Film Review: ‘Dark Waters’ ★★★★★

Direction: Todd Haynes
Screenplay: Mario Correa, Matthew Michael Carnahan, Nathaniel Rich
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp
Victor Garber, Bill Pullman
Length: 126 minutes
Rating: 12A

A David v Goliath story that concerns all of us. Watch and learn.

On November 19, 2018, BBC Four broadcast an international documentary under its Storyville strand called ‘Poisoning America: The Devil We Know’. As horrifying as it was infuriating, this film burned itself into my memory due to its exposure of deliberate contamination and abhorrent exploitation by the financially blinded controllers of the DuPont chemical corporation against its own workforce, the state and the country. Not content with knowingly poisoning America, however, DuPont has poisoned every living creature on the planet. ‘Dark Waters’ dramatizes this frightening story to excellent effect.

Robert Billot (Ruffalo) is a corporate defence attorney for chemical companies. Adapted from the 2016 New York Times article ‘The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare’, he enters the story in 1998 Cincinnati where he is approached by farmer Wilbur Tennant (Camp) whose livestock has been almost annihilated. While gesturing to the cow graveyard that was once his farmland, Tennant informs Billot at the scene of the crime that he has lost 190 cows before shooting another twice in the head as it charges them both uncontrollably. 191.

We follow one man as he takes on an empire and its structure in an attempt to break through the silence and subterfuge. If you think exposing the secrets of a corporation you once used to defend would be easy, think again. If DuPont thought that an information dump of thousands of paper files would be enough to put him off, they were wrong. Indeed, the cardboard boxes containing these files fill an entire room at the law firm, evoking the maze of Area 51 as featured in the first and fourth Indiana Jones films. A room with no view.

Mark Ruffalo as Mark Billot and Bill Camp as Wilbur Tennant – © 2020 Focus Features. A Comcast Company.

What Billot discovers is actually unbelievable. According to DuPont themselves, PFOA-C8 is an unregulated forever chemical that the body can’t break down so it can’t leave the bloodstream allowing it to accumulate over time. It causes cancer in people and animals and birth defects in babies, including those of the women that worked there. The chemical is used in the manufacture of Teflon, used on non-stick pans. DuPont conducted experiments on people and animals without their knowledge and all developed cancer, and the corporation disposed of hundreds of gallons of toxic waste upriver from Tennant’s farm.

At one point in ‘Dark Waters’, we learn that complainants have only one year to file suit after learning their water supply has been contaminated. DuPont dispatched letters to West Virginia informing residents that while the water wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t life-threatening 11 months ago, leaving Billot and his colleagues only one month to act. In a scene of striking resemblance, we learn the exact same information from the 2000 film ‘Erin Brockovich’ in which Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) was to blame, exhibiting proof that this evil manipulation of lives is still occurring at the highest level of business two decades on.

Assuredly directed by Todd Haynes, ‘Dark Waters’ is a cerebral exploration that unfolds in chronological order over 40 years. Slow pacing and a limited character count keep this story leisurely and focused, allowing us to process the events taking place. Unsurprisingly, we are confronted with a capitalist culture of greed; profits at all costs with complete disrespect for humanity and the environment. What is surprising is the unfathomable scale of these high crimes and misdemeanours at a corporation which in the very act of poisoning others, would also be poisoning themselves.

Anne Hathaway as Sarah Billot – © 2020 Focus Features. A Comcast Company.

The most impressive (nay, inspiring) aspect is the dedication and resilience of Billot as he relentlessly and restlessly battles Donnelly and Tom Terp (Robbins) at the corporation and the firm respectively. In fact, the stress of such work on his marriage and finances inflicts a minor stroke, landing him in hospital. With the support of his wife Sarah (Hathaway) he continues. It was only five years ago that DuPont finally settled the class action lawsuit for $671million, but only after they attempted to default on their agreement to compensate victims, forcing Billot to fight each case against them one by one. After the first three victims were awarded over $1million each, DuPont reconsidered.

Anchored by Ruffalo (also producer), Camp and Hathaway, all of whom deliver fine performances, ‘Dark Waters’ benefits immensely from its composer Marcelo Zarvos and cinematographer Edward Lachman. Light country music while driving cross-country is interspersed with dark war horns in the multi-storey car park, the de facto location for general foreboding while uncovering conspiracies. In contrast to ‘Erin Brockovich’ with its warm summer tones, the winter setting of ‘Dark Waters’ makes the already bleak subject matter even bleaker creating an atmosphere of near-constant cold monotone that David Fincher would be proud of. So cold. Just like hard cash.

