The Artist (2011)

There’s a certain poetry in the fact that a black and white silent film – which features nary a full sentence of audible dialogue – has been eliciting hollers and hooplas of delight the world over. Because that’s exactly what The Artist, a rare and exquisite production, has been receiving. Not because it pushes boundaries or breaks any rules, but because it’s an opportune reminder of just what filmmaking is all about.

Yes, The Artist is a silent movie. And yes, it’s in black and white. But in this era of overblown CGI and audience-baiting 3D, it is the perfect antidote to the technology-gone-wild filmmaking that has taken modern cinema hostage. With his sweet, even-tempered ode to classic picture crafting, director Michel Hazanavicius has proven that while James Cameron and ilk are championing in-yer-face 3D thrills, there’s nothing better than a simple story told well.

And boy does The Artist tell it well. Dipping into timeless themes that extend beyond its 1920s setting, The Artist stars Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, a silent movie actor who finds that the advent of ‘talkies’ means he’ll either have to change with the times or get swallowed up by the onset of flash new technology. Meanwhile, bright young thing Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) is just breaking into the biz, and finds herself swept into the movie industry as its breakout pin-up – not least thanks to a fateful encounter with Valentin.

It’s not hard to sympathise with George. In The Artist’s opening moments, a panic not dissimilar to George’s mistrust of ‘talkies’ sets in. “What’s this?” an inner voice whimpers. “An entire film with barely a single line of dialogue, nor a solitary explosion of diagetic sound?” Such fears are quickly quelled, though, in the presence of director Hazanavicius’s confident moviemaking. Brisk, flirty and hilarious, The Artist is a breath of fresh air in an arena increasingly crowded out by big budget brutes.

Why the denial of a sound five stars? Well, while The Artist garners giggles and well-earned affection in its opening two acts, its third suffers through unmistakable slumps. Early scenes are playful and buoyant, but as the comedy dissolves into noirish drama, The Artist stretches itself a fraction too thinly. Meanwhile, a final scene development works thematically (just watch those changes roll in), but fails to achieve the undying classic status it’s clearly reaching for.

In this era of technology gone mad, though, The Artist is a joyful, rousing reminder that not everything on the big screen need have cost the same as Madonna’s latest 50 acre pad. Exhilarating and super-smart, The Artist is quite possibly the film of the year. And that’s really saying something. 4/5

The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

Not a shark in sight here, unless you count Tom Hiddleston’s unpredictable Royal Air Force pilot, a gorgeous, fine-tailored specimen whose manicured exterior doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t bite on the odd occasion. No, director Terence Davies’ tender love story has nothing to do with the same-named watery horror from 1999. Instead, it’s something of a spiritual sequel to Brief Encounter, the 1945 classic in which a woman is tempted to cheat on her husband with a man she’s met at a train station.

In The Deep Blue Sea, Rachel Weisz’s Hester has already succumbed to that desire, having left her husband (Simon Russell Beale) for dashing young pilot Freddie (Hiddleston). It’s the 1950s, and such scandal is not to be taken lightly – not least as Britain attempts to rebuild itself after the war. Hester doesn’t care, though, readily making a nest with Freddie, even as the passion that burns between the couple threatens to destroy them.

Beginning with a suicide attempt, and ending in an explosion of emotion, The Deep Blue Sea is a period piece that’s as refined as it is surprisingly raw. Though much of the plot takes place in a mere handful of locations – Freddie’s flat, the pub, Hester’s mother-in-law’s – it’s the internal action that really drives proceedings. Having graduated from being chased by mummies, Weisz delivers a fraught and moving performance, while Hiddleston is nothing short of remarkable as a thrill-seeker who’s gotten more than he bargained for.

After helming Distant Voices, Still Lives in 1988, Davies is comfortable working in a war-torn setting. His recreation of a ‘50s England is beautifully handled – replete with a jolly pub sing-along and a poignant segment set in the underground – while his film sagely deliberates the pros and cons of pure unbridled passion. There will be tissues. 4/5

Andrew Haigh interview: Weekend

Weekend is only Andrew Haigh’s second feature film, a no-budget romance set in Nottingham, but that hasn’t stopped it causing a stir Stateside. Surfing waves of rave reviews, the film’s been celebrated as a smart and honest examination of gay life in the modern world, and is now expanding its UK theatrical run after an impressive openning weekend. LWLies sat down for a chat with the writer/director recently to gauge his response to all the attention.

