Dark River (2017)

British director Clio Barnard has been exploring local stories, primarily ones that deal with working-class lives, since her debut feature The Arbor (2010) and then again with The Selfish Giant (2013).


I think Clio Barnard is a very talented director, and I think there are sequences here that are beautifully edited and put together: nicely shot, good use of sound and aural cues, and of course with the acting of Ruth Wilson (who is superb). It’s another film set in the North English countryside — not so much God’s Own Country as The Levelling (or indeed Barnard’s earlier films, though they were more urban I feel) — but here the glowering oppressive sky really is that, a crushing force on everyone. Like that latter film, it deals with poisoned relationships between fathers and daughters (I think now of Sunset Song too in that respect), and it doesn’t take very many flashbacks for it to become clear just what that is going to turn out to be. In fact, it’s obvious from the very first second of the very first flashback just where this particular arc is tending, but the way it’s developed in a melodramatic final act seems somewhat heavy-handedly literal. However, the acting (by Wilson, mainly), and the sheer filmmaking nous is for me enough to carry the film. Sure it’s dark and it moves lugubriously, but it is a properly cinematic film.

Dark River film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Clio Barnard; Cinematographer Adriano Goldman; Starring Ruth Wilson, Mark Stanley, Sean Bean; Length 89 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Bloomsbury, London, Wednesday 28 February 2018.

Burnt (2015)

A friend enjoys food-related films, so what can I say, I went along to see Burnt despite its almost uniformly terrible reviews. Therefore my first observation is that the end product is nowhere near as bad as those suggest. Of course it’s still essentially that — Hollywood product, albeit set in London and ticking off a lot of the tourist views of that city — but it coasts by on the charisma of its lead actors, all of whose work I enjoyed even if they’re hardly stretching themselves. If it’s a “comedy”-drama, then the comedy is in the broad strokes; I wouldn’t call it laugh-out-loud funny or anything. It’s more of a character study of one borderline-unstable man trying to find himself by learning to work with and trust other people. The film’s greatest weakness then is undoubtedly in the screenplay. The characters are stock and overly familiar (Gordon Ramsay is an executive producer, and Bradley Cooper’s Adam Jones isn’t far from his own carefully-constructed and endlessly-repeated media stereotype of the highly-strung rebellious bad-boy chef). The exposition, too, is wretchedly clunky, with characters like Omar Sy’s sous-chef Michel expected to recount their past dealings with Adam when meeting him, so as to catch us all up (oh sure, Adam’s drink/drug-fuelled youth is called on as a reason why this is necessary, but it’s a thin veneer). There’s lots of tedious to-do about Michelin stars, which as someone who used to care about such things when eating out is boring enough (I’m so done with tasting menus by the by), but will surely be of less than no interest to the rest of us (Jon Favreau’s Chef dealt with street food last year, which may not have been any less predictable a script, but it was at least a more likeable milieu). Worst of all is Adam’s hackneyed character arc, plotted out with plodding predictability, as he learns to work with others, repair his relationships, learn to temper his controlling behaviour, blah blah blah. But it all looks very nice, the actors have an easy charm, and I quite like workplace dramas even if every plot point here is punctuated by food p0rn.

Burnt film posterCREDITS
Director John Wells; Writer Steven Knight (based on a story by Michael Kalesniko); Cinematographer Adriano Goldman; Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, Omar Sy; Length 101 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Saturday 7 November 2015.