‘Dark Waters’ is in cinemas now.

Film Review: ‘Greed’ ★★★

Direction: Michael Winterbottom
Screenplay: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher, Shirley Henderson
Length: 104 minutes
Rating: R

Actor Steve Coogan as Sir Michael McCreadie, the English Malcolm Tucker, in ‘Greed’ | © Channel Four Television Corporation 2020

Satire sowing the rise and fall of a high street fashion gladiator. Remind you of anyone?

Sir Richard McCreadie (Coogan) is a fashion magnate preparing to host his 60th birthday on the Greek island of Mykonos, complete with Gladiator style dress robes, wooden colosseum and lions (no, really). He is a disrespectful monster, humiliating his subordinates and superiors alike, yet all the while being thoroughly entertaining. Any normal person would run for the hills but the problem is he is a billionaire, so people are willing to ignore his explosive verbal diarrhoea for reasons I actually can’t identify.

Why do people put up with such assault, I wonder? Nobody he abuses appears to be very well paid yet celebrities are falling over themselves to work with him. Is it the proximity to success or chance of career advancement? It can’t be the money as he doesn’t appear to be the sharing type.

Flashbacks of his childhood and education at a private school provide us with enough understanding of his development of a thick skin and abrasive attitude even if we don’t necessarily sympathise. From gambling with, or rather against, his fellow students at home to bartering with tuk-tuk drivers abroad, his undivided ambition to make money regardless of failure, which happened several times, warrants some form of admiration. His methods, however, are not warranted in any fashion, even when achieving success.

McCreadie exhibits all the grandiose characteristics of a mafia godfather rather than the oily boss of a clothing empire but that doesn’t mean his reign is any less bloody. His dressing up as a gladiator only adds to the deranged emperor image he wants to dissipate. Despite a fire claiming the lives of the exploited workers (arguably slaves) in the supply factories that feed the low-cost fashion economy, he carries on taunting the refugees on the beach below his sprawling complex.

Steve Coogan is excellent as McCreadie, a man whose life is as artificial as his self-importance, as is Shirley Henderson who almost steals the show as Margaret McCreadie, Richard’s Irish megalomaniac mother. Wonder who he gets it from? Wonder no more.

David Mitchell is equally as good as McCreadie’s biographer whose interviews with those who encountered McCreadie at various points in his life serve as the backbone of ‘Greed’. We get a crash course in tax avoidance in the middle and the shocking facts of fast fashion at the end of the film.

Essentially, McCreadie is the English Malcolm Tucker. Although both are manipulative and enthralling, Tucker operates in the shadows while McCreadie exists in the spotlight. His charismatic but superficial public image, exploitation of low-paid foreign workers and corruption of financial accounts for personal gain scream of one individual in particular. His overconfidence merging into egomaniacal fantasy, sneering behaviour at a parliamentary inquiry and suggestions by those parliamentarians to remove his knighthood are a wealth of evidence to suggest McCreadie is based, at least in part, on one person.

It would have been more satisfying if the fallout from the twist in the tale and the publication of McCreadie’s biography were fleshed out more, however, neither of these would feature McCreadie prominently, only of the reaction of others, so their omission is somewhat understandable. As it stands, the denouement leaves more questions than answers and more complexity than certainty. Perhaps symbolic of the unpredictability of the emperor and his countless new clothes.

‘Greed’ is in cinemas now.

Arts and Culture quiz of the week!

“It’s an honest portrayal of Scottish people ” – Our Ladies director speaks to EN4 News

Stop what you’re doing, grab your girlies and get ready to be hit by a wave of nostalgia.

For the first time in forever, there is a film based in Scotland, about Scottish culture that isn’t “Trainspotting”… no, it’s not “Trainspotting 2” either.

Broxburn born film director, Michael Caton-Jones, has stepped out of Hollywood film-making to step back into the culture he is more than familiar with and presents us with “Our Ladies”.

Based on Alan Warner’s novel “The Sopranos”, set in the year 1996, “Our Ladies” follows a group of Catholic schoolgirls from the Scottish Highlands who go on a trip to Edinburgh for a choir competition.

Focusing less on singing and more on boys and booze, the film is a coming-of-age for these six young Scottish ladies.