LWLies: Can you believe that you’re off around the world talking about your little movie?
Haigh: No, I can’t believe it at all. I find, because it’s happening and you’re in the middle of it, sometimes I stop and think, ‘What? How’s this happened?’

Your first film, Greek Pete, was quite a small movie that not many people saw…
Greek Pete was tiny, miniscule, and I suppose we sort of thought this would be again small, and some people might see it and that would be it. Obviously you always hope for more. And then, it’s been out in America for a couple of weeks and it’s… it’s weird. It’s like, ‘Is this my…? Is this the same film we’re talking about?’

How do you think a little film like this suddenly hits the big time?
I don’t know! It really helped that we played it at SXSW, we went into that festival, and nobody really knew what the film was. I think we built up something, a steam. There were a core group of people, like Indiewire, they really got behind the film and they just wouldn’t stop talking about it. It was a little bit embarrassing, but they really helped it getting out to different people and it took off.

Are you surprised by the different types of media that are interested?
Absolutely, even when I wrote the film – it’s in the film when Glen’s character is talking about people not being interested in [gay cinema], that was borne out of frustration. It was the expectation that nobody would be interested in it. So I feel a bit embarrassed now that I put it in the film! It’s showed me that I’m wrong, because people have been [interested]. It’s amazing, but I’m still not entirely sure how it’s happened. We had big articles in the New York Times and LA Times. I think basically there’s been such a gap of these kind of films about gay people, and I think I’ve hit a good point in time and it’s been quite lucky. I know a lot of other filmmakers, especially Americans, who are gay, and they’re making a lot more naturalistic gay dramas. I think there’s gonna be quite a lot of them coming out, and I’ve just managed to get there first.

Weekend’s quite refreshing compared to a lot of STV low-budget gay films.
I just had no interest in my film being a… I want to be a proper filmmaker, I don’t want my film to be a shitty DVD that 10 people see. It’s not interesting to me. The films I like aren’t within that genre. Maybe that’s the problem, it’s hard for filmmakers to make films with gay content. I think maybe a lot of them aren’t as interested in cinema as they are interested in getting this film made and to DVD.

A lot of the cheesy American gay films are all about the nudity.
And they’re always people that are like super hot guys with muscles. I don’t know anyone like that! I don’t know who those people are. It’s weird. I wanted to tell a story that was like, ‘Gay people are also normal people, they do normal jobs and don’t look like perfect specimens of men.’ Even though Tom and Chris are quite good-looking. They’re just a bit messy, which I guess is the new gay look anyway. It’s bearded and scruffy.

You’ve got a good beard on you, did you copy it off Tom?
I made him grow a beard! I said you’ve got to grow a beard for it. I just like beards I think. And he’s kept it! He didn’t have one when I first met him.

Sex is quite integral to Weekend and Greek Pete. Is that something that interests you?
My short films are nothing like that at all. I think it definitely interests me, but only because sex is so integral to everybody’s lives, it’s such an important part of everybody’s lives. Either you’re not having it, or sex is a part of your relationship. I think it’s just not dealt with in a serious enough way in films, it’s either just for titillation or it’s deathly serious rather than just being, it’s part of someone’s life and it’s just sex, and it’s not just sex, it shows a lot about your character. How you talk about sex, what you do, everything. So it’s trying to look at sexual relationships in a wider context.

Weekend is similar to My Beautiful Laundrette in that it’s set in a recognisable time. Was exploring modern gay identity something that appealed to you?
Yeah, I think it’s changed so dramatically being gay, and acceptance and equality since Beautiful Laundrette. It’s changed amazingly. But in many ways it hasn’t changed, which is quite interesting. While discrimination has obviously gone down and prejudice has gone down, and things are different, there are still things that are problems, and issues that exist with being gay in the modern world. It was definitely about incorporating, having that as a background to the story, rather than it being all about that. It is funny, you speak to people and they work in the media in London, they’re like, ‘It’s fine being gay! There’s no problems!’ But there are still problems. And even if you work in London in the media.

It’s usually straight people that say that, like, ‘Oh, it’s fine for you lot now, isn’t it? For you gays! Everybody loves you!’ I’ve never really fitted in with that, I’ve never really been part of the gay scene. Obviously I went out, but it’s never really been part of my life fully, and neither is the straight scene. I think a lot of gay people, if they don’t fit a certain stereotype, they just meander around all over the place not really knowing where they fit in. You’re stranded a little bit, which is what I think Russell is. And Glen to a certain extent.

