(On Cable TV, September 2015) I’m not sure there’s anything objectively wrong about Deliver us From Evil, but neither can I say that there’s anything exceptional about it. While there is some interest in tackling demonic possession as seen from the perspective of a hardened NYPD veteran, the film soon heads for familiar pastures, and doesn’t really get to show anything worthwhile. Eric Bana does fine work as the cop protagonist, with Olivia Munn and Joel McHale turning in short yet credible dramatic presences, but all of them are overshadowed by Edgar Ramirez’s compelling turn as an unusual priest facing ultimate evil. Director Scott Derrickson follows-up his much superior Sinister with a decent atmosphere (grimy and dark and realistic and, alas, rather dull), but the script is too derivative to be particularly interesting. Too long at nearly two hours for the rather slight amount of substance it contains, Deliver Us From Evil ends up being a middle-of-the-road hybrid between police procedural and demonic possession horror, something that works well enough to escape mediocrity, but not enough to leave an impression.
(On Cable TV, August 2014) It may or may not be a trend, but I’ve now seen three post-9/11 British thrillers about terrorism in the past 18 months (Dirty War, Cleanskin and now Closed Circuit), and they all eventually end up concluding that their secret services are to be feared just as much as the terrorists. The setup, in Closed Circuit‘s case, promises a bit less than full-blown paranoia: As the case against a terrorist heats up, two lawyers are asked to take the suspects’ defense, one operating publically while the other one defends the client in secret court. The suicide of a previous lawyer assigned to the case weighs heavily in the picture. When both lawyers (previously romantically involved, in a twist that initially promises much) discover increasingly troubling details about their client, they too become the target. The first half of Closed Circuit has a good escalation of thrills as our lawyer protagonists discover far more than expected about their client and his connections to the British Secret Services. But it all tips over to a fairly standard conspiracy/chase thriller that, in the end, doesn’t do much than shrug and deliver a weakly comforting epilogue. It’s all well and good to point at the British establishment and argue that they are all-powerful, but that’s not much of a conclusion –I expected a bit more. Still, Closed Circuit does have a few assets. Eric Bana makes for a fine protagonist, while Rebecca Hall once again plays brainy heroines like no others. Jim Broadbent is unexpectedly menacing as a political force warning our heroes against overstepping unspoken boundaries, while Ciaran Hinds once again ends up as a powerful character who can’t be trusted. (Julia Stiles is also in the film, but almost as a cameo. Anne-Marie Duff is far more memorable with even fewer appearances.) The direction is competent (with an expected visual motif of surveillance cameras), the focus on legal proceedings is fascinating in its own way and the first two-third of the script are built solidly. It’s a shame that after such a promising and unusual beginning, the conclusion disintegrates to so much generic pap that we’ve seen countless times before. At least the British pessimism is enough to keep it distinct from what a typical American thriller would have gone for.
(In theatres, August 2009): As someone who really enjoyed Audrey Niffenegger’s original novel, I watched The Time Traveler’s Wife more interested in the mechanics of its adaptation than in the romantic aspect of the story itself. It starts off well, with an opening sequence that efficiently explains what’s going on while remaining faithful to the premise of the story. It’s no surprise, though, to find out that the most interesting elements of the novel, those that sent readers in unpleasant or horrific territory, have either been softened or removed entirely. The emphasis of the film is strictly on the romantic aspect, and everything becomes subservient to it. This being said, it’s amazing to see how little actually changes even when character back-stories are removed (poor Gomez, so useless in the film) and when tense sequences simplified to a shadow of their written selves –such as the wedding sequence. A few more obviously cinematic sequences, such as the daughter-growing-up montage, don’t really compensate for the loos of the book’s depth. As straight-up science-fiction, The Time Traveler’s Wife is unconvincing: The time-traveling conceit makes absolutely no sense, and the travels themselves are even more blatantly at the mercy of the demands of the plot than in the book. It works a bit better as a romance, although many of the less pleasant implications of that aspect are left unexplored. Still, both Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams are fine in the lead role, and romances don’t ask for much more than that. The result, all things fairly considered, isn’t a failure: There’s been a surprising number of romantic fantasies using soft SF premises lately (Kate and Leopold, The Lake House, etc.) and this is a fair addition to the corpus.