When I put the call out for people to recommend films for me to review this year, I did so expecting to have differing opinions with some of the people who suggested the films. I know there’s a lot of people out there who don’t necessarily think the same way I do, which is what makes the world an endlessly wonderful/frustrating place to live in. Mette suggested two films for me, and they both came with warnings. The other suggestion (2000’s In the Mood For Love) arrived in disc form today, so I’ll be covering that soon, and apparently I’ll suffer through it, whereas The Tree of Life came with the claim that I’d either love it or hate it, but that I shouldn’t dare hate it. Sorry Mette, I’m feeling rather daring today. Continue reading →
After the events of September 11th 2001, the priority of the CIA understandably became apprehending Osama Bin Laden, the leader of the terrorist group behind the attacks. CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) joins a team involved with this, whose initial job is the interrogation of potential leads by any means necessary, but she soon becomes more involved with the bigger picture, and ultimately becomes the only person absolutely certain of the whereabouts of Bin Laden, culminating in a U.S. Navy Seal attack on the house he is believed to be staying in, some twelve years after the search began.
Based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, The Help follows Emma Stone’s aspiring writer Skeeter as she returns home from college to Jackson, Mississippi (the opportunity to play some Johnny Cash is thankfully not missed). Whilst home, the free-thinking journalist discovers the maids that helped raise her, and the rest of their upper middle class society, are treated despicably – paid less than minimum wage with no social security, forced to use separate bathrooms and generally treated as sub-humans without the blink of an eye, so Skeeter sets out to tell their story to the world, helpfully with their assistance.
As recently seen with Glory, it seems the only way Hollywood can show a story about black people is through the eyes of the white person who helped them on their way, without whom they’d be powerless and stuck as they were, and the popularity of the film, not to mention it’s numerous nominations at the Oscars, has been struck by a case of white guilt, as though not a bad picture, there isn’t really anything new here. The ground has been trod many times before, but few have used such a great multi-generational ensemble cast without a weak link amongst them. Stone is good in her first dramatic lead, showing potential but retaining her well-honed comic chops, but she is shadowed by the likes of Bryce Dallas Howard’s bitchy queen bee, Octavia Spencer’s outspoken piemaker Minny and Viola Davis’ cautious yet catalytic maid Aibileen. Spencer is good, but her Oscar should have gone to Jessica Chastain for her unrecognisably bubbly portrayal of ditzy Celia Foote, giving a performance that could so easily have been paper thin, but ends up stealing the show. Davis too didn’t deserve the Oscar everyone was so sure she’d receive, but the nomination is well placed. Allison Janney, Sissy Spacey and Mary Steenburgen help round out the cast, and all give natural, layered performances from even the most cliché characters.
Whilst often resorting to shameless pulling of the heartstrings and occasionally implementing a chopped narrative that adds nothing to the overall result, this is elevated by the great cast offering tremendous performances.