My thoughts from the London Film Festival on Paul Greengrass‘ somali pirate thriller and Xavier Dolan’s latest obtuse drama.
Paul Greengrass’ latest thriller is an almost unbearably tense two hours spent alongside Tom Hanks as Richard Phillips, a captain whose American container ship is highjacked by Somali pirates.
Hanks is superb as the captain struggling to stay alive and, at first, keep his crew safe, and in the film’s final moments he gives one of the most emotionally gripping and intense performances of his career.
This, following a series of scenes in which we are put through the wringer as each scene feels so extraordinarily fraught with danger and uncertainty.
Even when one knows how the real events went down it’s still hard not to be caught in the grip of the action on screen, as every element in the film – from the unstable camerawork, making it hard to feel at ease, to the anxiety inducing score are working in sync to unnerve and grip you.
The one area that Captain Phillips almost never strays into though is that of meaty social commentary. Despite occasional mentions of the poverty in Somalia and the almost too neat way in which we are introduced to the the two captains – Phillips and the Somali lead pirate played with impressive intensity and conviction by Barkhad Abdi.
This is more effective in adding shading to the characters than it is in telling us anything meaningful. Captain Phillips is certainly a superb thriller though and possibly Greengrass’ most accomplished feature to date.
Xavier Dolan, the writer, director and star of Tom at the Farm – there are more Dolan credits but they are far too numerous to mention here – is not even twenty-five but already has four films to his name.
His latest, Tom at the Farm, follows the incredibly compelling and visually astute Laurence Anyways, but unlike that film Dolan almost seems to be flailing here, unable to find something interesting or profound to grasp hold of.
The story follows the character of Tom, played by Dolan, who travels to a farm to stay with the mother and brother of his recently deceased boyfriend. The mother does not know that her son was gay though and his brother, Francis (Pierre Yves-Cardinal) is intent on keeping it that way, coercing Tom into lying and also staying at the farm.
Why does he want him to stay at the farm? Why does Tom agree? These are questions for which we never receive satisfactory answers and the way in which the story so often hangs on decisions made by the characters, particularly Tom, some understanding of their motivations would make the implausibility of it easier to swallow and the absurd and inconsistent behaviour at least somewhat possible to engage with.
This is not simply a matter of Dolan leaving aspects of the story open ended, something that there is of course nothing inherently wrong with, but he seems to be being so wilfully obtuse as to make the whole endeavour inert and ultimately an unintentional farce.
Late in the film Sara, a friend of Tom and the deceased man, visits the farm and the interjection of this outsider into the established three person story that we have so far been watching only highlights the issues with the characters’ motivations and emotional consistency, or lack of.
The film ends on a moment not of ambiguity but forced meaning that holds no real value or significance to the rest of the film. A half baked experiment of a film, Tom at the Farm is incredibly difficult to engage with and even when you do manage to there is little to no reward.