Our Kind of Traitor
A British couple are lured into a complicated plot to help a Russian Mafioso defect to the U.K.
With a John Le Carre novel or film, you can expect a smart, tense story with some twists, a complicated rogue spy and an ordinary man caught in an extraordinary circumstance, and this film hits all of the notes.
Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris star as Perry and Gail, a British couple in Marrakesh on a romantic weekend in hopes their relationship will survive his infidelity. Perry is a professor of Poetics and Gail is a barrister. When Gail leaves Perry in a restaurant, he is approached by a Russian, Dima (Skellan Skarsgard), who is drinking with his friends. Dima takes a liking to Perry and invites him to a party. Perry declines until Dima makes a bet with him. He asks Perry to show him his credit card, and if he, Dima, can remember all of the digits on the card after looking at it for only a couple of seconds, Perry must come with him to the party. If he can't do it, Dima will give Perry 5000 euro. Who wouldn't take that bet? Naturally Dima wows him with his memory of the numbers (remember this for later), and they go to the party where Perry appears to have a bit of a roving eye. The next day the two play tennis and after the match, Dima tells Perry his story.
He is the person in charge of laundering the money for the Russian Mafia. The Mafia is opening a bank in London to continue their operations and to use it to launder more money. He no longer trusts the head guy, The Prince (Grigoriy Dobrygin), basically because The Prince just ordered the killings of Dima's friends. The Prince wants Dima to sign over the money laundering operation to him and Dima believes that once he does this, he will also be marked for execution. But the clincher here is that Dima has proof that some high-ranking British officials are on the take from the Mafia and Dima wants to use that information for some insurance for himself and his family. He asks Perry to take a memory stick (flashdrive to you and me), that contains all of his criminal activities, back to the U.K. and give it to MI6 in hopes he can make a deal to get himself and his family asylum in the U.K.
Now, you need to suspend disbelief here a bit about why Dima would entrust a total stranger with this mission, but he does give a little speech about being a man of integrity, even though he is a mobster (I mean, they have their code of ethics too, I guess), and he recognizes that Perry must also be such a man. Like I said, suspend your disbelief with this part.
Perry does as Dima asks and is interviewed by MI6 agent, Hector (Damian Lewis). Hector shares the information with his boss but his boss says not to proceed. Here's where the rogue spy element comes in. Hector goes ahead anyway, and Perry and Gail find themselves at the center of a mission to not only get Dima and his family safely into the U.K. but to bring down high officials in the British government..
Ewen McGregor is a favorite. I have forgiven him for his singing in "Moulin Rouge." It wasn't that he was a particularly bad singer. It's just that every time he opened his mouth to sing, he looked like one of The Muppets. He is a handsome guy but also a reliably good actor who brings great sensitivity to his roles. He's also not afraid to get naked, which I also like. Skarsgard is another actor who you can count on and who is really good here. Again, I have forgiven him for turning into a sleaze in "Nymphomaniac," which I deemed one of the worst movies of 2013. Also notable is Naomie Harris, who you may remember as Moneypenny from "Spectre." She is someone to watch.
Adapted from the Le Carre novel by Hosein Amini and directed by Susanna White, this film is a refreshing respite from the mindless summer blockbusters. My only complaint was that I couldn't figure out what the title meant. Who was the traitor and why was he "our kind?" But a small criticism for what was a satisfying film experience.
Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are sick of superheroes, horror, animation and Tarzan swinging through the trees, there is this bit of smart, tense adult entertainment where you get to use your brain, but don't delay. I don't think this one will stick around long in the theatres.
***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!
Now on DVD
Son of Saul (2015)
Saul (Geza Rohrig) is a prisoner at Auschwitz and his job is to help burn the bodies of those killed in the gas chambers. When he sees the body of a young boy who he thinks is his son, he tries to save him from incineration so he can give him a proper burial.
When the film begins, you quickly realize where Saul is, even though the camera focuses primarily on him, and the background is out of focus. But you still feel the chaos and horror, as you hear the loudspeaker telling people to quickly disrobe and take a shower so they can come out and eat soup and be assigned a job for pay at the camp. You quickly realize what is really happening, and why so many people went willingly into the gas chambers. As the victims, too, realize what is happening, the screams and pounding begin from inside the "showers," and the scene becomes more and more horrific.
Saul is a Jewish-Hungarian, a Sonderkommando, a prisoner who is marked for execution at some point, but until then he is a worker, going about his business like an automaton, herding people into the showers and then pulling their bodies out and helping to send them into the ovens. He wears the uniform of the Sonderkommando, a jacket with a big red X on the back, a marked man who must help with the killings until it's his turn. One of his tasks is to go through the clothing of the victims to look for valuables. Scattered about the floor, we see the personal effects the victims had chosen to keep when they were rousted out of their homes - letters, pictures, sheet music, all of which adds to the horror. More and more people arrive and are herded into the gas chambers while the Sonderkommandos pick through their valuables like vultures pecking away at decaying bodies.
