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The Films of Kevin Macdonald

One Day in September

A Brief History of Errol Morris

Being Mick

Touching the Void

The Last King of Scotland (May 20/07)

Anchored by Forest Whitaker's commanding (and Oscar-winning) performance, The Last King of Scotland is an intriguing yet thoroughly uneven look at the murderous regime of Uganda's Idi Amin (played by, of course, Whitaker). But in choosing to filter the film's events through the eyes of a fictional character (James McAvoy's Nicholas Garrigan), director Kevin Macdonald - working from Jeremy Brock and Peter Morgan's screenplay - has essentially assured that Whitaker's superb work remains the highlight of an otherwise routine effort. And although McAvoy ably holds his own opposite Whitaker, there's just no denying the ineffectiveness of his character's arc - which is predictable to an almost disastrous degree (ie it doesn't take a genius to figure out that his wide-eyed naïveté isn't going to last). Such concerns become moot during sequences revolving around Amin, as expected, and one consequently can't shake the feeling that a major opportunity has been lost here.

out of

My Enemy's Enemy

State of Play (April 16/09)

Based on the acclaimed British production, State of Play follows a seasoned reporter (Russell Crowe's Cal McAffrey) as he reluctantly teams up with an ambitious blogger (Rachel McAdams' Della Frye) to expose a far-reaching conspiracy that has its origins in a Congressman's (Ben Affleck's Stephen Collins) illicit relationship with his deceased researcher (Maria Thayer's Sonia Baker). It's apparent almost immediately that screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, and Billy Ray have had their work cut out for them in adapting Paul Abbott's six-hour miniseries for the big screen, as the movie suffers from a sporadic lack of context and character development that's compounded by the relentless manner with which the story unfolds (ie the viewer is rarely afforded contemplative moments to simply soak up the admittedly colorful atmosphere). This inevitably proves not to be as problematic as one might've anticipated, however, with Kevin Macdonald's subtle directorial choices and the uniformly engaging performances consistently alleviating the screenplay's almost clinical modus operandi. The inclusion of several genuinely electrifying interludes - eg Cal hides from a sinister pursuer within the confines of an underground parking garage - cements State of Play's place as an above-average political thriller, yet there's little doubt that the film is generally at its best during its comparatively uneventful stretches (with the lamentably brief episodes set in and around Cal's irresistibly authentic newsroom an obvious highlight). And while the movie is ultimately not quite up there with its myriad of thematically-similar brethren (ie All the President's Men), State of Play's refreshingly adult-oriented sensibilities effectively compensate for its smattering of increasingly easy-to-overlook deficiencies.

out of

Life in a Day

The Eagle (June 24/11)

Based on a book by Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle follows Roman soldier Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) as he embarks on a perilous journey into the heart of Caledonia - where his father and a legion of 5000 men were lost over 20 years ago. It's interesting to note that The Eagle is actually at its best before the aforementioned plot kicks in, as filmmaker Kevin Macdonald opens the film with an engrossing stretch detailing Marcus' efforts at adjusting to his new position as the commander of a ramshackle outpost - with a particular emphasis on the character's ongoing attempts at earning the respect of his skeptical men. The engaging vibe persists right up until the movie's first battle scene, which is, in addition to being disappointingly bloodless, rendered virtually incoherent by its nighttime atmosphere and Macdonald's penchant for shaky camerawork. From there, The Eagle morphs into an entirely different (and comparatively underwhelming) piece of work - as Macdonald, working from Jeremy Brock's script, emphasizes Marcus' initial efforts at recovering from the battle and, eventually, the character's decision to head off on that quest into Caledonia. The episodic nature of Marcus' journey proves instrumental in triggering the film's ultimate downfall, as the narrative boasts an insurmountable number of sequences that are either overlong or downright ill-conceived - with the most obvious example of this unquestionably the tedious stretch in which Marcus is forced to pretend to be his slave's servant. By the time the chase-heavy third act rolls around, The Eagle has established itself as a distressingly uneven actioner that's rarely as entertaining as one might've hoped - with Tatum's competent yet charmless performance exacerbating the film's lackluster feel.

out of


How I Live Now (November 22/13)

How I Live Now follows American teenager Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) as she arrives at the English countryside to stay with relatives, with problems ensuing after an unspecified global conflict forces Daisy and her cousins, including George MacKay's Eddie and Tom Holland's Isaac, to fend for themselves. The movie, based on a book by Meg Rosoff, has been hard-wired with an aimless vibe that is, at the outset, extremely off-putting, as filmmaker Kevin Macdonald places an ongoing emphasis on the characters' far-from-engrossing exploits within that aforementioned countryside - with the less-than-engrossing vibe compounded by Ronan's strong yet unapproachable turn as the film's surly protagonist. It's clear, then, that How I Live Now improves once the mysterious war begins in earnest, with the inherently compelling nature of the perilous situation infusing the proceeding with a much-needed burst of energy - although, by that same token, Macdonald's decision to omit details of the conflict grows more and more problematic as time progresses (ie it's difficult to work up any real sympathy for the protagonists' plight without knowing just what's at stake). There is, however, little doubt that the meandering screenplay, written by Jeremy Brock, Tony Grisoni, and Penelope Skinner, slowly-but-surely renders the movie's positive attributes moot, and it's rather disappointing to note that certain sequences - eg Daisy looks for a loved one in a pile of dead bodies - are subsequently drained of their emotional impact. The end result is an almost passable teen drama that could've used more direction and more plot, as it is, for the most part, impossible to develop any real interest in the various characters' exploits.

out of

About the DVD: The Eagle arrives on DVD courtesy of Alliance Films armed with an anamorphically-enhanced transfer and a smattering of bonus features.
© David Nusair