It's beyond the contemplation of a film to begin to even understand the ramifications of the actions of September 11 or to even try to explain them from either side of the argument but what one can understand is the sense of true anguish acts of terrorism cause. From within and without the sense that the act itself is in its warped way a conciliatory event cannot be denied. For whilst there is a danger and complete disregard to life in most acts of terrorism against humanity there is the undeniable breakdown of everyone's humanity involved. It is usually how quickly that humanity recouperates that unites, particularly within the group against which the act has been committed. What though of the group committing the terror?
There have been films and documentaries examining the construct of terrorist groups for decades. From the Munich incident in 1972 to the Symbionese Liberation Army abduction of Patty Hearst in 1974 to the IRA attacks throughout the seventies and eighties film viewers have been given insights into both sides of the story. The Baader Meinhof Complex takes this approach in examining the Red Army Faction (RAF) in Germany from the late 60s to the late 70s. Whilst it spends the majority of its time with those involved with the RAF the film never panders to the fact that perhaps there will be those who see the perspective of terrorists as being glorified when examined. It's a brave stance to take as it will be seen to be a legitimate criticism of a film when the humanity of a terrorist is presented. Many will argue too that that is in itself an impossiblity, however, the question has to be asked that is it not the very humanity within one committing acts of terrorism that needs to be looked at to allow one to understand how the act can be committed in the first place? For is it not as we follow Martina Gedeck's portrayal of Ulrike Meinhof that we truly understand how the breaking down of this person is in itself what has caused her to be able to commit the very acts in which she ends up being a participant? Isn't empathising the only true way to understand? It's not condoning or even understanding. Is it not merely searching for an explanation to minimise the future of carnage in the future?
The Baader Meinhof Complex interestingly steers clear of moralising in any way. Victims from both sides are ruthlessly killed and as the era of the seventies, in particular, is evocatively recreated the sense of unease and unrest is constantly present through this edgy sense of the tangible. At two-and-a-half hours the film is, however, surprisingly, at times, lacking in depth. Beyond merely retelling the actual events, motive and sentiment are left by the way as the too-many characters interweave in this world of hysteria and counteraction. Having said that The Baader Meinhof Complex, deserving of its Oscar nomination, is an intriguing puzzle-piece of a film that without doubt has merit as an inclusion to the canon of film on the topic of terrorism and civil-unrest. The more we talk, it could be suggested, the closer we get to being on the same page at the same time.
It's funny because being on the same page is eventually what the soldiers of the German and British fronts were during World War I in Beneath Hill 60. This Australian film from Australian actor turned director Jeremy Sims tells of the story of the Australian soldiers charged with the digging of a series of tunnels to literally undermine the German enemy. Using a variety of skilled experts, the film tells of the social hierarchy at play during the war and particularly between the soldiers of immediate British descent and those from the colony of Australia.
As the story progresses, the focus shifts to that of Captain Oliver Woodward (Brendan Cowell) and his recollection of the development of the battle as well as of the relationship with his future wife, Marjorie (Bella Heathcote). For a film trying to discover the truth of the sheer isolation of being underground, Beneath Hill 60 lacks a real tension. There is never any doubt as to where this story is headed, which is a bizarre fact considering the actual story of the Hill 60 mob is little known.
Whilst both sides of the story are treated with respect, some of the better performances are from those actors playing the German underground soldiers (David Ritchie, Kenneth Spiteri and Marcus Costello), the film itself does nothing to actually differentiate itself from the huge catalogue of war films already in existence. Performances are uniformly sound though Cowell struggles to convince as a lead and the production values adequate, however, in the end one wonders whether the real heart of the matter is lost at the expense of trying to spin a good yarn. Experience tells us that good storytelling requires little else and in this case that is the core of the problem. The storytelling in the end is far less brave than the soldiers presented on screen. As a whole, Beneath Hill 60 is a major disappointment.
Avoiding the realms of disappointment but belonging firmly to the land of utterly messy is the Tilda Swinton vehicle, Julia. Directed by Erick Zonca, it tells of Julia (Swinton) who is at the precipice of destruction as she battles alcohol and the ramifications of random sex. Through a chance meeting with a fellow AA meeting-goer (Kate del Castillo), Julia embarks on a plan to kidnap the woman's son from the boy's grandson.
