Two mini-reviews make one full review

So many recent movies, so little time to write in-depth reviews, so here we go with two movies from 2009 in mini-review form.

Frost/Nixon

If the question was: “Who’s the blandest director in Hollywood?” a lot of people would answer Ron Howard. Howard has become the icon of films that are well made (direction and acting) but aren’t quite stimulating. One watches a film by Howard and then one does something else. By comparison, I still feel Kelly Reilly sinking in the dirt of Eden Lake (which I saw in the beginning of this year).

Howard based his film on the play by Peter Morgan. Morgan’s screenplays have been made into familiar films before. His work includes The Other Boleyn Girl, The Queen, The Last King of Scotland and the underrated Martha, meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence. Whilst reading the previous sentence, there’s a good chance you showed some reaction to the title The Queen, a film by Stephen Frears. According to a lot of people I know, that film was more engaging than Frost/Nixon is. Nevertheless, the stakes were equally high for both Frost and Nixon as they were for the Queen (who couldn’t rule on without reacting to Diana’s death, if the masses had anything to say). Unable to find American sponsors prior to the interview, David Frost staked all of his money and the chance to ever work on tv again to get his interview with Nixon. The former president needed to win this verbal duel if he didn’t want to go down as the worst and most corrupt president of the United States. Howard’s Nixon (played by Frank Langella) is proner to a lot more sympathy from the viewer than the real deal (a bonus feature on the dvd compares the key scenes from the film to the actual interviews). Michael Sheen plays Frost so smooth the 1977 version from the actual interviews looks more like someone taken from 60 Minutes or Newsnight. The John Birt from the film looks a lot more vibrant than the Birt we’ve come to know from his years as director of the BBC (to this date, the satirical magazine Private Eye dubs hollow manager’s lingo from the media world ‘Birtspeak’ and adorns the feature with a cartoon of Birt as a Dalek). All of this isn’t necessarily bad, but it did help me conclude that what I’d been watching was the Hollywood version of these epic interviews. Right to the last frame as the film ends with captions telling you what has become of both Frost and Nixon. As if the protagonists from Frost/Nixon were nothing more than the Arkansas housewife from the tv movie of the week. Surely, most of us will know that Frost and Nixon lived on and yes, Frost’s career boomed after the interviews and yes, Nixon never really succeeded in cleaning up his reputation. If you needed to read that in a caption, my fair guess is you’d never go to watch this film anyway. “Booh, this looks like some historic movie, let’s go watch something with exploding cars instead…”
Frankly the Frost/Nixon interviews were so monumental you’d have to be a complete tit to make a bad movie out of it. Howard has the talent to make sure that didn’t happen. Sure, it’s a film you watch late at night without falling asleep, but frankly, these interviews were worthy of a more compelling film. Not just a 7/10 film.

London River

In September 2001 the United States were attacked by a group of terrorists, something you may have heard about. Countless novels and films have been written about it, mainly because the USA hadn’t been attacked on their own soil before. Unlike London, which was also attacked this decade (on 07/07 of the year 2005). For some reason, the British didn’t really feel the need to make films about this trauma: London said it had been attacked before, a couple of times even during the IRA period. Rachid Bouchareb‘s London River is a film about these attacks. It stars Brenda Blethyn as Elisabeth, the mother of Jane, a young girl living in London. She calls her daughter after the attacks but only manages to get through to Jane’s voicemail. After several calls and still no answer, Elisabeth decides to leave Guernsey and go look for her daughter. Meanwhile, African Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyaté) is also unable to reach his son Ali, whom he hasn’t seen since Ali was six. Their lives intertwine as it turns out that Jane and Ali knew each other. The mother is severely shocked as she didn’t know Jane was befriended with a muslim. Surely, this Ali had indoctrinated her poor daughter!
As Elisabeth and Ousmane are on the same quest (to find a trace of their child, hopefully alive), they often meet, but Elisabeth can’t get herself to open up to the man whose son might have been together with her daughter.
London River is an emotional film, combining the attacks as well as the unbearable aftermath for the families of possible victims. Elisabeth is genuinely frightened by the muslim world (at an Arabic language course her daughter might have attended, she asks the tutor if those symbols are genuine letters and whoever speaks such a weird language) and everywhere she looks in the cosmopolitan city she sees people with non-caucasian skin. This, combined with the unsuccessful search for her daughter, make the poor woman feel completely uneasy.
I won’t tell you whether Elisabeth and Ousmane manage to find their children alive or not, but this does get answered at the end of the movie. What a shame then that the film doesn’t stop there and instead goes on for another three minutes, showing us how both parents are home again and reflect on their time in London. I think I could’ve done without that and without the scenes which overwroughtly show how the police can’t help Ousmane and Elisabeth: for incomprehensible reasons, a lot of police scenes are filmed in murky basements. Still, the film effectively shows you the unease of these two strangers in a city they don’t know, unable to puzzle together the lives of their child that apparently has managed to become somewhat of a stranger. The most effective scene is in the second half of the film, as both Ousmane and Elisabeth are exhausted by the long walks, sit down on a bench and talk. The despair is painfully obvious there.
7.5/10

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