Selma  (2014)    0/100

Rating :   0/100             COMPLETE INCINERATION           128 Min        12A

This film is nothing short of revolting, and is the direct descendant of ‘Argo‘ which set the tone and bad precedent for bastardising history and not only getting away with it, but being rewarded for doing so by winning best film at the Oscars – a feat which ‘Selma’ could technically repeat in a few hours time later this evening, but the fact is the only reason it’s been nominated is because it’s a film about the Civil Rights Movement, not because it is any good and as Dr King quotes in the interview below “I think it was T.S. Eliot who said that ‘there is no greater heresy than to do the right thing for the wrong reason’” (also, note how composed Dr King is compared to the interviewers that surround him in that clip) and as much as this episode in history has long deserved a proper retelling on the silver screen to be promoted and propagated, this is most certainly not it.

As far as The Red Dragon is concerned, Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most awesome human beings to have ever existed, and he is absolutely one of the most influential and important figures of the twentieth century and by extension the modern world. This film centers on the march from the city of Selma in Alabama to the state capital, Montgomery, which took place in 1965 and, occurring when the Civil Rights Movement was already in full swing, was to force the issue of equal voting rights for all people irrespective of colour onto the nationwide agenda. Taking place after the 1963 march to Washington, the Selma series of events would prove to be arguably even more galvanising with the aftershocks quickly swaying the mood of Washington as well as huge swathes of the American public.

Here David Oyelowo plays Dr King and much has been made of his ‘snub’ for best actor at the Oscars, but the truth of the matter is he simply isn’t good enough. At no point does he remind you of Dr King either in mannerism or accent, and if you are familiar with Oyelowo’s previous roles you can see precious little difference between them and this. His first line is ‘It ain’t right’ as he stands in front of the mirror dressing and talking to his out of shot wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo), and you think to yourself, ‘hmm, this just seems a bit off – I can’t imagine the eloquent and extremely well spoken Dr King talking like that’, maybe he did when he wasn’t on camera, but it’s an instant bad start for the film. Oyelowo puts a lot of gusto into his delivery of the speeches but from an acting point of view this is arguably not all that difficult with a crowd of people you know are going to cheer you on.

Treated with a hideous and sickening level of triteness is Coretta herself – here there is not only a suggestion that her husband is sexually jealous because she has briefly spoken with Malcolm X, and indeed it is suggested that the government might be secretly trying to break up their marriage, but at one point she has a go at him for severely stressing her and their family out with the work he is doing. Bollocks. She was utterly supportive and understanding of the movement, eventually even leading it, and she was an extraordinarily strong character in real life. She also had way more right to be angry than most given her entire family were constantly threatened and indeed their home was bombed, this screenplay is quite content to reduce her to a useless device in service of an equally useless plot. During her ‘confrontation’ with Dr King she asks him if he first of all loves her, to which he replies in the affirmative, and then if he ‘loves the others’ – which others? He says no, but it is deliberately vague as to whom she is referring, it could be the kids, it could the people in the movement, but there is a horrible and sinister suggestion that it could be other women, but the film just wants to put that seed out there it doesn’t want to go so far as to accuse the devoutly faithful (he was after all a fully ordained Baptist minister who made sure he visited his congregation as often as he could even while trying to change history) Dr King of playing the field.

All of this leads to the primary cardinal sin of the movie – at one crucial point we watch as Dr King leads, after a previous violent encounter which he wasn’t present at, a sizeable march from Selma, and a wall of police that had been standing in front of them, the same police responsible for the previous violence, suddenly parts down the middle leaving the way open for the marchers. Dr. King stops, kneels on the ground in silent contemplation, or prayer, and then decides to turn the march around and head back to where they came from. Understandably, his supporters are a little confused by this and he simply tells them the equivalent of ‘I had a bad feeling about it’ as if it were a trap and he was concerned about more violence, but the audience share in the feelings of the marchers at having been let down – the way was after all clear and even if it was a trap and the lines of police were waiting to close in, it would have been the pinnacle of King’s strategy as the affair would have been caught on camera for the world to see and after that deed who could not stand with his cause. At this moment there is also a federal injunction against the march, but the movement had deliberated and decided they had a duty to march despite the temporary ruling. Point is, this critical event didn’t happen this way. Let’s see what Dr King himself has to say about the matter …