Credit: Sigma Films

Speaking exclusively to EN4News, Caton-Jones said that he felt he was the only one who could do it justice: “It was the first time I had ever read anything that was accurate and honest about the way I had grown up and I felt at that time. There weren’t many directors with my background.”

He first secured the rights to adapt Warner’s book 20 years ago as what was initially going to be a side project.

It has taken the director years to find financial backing to be able to make the film, with many places not getting the hype about a female-led film until recently.

“I found other people’s perceptions [of the characters] the strangest thing. ‘Oh, you can’t let them behave like that!’ Well, how can’t you?

“I remember my big sister and her pals, I thought they were great fun. I grew up in Scotland, with Scottish women and I don’t find them wallflowers, I find them equals.”

The actresses in the film are largely unknown.

Eve Austin, Tallulah Greive, Abigail Lawrie, Rona Morison, Marli Sui and Sally Messham star in the film and each have roots here in Scotland.

“What I was trying to do was make an honest portrayal of the way people are” (Credit: Sigma Films)

The director told EN4 News that he didn’t feel he could stuff this film full of recognisable faces: “The advantages of having a cast that nobody recognises is that it looks like a completely fresh view of the world, because you’re delighted that you’re finding these people and believing them.”

This is not the first time Caton-Jones has picked an undiscovered actor for a role.

In 1993, he cast the little-known Leonardo DiCaprio in his first film, “This Boy’s Life” and was thanked by DiCaprio in his Oscar acceptance speech for giving him his first role.

As someone who comes from “a very working-class background”, the film-maker feels it can be difficult to get opportunities, especially here in Scotland.

“I find there is a lot of talent in Scotland, but I don’t feel that there are a lot of ways of channelling that.

“I’m a nice working-class boy, and very few of them come through in the film industry.”

As a coming-of-age film, set and filmed entirely in Scotland, “Our Ladies” is one of the first of its kind in the film industry.

It has been hailed as a “must-see” by leading British film magazine, Sight and Sound, after its world premiere in London last year.

It is due to make its Scottish debut at Glasgow Film Festival at the end of this month.

“What I was trying to do was make an honest portrayal of the way people are and the way they behave and because I’m Scottish, I know these people intimately,” he said, “The things that happen to these girls could happen to anybody, anywhere in the world and it’s the universality of that that you’re trying to create.”

“Our Ladies” will be released across the UK on March 6 this year.

Film Review: ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ ★★★★

Direction: Marielle Heller
Screenplay: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster
Cast: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper, Christine Lahti
Length: 109 minutes
Rating: PG

Enchanting and surprising.  A golden adventure.

Using the 1998 Esquire article “Can You Say…Hero?” by Tom Junod as inspiration, this film follows witty yet cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Rhys), as he is tasked with writing a profile on television personality Fred Rogers (Hanks) and how this friendship will change the course of his life. For those unaware, Rogers was an American national treasure who presented the widely adored children’s series ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ for over thirty years. Overjoyed reactions from Oprah Winfrey and Arsenio Hall to his mere presence says it all.

Much like the medium of television, Rogers’ life and work is an interesting conundrum of both authenticity and artificiality. While the miniature town and city sets and puppets on the programme are toys by design, the host and the home from which he presents are life-size, also by choice.

For a person of such purity, Rogers is not a character as Vogel presumes but also not a saint as Rogers’ wife points out. He has, and wants, to work at it. Rogers is a just a man who believes in recapturing the imagination of childhood in adulthood and delivering that message to each demographic on-screen and off. Vogel finds this genuineness difficult to believe, setting the stage for a meeting of opposing minds but eventually kindred spirits. This is the story of how that happens.

For his supporting performance as Fred Rogers, Tom Hanks received Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations | © 2019 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and Tencent Pictures (USA) LLC. All Rights Reserved

Originally filmed with live musicians at WQED Studios in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ has been wonderfully reenacted in standard definition picture format and aspect ratio to contrast the real world going on away from the camera lens. Much like the format of Rogers’ show, the film unfolds as a children’s story covering challenging adult themes, introduced and concluded by Hanks’ Rogers.

A film of this sweetness and delicacy necessitates that we suspend our disbelief and befriend our imagination once more. My advice is to watch with the soft embrace of Rogers and not the hard scepticism of Vogel, despite those qualities required of their respective work. Resistance is futile.

As it turns out, adults need Rogers as much as children do. As adults, we are trained to resist childish play, but playing brings us closer to our humanity. Playing as children was often the time when we were happiest and holding on to that ability to play may help us find fulfilment as adults. Rogers reminds us of this.

