The expression “guilty pleasure” might have been invented for The Gunman, an often hilariously absurd globetrotting thriller starring Sean Penn, impressively buffed as Jim Terrier, freelance assassin-with-a-conscience.
Part of a “security” team with a secret agenda in the unstable Democratic Republic of Congo, Terrier finds his violent past returning to haunt him when, eight years later, he’s unwisely back in the DRC, having exchanged his ordnance for selflessly digging water wells on behalf of an NGO.
This time round, though, he becomes the hunted rather than hunter, with a raft of the usual suspects wanting him wasted, including ex-colleagues Terry (Mark Rylance) and Felix (Javier Bardem), who have both graduated to corporate respectability, in Felix’s case now also partnered with Jim’s former lover, Annie (Jasmine Trinca).
As if being on a hit list wasn’t bad enough, Jim, whose blood-spattered voyage of discovery takes in London and Barcelona, is suffering from “significant head trauma”, which means lots of blurry cinematography as our ageing macho man dispatches yet another even badder guy.
Thank heavens, amid this carnage and moral ambivalence, for man-of-the-moment Rylance, in a rare film role. His twinkly-eyed, gravel-voiced “suit” chews up the scenery, shamelessly stealing the show from Penn.
Disney’s live-action remake of its classic 1950 full-length Cinderella cartoon paradoxically only comes fully to life when it is literally at its most animated. This is especially true of a magical sequence when the Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) ensures that pretty but downtrodden Cinderella (Lily James, from Downton Abbey) can go to the royal ball kitted out with everything from a gorgeous gown to a golden coach attended by lizards-turned-footmen.
For the rest, director Kenneth Branagh’s lavish production is mostly bogged down by a lumberingly straight-faced script, in which not even wicked stepmother Cate Blanchett, channelling Cruella de Vil, is given nearly enough spiky material. Frozen, it ain’t.
Russell Crowe, whose career to date front-of-screen has embraced everything from intimate dramas to widescreen epics, has put the experience to often brilliant good use with an impressive directing debut, The Water Diviner, set during and after Australia’s heroic but ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign during the First World War.
Crowe, a rustic father of three sons, all missing believed dead, travels to the Dardanelles in 1919 to try to bring his lads’ bodies home, unaware that the eight square mile killing field is already in the process of being turned into a giant official war grave.
Stifling bureaucracy, his unwitting involvement in the embryonic Turkish War of Independence and a fledgling romance perhaps over-egg the action, but its stunningly recreated canvas is admirable.
This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (27/3/15).