For those who might’ve missed it, I wrote an article for Cara’s joyous Blogiversary Bash: It’s my top five Leonardo DiCaprio films! He’s only one year short of the big four-oh, yet the Californian-born star already has a mightily impressive portfolio under his belt. His consistency in front of the camera is unwavering, which is quite a feat when you take into consideration the variety of roles DiCaprio has played; everything from a vile plantation owner, to an ill-fated artist, to aviation genius Howard Hughes.
Have a read if you’re interested, and be sure to check out the other excellent contributions too.
Aaaaand we’re back with more Blogiversary Bash epicness! Today’s too-cool-for-school guest blogger? None other than Adam from Consumed by Film! Have you guys been to Adam’s site? If not, go there! Adam reviews films like a pro, and he’s got lots of great stuff to look through, so definitely check things out. Any ol’ who, Adam is here to talk about his favorite roles from a very talented actor.
Release Date: April 18th, 2014 (UK); April 25th (US)
Genre: Drama; Thriller
Starring: Tom Hardy
For Ivan, every bump in the road signifies another life collision. As he gazes through the car window, eyes lamenting, a struggling reflection cast before us, we recognise him as a decent human being in the midst of self-inflicted calamity. Phone calls offer a moment of salvation: relief, anger, humour, misery. But still, salvation from lawless thought. Often, Ivan — a man of structure — joins up the dots in his own life by relating an ingrained knowledge and valuing of cement and stability to the current unsavoury predicament in which he finds himself, and occasionally the driver turns to an empty back seat in order to converse with his deceased father. It’s in these moments of spiritual bartering that Locke struggles to maintain order. Remember, Ivan is a man of structure and the film thrives not through obvious semiotic links, but by way of his empirical, rubble-gathering conversations. Not to mention an exceptional solo performance.
As the night’s misty ambience shrouds his car, construction boss Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) finds himself driving away from a highly imperative job at work through circumstances stemming from a past action that was not at all beyond his control. From home, his son continues to phone and commentate the latest football match, and from work, higher-ups and lower-downs transmit more bad than good news. But it is a situation on the periphery of his normal day-to-day existence that has Ivan abandoning domestic and occupational ship tonight. A birth — one primed to send a stake through his life.
Locke is about as ambitious as any film can get within the confines of a car and boasting a solitary character hampered by a snivel-inducing cold. Plot doesn’t really exist, at least not in its customary tangible form that encourages the camera to follow the actions of different people, to different places, in order to relay new actions. Rather here, any quintessential plot twist or narrative advancement lies at the mouth of Tom Hardy, whose words and facial expressions both have a defining hand in dictating every element of the film. At its core then, in order to be a success Locke perilously relies on a compelling central performance. And it certainly gets one.
At no point does the cinematic spotlight retreat from Tom Hardy. The Londoner has nowhere to hide — just like the man he is portraying, the car is his temporary prison; a voluntary prison, one that both Hardy and Ivan choose to enter. (His name, Locke, hints at confinement.) Further complicating matters, the actor must relay a rich Welsh accent for film’s entirety. It’s put up or shut up time and at no point are we crying out for Hardy to shut up. His dialogues caressed by a wonderfully thick cadence, the man behind the wheel not only garners audience sympathy, but also demands a degree of exasperation by way of an incessant need to fix everything (not to mention a prior noteworthy error in judgement). When Ivan converses with his son Eddie, voiced by Tom Holland, we can hear the compatible trust and loyalty between the pair. Misguided trust? No, not all. Ivan is too genuine in repentance. Yet when we ear-drop in on a discussion between Ivan and Donal, a colleague, it is obvious that the former’s practical desire to amend is being dispersed in the wrong direction. (“I want to talk about a practical next step,” he repeats.) That is, towards his job and not his family.
