This week we cast our eye over three recent female-led films, starting off with Elizabeth Banks’ directorial debut, Pitch Perfect 2, then the bold new take on the much-loved musical Annie followed by the Melissa McCarthy action comedy Spy.
00:00 – Theme Music
00:46 – Introduction
01:10 – Pitch Perfect 2
19:05 – Annie
32:02 – Spy
44:12 – End Notes and Outro Music
For what is purported to be his final theatrical release, director Steven Soderbergh goes for a pulpy trashy thriller rather than anything too highbrow. Rooney Mara plays a troubled young wife whose dependancy on prescription medication has increasingly violent consequences. Channing Tatum plays her recently released husband, whose white collar crimes saw him incarcerated. Jude Law is the psychiatrist caught up in the case, while Catherine Zeta Jones’ high profile shrink is also pulled into this increasingly noirish thriller.
Some people have really taken against the genre-indebted nature of the film, but much like how Danny Boyle refused to go high brow with his latest film, Trance, Soderbergh is clearly out to have fun, and his cast duly delivers. Whether this proves to be Soderbergh’s directorial swan song remains to be seen (his subsequent TV movie Behind the Candelabra has been getting theatrical releases around the world), this should be taken as a playful wink rather than a final bow.
After the surprise success of 2009’s reimagining of Sherlock Holmes, it comes as no surprise that a sequel is already here, nor that director Guy Ritchie has stuck to the same winning formula this time out. Ritchie’s career, which had started so promisingly with London gangster pics Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, followed by the star-heavy Snatch, collapsed monumentally with Revolver and had yet to recover. Suffice to say Ritchie was in need of a hit and fortunately the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle provided enough cockney charm to play to the director’s strengths and also sate his passion for intellectual flirtation.
A Game of Shadows delivers plenty of enjoyable action beats – most memorably an intense, destructive chase through a German forest while heavy artillery rains down upon our heroes. Holmes and Watson are continuously shot at, chased and beaten up and again Holmes uses his powers of deduction to predict the moves of his brawling opponents to often humourous effect. Speaking of which, the winning repartee of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law remains wisely intact, with both actors being given plenty of scope to further explore their strangely co-dependent relationship and the script sizzles with playful banter throughout.
There are many welcome additions to the cast, not least Jared Harris as Holmes’ nemesis, Professor James Moriaty. While bigger names, including Brad Pitt and Daniel Day Lewis were attached at different points, Harris proves a worthy adversary and his lack of star power imbues the character with added mystery and threat. As an audience, we genuinely have no idea of what he is capable. Stephen Fry comes aboard as Mycroft, Holmes’ older and more politically savvy brother and Fry offers up plenty of laughs whenever on screen – not least his attempts to console Watson’s abandoned bride while completely naked. The most notable addition, however, is Swedish actress Noomi Rapace (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) as a mysterious gypsy fortuneteller drawn into Holmes’ ever-expanding case. The first in a number of roles the young actress has lucked upon after the success of the “Millennium Trilogy“, Rapace is fine if unexceptional, in a role that often leaves her to spectate on our heroes’ shenanigans.
A Game of Shadows knows its strengths and plays to them with style and confidence, while never summoning up the courage to do anything new, beyond take our crime fighters into a mainland Europe bristling with pre-war angst. The film’s biggest failing is there’s simply too much of it, and audiences may well tire of the relentless brawling and chasing before the film finally reaches its smart, low-key and hugely satisfying conclusion that pays noted homage to its source material. But as overlong and incoherent as it may become, there is still plenty of fun to be had, even if it’s all rather familiar and somewhat…elementary.