Glory (1989)

Glory_Head_ExplodeAfter this appropriately nasty image, ‘Glory’ becomes awfully choreographed.

Ultimately rather average.

‘Glory’ charts Colonel Robert Gould Shaw’s (Matthew Broderick) appointment to the head of a coloured regiment through to his battles with institutional racism during the American Civil War.

As a result of familiarity and the majority of the characters being quite bland, I found Glory’s central theme of racism somewhat unremarkable. The flattest characters in the film were the troops of the coloured regiment, who should be central to the film. The problem is they’re not, which is an issue. ‘Glory’ is adapted from Robert Shaw’s letters to his mother, meaning the film is naturally focused on him. Consequently, the core subjects of the story are quite underdeveloped.

Morgan Freeman gives a very Morgan Freeman performance as John Rawlins, the measured, sensible and wise Sergeant Major, characteristics so typical of Freeman’s oeuvre. Denzel Washington is more interesting as Private Trip, an angry runaway slave who’s understandably embittered with the world and everyone in it. This anger manifests itself as bullying, he’s always provoking people who threaten that chip on his shoulder. His wrath is felt particularly by Corporal Thomas Searles (Andre Braugher), an educated, well dressed man whom Trip considers an uncle tom.

Trip is a decent character and convincingly played by Washington, he conveys that pain and anger well; his Oscar winning turn is probably the best performance of the film. However Trip is, like the rest of the film, still somewhat unremarkable and overly familiar. There is one scene where Trip remarks how the regiment is ‘the only family he’s ever had’, which is so clichéd and predictable you could see it coming a mile off.

What perhaps is worst about the film are the battle scenes. While there’s a grisly headshot at the beginning and it succeeds in depicting the disgraceful death of the suicidal battle charges, it ultimately does not convince or affect. There’s far too much choreography going on, whether its soldiers exuberantly throwing themselves about under cannon fire or the almost laughable scenes of contrived mêlée where the soldiers run about rifle butting each other like in some second-rate action film.

Mark Kermode spoke of how ‘Glory’ had ‘visceral war scenes’ that were ‘long before Saving Private Ryan’. Indeed, ‘Glory’ was before ‘Saving Private Ryan’, but the latter heralded a new level of brutal realism, after its awesome 169 minutes you feel completely battered and depressed. I am very surprised that Kermode would compare this tame piece of work with Spielberg’s stark WWII epic.

Despite my reservations, I wouldn’t say ‘Glory’ is a bad film, it goes along just fine. Although I thought there should’ve been more focus on the black characters, it is Shaw’s struggle to control and maintain his new regiment that’s probably the most interesting part of the film. Although a compassionate man, he realises that he is now an authority figure, he must nurture a veneer of unwavering stoicism and power so the men respect and obey him. This means he must adhere to the rules of the time, including the ugly, violent ones. I was most engaged when watching Shaw wrestle with the officialism and racism of his regiment, however the men he commanded were trite and boring.

While it may have been more profound in 1989, I felt that the film, although competent, was rather neutered and covered well-trodden ground.

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Dark Knight Rises

Disappointingly dull blockbuster fare.

Upon reflection, I realised that ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ isn’t much more than mediocre. It’s little more than a multiplex pandering, noisy summer blockbuster that hides behind a veil of overly dark and ‘serious’ themes in a really rather pretentious manner. Much like its predecessor, the film is convoluted; its simple plot is dragged over 165 minutes. I actually didn’t find the length particularly bothering, I don’t think I started to fidget too much in my seat, but I was certainly aware that it was too long.

Predictably, the film is overrated, much like fellow blockbusters ‘Avatar’, ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Inception’. All of them adopt the generic blockbuster formula, one of the signature elements of this formula being the humdrum orchestral score, which either sounds like an approaching ocean liner or is so flat and featureless that you’ll leave the cinema forgetting it had one. Christopher Nolan loves his epic narratives to be full of twists and turns, and he will create them no matter how implausible they are.

‘Rises’ isn’t at the top of the implausibility scale, I think that area is reserved for ‘Inception’ or ‘The Prestige’, but so many parts of this film are tiringly unlikely and badly executed. I’m not a fan of literal film criticism, however Bruce Wayne transforms from a decrepit, gout ridden Howard Hughes figure to crime-fighting Batman within an hour, as if the rather damning diagnosis given at the beginning of the film was false. I think they were trying to cram in too many elements of its source material into the bloated plot in a ‘Spider Man 3’ fashion. Without spoiling anything, the ending is also a weak point; its sheer theatrical unlikelihood saps any power or catharsis it intended to be dripping in. The careless implausibility is to be found throughout the film, and for me, it detracted significantly from my engagement with the film.

The film is striking, yes, but not as striking as you’d expect. The word ‘epic’ is being thrown around constantly about this film, but it’s rather ordinary; it’s decent, but it doesn’t stand out like ‘Avatar’. I must admit I found the opening of ‘2012’ more exhilarating.

Contrary to a rather sizeable opinion, I quite liked Bane. I liked his brutal strength and even his voice, which was only slightly irritating after the lengthy monologue delivered upon the car to the inmates. Christian Bale’s performance was again quite unremarkable, like everything with the film – it was okay, nothing special. I like Bale a lot, it’s not entirely his fault, it’s the fault of the character’s. Bruce Wayne and Batman aren’t the deepest, most multi-faceted of characters; Bale is either the restrained, non-entity of Wayne or the growling Batman. The best performance is Michael Caine’s, who has one particular scene that’s given with a marked sincerity that is a real showcase of Caine’s talents.

Ultimately, I left the cinema feeling quite hollow. It wasn’t all bad, but it was rather uninteresting, slightly stupid blockbuster fare.

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