When The Impossible was released, there was a lot of liberal tooth-gnashing about the Eurocentricity of a movie about a cataclysmic event that affected Asian people in far, far greater numbers than the wealthy white folks on which it focuses. The argument, such as it is, is that the glossy Anglo family – stoutly played by Naomi Watts and Ewan MacGregor – are front and centre of the drama, whereas the Thai villagers of this story are relegated to silent, resolute, waif-like observers.
Well, you know what? To an extent that’s true. But the fact is, the film is based on a book, and the book is about the personal experiences of a Spanish family – and to suggest that they may not tell their own harrowing tale of survival because it is somehow not PC enough is just, frankly, bullshit. Please, please feel free, at any time to step up and make your own movie of the events – if you can make it pay. By all means criticise it if it’s a bad film. (It isn’t – it’s like a horror movie in reverse, the aftermath of the tsunami itself is horrifying, the separation of families is mortifying, and the sheer struggle for survival is overwhelming.) But please don’t censor filmmakers because their “angle” is not your angle. For what it’s worth, I came away with immense, immeasurable respect for the generous, kind Thais, who clearly managed to pull it together under inconceivably and unbearably difficult circumstances.
The Impossible filmed in a water tank in Alicante, Spain; the tsunami was recreated with a mixture of digital effects and real water surges using miniatures. Of course, it also filmed in Thailand.
Fair Game is another gasp-a-minute revelation of breathless, bare-faced lies of the Bush-era government, as it tanked us all towards war a war in Iraq. If you don’t know the story, as the Bush government scrambled to create a case for a spurious war, word started to emerge of a huge amount of weapons-grade uranium being smuggled out of Niger. Joe Wilson, the husband of CIA Operative Valerie Plame and a former ambassador to the region, and was tasked with assessing whether such a massive shipment had actually occurred. His report said it was just not possible – not even logistically and especially not secretly. Nevertheless, the Bush government went ahead anyway and used the uranium shipment as its cause for war.
The film tracks the incident and its aftermath, none of it pretty, all of it gob-smacking, more of it astounding just because it’s all true. (well, not all of it, if the Washington Post has anything to say about it.) Anyway, unexpected as it was, I really, really enjoyed it. Not much to report on the locations side – Brooklyn seems to have done some stand in for DC, and you’ll see a Jordanian number-plate sneak into scene when it’s supposed to be Baghdad.
The International, starring Naomi Watts and the grimy, knock-kneed Clive Owen, is a really strange film that I have tried – and failed – to watch on a number of occasions. It looks really good, and there are fantastic locations – Berlin, and a roof-top chase in Istanbul stand out – and there’s a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to build a climate of 70′s style paranoia and fear. But it feels just kind of empty, partly because there’s absolutely zero chemistry of any sort between the stars.
It’s an ensemble piece about a group of disgruntled Londoners. These are all glass-half-full kinds of folks (maybe that’s what comes of living in London?) but they’re driven by some new-agey persuasion that they deserve better. So they try to change their lives, mostly by ditching hopeless and uncooperative partners along the way. In doing so, however, not one of them gets what they want and few of them even get what they need. Actually, in spite of the last part, it sort of reminded me of real life, except with Woody Allen narrating. And since it is in fact a Woody Allen film, it’s quirkily and steadily entertaining enough. Smiley rather than laugh-out-loud. I doubt anyone other than Woody Allen could have gotten this film to the big screen though, or attracted such an all-star cast.
Cleveland Square and the Notting Hill areas were external locations, but London itself also seems like a bit of an unloved spouse here; it’s always present but not much is made of it.
I loved David Cronenberg’s History of Violence, which was widely critiqued as a blistering commentary on all the aggression and brutality behind America’s “have-a-nice-day-now” civility. So I wondered what I’d make of Eastern Promises, Cronenberg’s latest movie, now that he turns his attention to London.
Eastern Promises is set in a place called London Fields, a patch of parkland in the borough of Hackney next to Broadway Market. And Eastern Promises unpacks this for us vividly. As Matthew de Abaitua says in his excellent C4 review: “The new London is captured in all its opulence and decay. Views over London Bridge capture the renovated waterfront. The Russian émigrés are all furs and leather – wealth flaunted without the inhibition of the indigenous bourgeoisie – and there is even a scene set outside a Chelsea game, the football club that became the plaything for oligarchs in exile.”
But the London of Eastern Promises always seems to be viewed from a foreigner’s perspective. Maybe it’s the accents – even Naomi Watts speaks like she was born there(actually, she was). Or maybe that’s the point: this part of the city has been alienated, taken over by courtly, charming Russian gentlemen who order indescribable brutalities from our midst. It’s familiar but no longer quite the same.
The stand-out scene of course is a fight to the death in a Finsbury steam bath, with Viggo Mortensen’s tattooed and inscrutable Nikolai, stark naked against two Chechen mobsters wielding curved blades. Oh yes. Hackney; it’s an entirely different moral univese.