American Sniper (2015)
I knew very little about this film apart from it involving Bradley Cooper, a war and some good reviews. This worked to the advantage of the film’s narrative – from our introduction to Chris Kyle to all the action of the second and third acts, a sense of tragedy lingered, permeated, sometimes gripped scenes. Every positive beat was laced with a sense of dread; we just knew something would fuck up, but we just couldn’t settle on where it would be.
It is precisely because of this that the film’s ending proved a highly effective gambit: it led us to believe Kyle had finally gotten his shit sorted and eased our biggest fears before abruptly answering all earlier foreshadowing. Even worse, the reveal (for those of us who didn’t know anyway) that everything was based on true events – substituting dramatisation with real footage – added a cruel, helpless sense of gravity to everything we’d seen earlier. It’s amazing how just a few scenes of poor-quality video can change the entire viewing experience of an otherwise typical feature film.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
The saddest thing about this part of The Hobbit trilogy was how, within its first 20 minutes, it did away with the bulk of plot threads from its first two instalments. (Of course, the fact that The Hobbit story took up the same amount of screen time as the whole Lord Of The Rings epic is another thing altogether.)
Overlooking that, though, BotFA was wonderful; its titular Battle was easily one of the best I’ve ever seen and one of the most entertaining parts of an already entertaining Middle Earth franchise. Stunning cinematography, set design, visual effects and choreography melded together with some very amusing bonus beats provided by Wargs and dwarves. Anyone who missed this (and Guardians of the Galaxy for that matter) has absolutely no claim to a robust 2014 at the movies. And me, I was happy to have Elrond show up and deliver a killer one-liner that I could punctuate with “Mr Anderson!”while watching.
This is another one to file under “went without knowing what it’s all about”. Unlike American Sniper though, I can’t say I enjoyed this one at all.
But I can see the earnest intentions Angelina Jolie had in making it, so I’ll be as nice as I can. Unbroken rolls at half the pace of Sniper, with about half the thrill as well. It’s too obvious from the onset that Louis Zamperini ends up as a POW, so there’s a lot less gripping foreshadowing and a lot more waiting to see when it all happens. And that’s the film’s biggest problem. It stumbles from one scene to another, each too long than it should be and each reiterating similar messages about Zamperini’s unrelenting determination and values.
Perhaps being let down by some directorial inexperience, the film would have benefited from some shrewd storytelling in the editing room to let the message arc across the whole narrative rather than let scenes play out as long as they did. My biggest takeaway was seeing the effects that 28 days in strong sunlight can have on the skin.