When a young boy is retrieved from the gas chamber still breathing, we see in the distance a doctor examining him and then one of the guards suffocating him. Saul believes the young boy is his son and wants to rescue him from the ovens to give him a proper burial. The boy is taken to the doctor's office for an autopsy. Saul approaches the doctor who tells Saul that he too is a prisoner, and he must do what he must, but he gives Saul five minutes with the boy and Saul wraps him up and takes him away.
Saul is the focus of this film as he seeks a rabbi to give his son a religious burial. The camera focuses on his back and serves as his eyes, then it shoots him from the side as he moves about, then from the front so we can see his thoughts and anguish as he lives amidst the inhumanity of the concentration camp, where not only the guards treat the prisoners like animals (the prisoners are called "its" and "pieces), there is also a tough hierarchy among the prisoners themselves as each does what he has to do to survive.
At the same time that Saul is trying to find a rabbi to give his son a proper Jewish burial, some of the other Sonderkommandos are planning an escape and want Saul to come with them. It all becomes more intense when it is clear 70 of them have been marked for extermination the next day.
This is Rohrig's feature debut and his performance as a man whose quiet determination to remain human in an inhuman world is astonishing.
This is not an easy film to watch, but it's not supposed to be. But it's a film that must be seen.
Not only is it a riveting story of trying to hold on to some humanity in an inhuman world, it's a reminder of the evil that men do, and we must never, ever forget what happened so that it will never happen again. As we go about our lives with our jobs, our happy families, our nice homes, our cars, our stuff, it's easy to forget the suffering that has taken place in history.
Can you imagine being arrested, separated from your family, put in a prison camp, being forced to help kill people, all because of your religion? As difficult as these kinds of movies can be, we need to see them to be reminded of the atrocities that humans are capable of in the name of...what? It must never happen again.
Directed by Laszlo Nemes with a story by him and Clara Royer, this film won last year's Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, and it is so deserving because despite the subject matter, this is a wonderful film, that despite what happens in the end, shows that in the midst of the worst possible circumstances, our humanity prevails.
This is the truest dramatic depiction I have ever seen of what the horrors of the concentration camps must have been like. It's documentary counterpart would be the classic and horrific "Night and Fog."
You know that I often joke around about not liking films that don't have women in them or pretty costumes or romance. That's usually because the film isn't very good and failed to draw me in, but when there is a really compelling, artistic film that says something important, it doesn't matter who stars, whether there are women, what the story is about - none of that matters. The sign of a really wonderful film is that it immediately draws you in, makes you care about the people in it and what is happening, and it says something important -- and this is just such a film.
From the opening shots when we first meet Saul and see where he is and what he has to do, I couldn't take my eyes off of the screen. He says little. He doesn't need to. The camera tells it all. That is the sign of a really great film.
Rosy the Reviewer says...this film is one of the best of the year or of any year! It's a MUST SEE!
(In Hungarian, German, Yiddish, Polish and Russian with English subtitles)
A creepy funeral director has the ability to talk to the dead as they transition from life to death.
I didn't know anything about this film, but I think I saw a preview for it, and since I really like Liam Neeson, put it in my Netflix queue. As I was watching the previews that lead up to the film, I realized they were all horror films which is a sure indication of what you can expect from the feature. So I thought, "Uh oh."
Christina Ricci is Anna Taylor and Justin Long plays her boyfriend, Paul Coleman. Before I go any further, I need to say something about Justin Long. I find him to be a most unlikely leading man. He is a bit dorky and looks like he should be in a new version of "Friends." I just don't get him as a love interest, but I'm an old lady, not a hipster. There are lots of things I don't get. Maybe he has that hipster vibe that makes him attractive.
Anyway, Anna and Paul are having problems. She is a middle school teacher who befriends, Jack, a strange little kid who is getting bullied. She is also not a happy camper. She takes pills. Paul is a bit of a control freak, but he is about to propose at dinner one night, but before he pops the question, he tells Anna he has been transferred which Anna misunderstands as his telling her he is breaking up with her. She gets angry and leaves, driving off into a rain storm, crying and looking at her cell phone. You know where that's going. Oops....
Next we see her at the funeral home on a slab in the embalming room with Elliot Deacon (Neeson), the local undertaker. Though I am a big fan of Neeson who I find very attractive, I must say that he is particularly creepy here. When Anna wakes up, Deacon is undressing her and she very rightly asks "Where am I?" Deacon patiently explains that she is dead to which she replies "I am not dead."
He sighs and says "You all say the same thing."
What's going on here?
