This month I’ve gone for films about people with serious work problems…
Two Days, One Night (Deux Jeurs, Une Nuit)
dir. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
The Dardennes returned last year with Two Days, One Night and delivered a film that asks questions of what’s right and wrong when we have to choose a wage over morals and also the theme of self respect connected to work. Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a woman who gets laid off after taking a break from work for depression and has two days, one night (see the title works…) to convince her workmates to vote to let her return; the problem being the workers were compensated by splitting her wage while she was away and are now forced into deciding between letting her back to work or keeping the extra money.
While the believability of Belgian employment laws has caused some to scoff at the premise of this latest brilliant Cotillard performance, it’s very much worth a viewing. It also reminded me of the existence of Petula Clark’s francophone version of “Needles and Pins” – “La nuit n’en finit plus” – no bad thing.
The Hunt (Jagten)
dir. Thomas Vinterberg
Mads Mikkelsen gives a masterful performance as Lucas, a teacher coping with divorce, not seeing his son and trying to get his life back on track but just when things seem to be going his way again, his life and profession are thrown into jeopardy by a lie told by one of his young students who’s also a child of a close friend.
Thomas Vinterberg, who was a pioneer of the Dogme 95 movement, keeps things very natural and restrained which is essential really considering the plot and in order to make us believe and empathise with everyone’s conflicting reactions and emotions, he was also helped on the script by Tobias Lindholm, a writer on “Borgen” and writer /director of A Hijacking (Kapringen).
It’s a beautifully acted film particularly Mikkelsen as the lead and Thomas Bo Larsen in the difficult role of Theo, Lucas’s friend. It’s a tough watch but a worthy one as it details how rumours can spread to a devastating effect and how a mob mentality and belief can grow and be hard to shift.
dir. Billy Ray
Based on true events, Ryan Phillippe plays a rookie FBI agent who’s given the job of being an assistant to an experienced agent, Robert Hanssen (played by Chris Cooper), but who is really being asked to spy on Hanssen on behalf of the agency. The FBI initially tell him they think Hanssen is involved in sexual misdemeanours online but it soon becomes clear that the Bureau are sure that Hanssen has been passing secrets onto the Russians for decades.
The film completely belongs to Chris Cooper, it’s his performance as the walking contradiction that Hanssen was that really enthralls and the horrible boss situation that develops between the two leads. Billy Ray is an old hand at scripting or directing true-life stories, his first film as a director was Shattered Glass dealing with a journalist who rose up the ranks of the New Republic before it became clear nearly all of his stories were made up and Ray also recently scripted the Tom Hanks Somali pirate drama Captain Phillips.
dir. Patrick Hughes
Red Hill is an Australian Western-style thriller starring Ryan Kwanten as a young police officer who is transferred to a small town in order to enjoy the quiet life with his pregnant wife but who ends up having to struggle just to get through his first day alive. Tom E. Lewis plays an Aboriginal man convicted of murder who has escaped from jail and sets out to wreak revenge on the people who put him there, in particular the old sheriff played by Steve Bisley.
The film manages to inject a horror element nearly as the character of the escaped convict is built up by the townspeople and the sheer force with which he seeks revenge, which is also played up for as much suspense as possible. The only slight drawback of the film is it’s very much a genre picture and hits a few very familiar beats but overall a very well-constructed moral tale.