-old son Shane (Maxwell Haynes), he's actually a CIA contractor who's part of a secret program that employs civilian drone pilots to drop bombs on suspected terrorists in the Middle East from the cozy confines of suburban Seattle, but a recent security leak threatens to expose the entire operation. Meanwhile, Imir Shaw (Patrick Sabongui) has arrived from Pakistan and leaves at least one dead body in his wake in his surveillance of the Westin family, including trailing an adulterous Ellen to a motel with a younger co-worker (Bradley Stryker) who wants to take their fling to a more serious level. Neil's also dealing with the recent passing of his Alzheimer's stricken father and can't find the words to write his eulogy when Imir shows up in his driveway under the guise of buying Neil's father's sailboat. Neil invites him in and as they discuss the boat and get to know each other, Ellen arrives home and they ask Imir to stay for dinner. As Imir starts slowly doling out his backstory, culminating in the revelation that it's the one-year anniversary of his wife and daughter being collateral damage in a US drone strike, it finally dawns on Neil that his dinner guest knows his real job and intends to avenge the death of his family by destroying Neil's.

Director/co-writer Jason Bourque, a veteran of numerous Lifetime movies, takes entirely too long to generate any suspense with DRONE. Imir doesn't even make his intent known to the Westins until the last 15 minutes, and the bulk of the film feels like a long dinner sequence in a play. The film shows its cards too soon in establishing Imir as a threat and doesn't really explore the moral complexities of Neil's job. He doesn't seem to feel one way or another about it, though his decidedly non-PC colleague Gary (Joel David Moore) serves as a mouthpiece for intolerance with his labeling drone casualties as "dune coons." Subtlety is a foreign concept to DRONE, and it's not helped by an ineffective, mannered performance by Bean, who's usually a sure thing but here, he's using a forced, overdone American accent that completely undermines anything he might've been able to do with this character. A subplot about Neil's distance from his late father and Shane getting close to his grandfather in his final days adds nothing, due in large part because Haynes is a terrible actor. McCormack and Sabongui do what they can with paper-thin characters, and even when it finally gets going at the very end, Bourque still can't resist tacking on a final scene of clunky political commentary. DRONE isn't nearly as obnoxious in its pontificating as say, THE CRASH, another thriller from earlier this year that got tripped up in political preaching and also featured McCormack, but it's still not really worth anyone's time. (Unrated, 90 mins)

1 comment:

  1. "and that late-film story development is jarring but in a way that somewhat negatively impacts the film"...this so-called "jarring" event is in the original novel....so it is not so "jarring" after all....wonderful movie all in all.