In establishing Ivan as an ambiguous sort, Hardy leaves it up each individual eavesdropper on his journey to decide whether or not his moral compass is shattered, cracked or still intact. Writer/director Steven Knight plays a role in formulating the character, of course, but Hardy’s delivery must be spot on otherwise the film is doomed. The lead is wearing so many different hats too: father, husband, son, consulter, instructor, peace-keeper. There’s not a single moment of respite in sight, not until he reaches his destination and by then, we’ll be gone. Hardy must relentlessly alter appearance without taking a breath. His character Ivan says it himself: “I have a list of things I have to do tonight when I’m driving.” Carrying wholesale weight on his shoulders, the actor remains poised throughout. If he hadn’t already appeared as Eames in Inception, or as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, this is the type of performance that would’ve propelled Tom Hardy up an acting echelon or two. Instead, it’ll simply cement his lofty place.
In a film as minimally scoping as Locke, a slow and effective plot that builds towards an emotive, tense crescendo is necessary to go alongside a commanding central performance. When Ivan converses with air over his own mistakes and resultantly flip-flops between placing blame on his father and on himself, the outing loses some tension-building momentum. The character is one stimulated by integrity — a structurally damaging change in cement for his building enrages him, and he is left disheartened by a self-generated misdemeanour, two varying instances of corrupt integrity that affect Ivan. Whenever a phone call ends, the car dashboard re-manifests as an electronic satnav, telling us all we need to know about Ivan’s life and where it is headed: straight ahead, approaching isolation, dictated by others. Simple aesthetic insights such as the one offered by said satnav are alluring, unlike the occasional obvious and over-egged metaphysical spiels that don’t do Locke any favours.
Unlike Buried, a film that spends its runtime trapped within a coffin alongside Ryan Reynolds, there’s ultimately no concrete pay-off. Perhaps this has something to do with the aforementioned philosophical interceptions in narrative, jarring much pressure-building. It is also conceivable that Knight writes himself into a tricky conclusion, where there is no justification for an unambiguous ending. This isn’t necessarily a negative — credit must go to Knight for sticking his neck on the line and making a film as experimental as Locke, particularly in an era pillaged by financial behemoths where even low-budget productions cough up allocations of around £10 million. (Locke was made for less than £2 million.) At heart, it is the typical redemption story, only without any typical advantageous factors apart from dialogue — no emphatic score, or distressed damsel, or soaring visual palette. Not even an outright hero. The closest we get to unbridled tension comes during conversations between Locke and any other voice, rather than an empty back seat. Confusion rears and urgency arises, compounded by the screeching sound of sirens and flashing lights from police cars that intermittently race past in the outside world.
Ivan’s journey to London is an exercise in personal demon exorcism, and you are the judge in this tale of uncertainty. One thing is for certain though — Locke is a damn good attempt at something different. Narratively-speaking, the film doesn’t scintillate as much as it wishes to. Performance-wise, it just might.
Today I am focusing on some of my favourite films in the thriller genre. Just before I begin, I would like to be clear on how I make the distinction between thriller and action, because sometimes they seem to mesh into one. This is just my own personal way of telling both genres apart and there really is no right or wrong answer here — you may think something completely different!
Firstly, the main similarities between the two genres are the typically a fast-paced plot and, more often than not, a heroic character fighting off a villainous one in one way or another. For me, the separation tends to occur in the tone of the film. For example, a thriller seeks out suspense and jeopardy as the driving force, whereas an action film is all about excitement and liveliness. Also — and again this is just the way I see it — action films tend to be more light-hearted than thrillers (not always, but generally).
Anyway, on to five greats!
The newest film on the list, Skyfall was released in October 2012 and declared instantly by the vast majority of viewers to be the best Bond film ever. Helmed by Sam Mendes and with Daniel Craig reprising his role as James Bond, the film follows Bond’s relationship with M (Judi Dench) throughout his investigation of a violent attack on MI6 at the hands of former agent Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) who is out for revenge.
