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A Gang Story: Crime Thriller à la Française
Gang Story, or by its far less generic original name, Les Lyonnais, is about (surprise) a gang leader by the name of Momon - and what an upstanding, righteous citizen he is. You know, apart from the whole plundering, thieving and murdering aspect of his career that is. His reckless best friend, Serge, who he hasn’t seen for over a decade but feels a sense of loyalty to nonetheless, owes money to some people and is currently in the slammer surrounded by the guy he ripped off’s henchmen. Momon, perfect friend that he is, breaks him out, jeopardizing his relationship with his family in the process and incurring the wrath of both Serge’s enemies and the police force alike.
The film goes back and forth between the present day, in which Serge and Momon are both grandfathers, and their heyday in the seventies when they were active as a gang and near inseparable. In his younger iteration, Momon’s a short, scrawny dude with wavy hair. As a sixty year old however, he suddenly morphs into this powerfully built guy with a completely different hairline and hair that is, for some reason, now straight. You wouldn’t even peg them as family let alone the same person. Anyway, that's the least of our issues as far as Momon is concerned. As a main character, he completely lacks nuance. We're expected to root for him simply because the guy's intensely loyal and keeps his promises. These are wonderful attributes but not when we're being constantly urged to overlook his less savoury aspects and treat him like some sort of model citizen. This may be a by-product of the fact that the film is based on a true story and real life Momon is alive and kicking. Either way, he comes across as a perfect bore and his buddy Serge is an asshole, leaving us with a total of zero interesting characters.
The rest of the film is pretty entertaining, if virtually indistinguishable from your average American thriller. The one thing that makes it stand out slightly is that Momon grew up in a gypsy camp and was discriminated against by French law enforcement due to his background. This social slant gives the film a bit of depth and gives Momon a bit of context for his actions. Other than that, you get your usual car chases, shootouts and interrogations. The film as a whole is decently entertaining, yet with its lack of awards, buzz, or stars recognisable to an Egyptian audience, it remains a baffling choice to screen here commercially.
Those going in expecting an action-packed sci-fi adventure, complete with explosions, flying space-ship battles and a full-on war between humans and their extraterrestrial visitors, will be severely disappointed with Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. Taking on a more philosophical approach to things, Arrival is an intelligent and a thought-provoking alien-invasion thriller which revels in its own complexity and manages strike all of the right chords, but for a few missteps.
Based on Ted Chiang’s short story titled Story of your Life, the film begins with the arrival of twelve mysterious alien spacecrafts which position themselves at twelve different locations around the globe, igniting fear and paranoia amongst the residents of Earth.
Recruited by Colonel Weber (Whittaker), linguist Louise Banks (Adams) – along with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Renner) – is brought to Montana to help deal with the possible threat by making contact with the aliens in order find out who they are and what their intentions may be.
However, establishing communication with the visitors is not as easy as one would have hoped with Louise soon discovering that the aliens have their own language which uses symbols to communicate. Deciphering their tongue into a language they can understand is no easy task and with the threat of a global war between humans and aliens on the verge of a breakout, Louise must work hard to suppress her own personal demons in order to get the breakthrough she, and everyone else on the planet, needs.
Following his success with a character-driven drama like Prisoners and intense drug-thriller, Sicario, Villeneuve turns to sci-fi this time and manages to deliver yet another impressive – and by far the most ambitious – piece of work. Tackling some rather big questions about life, time and what makes us human, the script - written by Eric Heisserer - works as both a character-focused drama and a sweeping sci-fi adventure. Drenched in an enigmatic aura of the unknown, the pacing is slow and purposeful with Villeneuve unraveling the story’s mysteries steadily but thoroughly, keeping the tension and momentum high, while composer Johann Johansson’s original score, infuses the story with plenty of atmosphere and mood.
Delivering yet another powerful performance, it’s not a stretch to say that Amy Adams is the true star of the show; embracing her character’s strength and vulnerability with plenty of presence and grace, Adams delivers on all fronts, while Renner, although not used as much, is quietly effective.
All in all, Arrival is a winner and although it does struggle a little bit with trying not getting too lost in its own complex ideas, it’s one of the most thought-provoking, touching and moving sci-fi films you will see this year.
On the surface, Robert Zemecki’s slick and a technically pristine WWII-set romantic-espionage-thriller looks like a winner. Boasting an impressive cast and a script by Peaky Blinders’ Steven Knight, everything about Allied points to success. However, although visually striking and overall satisfying in terms of action, it’s the film’s central story - the romantic pairing between Mr. Pitt and Ms. Cotillard – fails to ever really get going, leaving the film a little hollow and difficult to invest in.
Set in 1942, the story begins with the introduction of Canadian intelligence officer, Max Vatan (Pitt), who finds himself on a mission in Morocco with French Resistance fighter, Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard), who is to play the role of his wife during a covert operation that involves assassinating a high-ranking Nazi official. After successfully carrying out their assignment, the pair’s pretend relationship soon turns into the real thing with the duo soon marrying and welcoming a baby girl into the world, as they settle in war-torn Britain.
However, things are soon turned upside down for Max when he is informed by his by-the-books boss, Frank Heslop (Mad Men’s Jared Harris), that Marianne is currently under investigation and that she, in fact, may be a Nazi spy. Given seventy-two hours to prove her innocence before he will need to kill her, Max soon sets out on his own investigation.
Aesthetically, the film embraces an old-Hollywood approach, with a certain sense of nostalgic glamour and elegance present through the minutes. Told through a wonderfully slick lens frequent Zemeckis collaborator, cinematographer Don Burgess, there's a certain style and sophistication to every single frame. But while the film is pleasing to the eye and Steven Knight’s script boasts plenty of moments of suspense and intrigue, there‘s a serious lack of heart missing from the story, which turns the more passionate moments into melodrama.
In addition, the romance between the two leads is never really sold. Both Pitt and Cotillard definitely look the part and when they are not onscreen together, their performances are affective. However, it’s when they share the screen and viewers are asked to buy into their love story that it all goes south. Allied is a functional and an effective WWII spy thriller. It’s just not as captivating or engaging of a romance-drama that it sells itself to be.