Tag Archives: John Hurt

The Proposition

Director: John Hillcoat, Main Cast: Ray WinstoneGuy Pearce, Emily WatsonDanny HustonJohn HurtDavid WenhamRichard Wilson;

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In this Australian, post-western film, written (and scored) by Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat, evil seems to take many forms and shapes but it is made flesh and unanimously recognised in Arthur Burns (Huston). Outlaw and murderer, he terrorises  the Australian outback along with his gang, which includes his younger brothers Charlie (Pearce) and Mikey (Wilson). After a particular heinous crime (the murder of the whole Hopkins family, after raping pregnant Mrs. Hopkins), the brothers split and, while Arthur holes up in a hideout in the hills, Charlie and Mikey are captures by Captain Stanley (Winstone) and his men as the result of a bloody shoot out. At this point take place the titular proposition: Capt. Stanley offers to set Charlie free and have the opportunity to save young Mikey from execution if he finds and kills Arthur in the next nine days, otherwise Mike will be hanged on Christmas day. The viewer then follows the unfolding of two parallel stories: Charlie’s unholy quest and Capt. Stanley struggles to keep a balance between his terrible job (“I will civilise this land!”) and his quiet life with his wife Martha (Watson), whom he tries to shelter and protect from the horrible reality they live in. Hillcoat uses very deftly extreme contrasts to drive home the harshness of British settlement days in the late nineteen century Australia, such as serving tea with proper manners and beautiful porcelain set and flogging, Martha’s impeccable attire and hairdo and the dirt, the dust and roughness of the little town, the violence and ruthlessness of the policemen and the peace and charm of Stanley’s house and garden. In a calculated choice, the audience doesn’t even see Arthur’s face before almost forty minutes into the movie, we just glimpse his back in a stunning, scenery shot. His name and deeds keep being mentioned by various characters, sometimes in whispers like he could suddenly manifest and wreck havoc, some are just hearsay or legend among the aborigines of a white man gone mad. When the viewer finally meets the man, it is almost anticlimactic, he is still, seemingly at peace, clearly intelligent, well-read and more than capable of meaningful human connections, in particular with his brother Charlie. So, one might ask: where is the blood-thirsty psychopath? The beast in human form? Well, we get to see him very soon when Arthur slowly runs a knife through Jelion Lamb’s (Hurt) heart after telling him: “this is going to hurt”. Afterwards there is a chain of events that leads to a harrowing and bloody conclusion, obviously, but no clear victory, no black and white answer, just the lingering doubt that everyone has participated in wrong-doings even if it is just by inaction: “Australia, what fresh hell is this?”.  Although a disturbing tale, this film is beautifully shot and the cast gives persuasive portrayal of their characters: Huston, Pearce and Winstone, in particular, are top-notch. Daunting and haunting. —8/10

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This post is part of the The Great Villain Blogathon hosted by a terrific trio of ladies: Ruth of  Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina of Speakeasy. Check out all the other posts on their blogs.

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Only Lovers Left Alive

Director: Jim Jarmusch, Main Cast: Tom HiddlestonTilda SwintonMia WasikowskaJohn HurtAnton Yelchin;

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Every film by Jim Jarmusch feels like discovering a hidden treasure. The indie auteur par excellence gives us a story about love, darkness and the beauty of simple things, an extremely unusual take on a current mainstream theme: vampires. I know what you are thinking: “Vampires, seriously! Haven’t we seen and endured enough!?!”; well this is Jarmusch, give him a chance, you won’t be disappointed. The viewer is introduced to the titular lovers with a few masterful scenes. Adam (Hiddlestone) is a reclusive, underground musician with a penchant for science and technology who settled in Detroit (do I see a subtle homage/reference to Terry Gilliam in Adam’s tech contraptions? Maybe, maybe not). Eve (Swinton) is a book-lover (I used to pack like her before the advent of e-readers) and an aesthete, who resides in Tangier. They are both centuries-old vampires but they have found a non-violent way to feed, with the help of compliant doctors, not so much for moral qualms but to avoid hassles and prevent disruptions of their quite life. The audience makes also the acquaintance of Ian (Adam’s agent/helper), friendly, solicitous and  human, and Kit Marlowe, vampire, writer and old friend of Eve. Adam and Eve (always appreciate Jarmusch’s irony) have been together for a very long time and when Eve realises that Adam is depressed (again) about the state of the world, she rushes at his side.  We see them spending time together, in contented simplicity, talking about their past and present and sharing their interests. It is a rather alluring description of long-lasting love and friendship, that will go on with its perfect harmony, as in “my vegetable love should grow, vaster than empires, and more slow” (Andrew Marvell). Their domestic bliss is however shattered by the arrival of impulsive and reckless Ava, Eve’s sister. A poor judgement call on Ava’s part forces Adam and Eve to flee Detroit and go back to Tangier, where more woes await them. It is a haunting film, it feels like that place between sleep and awake. The captivating shots of a deserted Detroit and teeming Tangier tell a whole story by themselves, juxtapose as metaphors for Adam and Eve’s state of mind. The magnetic performances of Hiddlestone and Swinton (eerier than ever) and a mesmerising soundtrack complete the movie and make it a little gem. Beguiling —8/10

 

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Oldies but goldies: Alien (1979, director’s cut)

Director: Ridley Scott, Main Cast:  Sigourney WeaverTom SkerrittJohn HurtIan Holm;

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This film is a classic for both sci-fi and horror genres and it stands the test of time splendidly! The director’s cut includes additional footage that gives more insights about some characters and the creature. The lighting, the claustrophobic yet desolate shots, the futuristic design that now seems almost quaint, the little details: from the cigarette’s smoke to eating cereals to workers’ rights, we know it all and saw it a million times but it all appears in this film for the first time and made it a classic. On its way back from a routine trip a freight spaceship intercepts a distress signal from an unknown planet, the crew is awakened and sent to investigate: they will find something unexpected and terribly dangerous that will pick them off one by one! The motion detector is as efficient as John Williams’ two notes in Jaws in being anxiogenic and panic-inducing. One lesson learned from this movie: if there’s a big, human-eating monster up and about don’t go looking for the cat, he will be fine,  it’s your safety you should worry about! Amazing —9/10

 

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