London Film Festival reviews: Small Town Crime, Redoubtable, Gemini, The Shape of Water
James R | On 11, Oct 2017
With Netflix, Amazon, MUBI and more all taking to London’s Leicester Square to showcase a diverse range of films, we head to the London Film Festival to review the latest films – and TV shows – either looking for distribution or heading to a streaming service near you.
Small Town Crime
Ian Nelms and Eshom Nelms aren’t names that you’ll know. The brothers join a long line of sibling filmmakers in the business, and their latest joins a long line of noir-tinged crime thrillers about a washed-up detective trying to find redemption. It’s to their credit, then, that they manage to do something memorable with Small Town Crime. The film stars John Hawkes as Mike, an alcoholic who got kicked off the force after an incident went tragically wrong. After stumbling across a battered woman by the side of the road, he takes her into hospital – and takes it upon himself to find the culprit.
Hawkes is excellent in the role, finding just enough likeable heart to balance out the unrepentant grit – and his behaviour is perfectly offset by the presence of Octavia Spencer as his sister, Kelly – a cruel-to-be-kind woman with a family of her own, including Mike’s drinking buddy, Terry (Anthony Anderson). The darkly comic action that ensues is nicely shot, with Clifton Collins Jr. providing real colour as a local pimp, but it’s the relationships between the central trio that really help the film rise above the familiar genre trappings, resisting easy redemption and happy endings. Ian Nelms and Eshom Nelms aren’t names that you’ll know, but don’t be surprised when you hear them again in the near future.
Michel Hazanavicius is clearly enjoying himself with this biopic of Jean-Luc Godard, French filmmaker, pioneer and stubborn douche. Louis Garrel is very good at the pretentious, rude man, and the film works because it’s not afraid to call him out for being those things – based on the autobiographical novel Un an après by the late Anne Wiazemsky (played with fortitude and sympathy by Stacy Martin), the film charts Godard’s political, artistic and philosophical meltdown, without asking us to forgive him for it. The real star, though, is Hazanavicius, who never misses a chance to break out Godardian flourishes and toy with conventions, from inverted images to a hilarious use of nudity. That studied, carefree parody is more intellectual exercise than rounded entertainment, but Redoubtable is undountably entertaining from start to finish.
Between Mistress America and Mozart in the Jungle, Lola Kirke is a star just waiting for the right role to break her out into the stratosphere. Gemini, an enjoyable modern noir, is a welcome showcase for her talents, as she plays Jill, personal assistant, manager and friend to precocious movie star Heather (an amusingly self-centred Zoë Kravitz). When a murder interrupts their privileged showbiz existence, though, Jill has turn private detective to get to the bottom of the mystery. Boasting a stylishly rubbish disguise, she’s a magnetic lead in a story that relishes the template provided by movies – no matter how far from real life they may be. John Cho is well fast as a detective on Jill’s tail, while director Aaron Katz (Cold Weather) has a superb command of tone that fuses millennial entitlement and dark humour with pulpy 40s suspense, striking glass houses and a gorgeous score, part seedy sax, part pulsing synth. If it takes a few more of these to make Kirke a mainstream A-lister, we’re not complaining.
The Shape of Water
Any movie by Guillermo del Toro is always an exciting prospect. Any movie starring Sally Hawkins is always a must-see. The thought of the two working together, then, promises to be a delight – and The Shape of Water doesn’t disappoint. Part-sci-fi, part-fantasy and all heart, it’s the story of a clearner, Elisa, who works at a mysterious government facility at the height of the Cold War. So when an aquatic specimen comes in that the Americans are keen to keep from the Soviets, the worse thing anyone could do is start a relationship with the creature. Hawkins, whose character is mute, is marvellous, conveying so much through a movingly physical performance – and that physicality is perfectly employed by del Toro, whose joyous fairytale swings from lunchtime feeding to watching tap-dancing on the telly. Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg are all superb in supporting roles, helping to bring the meticulously judged period vibe to life, while Michael Shannon is on scene-stealing form as the cruel, uptight US security man tasked with protecting the asset from enemy eyes. But while you might expect colourful action or supernaturally tinged horror from the Pan’s Labyrinth director, del Toro keeps things light-hearted and cute without dwelling on complicated details. The result is a gorgeously old-school Hollywood romance, which just so happens to have a gigantic fish monster in – a movie so charming that you might as well be watching Fred and Ginger in their heyday.