“I held on to my decision to march despite the fact that many people in the line were concerned about breaking the court injunction issued by one of the strongest and best judges in the South. I felt that we had to march at least to the point where the troopers had brutalized the people, even if it meant a recurrence of violence, arrest, or even death. As a nonviolent leader, I could not advocate breaking through a human wall set up by the policemen. While we desperately desired to proceed to Montgomery, we knew before we started our march that this human wall set up on Pettus Bridge would make it impossible for us to go beyond it. It was not that we didn’t intend to go on to Montgomery, but that, in consideration of our commitment to nonviolent action, we knew we could not go under those conditions.

We sought to find a middle course. We marched until we faced the troopers in their solid line shoulder to shoulder across Highway 80. We did not disengage until they made it clear they were going to use force. We disengaged then because we felt we had made our point, we had revealed the continued presence of violence.”

‘The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.’ Edited by Clayborne Carson, chapter 26 ‘Selma’, pages 281-282

In real life, if presented by the invented scenario of the film, Dr King would have continued the march – doing what the imaginary Dr King in the film does could very well have sounded the death knell of the movement, and the decision to do this with the plot breaks the entire spine of the movie. This insanity is continued with the choice of music in the film – at one point a music only version of ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ plays, which can have only negative connotations when played over a film like this, and then crucially, as the people march on one of their attempts to reach Montgomery we hear a version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’ play – let me reproduce some of the lyrics of the song, lyrics that are cut off in the film:

That even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand over your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead.

It’s a song brimming with bitter unforgiving hatred and diametrically opposed to the nonviolent and Christian philosophy of Dr King – a philosophy he learned and adopted after thinking for a long time about both the morally and politically correct way forward for equal civil rights for all people in America, and eventually he came across the achievements of Gandhi and realised nonviolent opposition was the way forward: meaning people fight for their rights but in a nonviolent way, such as with marches and demonstrations etc. to raise public awareness and shame the enemy, especially if they themselves react in a violent manner as had happened at the initial march attempt in Selma.

It’s very telling that at no point in the film is there any actual footage of Dr King, and at the very, very end of the credits there is a note saying the film is not meant to be a documentary, but they are basically hiding the statement and, frankly, no one should be able to make and release films like this about critically important events which sees the filmmakers’ egos supplant and rewrite history in the overt way that this attempts to.

Inherent Vice  (2014)    60/100

Rating :   60/100                                                                     148 Min        15

Paul Thomas Anderson (‘The Master’ 12, ‘There Will Be Blood’ 07, ‘Boogie Nights’ 97) directs and adapts for the big-screen Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel of the same name, about dope addled private investigator Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello in 1970’s Los Angeles who is sent on an abduction case, against the backdrop of a cultural kickback taking aim at the ‘free love’ of the hippy generation. The novel is comedic as well as serious and Anderson’s writing sometimes hits the mark with the comedy but it fails on every other point, neither giving us a realistic or engaging sense of the issues of the day nor making the noir style detective story comprehensible or engaging. Even the actors, Benicio Del Toro especially at one point, look irked by the lack of structure around them and if you are looking for an involving story then you can absolutely forget this.

The director’s skill behind the camera, however, has allowed to him to create a very unique quasi-surrealism, in fact just watching it makes you feel as if you are on drugs which is a singularly impressive feat, if at times an uneasy one. Similarly, sex appeal is littered around the movie but when, at one moment in particular, there is a deliberate attempt to be erotic it falls pretty short of it. Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant as Sportello and he is accompanied by Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Hong Chau, Martin Short, Reese Witherspoon and Joanna Newsom who narrates the story but unfortunately the style of narration adds to the underlying soporific nature of the film and is a major hindrance. Anderson has successfully recreated the same feeling that must have inspired him to adapt the novel in the first place, but failure to properly fire the comedy more often and the complete absence of a decipherable plot leaves the film’s appeal unnecessarily limited.