Do you know people quite similar to Russell and Glen?
Not really, I think maybe they’re parts of me to some extent. If there was a line I’d kind of vary between the two depending on my mood, how angry I am with the world.

What are you angry about?
I’m always angry about something. I’m quite an angry person. Everything! I can be quite calm, but I don’t live in London anymore, and as soon as I come to London my rage level starts building up. I live in Norwich now so it’s a very different town, I love it. It’s a really interesting city, but I come to London and you notice the massive inequality that exists here. When you’re in somewhere like Norwich it’s a lot more equal, there’s not massive wealth and massive poverty. There’s more things to make me angry.

Russell and Glen are polar opposites, was that a conscious effort?
I knew they had to be opposites because it’s a drama, and otherwise that wouldn’t be very interesting. It had to be that their characters were well-rounded enough that it wasn’t just me writing two opposite characters. It would just be pointless. I spent so long doing backstories for the characters, because your ideas and your philosophies don’t exist in a vacuum, they’re based on your how your life has been and where you’ve been. So it was just about really working that out, so that when they were together they felt like real people. And the fact that they’re different is what attracts them to each other, they’re grasping at bits of each other. That’s what makes relationships interesting.

Was the documentary look intended to blur fiction and reality?
Definitely, and I always wanted Weekend to be as real as possible. It was scripted, but we approached it like it was a documentary. So shooting everything in long takes, I wanted to imagine that this was happening right now in front of me and I could capture it for this instant and then it would never happen again. So that’s why there’s no coverage. Not having extras. In the club it’s a normal night in the club. They’d be dancing to the camera and you’d be like, ‘No!’ It’s all just real people.

You’re pretty much a guerrilla filmmaker, then?
Pretty much. We used the guerrilla process but I didn’t want it to look like guerrilla filmmaking, it had to feel like it was very thought out, but at the same time captured footage.

It looks amazing, though. How did you strike that balance?
I wanted it to look good and nice and professional. I never understand, just because you’ve got no money doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to look good. We shot on the 5D Canon, a stills camera essentially that shoots video, we had this big rig thing that keeps it steady. But just because you’ve got no money, it doesn’t have to look shit. We didn’t have any lights, but Uma was a good DP. You just make an effort.

Gareth Edwards’ Monsters is quite similar in terms of no-frills filmmaking. Are you a fan?
Yeah, definitely. I was a big fan of all those American mumblecore type films, low-budget character dramas. They’re kind of like an update of Cassavette’s films with modern settings. Monsters is a good example, I think it’s a good film, it’s an indie relationship drama with aliens. Which is amazing. I still don’t understand how he made that film. There was like three of them on the crew. Crazy! He’s doing Godzilla now isn’t he? I’ve heard him speak and he seems like a really nice guy. Let’s face it, a lot of directors can be arseholes. If I like a film and I hear the director talk and he’s a wanker, it really puts me off.

Being a director, are you a bit of a control freak?
Yeah, I am a total control freak. You have to be. The hard thing is when you make something that’s really small budget and then it’s out in the world and distribution companies take it on, you’ve had so much control on the early days, and then you have to give that control away, which is really hard. I sometimes have to stop myself. The posters were great. I know the designer, but again that was me sticking my oar in and making sure they use Sam and giving the posters to the Americans saying, ‘This is really nice.’ Also, you know you have to compromise sometimes, and there’s times when you’re shooting where everybody’s focussing on something and you know actually it’s not that important. It’s about being a control freak about the right things.

You’ve made a strong point about gay life with Weekend. Is it now time to move on to other topics? Can you better it?
No, in terms of my desire to explore that kind of world it’s probably done. Doesn’t mean I won’t be making films about gay people, but there’d be no point in me doing that again. There’s themes that are there, whether they’re about gay people or straight people, old people or young people, there will be similar themes. But I need to do other different films. I don’t just want to make small films about gay people talking to each other!

Have you been approached by people about your next film?
Yeah, I’m writing some stuff, I’ve got an agent now. Americans are crazy, I’ve got a team of like 10 people now. You’re like, ‘Okay!’ You get so many scripts. It’s an amazing thing about America, they see this film but it doesn’t limit what they think you can do, they say you can do anything now. Whereas in England there’s that sense of you could only do really small films about gay people. In America they’re sending me scripts like… not quite alien scripts, but things that are bigger. They’re still not big studio pictures, but bigger stuff. Nine out of 10 directors that make a good first or second little film, end up going to America and making a piece of shit. It’s a real common thing. I don’t know why that is.

