Stylish French cop-show Witnesses (Arrow Films), which recently aired on Channel 4, is now available to buy on DVD.
The drama unfolds in the small coastal town of Le Treport in northern France, where the bodies of murder victims are being exhumed and arranged in local show-homes in a series of macabre tableaux. Each time, the gravedigger follows the same ritual: a man, a woman, and a teenager (who aren’t related) are thrust together in a warped depiction of family life. Placed among the bodies is a photograph of Paul Maisonneuve (Thierry Lhermitte), a legendary ex-cop who is recuperating in a rehab centre after suffering a series of personal tragedies. Drawn out of exile, Paul is paired with ambitious female detective Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier), who is determined to delve into his murky past to uncover the truth.
First things first: Witnesses is clearly in thrall to the Nordic Noir sub-genre, as popularised by The Killing, The Bridge and countless other series. Uncompromising French cop dramas such as Spiral and Braquo have tapped into an appreciative audience on their own terms in recent years, so it is interesting to see a new show emerge that is so unashamedly influenced by Scandinavian TV. It isn’t just Nordic Noir that casts a long shadow over Witnesses, however. The small seaside town of Le Treport resembles a drizzlier Broadchurch, while the over-achieving Sandra has shades of The Bridge’s Saga Noren (albeit without the autism). Even Maisonneuve’s ‘prolific ex-cop lured out of retirement’ character seems to recall Julien Baptiste (Tcheky Karyo) in The Missing at times.
While the show’s template seems slightly stale, welcome hints of weirdness bubble beneath the surface throughout, and these engaging touches keep the show interesting. That said, Witnesses sometimes flatters to deceive, and ultimately feels like less than the sum of its quirky parts. At just six episodes long the series is easily digestible, and delivers enough intrigue to repay your faith in the show. All in all, a solid, well-acted police procedural dotted with eye-catching set-pieces.
Catch Me Daddy (StudioCanal), Daniel Wolfe’s first feature – written and created with his brother Matthew – follows Laila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed), a teenager from a ruthless Northern crime family, as she flees home with her boyfriend, Aaron (Connor McCarron). Laila’s family, who disapprove of the relationship on religious grounds, decide to hire a pair of mercenary thugs to chase them down – a pursuit that takes them deep into the grit and the grime of the Yorkshire Moors.
Described by the Wolfe brothers as a ‘modern-day Western’, Catch Me Daddy is filled with unsettling scenes that linger long in the memory. While the stuttering, episodic structure will not be to everyone’s tastes, it arguably enables the eye-catching set-pieces to have maximum impact. The use of novice actors (for the most part) adds to the film’s grim, authentic quality, and the racial tension is palpable throughout. It may be far from perfect, but Catch Me Daddy is a vivid, vicious thriller that feels gloriously, dementedly out of step with the more commercial end of the British cinema food-chain. Well worth investigating.
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Based on the novel of the same name by Marcus Sakey, Good People (eOne) is an unconvincing thriller starring James Franco and Kate Hudson as Tom and Anna Reed, an expatriate couple who fall into severe debt while renovating Anna’s family home in London. As fate would have it, they discover that the tenant in the apartment below them is dead – and he left behind £200,000 in cash. Needless to say, as soon as they start spending the money, they find themselves attracting the attention of both the cops and the dead man’s former partner in crime. To its credit, Good People does offer some decent (if sporadic) thrills, not least when glowering lead villain Sam Spruell is onscreen. On the flipside, the lead characters are too bland to invest much emotional attachment in, and James Franco gives an uncharacteristically subdued performance. An occasionally inspired, generally preposterous B-movie.
Australian director Shane Abbess earned critical plaudits for his 2008 debut feature Gabriel, and found himself whisked over to Hollywood and lined up to direct Source Code. The job fell through after a disagreement with leading man Jake Gyllenhaal, and six years after his debut, Abbess found himself back in Australia making Infini (Altitude). Humanity has become the victim of mass overpopulation and Whit Carmichael (Daniel MacPherson, Neighbours) has accepted a high-risk security job that requires off-world travel. Whit’s team are wiped out, however, and an elite rescue squad is duly dispatched to locate him and stop whatever caused the death of his crew from returning to earth. MacPherson – the current host of the Australian version of Dancing with the Stars – acquits himself surprisingly well in the lead role, and Infini is a solid, claustrophobic sci-fi thriller, albeit one that treads a dangerously derivative path. Underwhelming, but watchable.
The cover of War Pigs (Signature) seems to position the movie as a cut-price re-tread of The Expendables, with shop-soiled action hero Dolph Lundgren rubbing soldiers with a surgery-ravaged Mickey Rourke, UFC fighter Chuck Liddell and ex-Bros star (turned-poor-man’s-Jason-Statham) Luke Goss. The movie is set at the height of the Second World War, as an infantry unit known as the ‘War Pigs’, led by Captain Jack Wosick (Goss), must venture behind enemy lines on a suicide mission to recover a Nazi super weapon. Aided by French Foreign Legion fighter Captain Hans Picault (Lundgren), the motley crew of soldiers overcome their personal differences before going head-to-head with the Nazis. Despite its eye-catching action-orientated cast, War Pigs is a weirdly sluggish thriller, and one that is strangely low on action. To be honest, the most memorable thing about it is the frightening state of Mickey Rourke’s face!