On the set of ‘Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood’ Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, based on journalist Tom Junod who wrote Can You Say…”Hero?” after meeting Fred Rogers | © 2019 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and Tencent Pictures (USA) LLC. All Rights Reserved

Similar to the end credits of ‘Saving Mr Banks’, where Hanks embodies Walt Disney, another American icon beloved by children, we are granted access to the original recordings of Rogers at work in archive footage of an episode of the children’s television programme. A nice touch. While Hanks played the supporting role in both films and shamefully wasn’t nominated for any major awards for ‘Saving Mr Banks’, after almost two decades he has received his sixth Oscar nomination for ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’. Another nice touch.

Both films dramatise the interactions between lesser-known writers and high-profile figures with the life of the former very much in the spotlight. With the scandalous exemption of an Oscar nomination, Emma Thompson’s dominating performance as Mary Poppins‘ author P. L. Travers in ‘Saving Mr Banks’ was the focus of most awards season attention however, this time, Matthew Rhys’ subtle turn as Esquire magazine journalist in ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ has been largely overlooked. An overly crowded leading category race, perhaps? Who can say for sure?

At one moment, Hanks’ Rogers breaks the fourth wall. Not with a weapon of course, but by staring down the camera lens at the film’s audience just as he does to the audience of children on his television programme. At the end of one episode, he says: “I like you just the way you are.” We need to say these words out loud to ourselves more often than we do. Or at least have somebody like Rogers who can do it for us. Of that I can say for sure.

‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ is in cinemas now.
★★★★

Film Review: ‘1917’ ★★★★★

A war drama of extraordinary technical and emotional achievement.

Often the simplest plots are the best for epic staging. Two young British soldiers, Lance (George MacKay) and Tom (Dean-Charles Chapman) have been charged by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) with preventing the planned attack by the 2nd Battalion of Devonshire Regiment who mistakenly believe the Germans are in full retreat but are actually tactically withdrawing. With field telephone lines cut, they must deliver the message by hand to save the lives of 1,600 men before the attack the following day.

A treacherous descent into destruction develops as the protagonists move cautiously through a maze of death. Like the soldiers, we’re held in a ubiquitous state of tension, by both the leading characters’ progress and the cerebral writhing of Thomas Newman’s score.

With each challenge Schofield and Blake surpass, the further they journey from relative safety adding to the sense of foreboding. Louder and softer the music groans, evoking the sound of far off shelling, and the image that while all is quiet here and now, it is only temporary as battles are raging somewhere and death is never far away.

Lance Corporals Will Schofield (MacKay) and Tom Blake (Chapman) make their way through the barbed wire of No Man’s Land in ‘1917’ | © 2020 Universal Pictures

Step by step, the characters walk the story through dangerously cramped trenches, hazardous underground tunnels and battle-scarred farmland. Completely isolated, in fear of their lives and only each other for survival, Schofield and Blake still press on. One wrong move could be their last. Just one story of true heroism representative of so many that fought, died and survived an unimaginable existence. The tragedy of war is inescapable. But life goes on.

An entire world has been created in ‘1917’. What unfolds before us is a miraculous combination of forensic planning in screenwriting and production. And the meticulous precision of acting and directing in order to execute what is essentially a cinematic play staged on location in real time but that never feels staged for effect. One-shot filming requires a faultless performance from cast and crew and all should be commended for the distinctive qualities this gives the film.

Schofield (MacKay) hauls himself out of a river of bodies to deliver a message that will spare 1,600 lives | © 2020 Universal Pictures

Violent sequences alternate with moments of great beauty. Death and life intertwine. Crossing the broken bridge, escaping the bombed town and running through open battle are all stand-out set-pieces. While Mark Strong, Andrew Scott and Benedict Cumberbatch add gravitas to pivotal moments, Claire Duburcq and Richard Madden provide sensitive relief. And then there’s George MacKay. Despite enduring such mental and physical extremities that are truly unbelievable in order to make this film as great as it is, he has infuriatingly been left out of the Best Actor categories this awards season. Thankfully, the film as a whole has not.

Winner of two Golden Globes (Best Director and Motion Picture – Drama) from three nominations, ‘1917’ has also been nominated for nine BAFTAs, including Best Film, and ten Oscars, including Best Picture. While Sam Mendes won Best Director at the Critics’ Choice Awards (in a tie with Bong Joon-Ho for ‘Parasite’), one of its three wins from eight nominations, ‘Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood’ won Best Picture.

