Movie reviews: Incendies, Unknown & The Reef

Sharks, sabotage and secrets.

Incendies
directed by Denis Villeneuve
[imdb | trailer]
me rating: 4.5/5
saw it: cinema (limited release in Canada, wider international release expected)

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s work isn’t all that well known outside of his native Quebec, let alone Canada. However after Incendies (Scorched) received glowing reviews at Venice and Toronto last autumn and got an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film last month, perhaps all that may be about to change.

Incendies tells the story of Nawal Marwan, who came to Canada from war-torn Middle East and a life of prison, religious persecution and war. Her dying wish is for her son and daughter to travel back to the place of her birth to untangle their family tree to deliver letters to their presumed-dead father and previously unknown brother.

While it’s a complex plot that utilises dual timelines, what follows over the next two hours is a masterfully constructed journey of discovery into a mother’s past. Their quest in the Middle East raises so many questions that could so easily have been answered before her death if only they’d known to ask.

The final act and big reveal makes for a thrilling finale, that’s both sensational and touching and verges just on the right side of plausibility.

The Academy have a habit of giving the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar to the wrong film (Argentina’s so-so Secret in Their Eyes beating The White Ribbon and Un prophète last year? Departures beating The Class and Waltz with Bashir?). Let’s hope they get it right this year and give Canada something to celebrate.

Unknown
directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
[imdb | trailer]
me rating: 2.5/5
saw it: cinema (general release, US & Canada)

I’m not really sure who came up with the idea that Ballymena’s favourite 58-year-old could be a legitimate action star. But lo and behold, after proving his high-kick chops in the criminally under-rated Taken and last year’s A-team reboot, Unknown sees Liam Neeson on the snowy streets of Berlin kicking ass and taking names as a troubled scientist who loses his memory after sustaining massive brain trauma. When he wakes up from his coma, his wife doesn’t seem to recognise him and another man appears to be playing the part of her husband.

While Neeson does the very best he can, the same can hardly be said for everyone else involved. The plot begins to ask a little much of the viewer midway through and while the final scenes are all well-executed, you can’t help feeling like this is a real missed opportunity. Of particular note is Diane Kruger, who was so strong in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, who is criminally under-used. Instead we’re left to focus on Mad Men’s January Jones.

Miss Jones may have ample cleavage (demonstrated in the picture above) but really needs to up her game if she’s to hold her own alongside real heavyweights like Neeson, Bruno Ganz and Frank Langhella. Instead her blank stare sticks out like a sore thumb in this disappointing action thriller.

The Reef
directed by Andrew Traucki
[imdb | trailer]
me rating: 2/5
saw it: download (straight to DVD in UK/Ireland, Australian general release due in March 2011)

The major problem with basing a horror movie on a true story is always going to be the order of bereavement. In an ideal world, you’ll start with a nervous cagey girl dying first, then pick off each character one by one until you’re left with a sole survivor or triumphant couple kissing. Cue end credits.

Unfortunately that’s not how this Australian shark thriller plays out. Instead we end up with four naive soles trying to out-run a great white shark after their boat capsizes. Chances of survival? Not very high.

I’m left with a few minor quibbles. The crew were delivering a small yacht to Indonesia, I gotta ask myself – is that even possible? Where do you stop for Petrol or lunch?!

Anyway, luckily the film is not entirely without merit. There are some really well-shot underwater sequences and a few knowing nods to genre-favourites Jaws and Open Water. And the CGI sharks are pretty bad-ass.

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