Perhaps America is too interested in this idea that films are products, whereas small indies worship storytelling.
Maybe there’s just too many people get involved. But also it’s about bad decisions. Those directors have gotten a script, gone, ‘Oh, it’s alright, it’ll do, I’ll do it because it’ll get me into America,’ but it’s never gonna work unless they really care about it. So I’m only going to do something if it’s somebody else’s script that I absolutely fall in love with. Other than that, I don’t just wanna do something just for the sake of getting paid, even if that would be nice.

Greek Pete was quite a small little cult film, do you count Weekend as your first proper film?
In America they’re trying to pretend that Greek Pete wasn’t my first film, because then you can get on first feature lists. But for me, that was my first feature and it is. I really enjoy it, I’m proud of that film, I like that film. Yeah, this is my second feature, I can’t say it’s my first because that belittles what I did before. This is obviously scripted and different, but it’s still my second feature.

Do you think the label of ‘gay film’ is a reductive or restrictive term?
It’s so difficult to know what it is. For me, Weekend’s a film about gay people. Whether people call that a gay film is up to them, really. It’s funny, because the film partly is about how you struggle to define yourself, and you continually try to define yourself. So it’s funny to me that as soon as you make a film, it’s like ‘It’s a gay film!’, people throw it in a pigeon-hole. I suppose it’s inevitable, and I’m not embarrassed that it’s gay. If people want to call it a gay film, that’s fine. I think it’s going to be like that for quite a long time, it will take a while I feel before it’s just ‘a film’. Also because it’s very much about gay sexuality and it’s got sex in, it’s automatically going to be pigeon-holed.

It’ll probably be like blaxploitation, films about black people are not called ‘black films’…
You wouldn’t call a Spike Lee film a black film. He’d be like, ‘Fuck off!’ When you do make a gay film it’s suddenly, people say, well it’s gay. I should slap people every time they say it!

Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

‘Won’t somebody think of the children?’ isn’t Machine Gun Preacher’s tagline, but considering the film’s crippling lack of nuance or restraint, something that melodramatic would be entirely fitting.

Not that its depiction of a war-torn East Africa, where children are the ones who bear the bloody brunt of warlord Joseph Kony’s sadistic political campaign, is something to be ridiculed. The war in northern Uganda is a worthy topic deserving of in-depth scrutiny, and Preacher intelligently finds it way in via the true story of Sam Childers.

Here played by Gerard Butler, Childers goes from leather-vest-wearing druggie to born again Christian, embracing his faith and answering a call for help from Uganda, where he gets caught up in the troubles.

Portraying Childers with livewire emotion, Butler is fantastic. His unlikely hero is a man whose addictive personality has him do-gooding with the same frenzied energy that he boozed benders. But by focussing so intently on Childers, director Marc Forster does his film a disservice.

That’s especially apparent in the casting of Michelle Monaghan and Michael Shannon (as Childers’ wife and buddy respectively), who are given seeds of intriguing subplots that are never given a chance to germinate. Meanwhile, less involving characters get more screen time – including a wise little boy who’s pure cliché.

All that could have been forgiven had Preacher’s Uganda segments packed enough wallop. True, Forster doesn’t blanch at the ghastly reality of the war – bursts of graphic violence offer insight into the truly horrific happenings. But as the real victims of this conflict emerge in their bloody masses – those defenceless children – Forster all but hammers his message home with a sledgehammer. Repeatedly.

As the little bodies begin to pile up, Preacher tumbles into unforgivably preachy territory – replete with scenes of Butler screaming at his church congregation – and the film’s final act suffers under the considerable weight of those hard-bitten images.

Anticipation: Fest buzz hasn’t been great, but Butler looks on good form. 3

Enjoyment: Lacking entirely in subtlety, Preacher fires on all cylinders and quickly burns itself out. 2

In Retrospect: Overly preachy and overly long. A missed opportunity. 2

Snowtown (2011)

Crafting a movie around a real-life tragedy is an understandably tricky endeavour. While James Cameron’s Titanic doomed hundreds to their deaths, pretty much everybody alive at the time of that travesty had long since passed on. Not so with the Snowtown murders, which were committed in an isolated, downtrodden region of Australia not 12 years ago, and are still a justifiably touchy issue for those who live there – not least the families of serial killer John Bunting’s 11 victims.