An almighty gamble has paid off and the one-shot wonder of ‘1917’ should be handsomely rewarded as an iconic cinematic accomplishment alone. It deserves to be experienced on the big screen and will stay with you long after you leave the cinema. As the lone tree stands tall at the denouement of the film, so can the filmmakers.

‘1917’ is in cinemas now.
★★★★★

 

Billie Eilish shakes (and stirs) Bond fans

Tracks of the week reviewed: Selena Gomez, Shimmer, Soccer Mommy and The 1975

Top 8 female directors

bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director in 2009. (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Yet again there was an absence of female directors in this year’s major awards ceremonies nominations. Apart from Kathryn Bigelow’s 2009 Academy Award Best Director win for her film, The Hurt Locker, female directors have largely been neglected from the best director category at the Oscars as well as the BAFTAs.

Despite this, there is an abundance of talented creative women who should be known and appreciated for their contributions to the world of film. So, just in time for International Women’s Day, here’s a list of 10 fantastic female directors.

1) Lynne Ramsey

'You Were Never Really Here' premiere, BFI London Film Festival, UK - 14 Oct 2017

Lynne Ramsey’s latest film You Were Never Really Here starred Joaquin Phoenix in the leading role. (Credit: Pete Summers)

Scottish-born director, cinematographer, writer and producer, Lynne Ramsey, won the Cannes Jury Prize for her first short film Small Deaths and since then has gone on to direct, write and produce a number of successful films. We Need to Talk About Kevin, released in 2011, starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller was met with positive reviews and was nominated for a number of awards including a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. Most recently Ramsey wrote, directed and produced psychological thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here. The film won best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017.

 

2) Ava DuVernay

Before diving into the world of film, Ava DuVernay was involved in journalism and PR, working for 20th Century Fox, but ended up creating her own PR agency, The DuVernay Agency. But since 2005, after she made her first film Saturday Night Life, DuVernay has been involved in the production of films, television, music videos and advertising. In 2014, she directed Selma, a film based on the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965 led by Martin Luther King Jr. The film was nominated for best picture at the Oscars but DuVernay missed out on a best director nomination. Most recently, DuVernay is set to direct a New Gods adaptation for the DC Extended Universe.

 

3) Jennifer Kent

babdook

Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook terrified audiences in 2014. (Credit: Indiewire)

Starting her career as an actress, Jennifer Kent starred in a number of Australian-based television series before becoming an acting teacher at the Australian Film Television and Radio School. But it was in 2014 that she wrote and made her directorial debut making one of the most memorable horror films of the 21st century, The Babadook. Following the story of a mother and son in turmoil as they are haunted by a disturbing presence in their home, The Babadook received rave reviews from critics and won a number of awards including best horror at the 20th Empire Awards.

 

4) Karyn Kusama

After working on documentary films following her graduation from New York University, Karyn Kusama directed her first feature film, Girlfight, starring Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar, Widows) and released it in 2000. The film received a series of awards including the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Since then, Kusama directed the cult classic comedy horror film Jenifer’s Body in 2009 and in 2015 directed the well-received psychological thriller, The Invitation. Now available on Netflix, The Invitation follows a number of couples at a dinner party gone wrong.

 

5) Valerie Faris

little miss sunshine

The dysfunctional Hoover family captured the hearts of audiences in Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s Little Miss Sunshine. (Credit: Eric Lee/Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Teamed up with her husband, Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris has won six MTV Music Video Awards while directing music videos for The Smashing Pumpkins, R.E.M. and Oasis just to name a few. However, the pair made their feature film directorial debut in 2006 with the highly successful, Little Miss Sunshine, which one two BAFTAs and two Oscars. The film starred big names including Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell and Alan Arkin and followed the Hoover family as they took a road-trip to watch Olive (Abigail Breslin), compete in the ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ beauty pageant. Faris is currently working on Living With Yourself, a comedy series starring Paul Rudd set to be released on Netflix in the next year.

 

6) Catherine Hardwicke

It wouldn’t be a proper list of great female directors without the woman responsible for the first movie in the Twilight Saga. Love it or hate it, based on the novel by Stephanie Meyer, Twilight made $35.7 million in the US on its opening day and at the time, the film’s opening weekend gross was the most ever made by a film directed by a women. Twilight aside, Catherine Hardwicke also directed The Nativity Story (2006), Red Riding Hood (2011) and most recently Miss Bala (2019).