"Why am I talking to you if I am dead?" Anna asks, to which Deacon replies, "I have the gift to help the dead make the transition."
And then throughout the rest of the film, Deacon makes a lot of wise pronouncements about life and death such as "You all say you are scared of death but the truth is you are scared of life." That sort of thing.
The crux of the film, and what makes you keep watching, is that maybe Anna isn't really dead and Deacon is going to help her along a bit. The horror here lies in our fear of being thought to be dead when we really aren't, with the possibility of being buried alive, and that our last moments on earth would be with someone creepy like Liam's character. It plays on our deepest fears. What if we really aren't dead when we end up at the funeral home or worse yet, at our grave?
I said that Deacon was creepy, but everyone in this film is creepy, from Anna's wheelchair bound mother who doesn't appear to be that broken up that her daughter is dead, to that little boy, Jack (Chandler Canterbury), who has an unnatural interest in the dead for a little kid, to Jack's mother who appears to be a zombie sitting and watching black and white game shows from the 50's.
Anna is stripped down to her red slip and eventually is naked for the rest of the film. I couldn't help but laugh that every time the camera panned over to Anna lying on the slab, she was in some sort of a cheesecake pose. None of us would look particularly good lying on a slab with our thighs all squished down or our stomachs sticking out so Ricci made sure she was always up on her elbow or with her back arched, not something I think a corpse would do, do you?
Anyway, Anna is not having this dying stuff so she tries to escape.
Deacon asks her "Was your life worth clutching onto? Maybe you died a long time ago."
Ahhh, OK, now we are getting somewhere.
It looks like Liam's mission is to get rid of those of us who aren't enjoying their lives enough.
It's all an exercise in appreciating our lives, a sort of horror version of "It's a Wonderful Life" for millennials, except in the guise of a Michael Crichton medical thriller with a bit of "The Sixth Sense" and "The Fall of the House of Usher" thrown in. Turns out the creepy little kid, Jack, doesn't see dead people, as the kid in "The Sixth Sense" did. Our little Jack sees people who are ABOUT TO BE DEAD!
I have had a hard time thinking of Christina Ricci as anyone but Wednesday Addams from "The Addams Family," and I got another laugh when Deacon put makeup on her and made her look just like her!
Written and directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, it's an enjoyable bit of horror that isn't too horrific.
Heed the message in this film: Enjoy your life or you will end up on a slab with creepy Liam hanging over you. 'Course I can think of worse things than spending my last moments with Liam Neeson!
Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like movies like "The Sixth Sense," you might like this one.
***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***
245 to go!
Have YOU seen this classic film?
A primer in the art of pickpocketing with some existential stuff thrown in.
Well, not exactly, but this is the story of a young disaffected French intellectual (Martin LaSalle), who looks like a young Montgomery Clift. Michel becomes a pickpocket because it seems an easy way to make a living, but he eventually starts to see it as an act reserved for those who are so smart they are above the law. He apprentices himself to a career criminal and becomes adept. More and more, he isolates himself from his dying mother and his girlfriend until the pickpocketing is the most important emotional connection he has with the world.
Auteur Robert Bresson liked making existential, minimalist films.
And the critics who compiled "The 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" really liked Bresson. He only made 13 feature films in his lifetime and five are listed in the book, which is better than many directors who made many more films.
He focused his camera on his subjects to the point of excruciatingly slow and close scrutiny. He eschewed the niceties of filmmaking like music, trained actors and plot to instead minimalize production values, minimalize actors showing emotion, and not worry too much about a compelling story to instead focus on the image. I usually like films that replace endless exposition and talking heads with pictures, but Bresson goes too far. His untrained actors are stiff and expressionless, and I much prefer a plot to concentrating on the subject's face for five minutes.
Why it's a Must See: "[This film] is among the most perfect examples of Bresson's style...The scenes of pickpocketing are breathtaking and rival any in cinema for their excitement and sheer cinematic virtuosity...This is one of those pictures that completely changes one's understanding of what cinema is or can be. Bresson is one of the most novelistic of filmmakers, in that he is able to depict the inner world of characters and abstract philosophical concepts that are more easily expressed in language...Watching a Bresson film is a demanding but extgremely satisfying and enjoyable experience."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"
Demanding, yes. Satisfying, no. No doubt that Bresson's work was original and unlike anything that had been done back in his heyday, but today, I find it slow, tedious and self-indulgent. This may be art house fare, but if films were being made like this today, I don't think anyone would go see them. Last week I reviewed his "A Man Escaped," which I likened to watching paint dry. For this one, I felt like I was watching an industrial training film on how to be a pickpocket.
Rosy the Reviewer says...75 minutes that felt more like 175.
***Book of the Week***
Game of Crowns: Elizabeth, Camilla, Kate and The Throne by Christopher Andersen (2016)
The relationships and rivalries between Queen Elizabeth II, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall and Princess Kate.