It’s to first-time director Justin Kurzel’s credit, then, that he approaches the subject with both compassion and sensitivity. That’s not to say that he balks at Bunting’s horrific deeds – though Snowtown is essentially a hard-bitten character study, it’s also easily one of the year’s most disturbing films. Undulating with an unhurried, creeping menace, it positions horror in everyday situations and stealthily cranks up the tension until it becomes almost unbearable.

At the centre of this dark and absorbing drama we find 16-year-old Jamie (Lucas Pittaway). Living with his mother and brothers, he finds a new father figure in Bunting (Daniel Henshall), his mum’s latest, quietly charismatic squeeze. Except John’s idea of educating Jamie in the ways of world involves acts of ever-increasing violence, as first the pair vandalise the house of the paedophile living across the street, and then take part in a little casual murder.

Providing Snowtown with its murky heart, Henshall is fantastic – at once relatable, likeable even, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, a figure of pure terror. Instead of focussing entirely on him, though, Kurzel is more interested in Jamie. Skirting away from vivid depictions of brutality (though when those killer moments come, they freeze the blood), the director wrestles with that most fascinating, perhaps unanswerable of questions: what turns a timid teenager into a ruthless killer? 4/5

Straw Dogs (2011)

If a film’s poster is reflective of its quality, then Straw Dogs falls spectacularly at the first hurdle. The artwork for the remake of director Sam Peckinpah’s same-named 1971 invasion thriller (itself adapted from Gordon Williams’ novel The Siege Of Trencher’s Farm) forgoes originality to instead rip off its forebear – except now it’s James Marsden donning smashed glasses instead of Dustin Hoffman.

Marsden plays David Sumner, a Hollywood screenwriter who moves to a backwater town with his wife Amy (Kate Bosworth). Here he hopes to finish a tricky script he’s been working on. That’s almost impossible, though, when the rowdy locals get a little too friendly, among them a gobby retired football coach (James Woods) and Skarsgård’s burly builder, who’s dead set on reigniting a decade-old flame with Amy, his high school sweetheart.

The copy-don’t-create philosophy of Straw Dogs’ artwork permeates the rest of director Rod Lurie’s unnecessary, connect-the-dots redo. Its cast list may have been considerably sexed up – both Alexander Skarsgård and Marsden are strapping, bronzed specimens – but Lurie apes Peckinpah’s Dogs to such a degree that he completely discredits his film’s entire existence.

Cynically, the director hits all the expected beats, producing something that feels both lazy and dated. The original’s controversial rape scene is misplaced in a film keen to play it safe, while the final act showdown brings the requisite blood, but merely re-stages the ’71 siege in simmering HD – they even have the gall to copy the DIY weapons. The one thing that can’t be faulted is the performances, with an on-fire Woods – all gnashing teeth and berserk – giving it his all, and Marsden convincing as a mild-manner writer who does what he has to to protect his home. Where Peckinpah’s film was a genuine video nasty, though, Lurie’s should be left to the dogs. 1/5

Midnight In Paris (2011)

What could be more romantic than midnight in Paris, with its alluring, cosy cafes and softly shimmering waterways? Well, how about midnight in Paris in the 1920s? That’s the era earmarked as magnifique by wistful writer Gil (Luke Wilson) in this, Woody Allen’s latest in a long line of escapist romantic dramas.

See, Gil’s spent his whole life churning out soulless Hollywood scripts for which he’s been generously paid – except he feels withered and wasted by that hollow career trajectory. Gil wants to be a proper writer. That fire is stoked in him when he visits the city of love and starts redrafting his novel, while his vivacious but vacuous fiancée (Rachel McAdams) considers what to spend all his money on. Then one night, Gil finds himself transported back to the ‘20s thanks to a mysterious taxi ride that leads him to historical figures like Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill).

It’s all a bit Goodnight Sweetheart, especially when Gil falls for Picasso muse Adriana (Marion Cotillard). The thing with Allen’s films is you often feel like you’ve seen it all before. And you more than likely have; the auteur has been spinning pithy yarns around the same likably eccentric characters and romantic dilemmas since Annie Hall back in 1977. Which means you’ll either embrace Midnight In Paris like an old friend, or dismiss it as another spritely but square outing from a director who’s too old to learn new tricks.

