ROSAMUND PIKE’S fearsome performance as war reporter Marie Colvin makes A Private War the pick of a clutch of prestige biopics.
But horror mystery Escape Room struggles to emerge from the shadow of the Saw franchise it apes.
DVD Of The Week: A Private War
(15) 110mins, out now
ROSAMUND PIKE holds together this taut biopic about Sunday Times war reporter Marie Colvin with a compelling central turn.
A darker, more disturbing tale than Tina Fey’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, there are nevertheless moments of frazzled comedy amid the horror, as Colvin and her journalist cohorts fall back on gallows humour among the shallow graves.
Scenes of carnage in Sri Lanka, Libya and Syria are convincingly kinetic, with some haunting, disturbing images, while Tom Holland, Stanley Tucci, Greg Wise and even Jamie Dornan provide good support as the less remarkable men drawn in different ways to Colvin’s ferocious combination of saintliness and narcissism.
Never subtle, with a couple of chunks of speechifying that don’t entirely convince, Pike’s committed performance elevates this above the ordinary as it builds to the inevitable but devastating climax.
All is True
(12A) 100mins, out June 10
CURIOUSLY underwhelming period drama with Kenneth Branagh as the retired William Shakespeare in the timid, tired twilight of life, consumed with grief for his long-dead son.
“To us, you’re a guest,” he is told by Judi Dench, a caustic presence as the Bard’s wife Anne Hathaway, long neglected by her literary-superstar husband. And that is partly the problem.
The family bonds never convince and the drama feels insubstantial, manufactured. All might be true but it rarely seems it.
Branagh, doubling up on directorial duties, delivers some sumptuous images. But he struggles to find a consistent tone.
Is this an elegiac meditation on guilt and lost love, a crafty analysis of evolving sexual politics or a twisty melodrama about adultery and the scrap for a family inheritance?
Despite the pedigree of the thesps and director, the result is less than the sum of its parts. Branagh’s prosthetic nose is a distraction throughout.
Stan & Ollie
(PG) 95mins, out now
PAINSTAKING, occasionally poignant biopic with Steve Coogan and John C Reilly as comedy legends Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy sliding towards obscurity on a UK tour at the fag end of their performing careers.
The makers’ affection for their subject is evident in every shot and there are moments of tenderness in what otherwise feels less like a heartwarming tale of platonic love than a rather sad exploration of bitterness and codependency.
But too often the script points out what the fine performances have already made clear.
Some of the best moments come from the sparky chemistry between Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda as their pushy but put-upon partners, while Rufus Jones brings unexpected nuance to his role as an oily promoter who isn’t quite the rotter he initially seems.
(12A) 127mins, out Monday
MAHERSHALA ALI and Viggo Mortensen share an easy chemistry in this moderately charming, distinctly soft-focus take on racism in Sixties America, which somehow nabbed the Best Picture Oscar ahead of more challenging, more deserving fare.
Ali plays ace pianist “Doctor” Don Shirley on a tour of the Deep South.
Mortensen is the Italian-American heavy who comes on board as his driver for some hugging, some learning and a lot of tepid banter about fried chicken.
Of the two, Ali does a better job of disappearing into his role, while Mortensen labours under an “Eye-talian” accent that would grate in a frozen-pizza ad.
Green Book is worthy and well-meaning, with a few well-crafted comic moments, but it fails to leave a lasting impression.
Compared to the likes of Get Out, BlacKkKlansman and Detroit — all edgier, the first two much funnier too — this feels very pedestrian indeed.
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Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle lead stars at glamorous T2 Trainspotting premiere
(15) 99mins, out Monday
HIGH-INTENSITY set-pieces and stylish cinematography aren’t enough to make this Saw knock-off anything more than bog-standard horror fare.
Six strangers are anonymously invited to an escape room with a 10,000-dollar prize.
But soon the stakes become deadly and their attention turns to escaping with their lives, as they learn they are more closely connected than we first thought.
For a while, Escape Room keeps you guessing. The performances are believable, for the most part, and the characters fleshed out just enough to make you care about their fate.
But after an enjoyably self-aware start, featuring explicit references to The Human Centipede and Panic Room, this loses its way and descends into generic sequel-bait.