Though hindered by a possible case of blood poisoning in the arm and then a truculent collection of floppy joints FilmLandEmpire continued to cover the London Film Festival. Here is our last dispatch of festival reviews.
Starring Edward Hogg The Comedian, which is set in London, follows Ben who, in his early 30s works unhappily at a call centre during the day while attempting to break into comedy by night. Ben lives with singer/song writer Elisa (Elisa Lasowski) and the two are very close blurring the lines between 'just friends' and being in an actual relationship. When Ben meets Nate (Nathan Stewart of Misfits fame) after a disastrous comedy gig, the film sets up a love triangle centred around Ben's indecision and general life lurgy. The title of the film is a knowing nod to the audience in that, like Ben's comedy, this film is going to be full of laughs or happiness. Hogg gives a good melancholy performance with flashes of smiles and likability that begin to convince that both Nate and Elisa would want to have a relationship with his tactile, wooly hat wearing uncomedic self. The sex scenes between Ben and Nate are given as much kindness and sensitivity as a heterosexual love scene would traditionally be given and director Tom Shkolnik provides a mature attitude to relationships in which the genders of the partners is not an issue. The likelihood of a relationship between Ben and Elisa be it unrequited or not, is nicely ambiguous for much of the film. There are some recognisable aspects of relationship and the tensions that can be derived from emotional entanglements. However, with an apparent desire to bring depth to an already compelling dynamic, the film increasingly becomes somewhat infuriating by the constant use of blurred and barely pulled focus used far too generously throughout the film. Handheld cameras with tight head shots are over played and become distracting and distancing from the performances. The film also runs a little too long with an ending that is arguably pretentious driving the film into a flat cul-de-sac.
End of Watch is set in LA South Central where two police officers Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike (Michael Peña) are beat cops patrolling one of the most actively dangerous inner city districts. Using the contrivance that Brian has decided to openly and covertly film their working days for a pre-Law university assignment, End of Days uses a plethora of camera techniques to convey the story. Therefore, along with faux-amateur filming there is dynamic, fast-paced camera work that the audience soon begins to take for granted as the techniques are merged to create different perspectives on how these characters work. Known for Oscar producing Training Day (2001) and fast car action The Fast and the Furious (2001) writer and director David Ayer knows how both to depict action and get intricate dialogue based performances from his cast. Gyllenhaal and Peña are outstanding as partners who shift between relaxed entertaining banter and policing duty that can be emotionally traumatic and frightening in it's dangerous regularity. Who Brian and Mike are is not given to the audience in a straight forward way. How they are introduced in the film seems to be on macho, trigger happy cop territory but gradually dispels such basic assumptions about their characters while retaining the necessary exterior armour both men require to do their job. The supporting cast including Anna Kenrick as Brian's girlfriend Janet along with Ugly Betty's America Ferrera as Orozco; Magic Mike's Cody Horn as Orozco's partner Davis and Nathalie Martinez as Mike's wife Gabby are all strong characters and help to bring out the strengths and fragility of Brian and Mike and their job. Though the heroism of the police force is certainly being stressed in End of Watch it is not, for the most part played out for pat sentimentality though this does creep into the film at times via Frank Grillo's character Sarge. Each of the action sequences have an unpredictability to them and the vulnerability of the two men, as laid out by Gyllenhaal's narration at the beginning of the film, makes each sequence have a real edge of danger and tension. With the partners stumbling into large gang activity the swagger that comes from surviving so many incidences is put to the test. The film talks and looks at race issues in the city through humour between Brian and Mike and directness be it unapologetic or playing on stereotypes depending on how one decides to interpret the film.
End of Watch is a compelling film teeming with excellent performances and if Gyllenhaal and/or Peña are nominated for awards, it will be unsurprising. Anna Kendrick's inclusion in the film is an excellent casting stroke, refreshing the story while infusing it with humour and another dimension to Brian's character. Though End of Watch will easily sit well on general release, it is an interesting choice for a film festival and again, is more than likely to garner award buzz.
Adapting the novel by Niall Griffiths, Kelly + Victor director Kieran Evans presents the story of Kelly and Victor who meet one night in a night club and have an instant bond. Victor (Julian Morris) is an easy going guy, currently working and living as a labourer in inner city Liverpool but dreaming of a job in the great outdoors. Kelly (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) is more of a shadowy character with a troubled past hinted at but not fully explained throughout the film. Though both indulge in casual drug taking, their relationship is given an edge due to Kelly's propensity towards sado/masochist sex which seems to come out when she is with Victor. The S&M nature of their relationship appears to be new for both pushing them into territory that is both pleasurable and frightening for them in what appears to be equal measure.
The film is well acted and directed and the S&M elements in the film are never played as titillating but more along both loving and psychological disturbing lines. However, though Kelly is twice said to be someone that someone would do 'anything for' Campbell-Hughes is not entirely convincing in this aspect of the character. It is also disturbing and distracting that the lead actress is so painfully and unhealthily thin though she is meant to be playing a 'normal' person and her frail frame is not a specific device in the film.