Big Hero 6  (2014)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     102 Min        PG

The latest Disney animated feature film is set in the near future in the fictional San Fransokyo, an impression of what San Francisco might be like if it were in Japan (unless they have gone all ‘Watchmen’ on the story and Japan won World War II, this is not elaborated on) which has allowed the illustrators to tinker with a more Japanese style of animation for various elements in the film (alas, no easily discernible hentai on display). It’s based on the little known Marvel comic of the same name, which Disney is at liberty to adapt having bought over Marvel some years ago now and in fact there are a number of elements similar to the character of Iron Man which are a little distracting, but again they don’t have to worry about encroaching on copyright. It’s a bit of a departure for Disney in many ways as their productions are often marked by their originality, whereas here it is a fairly familiar superhero set-up, admittedly with extremely finessed graphical work.

Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a young tech aficionado whose parents passed away in a tragic accident. His brother creates a medical robot, Baymax (Scott Adsit), who becomes Hiro’s closest friend and adventuring companion when a mysterious fire not only destroys his world changing microbots he had been working on, but also sadly claims the life of his brother as well. Baymax has a bulky frame but one created largely via an inflatable exterior, thus differing from all other big-screen mechanoids, and he brings much needed light relief to the film as the duo are accidentally flung into investigating what really happened on that fateful day.

On his journey of self discovery Hiro will have to question his own feelings of rage, as well as what role other people should play in his life – the other engineers from his brother’s lab are concerned about his welfare but he initially keeps them at a distance, for example. All of these elements are resolved and delivered in a fairly two dimensional way, but there is action aplenty and it all looks and feels fresh enough to entertain even if it is going to appeal in a grander way to a younger demographic rather than adults. Maya Rudolph, Jamie Chung, Alan Tudyk and James Cromwell (as Professor Callaghan – a reference to Harry Callaghan, aka ‘Dirty’ Harry, San Francisco’s very own urban diplomacy expert) are the most recognisable names in the supporting line-up and, as you might imagine, there are Easter eggs galore to spot throughout the film.

Into the Woods  (2014)    54/100

Rating :   54/100                                                                     125 Min        PG

A musical that is so forced it’s painful. This is the Disney film interpretation of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway show, adapted for the screen by Lapine and directed by Rob Marshall (‘Chicago’ 02, ‘Nine’ 09), which sees several of the Grimms’ fairy tales (specifically Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel; with a random witch, two prince charmings, and the baker and his wife thrown in for structural cement) woven together in the most pointless and dull way imaginable – the baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) have to go ‘into the woods’ to fetch various items for the witch to lift a curse, which is where they will meet everyone else – all of whom are busying themselves with their normal respective stories.

Not much time ever passes between each song and not much variation exists between them either – each registers no differently than someone banging, strumming or blowing repetitively and inarticulately on the instrument of choice for the number whilst someone sings over it in a similarly predictable, and achingly dull, crescendo of ever higher but constantly monotone pitches. In fact, the musicality of the film has as much originality and merit as the script does. Eventually things stop going according to plan and the film becomes a little darker, at the time I was thinking ‘noooooooo! I thought this was about to finish!’, but actually this section (about the last half an hour or so) is way more interesting than the rest of the film, but even this part is a watered down and much weaker version of what happens in the stage show.

Also starring Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp, Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone – who played Gavroche in ‘Les Mis‘, a film which this is clearly trying to ape with its similar production design and cinematography but which in this context doesn’t do the film any favours as it’s way too devoid of light, leaving large sections feeling overly drab and reflective of the somewhat pointless story. Streep is up for a supporting Oscar for this but it’s really not deserved – she has her moments but there are precious few of them and even her main song has a hiccup or two with the recording (for the vast majority of the film the cast were not recorded live, unlike Les Mis). Emily Blunt is significantly better, and at least deservedly got a Golden Globe nomination for her performance, finally losing out to Amy Adams for ‘Big Eyes‘.

Son of a Gun  (2014)    73/100

Rating :   73/100                                                                     108 Min        15

Eminently watchable and oddly enjoyable crime thriller, made so by an extremely strong performance from Ewan McGregor revelling in his role as hardened convict Brendan Lynch who is about to recruit a new member into his gang whilst they serve time together, before attempting to break out and score it big. He is also clearly enjoying being able to bring his natural Scottish accent to the fore for a change, indeed there are moments that harken back to the work in his early career with the likes of ‘Shallow Grave’ (94) and ‘Trainspotting’ (96). It’s an Australian film from writer and director Julius Avery (his first feature film after various shorts), and the new blood in question is played by Brenton Thwaites, with support from Alicia Vikander sporting a fairly ropey Polish accent – both the youngsters are pretty annoying, but this actually aids the film as it feels real for their characters and there is no special attempt to portray them as anything other than themselves, they are not the ‘heroes’ of the piece for example, whilst McGregor vents audience frustration and grounds the film by also losing his rag with them at several key points. Good, gritty fun.

