It’s my fifth volume of Perusing Prime, as I look at what Amazon Prime has to offer. The first part is here and the second part (focusing on some of the non-film output) is here. My third perusal of prime can be found right here, and the fourth is here.
So, after Dave’s first perusal last year (click here for a recap) I signed up for the month free trial, and I’ve definitely got my money’s worth! Here’s my latest round-up of some of the films on Amazon Prime right now.
Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (Justin Chadwick, 2013)
Currently starring in the excellent John le Carre adaptation The Night Manager has seemingly pushed Tom Hiddleston to the top of the “Next James Bond” list. One man who has constantly linked with that role is Idris Elba. He’s everything you’d want in a Bond – cool, charismatic, handsome – who cares if he’s the first black guy to play the role?
Here he is the legendary South African lawyer, activist, prisoner, and then President Nelson Mandela. The film is based on his autobiography Long Walk To Freedom, a book that was on every bookshelf in the 1990s, alongside A Brief History of Time. This gives the film a scope beyond most biographical-films, stretching back to Mandela’s time as a young lawyer in Johannesberg, and meeting his future wife Winnie (Naomie Harris in a great performance).
The first part of the film is great, but sort of loses its way in the middle. His trial feels slightly rushed, and his time in prison feels like the films is padding out time until he becomes “the important political figure” Nelson Mandela. The film picks up again when it comes to him negotiating his release – and certainly in terms of action after Mandela’s release.
Nelson Mandela was a remarkable human being. Maybe this film was made too early. It’s a decent enough film – with staggering central performances from Elba and Harris – but there’s truly great film to be made from his life story.
The Two Face Of January (Hossein Amini, 2014)
This is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1964 novel. She also wrote the book adapted into the classic Alfred Hitchcock film Strangers On A Train, as well as the Tom Ripley novels, which have been adapted multiple times, with Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gwenyth Paltrow starring in The Talented Mr Ripley, John Malkovich taking on the role of an older Ripley in 2005’s truly excellent Ripley’s Game. She was also responsible for The Price Of Salt, which became 2015’s Carol.
The Two Faces Of January is very much in the Tom Ripley vein, but with a definite twist. Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst are Chester and Colette MacFarland, a husband and wife touring Greece. They meet tour guide Rydal (Oscar Isaac), who spends his time seducing young tourists and running small cons on them. He seems to have set his sights on the MacFarlands, but Chester simply doesn’t trust him and they part company after dinner, which- if it wasn’t 15 minutes into the film – would be the end of their relationship. When Colette leaves her bracelet behind however, Rydal goes to return it and sees Chester dragging a dead body to a hotel room. This gives Rydal a way-in to start working a con on the MacFarlands, but Chester is not the easy mark he seemed to be.
Viggo Mortensen gives his usual fantastic performance, a truly magnetic, powerful force on the screen. Oscar Isaacs plays his role brilliantly as well, moving from the smooth con artist to a vulnerable, lonely young man. Also, as mentioned in my TV Film Of The Week recommendation from this week, Kirsten Dunst brings her A-game as well. She gives a depth to Colette, both fragility and an undeniable strength, drawing the viewer in, making her as complex and conflicted as her husband. The 25 year age difference between her and Mortensen might seemingly be slipping into typical Hollywood wish fulfillment, but for once it is vital to the plot, feeding into his paranoia. The film also looks absolutely gorgeous. It might be a bit slow at times, but this is an old-fashioned thriller.
Child 44 (Daniel Espinosa, 2015)
Is Tom Hardy the busiest men in cinema? The Drop was released in November 2014, and since then he has been in Mad Max: Fury Road, London Road, Legend, The Revenant, and this adaptation of Tom Rob Smith’s 2008 book. None of those films are exactly light, sunny roles where Hardy was on set for a few days of shooting – where does he get the time?
Hardy plays Leo Demidov, a member of the Ministry of State Security investigating the deaths of children in 1950s Russia. The agency he works for refuses to acknowledge these are murders however, as in a Soviet state such an act would be impossible, it is only the corrupt and greedy capitalists who commit such acts. As Demidov continues to investigate however, his wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) is accused of disloyalty to the state, and they are banished to Volsk, forcing Demidov to work as a janitor. His commander (Gary Oldman) is soon dealing with murders of his own, resulting in him eventually coming around to Demidov’s view that they might be dealing with a serial killer.
Tom Hardy’s performance in Child 44 deserves to sit alongside the others he provided in a stellar 2015. The rest of the film doesn’t however. It’s muddled and just a bit dull, and a truly great cast is wasted. It feels like a mini-series crushed into a 2 hour running time, and that maybe the screenwriters stuck too closely to the book, rather than making the cuts needed to make the story work as a film. There are some enjoyable, noirish bits, but it flits too much between procedural crime drama that would sit nicely on ITV3 Sunday evening and wanting to be Seven. Unless you’re a huge Hardy fan – wait, who isn’t? Unless you’re a Hardy completionist, give it a miss.
Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012)
After Gone Baby Gone and The Town Ben Affleck had established himself as a very talented film maker. With Argo, the story of a CIA mission to rescue embassy staff using a fake movie shoot as cover, he knocked it out of the park. It took $200 million plus at the box office (it was apparently the most popular films ever in the cinemas around Langley) and win best film and screenplay at the Oscars. But does it stand up way from the hype?
Well, yes. Obviously it does. Argo is a great caper film.The fact that it is based on a true story (with plenty of artistic licence) gives a level of depth and makes the characters a lot more realistic. In turn though , the film doesn’t feel the need to overplay any aspect of the docu-drama stuff. The embassy staff are introduced quickly and never really fleshed out, but Affleck keeps the action moving along. Even the utterly contrived “waiting on a phonecall” sequence draws me in every time.
The true joy of this film is the supporting turns from Alan Arkin and John Goodman. Arkin plays Ledster Siegel, a film producer brought on board by the CIA to “make” the film, deciding on Argo “a science fiction adventure”. He plays the “aging Hollywood producer” role (one that turns up in plenty of films) so well, and deserved all the accolades that came his way. John Goodman plays John Chambers, Hollywood make-up and special effects expert, who is the CIA’s “in” to the movie world, having made some diesguises for them before. His line “So you want to come to Hollywood and act like a big shot without actually doing anything? You’ll fit right in” is brilliant, and brilliantly delivered. Their “double-act” is great.
Maybe these two characters are the reason that Argo won so many awards – Hollywood loves looking in on itself – but they are certainly a major reason it is so entertaining. Argo is great, a huge recommendation!
Well, there we go. Four different films, they are all interesting, but I would highly recommend Argo if you haven’t seen it, and I really enjoyed Two Faces of January, but can understand why some people would not, it might be too slow and deliberate for some. Even the other two films are worth seeing for the strong leading performances of Elba, Harris, and Hardy. I’ve got a few more films left that I watched on the free trial (hey, I work very unsociable hours!) so I’ll be back with one more Perusing Prime! Until then… I dunno… stay gold Ponyboy? Yeah that’ll do. So…
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.