So, I saw two movies at the cinema today.
Both of them featured a standout best-ever performance by their lead actor (although, I liked one more than the other). They both were about a sort of social oppression and a glimpse at the way environments shape their inhabitants. Both were from Academy Award winning directors.
However, that's where the similarities end in my eyes. One of them was unexpectedly good, while the other was surprisingly bad.
One of the movies I saw was The Last King of Scotland.
Let's discuss that one first.
I didn't like it. It frustrated me. Forest Whitaker is indeed excellent as Idi Amin, although by the final act he's relegated to a mere supporting role and it just sort of continues on the same wavelength. He failed to surprise me as much as he had throughout the rest of the film. James McAvoy was perfectly fine as the white outsider and Kerry Washington is the same. I quite liked Gillian Anderson in a small role. But, yeah, after a while the film just kept going around in a circle.
I was going with the film for about half of it. I really was. I was enjoying the vibrancy and the energy and the colour and all of that stuff, but then it took an unpleasant turn that I wasn't willing to follow. I keep coming back to that word. "Unpleasant". I understand the complexities of the story and that, ya know, it's based on fact, but there are plenty of movies about disturbing topics that still remain eminantly watchable. But this one? I just couldn't stand listening to it anymore. I wanted these people to just shut the hell up! For a minute or two! Is that too much? Add all the screaming and yelling and screaming and screaming and screaming and the utterly confusingly bombastic soundtrack. It was so freakin' loud. Maybe that was the cinema? I'm not sure, but it wasn't nice. Anybody else who has seen this movie at Nova in Carlton experience this? It was truly mindboggling.
I found the second half of this movie was so discombobulating to watch (i love that word). The editing was just... omgwtf? It would not stop. And the camera just kept moving and zooming and zipping and swooping and spinning and just STOP MOVING!!!! And then there's the scene with the hooks. Again, there's plenty of movies that has violence that I am fine watching, but something about the way this scene was done just felt disgusting. My cinema of about 200 patrons (it was sold out) pretty much all winced and there were many people covering their eyes. Usually I'm not that squeamish, but... I dunno. It felt wrong and vile and because the music was so loud and every character was screaming their lungs out and the cinematographer felt the need to do a bunch of closeups...
This movie made me feel angry. Manipulated, even. It's director, Kevin Macdonald (who's One Day in September is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen), felt that the genocide being commited wasn't important enough to show in anything more than a few photographs, but it was important to show a man getting hooks shoved through his chest and hoisted up to the ceiling? Still, Whitaker was good. C-.
The other movie I saw was Anthony Minghella's Breaking and Entering. Where The Last King of Scotland bombarded me and bashed me over the head and kicked and screamed and spat at me, Breaking and Entering was subdued, intelligent and measured. Much like a film by Ray Lawrence (Lantana, Jindabyne), this film doesn't try to be flashy. It trusts the instincts of it's story (the first original screenplay by Minghella since Truly, Madly, Deeply) and it's dialogue and the characters and the situations it places them in.
Elegant music (by Gabriel Yared and Underworld) and camerawork (Benoit Delhomme makes films looking good seem so easy. No filters, no crazy effects, just smooth and efficient) combine to slowly sneak up on you. Whereas Scotland tried to instantly grab the viewer (it sure did grab me for starters), this one works hard to get you involved. It creates characters that aren't saints nor sinners. It's not black and white. It provides them with problems and ideas and asks you to follow then wherever they go.
The centrepiece though is Jude Law's masterful performance. It's a shame that this film's release was butchered in America because this performance is Oscar worthy. It's the best Law has ever been. I also really liked the debut performance by a young man called Rafi Gavron. I'll have to keep an eye out for him in the future. Juliette Binoche, Robin Wright Penn, Martin Freeman, Ray Winstone and Vera Farmiga round out the solid cast, all giving performances in tone with the film.
I really appreciated Anthony Minghella's film. It trusted the audience to be able to follow it through any circumstance. Even the ending that could have derailed a more conventionally mainstream picture feels suitably at home here because we believe it's characters so inherently. I like watching films that allow actors to feel about for themselves and explore things. Minghella trusts his actors, and so did I. It was a wonderful film and one that is just as socially and politically relevant as anything else that came out last year. B+
I know these weren't proper reviews, but they take time, so I just typed a whole bunch of thoughts and put them together. And I don't want anybody telling me I need to see Scotland again or telling me that I'm wrong. I know it's well-liked, but I just couldn't. Quite a few people that I overheard as I left the cinema was disappointed too. But, yeah, whatever.
edit - I decided to give The Last King of Scotland a D+ instead because I read up about the book and it was all a bunch of fiction and I don't like being played like a violin. Stab that rotten movie. Stab it right in the neck.