American Sniper  (2014)    76/100

Rating :   76/100                                                                      132 Min       15

Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort has replicated the success of many of its predecessors by finding its way into the Oscars race (best film and best actor for Bradley Cooper), this time around though it has been beleaguered by controversy over its portrayal of both the war in Iraq following nine eleven and also the accuracy of the depiction of real life central character Chris Kyle, the titular American sniper and indeed the most successful one in US history going by his number of kills. I don’t think the naysayers are in this case justified – I fail to see how anyone can view the film as anything other than a very strong statement against war in general, and as for the content and the focus on one side of the conflict, well, there is a pretty big clue in the title as to what one can expect from the plot.

Oddly enough, there is no back story to any of the reputed 255 kills that we see Kyle ratchet up and many of the details to do with individual events are inventions or elaborations, though nothing that doesn’t fit with the setting, and throughout the movie there is a narrative following an enemy sniper which is purely to make the story more engaging, although the sniper himself did exist. These changes work well, the film is genuinely quite exciting in some places – evoking similarities between it and ‘Zero Dark Thirty‘, and the license taken doesn’t interfere with the central concepts of what the condition of war in general is like to fight through and what the lasting effects can be for the combatants (civilians and the wider political context are very much not the focus here). The elements of jingoism are to be utterly expected, we are after all watching men going in to a war zone where their lives are guaranteed to be in jeopardy. Some of the editing is more reminiscent of the kind of way a traditional action film might be put together, but it’s the mere tiniest distraction from the seriousness of the film.

Where the film does fall down, however, is with the role of the ‘weepy moaning wife’ left behind whilst her husband endures hell. Sienna Miller has the rather joyless task of playing the part and although it certainly makes sense that she would be concerned for her husband and want him to stop returning to the war zone, she is just relentless from even before they have had their first date. She is about as stereotyped as they come and bemoaning how terrible soldiers are for potential mates doesn’t apparently stop her from eagerly bedding, tying the knot with and then opening her oven door for them, not to mention then living off their pay check. Nonetheless, this is a well made and powerful film – one that very unusually deliberately invites you to look up more about its central character, and Cooper is great in delivering a performance that one can very easily imagine as typifying the attitudes and experiences of many young American men signing up for the army. He even manages to convey that perhaps Kyle may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed at times, assuming this was deliberate of course ….

Ex Machina  (2015)    73/100

Rating :   73/100                                                                     108 Min        15

A close quarters sci-fi mystery that locks three characters – an A.I. Machine Ava (Alicia Vikander), her/its creator Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and a nerd Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson), all in an isolated modern and luxurious complex in Norway for one week (at least, that is where the location shots were filmed at any rate), where the visiting competition winner Caleb will administer the Turing test in order to determine whether or not Nathan has successfully created an android convincing enough to pass for human (for more on Turing, see ‘The Imitation Game‘). It is slow and some of the delivery is equally drawn out and annoying (mainly from Gleeson) and it does meander for a long time but ultimately the plot delivers a satisfying conclusion via smart mechanics with a few nuggets of intellectual fodder strewn around to chew on (like the brief mention of the theory that we don’t really learn language, we already ‘know’ it and just learn to map words around it, interesting) and insights into the conditions of life and survival which are both understated and yet ubiquitous, rounding off the film nicely.

There’s no real action here, which caused a palpable sense of restlessness in the audience who I think may have been expecting something more akin to the explosions and effects of the likes of ‘I, Robot’ (04) – there were lots of gingerly delves into bags of popcorn throughout the predominantly conversational structure of the film. The acting is good from all three leads, perhaps most of all from Vikander who has less lines than the other two but who never flinches in her ethereal portrayal of Ava, and the screenplay is itself constantly aware of what the audience is likely to guess is going on, immediately introducing that concept in the next conversation and dashing it as a conclusion. A sense of claustrophobia and menace is created in the complex, especially under the frequent power outages, and there was a lot of potential to really turn the screw on that which may have delivered some much needed punch at various points, but nevertheless author (‘The Beach’ 96), screenwriter (’28 Days Later’ 02, ‘Sunshine’ 07, ‘Never Let Me Go’ 10) and first time director Alex Garland has created a polished and clever science fiction drama that stands proudly within a genre fairly overcrowded with A.I.

