The script is based on an Esquire magazine article by Tom Junod, who was given the job of profiling Rogers in 1998. He responded to the assignment with the resentment of a hard-boiled investigative reporter handed a puff piece but he was gradually disarmed by the disconcerting discovery that Rogers was turning out to be one of those rare creatures – an interviewee who would rather talk about his interviewer’s life than his own.
Despite that smile, Hanks’ portrayal is remarkably accurate. Hanks catches Roger’s air of slow deliberation, his way of eyeballing his audience while delivering each aphorism as if it had been distilled from hours of contemplation.
The script has fleshed out the character of Junod by giving him a semi-fictional background. He becomes Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a man still harbouring a grudge against his feckless father, Jerry (Chris Cooper), who walked out on the family when Lloyd’s mother was dying. Somehow Mr Rogers, as he’s always been known, eases Lloyd’s fury, leading him through a series of serenely enunciated sermons as Lloyd continues his profile.
Hanks is perhaps the only actor who could have made any sense of the part, having achieved his own brand of saintliness in Hollywood’s current pantheon yet he doesn’t seem comfortable here. His smile is the giveaway.
Underwater’s action takes place six or seven miles below sea level in the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot on earth. It’s outer space by other means, allowing the movie to function as a direct rip-off of Ridley Scott’s original 1979 Alien, writes Jake Wilson.
Or at least, the second half of Alien [since] director William Eubank doesn’t have Scott’s slow, methodical method of building suspense.
Years ago when I watched Eubank’s first feature Love: Angels and Airwaves — which featured some similarly blatant borrowings from 2001: A Space Odyssey — I arrived at the conclusion that he just wasn’t a filmmaker. Perhaps that was unfair: he does have talent, despite the various things he isn’t very good at, like character and plot for instance.
So what does interest him? Sound design, for one thing: the movie bubbles and whirrs like a machine that’s heating up but not quite ready for action. The dream-like atmosphere must be partly intentional, if the recurring Alice in Wonderland references are anything to go by — though it also seems like a result of sheer indifference to the many gaps in the script.
For a monster movie, the monsters themselves are curiously short-changed (the sources besides Alien appear to include H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos anthology, as well as Cloverfield). The bigger threats loom into view only occasionally, as devices to compel the characters to rush around the stricken vessel.
These human characters are no more solidly realised, including mechanical engineer Norah Price (Kristen Stewart). Modelled after Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, Stewart is entirely two-dimensional by comparison. Indeed, the moments when Norah shows the most feeling are when she’s all by herself, or with only a Lovecraftian monster or two for company.
More or less retaining his dignity is Vincent Cassel as the nominal leader of the group. That’s just about it for personalities, unless you count sometime Deadpool sidekick T.J. Miller, as usual playing a wise-cracking oaf with a wider vocabulary than expected. But most of what comes out of his mouth only makes respect for the movie sink further, including his description of Norah (or Stewart) as a “sweet flat-chested woodland creature”.
Even at the bottom of the sea, it appears, it’s impossible for women to avoid being sneered at.
Just Mercy ★★★★
Just Mercy takes you into the medieval workings of the Alabama justice system in the 1980s. Jocularly nicknamed Yellow Mama, the electric chair is still in use and civil rights is a highly malleable concept. It operates according to the prejudices of the arresting officer, writes Sandra Hall.
The script is distilled from a memoir by Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard law graduate who headed south in 1988 to become the leader of a group of activists campaigning for a review of the cases against many of the state’s death row prisoners.
Young Bryan (Black Panther’s Michael B. Jordan) eventually settles on Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a timber cutter who has been convicted of murdering an 18-year-old girl. Several of McMillian’s friends and family members could have shown that he was with them at the time of the crime. But that would have been possible only if the Kafkaesque conditions governing Alabama’s court system had allowed them to testify.
Stevenson was one of the film’s producers and its director, Hawaiian-born Destin Daniel Cretton, has fashioned a straightforward, if simplified, translation of his book, resisting any flourishes to concentrate on the facts, which is fair enough since they need no embellishment.
Jordan is completely persuasive. The virtues possessed by Stevenson are all on the quiet side. His analytical flair is matched by his patience, his tenacity and his acuity. He knows when to act. He also knows when to hold back – qualities shared by Brie Larson’s Eva Ansley, who helps him run their organisation, the Equal Justice Initiative.
Foxx’s performance is as restrained as Jordan’s. He curbs the cockiness that often colours his work and portrays a man who can still spare a thought for the troubles of those around him while struggling not to be consumed by the deep-seated anger that he’s been harbouring since his arrest.
One source of black humour lies in the fact that McMillian is from Monroeville, home of Harper Lee. When Stevenson first arrives, people keep suggesting that a visit to the town’s museum, with its To Kill a Mockingbird exhibition, will give him an insight into the place. And they’re being serious.
Stevenson, however, has had the last word on that topic. If you want to find out more, this film is the perfect place to begin.
Like A Boss ★★½
Rose Byrne has a gift for deadpan humour but she’s up against more boisterous talents in Like a Boss, says Sandra Hall.
Salma Hayek is in Mexican firecracker mode as a cosmetics tycoon and African-American standup comedian Tiffany Haddish is at full volume as Byrne’s best friend and partner in a boutique company which desperately needs a cash injection.
It’s a promising premise. In the Age of Botox, the cosmetics industry presents rich pickings for the satirist and the script is determined to exploit them, aided by the film’s Puerto Rican-born director, Miguel Arteta.
When Haddish’s Mia Carter isn’t giving her personality yet another workout, the company’s employees, Billy Porter and Jennifer Coolidge, are rolling out their own comedy routines. It’s like watching a week’s worth of Saturday Night sketches back-to-back.
Hayek has chosen to have a makeover for the role of tycoon Claire Luna. Not only does she wear a henna wig and a set of blinding caps on her teeth, she looks as if she’s been dipped bodily into a compound of pancake make-up and tanning lotion. Coolidge gets it right when she remarks at one point that she resembles an angry carrot.
A few scatological gags are scattered through the script and Arteta lays on the slapstick with Haddish handling most of it. You get the impression that he’s trying to make another Bridesmaids but that his nerve and his inspiration keep failing him.
Sandra Hall is a film critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Jake Wilson is a film critic for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.