 

7) Mary Harron

American-Cover

Christian Bale starred as Patrick Bateman in Marry Harron’s American Psycho. (Credit: Culturised)

Starting out as a music journalist writing for Punk magazine, Mary Harron also wrote for The Guardian and The Observer before directing a number of documentaries for the BBC. Following her directorial debut I Shot Andy Warhol, Harron went on to direct American Psycho in the year 2000, based on the book by Brett Easton Ellis. The black-comedy starred Christian Bale in the leading role as the infamous Patrick Bateman, alongside Willem Defoe, Jared Leto, Justin Theroux and Reese Witherspoon. Harron has also directed numerous TV series including the 2017 Netflix miniseries, Alias Grace. 

 

8) Kathryn Bigelow

Becoming the first woman ever to win the Academy Award for Best Director in 2009 for her 2008 film, The Hurt Locker. Bigelow’s first feature directorial debut was The Loveless (1981), a biker drama starring Willem Defoe in the leading role. Since then, Kathryn Bigelow has directed and written a number of successful movies including the 2017 film Detroit, which stars John Boyega, Will Poulter and Algee Smith, just to name a few.

 

You can check out our favourite female film characters podcast here.

 

Podcast: Our favourite female characters

In this podcast, Liam Mackay, Bryce Arthur, Jade du Preez and Olivia Hill discuss their favourite favourite female characters in film.

You can also check out our movie and TV news round-up here!

Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s directorial debut brings us the inspiring story of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Written, directed by and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and based on the memoir of the same name, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind tells the true story of a young boy and his fight to save his village from a devastating famine.

Set in the early 2000s in Malawi, we meet William Kamkwamba (Maxwell Simba), a young boy living with his family near the rural village of Wimbe. The Kamkwambas are a family of farmers and it’s clear from the start that times are hard. William’s father, Trywell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) works tirelessly in the fields each day and the family are struggling to pay William’s school fees. However, things take a turn for the worse when the village crops fail due to a horrendous drought. Many are forced to leave to avoid starvation, and the Kamkwambas are left desperate after they are robbed of their remaining grain stores.

Although William gets banned from school because his parents have been unable to pay the sufficient fees, he persuades his science teacher (who is interested in William’s sister) to allow him access to the school library. Towards the beginning of the film, we learn that William runs a small business fixing radios for people in his village and has a keen interest in electronics, but it’s at the library he learns about energy and wind power. After reading in the library and rummaging in the local scrap yard, he soon becomes convinced that he can save his village from hunger by building a windmill to help power a water pump to support the crops.

The boy who harnessed the wind 2

Maxwell Simba plays William Kamkwamba in new Netflix release, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. (Credit: Netflix)

The film is a fantastic directorial debut from Chiwetel Ejiofor. It is visually stunning and succeeds in immersing the audience into the lives of the struggling Wimbe villagers. Ejiofor’s performance as William’s father is just as impressive. Although he has nasty traits, his facial expressions and the emotion in his eyes helps the audience connect with the character. You grow to care about Trywell and understand he is under a tremendous amount of strain to try to provide for his family.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is fantastic, but the standout performance comes from Maxwell Simba’s portrayal of William. Simba shows just as much raw emotion as veteran actor Ejiofor’s character, and this is Simba’s film debut. Apart from a few short scenes, the movie is essentially told from William’s perspective, giving Simba a tremendous task of guiding the audience through the narrative, but he executes this perfectly. In each and every scene, you can sense William’s drive and passion, even when those around him don’t necessarily believe in his ambition. It’s truly inspiring: you want to see him succeed and prove everyone wrong.

Despite the convincing performances from the cast, the film does have a pacing issue. There are several scenes and plot points that could have been shortened or left out entirely. For example, William’s sister and her ongoing relationship with William’s teacher features quite heavily but there isn’t much of a pay-off. It may have been more interesting to see this plot line replaced with additional scenes with the village chief, Chief Wimbe, played by Joseph Marcell (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). However, since the film is based on a true story, it’s difficult to comment on what should and shouldn’t have been included.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is by no means a perfect film and it’s not one I will be rushing back to watch immediately. But the emotional performances from the cast make it memorable and Chiwetel Ejiofor has triumphed with his directorial debut.

You can check out the trailer for The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind below.

Read more of Olivia’s film reviews here:

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Entertainment review: March 8th

Liam Mackay and Olivia Hill round up this week’s entertainment news. Topics include the new Game of Thrones season 8 trailer and the latest releases.

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