Whichever camp you fall in, it’s hard not to at least like Midnight In Paris. Beating a passionate drum for the arts while making interesting observations about the futility of dreaming about the good old days, it’s a soft focus, inoffensive novelty that even features an appealing little turn by first lady Carla Bruni. 3/5

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (2010)

Guillermo del Toro is no stranger to grim fairytales. The Mexican director’s masterful Pan’s Labyrinth was a shrewd, unsettling exercise in measured chills and caustic creativity. So his decision to script and produce this creepy curio comes as a welcome return to horror for the influential moviemaker, and with Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark pirouetting on a similar premise – young girl encounters savage beasties that nobody else can see – it’s an enticing prospect. Sadly, del Toro isn’t able to bottle the fairy dust quite as easily this second time around, though he comes close at times.

Still dealing with her parents’ recent divorce, troubled young Sally (Bailee Madison) is sent to stay with her father (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes) in a Rhode Island mansion. The grown-ups are renovating the residence, but soon Sally discovers there are sinister things afoot as voices speak to her in the dark, and she catches glimpses of small, beady-eyed menaces.

Loosely based on a made-for-TV movie from 1973 (of which del Toro was a fan), Don’t Be Afraid… is best when it mucks in for old-school chills. Book-ending his film with bursts of dirty violence, first-time director Troy Nixey plays it smart by keeping his rat-sized nasties in the shadows and immersing proceedings in a suggestive gloom. Best of all is the teeth-gnashing opener, sure to have many squirming in their seats. It’s disappointing, then, that everything that follows merely struggles to match the opening stinger for bed-wetting terror. As inconsistencies begin to pile up (Sally manages to squish one foul creature, but fails to show her father the evidence), and the drawn-out climax takes too long to deliver, Don’t Be Afraid… becomes sluggish and repetitive. Sadly, that title proves prophetic – there’s nothing really here to be afraid of. 3/5

Colombiana (2011)

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but thanks to a sizzling Zoe Saldana, Luc Besson’s latest shoot-’em-up is a sure-fire scorcher. Teaming with the feisty femme of the moment, Besson has a writer/producer credit on Colombiana, but it’s quite clearly his bambino. Once envisioned as a sequel to Léon starring a grown-up Mathilda, but reworked into a Nikita-aping, assassin-on-a-mission vengeance flick, Colombiana combines both the best and worst of Besson.

The best? Well, in the wake of Angelina Jolie’s so-so Salt, Colombiana knows how to have a good time and get its hands grubby. Director Olivier Megaton’s mission statement is ‘Bourne with boobs’, and he very nearly hits that target. With its opening shot cradling an endless sea of favelas, not to mention Colombiana’s handful of dusty, dirty fist fights (choreographed by The Bourne Identity’s Alain Figlarz), Megaton’s film is a refined style-oozer that doesn’t beat around the bush.

A pacy but patchy opening introduces us to 10-year-old Cataleya, whose parents have just been shot dead. She escapes alive – but only just. Fifteen years later, Cataleya is working as an assassin for her gangster uncle, offing bad guys on his behalf while secretly planning to avenge her dead parents. Which is when Saldana makes her killer entrance, ploughing into a police car and giggling drunkenly when she’s arrested. As she’s thrown into the clink to sober up, Colombiana’s finest set piece unravels – a near-wordless jail assassination that shows us what Cataleya (and Saldana) is made of.

A wily, wiry waster, Saldana holds her own in a massively physical role – most impressively during a brutal final hour bathroom brawl that has her going 10 rounds with a guy twice her size. Shame, then, that Megaton chooses to fetishise her so much; popping Saldana in nipple-enhancing vests and having her suck on lollipops only works to trivialise our otherwise fierce and fearsome anti-heroine.

Because, yes, Colombiana is the kind of subtlety-free movie where guns are strapped under tables, gates are smashed open by rampaging trucks, and doors are blown up instead of kicked in. Megaton’s film would have done well to stick to the punchy, chat-free approach of its jail segment.

As dodgy dialogue pinched from the Big Book Of Crime Thriller Clichés is repeatedly stuffed down our throats (‘She’s the mist under the door, you won’t see her until it’s too late!”), it’s clear that Colombiana would’ve worked better as a sexy, sultry silent movie. With a bare bones story set out in a visually snappy way, the dialogue only serves to sour the dish.

Anticipation: A post-Avatar Zoe Saldana nabs her first mo-cap-free lead role and Besson’s producing? Where do we sign up? 4

Enjoyment: Saldana sizzles as a feisty fatal femme, making up for the duff dialogue. 3

In Retrospect:
Colombiana wants to be Bourne with boobs, but its connect-the-dots narrative and silted script means it can’t quite reach those bone-crunching heights. 3