What begins as a case in the improbable or at least unlikely soon begins to rattle along as Julia decides to follow through on the plan after originally resisting. This is where the film succeeds because whilst every ounce of common sense within the viewer is questioning all that is going on it is still flagrantly obvious that Julia is a woman in a state far from common sense. As she endeavours to escape with the boy she encounters further problems as the boy is in turn kidnapped by professional Mexican kidnappers. What to do as Julia, so wracked with guilt, begins to question the sense that this may in fact be like what it is to be a mother.
Zonca's film is an utter mess. It's a mess of narrative and plot that fails to question any sense of lack of reality, however, in doing just that it lets that tale of the improbable end up ringing true. This is largely due to the performance of Swinton who proves, once again, what a fantastic actress she is on screen. Absent of the traditional movie-star looks or persona she is an enigma on screen and once again proof of the differential there can be in mothers on screen. We've seen her in this parental-drunk fierceness before in The Deep End and watched the determination present even when representing something borderline between what is morally right and wrong in Michael Clayton, however, we've not seen her so wholeheartedly and honestly disappear on screen. She is uniformly both mother and slut, killer and caretaker, provider and taker and ultimately perhaps the most human we've seen her.
It's not simply the Swinton show, however, as she is given ample support by a career-best Saul Rubinek as her friend, Mitch, and let loose by Zonca who trusts and understands what this story is about. In the end Julia is all over the place as far as movies go but, oh, how glorious an experience it ultimately proves to be by the time it is finished.
Less glorious and more of a mess is the Michael Mann-helmed Public Enemies, telling the story of famed bankrobber, John Dillinger. Reproducing the 1930s, Mann sets a miscast Johnny Depp as Dillinger up against a by-the-numbers Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis, the agent from the Bureau set the task of ending Dillinger's crime spree.
It's interesting that Mann takes on this story in the glossy way he does as his better films, Heat and The Insider for example, tend to lie themselves in a much more earthy and lived-in tone. Here, he fails to find the connection between his audience and the story leaving no one really looking far beyond the surface. It's this failure to get beneath the skin of Dillinger that truly lets Public Enemies down. One only has to look at the modern Animal Kingdom, a crime film similar in narrative, to see how the relationships and thinking of the main protagonists can be equally investigated and felt without giving way to sentimentality or at the expense of plot.
Another fine turn from Marion Cotillard as Dillinger's lover, Billie Frechette notwithstanding, there is very little to recommend from this watchable but, most damningly, forgettable Mann vehicle.
Certainly far from forgettable is Spike Jonze's interpretation of the seminal children's picture book by Maurice Sendak, Where The Wild Things Are. Written with Dave Eggers, Jonze has produced the exact feeling of being ostracised as a child without sentiment or any hint of patronisation. For here is a boy, Max (Max Records), who is at war with his world. It is a world betraying him as he uses what he knows, his anger and his ability to express his anger, to fight back and let anyone and everyone know that not only is he unhappy but he is afraid.
As he fights back against the fear associated with a potential new parental figure in the boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) of his mother (Catherine Keener) entering the scene, Max finds himself escaping to the world of the Wild Things. Encountering the social interactions of the constantly bickering yet somehow co-existing Wild Things Max begins to introduce rules and suggestions as to how the Wild Things live after they name him king. Voiced beautifully by a wonderful supporting cast (James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, Michael Berry Jr., Chris Cooper, Lauren Ambrose and Jonze), the Wild Things are perfect creations and the lovely attention to the costuming and the detailing of the sets suggests that the filmmakers were aware how important the reality of the piece was in a world so already unreal. By limiting the impact of the visual effect, Jonze has in effect let Max create his world himself.
The film wouldn't work if the performance of Max Records wasn't up to par but his turn is a beautiful mix of spirited anger and baleful stares. His understanding of Max, the character, appears well beyond his years. Using effective music and voicework from Karen O from Yeah Yeah Yeahs and letting this simple story of loneliness speak for itself, Jonze has created another fantastic work for a small but nearing brilliant personal catalogue of film that already includes Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.. He is a real danger to create a serious masterpiece within his career and that's a danger of which noone should be afraid.
THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX
Alexandra Maria Lara
Jan Josef Liefers
Germany ׀ France ׀ Czech Republic
BENEATH HILL 60
Steve Le Marquand
Mark Coles Smith
Kate del Castillo
France ׀ USA ׀ Mexico ׀ Belgium
Emilie De Ravin
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
Michael Berry Jr.
USA ׀ Germany