Well, I wouldn't say that the Queen has any rivals, because she's, well, she's the Queen. Many may not realize that Queen Elizabeth II is both the oldest and longest-reigning of all British monarchs and her life as Queen has seen 18 different Prime Ministers and 15 U.S. Presidents come and go. So she is unrivaled as a ruler and stateswoman.
But who knew there was some rancor between Camilla and Kate?
According to Andersen's book, Camilla is a huge snob and didn't want the future king to marry a "commoner," whose parents she didn't approve of, so she actively tried to discourage the marriage.
Andersen has been Royal Watching for some time with his books "William and Kate" and "The Day Diana Died." He has also written many, many celebrity biographies. He is one of my favorite biographers because he tells a really good story and is not afraid to try to get inside the heads of his subjects.
Here he begins the book with speculation on what will happen when Elizabeth II dies. He goes through a day-by-day scenario that culminates with the downfall of the House of Windsor!
He also gives interesting details on all that took place to allow Prince Charles to marry Camilla. She was already reviled as the person who broke up the marriage of Charles and Princess Diana, but after Diana's death, everyone hated her even more. No one wanted her to ever, ever, ever be Queen.
I have been a loyal Royal Watcher since I was very young. Prince Charles and I were born in the same year, so it is not beyond the realm of possibility that my mother thought I could grow up to marry a Prince. She was a Royal Watcher, too.
When Diana came along and married Charles, I was as fascinated as everyone else and when she died, a little bit of myself went with her. I know that sounds overly-dramatic, but there was something about Princess Diana that struck a chord, not just in me, but in so many people. She made us happy she was in the world with us. When she was no longer there, it just wasn't the same. I was reading this book at the gym on the elliptical, as I am wont to do, and when I got to the part about Diana's death, I started to tear up, remembering how awful I felt when she died. I stayed up all night, sobbing, to watch her funeral and the long ride as the hearse took her to her final resting place at Althorp with mourners standing all along the roadway as she went, tossing flowers onto the hood of the hearse. There were so many flowers being tossed onto the hearse, that the driver had to stop from time to time to take the flowers off of the windshield so he could see to drive. I think I am going to cry right now.
But though one can't write about The Royals without writing about Diana, this book is less about her and more about Charles and Camilla and William and Kate.
For those of you who have read Andersen's other books about the Royals or who are loyal Royal Watchers (like moi), there might not be that much new to you here about their lives or some of the chain of events, but what's fun about this book are the many details he shares that you might not know about, e.g. did you know that The Queen's breakfast never varies from Special K or oatmeal (served in a Tupperware container), crustless whole wheat toast with orange marmalade, a single boiled egg and small bowls of prunes, apricots, and macadamia nuts - and she loves the British tabloids.
Here are some more fun facts revealed:
- The Queen has over 200 purses (I am sure they all match a coat and a hat)!
- Princess Kate liked to moon people from her boarding school window.
- Growing up, Kate had a big crush on William and went to the same college as William in hopes of marrying him.
- Prince Charles was not happy if the ice [cubes] in his drinks were not round, because he thought the angles made regular cubes too noisy.
- Prince Charles valet was not only in charge of squeezing the toothpaste onto Charles' tooth brush, tying his shoes and zipping the Royal fly, but also holding the specimen cup for a urine sample at the doctor's office. (TMI?)
And there is much more.
But finally, there is this question:
The Queen is 90 and her son, Prince Charles, heir to the throne, isn't getting any younger.
Will the Queen abdicate in favor of Charles?
Some have said she never would, but there have been many "nevers" that have come to pass.
The Queen would never pay taxes. She does. The Queen would never open the doors to Buckingham Palace for tours. She has. The Queen would never allow Charles to divorce. She did. The Queen would never eat at McDonalds or lift a pint in a pub. She has.
So we will just have to see what will happen...and it will be ever fascinating.
Rosy the Reviewer says...Royal Watchers will love every juicy bit of this!
That's it for this week!
Thanks for reading!
See you Tuesday for
"Personal Style for Women of a Certain Age"
If you enjoyed this post, feel free to copy and paste or click on the share buttons to share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, email it to your friends and LIKE me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rosythereviewer
Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.
Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database).
Go to IMDB.com, find the movie you are interested in. Once there, click on the link that says "Explore More" on the right side of the screen. Scroll down to External Reviews and when you get to that page, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.
NOTE: On some entries, this has changed. If you don't see "Explore More" on the right side of the screen, scroll down just below the description of the film in the middle of the page. Click where it says "Critics." Look for "Rosy the Reviewer" on the list.
Or if you are using a mobile device, look for "Critics Reviews." Click on that and you will find me alphabetically under "Rosy the Reviewer."