As I mentioned earlier, Skyfall has been touted as the best Bond film ever by audiences and critics alike, and has now grossed well over $1 billion which makes it — as of writing — the eighth highest grossing film of all time. That tells you that Sam Mendes done something right. In fact, he done just about everything right in this emotional roller coaster ride. For the first time, the audience is invited into the ins and outs of the relationship between Bond and M which makes this instalment more weighty and heartfelt, yet it still maintains that slickness that has always been associated with the franchise. Mendes has a stellar cast at his disposal — joining Daniel Craig (who plays his best Bond to date opposite Judi Dench, in my opinion) in Skyfall are newcomers to the franchise Ralph Fiennes, Ben Wishaw and Naomie Harris who each add their own nuances to the film (Wishaw is particularly good as Q). However, the star of the show is Javier Bardem with his charismatic, extravagant portrayal of villain Raoul Silva. On a par with Mads Mikkelsen in Casino Royale (we will just ignore Quantum of Solace for now) Bardem is hugely effective opposite Craig and the two flourish as a result.
Although Bond has become a genre on its own essentially, Skyfall claims a spot in my top thriller films for its crisp, free-flowing script and interesting characters.
No Country For Old Men (2007)
No Country For Old Men is an Academy Award winning 2007 film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (or just the Coen brothers). The plot surrounds Josh Brolin’s character, hunter Llewelyn Moss after he uncovers over $2 million worth of cash at a drug deal gone wrong and is pursued as a result by vicious hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who has been hired to recover the stolen cash. Meanwhile, almost retired sheriff, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) finds himself thrust directly into the cat-and-mouse chase between the two.
It is not often the Coen Brothers get it wrong and, true to form, No Country For Old Men is a knockout. This marks Javier Bardem’s second appearance on my list, and for the second time he steals the show. Bardem is excellent at portraying a psychotic, emotionless killer and his aura throughout the film adds to the creepy, on-the-edge, thriller-ish atmosphere. Both Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones are terrific in their depictions of a desperate war veteran and a straight-to-the-point county sheriff respectively. The 1980s Texas setting truly adds to the grit (wink) and once again proves just how good a pair of eyes the Coen Brothers have at selecting locations for their films — have a look at Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou? if you do not believe me.
No Country For Old Men is captivating and intense, just two of the many characteristics which make it a very enjoyable thriller.
Ben Affleck’s third directorial feature, political thriller Argo, opened in cinemas a few weeks before Skyfall in October 2012 and stars Affleck, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston. The film is a dramatisation of the Iranian hostage crisis in the 1980s where six fugitive American diplomats require assistance in the form of extraction out of Iran from CIA specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck).
I cannot wait for Affleck’s next film, because this one is absolutely outstanding. Argo defines the thriller genre — every characteristic required to make this film a success is in there. Gripping, intense, polished and stylish, Argo delivers on all fronts. For a political thriller, the plot is not difficult to follow, yet it remains shrewd and without any glaring mishaps. One of the more surprising elements here, particularly following the terrifying opening sequence, are the pockets of dark comedy splattered throughout the film which by no means feel out of place. Affleck manages to equate the frantic goings-on with enough dark humour to ensure the film does not become too lifeless or overbearing. Each of the performances from the cast are solid, with Alan Arkin standing out in particular, but the constantly flowing nature of the plot is the key to this film’s success.
How Ben Affleck was snubbed by the Oscars (he did not receive a nod in the Best Director category) is beyond me. Argo is a must-see film and definitely one of the best released in 2012.
Directed by Christopher Nolan, the summer blockbuster of 2010, Inception, stars a jam-packed ensemble cast lead by Leonardo DiCaprio, who receives his support from the likes of Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy and Marion Cotillard (the list goes on). DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, an extractor — or plainer terms, a thief — who enters his subject’s dreams in order to carry out an extraction. When he is offered the chance to see his children again, Cobb must assemble a team of specialists together in order to plant an idea into his target’s (Cillian Murphy) subconscious — a process known as inception.