The title is pronounced ‘ex makuhnuh’ and comes from the phrase ‘deus ex machina’, which literally translates as ‘god from a/the machine’ and is used to term the introduction in fiction of some godly or outlandish solution to a problem, a fudge if you will, referencing plays of old when a statue of a god would be mechanically made to appear on stage and perform whatever service was required of it to save the protagonist’s bacon.

Mortdecai  (2015)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     107 Min        12A

A strange film – it’s not really about anything, it’s just a frivolous romp that follows gentrified art dealer and sometimes spy Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) as he tries to solve a mysterious theft for Her Majesty’s Government, much as he would prefer not to, whilst also attempting to convince his more capable wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) that making love to him with his new moustache won’t make her hurl as she strongly suspects it will, all whilst Ewan McGregor’s MI5 inspector Martland attempts to make his own moves on Paltrow. As far as I can tell, all of this amounts for several good excuses to showcase Paltrow’s ass and deliver what is a very reasonable frothy, albeit pointless, film with Depp revelling in another slightly off the wall character with his own unique posh English accent – and it’s really Depp himself that miraculously prevents the film from not only bombing completely, but actually working on several levels. Don’t expect anything other than nonsense, but it’s fine innocent fun if you are in the mood for that sort of thing – with Paul Bettany and Olivia Munn in support and based on the Mortdecai series of books by Kyril Bonfiglioli, all published in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Wild  (2014)    35/100

Rating :   35/100                                                                     115 Min        15

A film that wavers all over the place as to its own merit, in particular the believability and credibility of the central character Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) who embarks on a solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail that runs up the western mountains of America (on average, 200 km in from the Pacific coast) all the way from the Mexican to the Canadian border. Set in 1995, it is actually based on Strayed’s 2012 memoir ‘Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail’, but the beginning shows us Witherspoon rolling around on the floor in a vain attempt to get off the ground with her pack on, forcing us to sincerely question the premise that she is then going to traverse thousands of kilometres on foot by herself. It’s not only preposterous, but dangerous – every year people are killed going on adventures or hill walking by dire luck but tragically sometimes also thanks to their own poor preparation, and the constant undertow to this film is that she has to suffer a bit but her gutsy determination as a woman is all she needs to conquer all and eventually overturn the darkness of her previous life to go on and be fruitful. In reality, it’s amazing she isn’t bird food after a mere week.

A wonderful moment to sum this up is when A MAN advises her to take extra water with her due to the heat. Seeming to take offence at this guy’s arrogance in assuming she doesn’t have a clue she ignores him, and then thinks ‘fuck it’ as she’s walking and needlessly downs her remaining water – sloshing the last of it over her face and hair for no real reason, before realising the tank to get a refill is empty. It is completely impossible to feel sorry for her. At this moment she meets two men one of whom will, naturally since he’s male, suggest he is going to try and rape her, and is only prevented from doing so by the chance return of his mate.

Although it is of course possible the event occurred exactly like this, it also fits the whole sinister agenda throughout the film (the film is directed and written by men I should point out – Jean-Marc Vallée and Nick Hornby respectively), if she had been raped here it would have been a terrible advertisement for walking the P.C.T. but merely suggesting it avoids this whilst adding drama and showing that most men are pigs, and yet she seems more than happy to spread her legs for anyone whom she likes the look of or who is willing to offer her drugs. Indeed, if she isn’t banging them, then they are trying to sexually molest her – even her father is shown to be a villain in flashback by putting his fist up to her face as a child and asking if she wants ‘a knuckle sandwich’ – and that’s it, that is the complete summation of his character, with no mention whatsoever of the stepfather she then had for many years including during the period that her mother (played by Laura Dern) was sick, and it seems they even changed her lung cancer to spinal, no doubt in an effort to make it seem ‘so unfair’ when possibly her mother was a heavy smoker (could be she wasn’t a smoker of course, but then why else change it).

