The Great Wall(2 / 5)
To misquote the film’s tagline, “Three years, $150 million to make, what were they hoping to prove?”.
Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall is at best a misguided curiosity – people kept trooping in and out of my screening like it was a visitor’s ward. At worst, it’s an indefensible waste of money.
A historical action-adventure epic set in Medieval China, starring Matt Damon with a man bun, the film clearly wants to the Far Eastern antidote to Lord Of The Rings. Ironically, given the fucking massive bit of masonry at the middle of it, The Great Wall lacks the scope – its run-time, remarkably, is only 104 minutes. Even so, it’s more Helms Dull than Helms Deep (a-thank you).
Damon is a smooth lead; even when initially smothered under a charisma-dulling beard – he scrubs up well – and with an Irish accent that waves between Brendan Gleeson and Sean Connery in The Untouchables. Martial arts, however, is not a string to Damon’s bow; nor that of his fellow mercenary (Pedro Pascal; a one-note rogue) or clearly untrustworthy accomplice (Willem Dafoe, with none of the bug-fuck craziness you might hope for).
As such, they’re mostly limited to slow-mo leaping and CGI-weapons-throwing. Their main tactic is heroically shoving each other out of the way of marauding lizard-hounds. At one point, the film gives the Chilean Pascal a matador’s cape
The Great Wall‘s screenplay – whose architects include Bourne‘s Tony Gilroy and Prince of Persia‘s Doug Miro – offers them a straight-forward motivation (gunpowder) and Damon a perfunctory hero’s journey (honor over gunpowder). The Chinese cast, excluding female lead Jing Tian as Commander Lin Mae, are resigned merely to heroic deaths.
For all its Far Eastern pageantry – ranks of troops in colour-coordinated serpentine armour, a tower showered in rainbow light – and perhaps the set piece, even Yimou, the rare director that deserves the accolade “visionary”, can’t make much of it.
Trespass Against Us(3 / 5)
For the second time this year, Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson play a lad and his dad who have a somewhat difficult relationship.
Trespass Against Us, though, is markedly better than the torturous Assassin’s Creed in the same way that a brisk walk in the country is preferable to an epidural.
The feature debut of music video/Doctor Who director Adam Smith, Trespass Against Us is about what family gives us, both good and bad, versus what we surrender in return; packaged as a crime drama.
Fassbender stars as Chad Cutler, the heir apparent of a small Irish Traveler community who have settled down in rural Gloucester. Away from the caravan site, they spend their days tear-arsing through idyllic fields in jeeps – driving is something of a super-power for Chad – and their nights performing daring ram-raids with casual expertise.
Chad is canny enough to know it can’t last. “Everyone does a bit of time sooner or later”, shrugs Colby (Gleeson), their bucolic patriarch. Chad wants more than that for his kids; especially his young son, Tyson (Georgie Smith).
Until he tells Colby, though, as his fed-up missus Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal) points out, it doesn’t mean shit. Colby’s face may glow with pride when he talks about his “legend” of a son, but we believe he might well stove Chad’s head in; as well he threatens to.
Chad too is torn. Much as he protests, he clearly gets a kick out of outsmarting the police; especially P.C. Lovage (Rory Kinnear), with his thin smile and barely veiled condescension. Cornered at a petrol station, having stopped off to buy cigarettes mid-chase, Chad pauses a moment behind the wheel to roll up his mask and light one up – a thin, focused cool.
Sean Harris plays Gordon, better known as Wurzel; an unruly imbecile, whose everyday antics on the caravan site endanger the kids. Tony Way, meanwhile, has a tiny role as Norman, the recalcitrant moaner of an otherwise lively, anarchic bunch, who it’s briefly suggested may prove the weak link; laid up with a broken leg.
Alistair Siddons’ screenplay, though, focuses almost entirely on Chad and, to a lesser extent, Colby, who behind-the-scenes is making efforts to prevent his son’s departure; never exploiting these other fractures.
Fassbender brings his usual charm and sense of conflict to Chad and Gleeson occupies the screen as yarn-spinner Colby – who compares the police’s pursuit of his family to the persecution of Jesus and claims the world is flat – but there’s not quite enough depth to their relationship to compensate for these missed opportunities.
Shaky-cam pursuits through the woods, racing furiously through foliage, are enhanced by Chemical Brother Tom Rowlands’ varied and energetic score. The lingo, too, provides plenty of character; gradations of which lead to a semi-fulfilling climax.
Trespass Against Us might boil down to Shane Meadows in meadows, but it just about merits a stroll to your local cinema.