I am probably going be referring to film critic Mark Kermode a lot during this next paragraph, because his review of Inception is one of the best I have heard. Massive summer blockbusters are sometimes tarred (often justifiably) as being big money-making schemes with very little for their audience, who have become accustomed to seeing films where absolutely nothing happens other than some pointless, soulless action sequences (I am looking at you Michael Bay). Kermode attributes this to a small percentage of filmmakers perhaps assuming their audience is too ‘dumb’ to be able to watch a film and at the same time… think. Yes, think. It really is absurd, but it does appear to happen. Look at Transformers for example: the whole franchise is nothing more than robots hitting each other, which is fine once (I suppose), but not over and over again until it becomes so intolerable it hurts to watch. Inception, however, is a perfect example of a massive blockbuster that provides enough action and thrills to appease everyone, but also makes its audience think during the film — and it worked, because the film has taken over $825 million. Why? Because people appreciate that Christopher Nolan is looking out for his audience and making films that will challenge them, but that are also highly enjoyable (The Dark Knight trilogy being another example). Also, because Inception had a number of different layers to it (both literally and figuratively) and because people enjoyed it, some then had to go back and see it again in order for them to fully understand it! That does not mean those people are dumb, quite the opposite in fact: it means they are thinking.
But I digress. Inception is a show-stopping thriller stuffed full of ideas, great performances, amazing visual effects, comedic moments and even some emotion (look it up, Bay).
Blood Diamond (2006)
The oldest film on my list (albeit not very old), Blood Diamond is another political thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio. This time he accompanied by Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly in a Sierra Leone setting. At the height of the Sierra Leone civil war (1996-2001), smuggler Danny Archer (DiCaprio) teams with a local fisherman (Hounsou) and a reporter (Connelly) in an attempt to seek out and gain possession of a large diamond, with each of the three boasting different motives.
Leonardo DiCaprio (incidentally, my favourite actor) gets a bad rap for his South African accent in this film — it sounds great to me, but maybe I am touch biased. I doubt that. The performances are very strong, with all three protagonists providing a combination of fury, optimism, emotion and anguish to accompany the desperate situation they find themselves in (particularly DiCaprio and Hounsou). The story moves at greater-than-steady pace which provides the thriller-ish aspect which the film has in abundance, with Edward Zwick’s narrative ensuring the audience remains grasped throughout. Part of the formula which contributes to Blood Diamond’s success in my eyes, is its realism as it depicts some of the hardships most civilians staying in Sierra Leone (and elsewhere) were going through during the civil war. A few of the scenes are harrowing, not in a particularly gory way, but because they dramatise atrocities occurring around the world. I would say, however, that Zwick does not make these scenes exploitative in away way — they are an essential part of the story. On a last note, the African setting is absolutely stunning and almost becomes a character itself during the film.
Blood Diamond really hits home in its realistic nature, and at the same time serves up a gripping tale of two very different men with one common goal.
And now for some honourable mentions:
Se7en (1995) — This is a very accomplished horror story about two men tracking down a serial killer who leaves them clues in the form of the Seven Deadly Sins… only, with people involved. Morgan Freeman and a young Brad Pitt excel in their roles.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) — At times you get obsession, then you get Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley. What opens as a fairly innocent thriller closes with just enough menace to fill anyone for a day. Or a lifetime.
Inside Man (2006) — A very underrated film in my opinion, Inside Man sees the charismatic Denzel Washington tasked with rescuing a bunch of civilians caught up in a bank robbery masterminded by Clive Owen. Very intriguing action with a wonderful twist.
Taken (2008) — I think just about everybody has seen Taken — it’s on the TV at least once every week (and weirdly, it costs exactly three pounds in just about every shop in Scotland). Often brutal, always entertaining and the birth Liam Neeson: action star.
Wrecked (2010) — A small, independent thriller starring Adrien Brody as a man who wakes up in the middle of a forest after a car accident he cannot remember anything about. Interesting, dramatic and unique.
Source Code (2011) — This may make an appearance on another list, but as a thriller it just about misses out my top five. Therefore, I will refrain from saying much more for now (but it is very, very good).
What are some of your favourite thriller films?
(Note: Mark Kermode reviews each week’s new film releases between 2-4pm on Fridays with Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5live, so check them out if you like films, or flappy hands. You will not regret it.)