In fact, the film begins to redeem itself a little when we see, during several more fast cut and reasonably irritating flashback sequences, that she was until recently a junkie, albeit one who never really seems to have any withdrawal symptoms, and we think ‘ah, OK, she is an idiot, that explains and justifies her borderline suicidal adventure’, but then it flips things once more, by showing us she simply went off the rails for a while, slutting herself around town and doing heroin in response to her mother passing away, all behind the back of her loving husband. Regarding her travelling escapade she at one point remarks ‘well, it’s more difficult for us women as we have children and parents to look after’ – erm, what?? I have to offer the disclaimer that feminism has had many great and important triumphs for the equality of the sexes, but there is an ever growing strong and nasty postmodern element that has evolved and which seems to grant women equal status in all things with the one hand, and then with the other it absolves women from responsibility for their own actions – indeed, it was recently announced on the BBC that there are plans in the works for no less than fifty percent of female prisoners in the UK to be released, because …. they’re female!!!

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – if they have come up with a better, more progressive system than imprisonment to rehabilitate offenders then great, but it should damn well be applied to men and women for Christ’s sake, and this film buys in to that whole sexist garbage by showing the central character wonder, as she begins to resuscitate her life, that maybe all the random sex and drugs and all the pain she caused her friends and family was perhaps in the end a good thing because it led her to where she is now – the complete and utter avoidance of any accountability for her actions. That’s like saying the Holocaust and the Second World War was a good thing because we got lots of new technology and the United Nations out of it. Witherspoon is good in the role for what it is, and she’s been nominated at the Academy Awards but I really hope she doesn’t get the Oscar, you can’t avoid the feeling that it’s due to who she is and a ‘triumphant leading female role’ – which when you look at in detail it really isn’t, although she does get her tits out a few times and the Academy does seem to love that.

It’s also true to say that without the seemingly uncredited help of several males in the film Cheryl would have perished many times over – including before the trek as it’s her then poor husband, who could easily have been riddled by all manner of venereal disease by this point, that forcibly rescues her from the drug dens she was frequenting. It wouldn’t be in the least surprising if she gave him a hard time about it for ‘interfering’, or ‘not wanting her to have a good time’ – reportedly Witherspoon’s production company Pacific Standard optioned this for film months before the book was even published, perhaps suggesting familiarity with Strayed’s writing or, rather more cynically, opportunism for the kind of story that can easily be spun into awards bait in a market that rarely stops to question the validity of anything with a ‘strong female lead’. Maybe the real story is an inspiring and fascinating one, but the Devil is in the detail and decent acting and cinematography are not enough to mask the many faults in this overtly pernicious adaptation.

A Most Violent Year  (2014)    74/100

Rating :   74/100                                                                     125 Min        15

Given the title, this is not nearly as violent as one might expect (it is still violent, but predominantly in an atmospheric way rather than a graphic one). Even more surprisingly, there is a whopping amount of philosophy in this – really good thought provoking philosophy as well which slightly goes against the grain for mainstream crime dramas on the big-screen. The plot revolves around Oscar Isaac’s Abel Morales, who runs a fuel delivery company in NYC in the early eighties and whose rivals would dearly love to see him out of business. He and his family are threatened, his drivers are assaulted, his shipments are stolen, and the authorities are investigating him and his company for alleged dodgy practices, but he attempts to stoically remain true to his guiding principles – refusing to arm his employees, for example, looking two steps ahead at the potential consequences and teaching them that the men who attack them with weapons are nothing more than cowards for doing so.

Those around him, however, including Jessica Chastain as his wife and Albert Brooks as his business partner, are not so keen on philosophy when the going gets tough. Written and directed by J. C. Chandor (‘All is Lost’ 13, ‘Margin Call’ 11) it’s a strong performance from Chastain and a really great turn from Isaac, who utterly convinces and gains our sympathy bar a brief moment with his wife that almost doesn’t ring true, and this is a movie that may survive and even merit more than one viewing despite its slightly difficult and grim premise. One plot point involving a salesman working for Abel ultimately feels a little loose, but it’s a small niggle and one easy to forget about in an otherwise great film.