The BBC has produced a string of memorable cop-shows in recent years, including the likes of Happy Valley, Line of Duty, The Fall and Good Cop. River (Arrow Films), which was created and scripted by Emmy Award winner Abi Morgan (Suffragette, The Iron Lady), is the latest addition to the list.
John River (Stellan Skarsgard, Good Will Hunting) is a brilliant police officer whose genius for solving crimes is tempered by his fragile mental state. Struggling to come to terms with the recent murder of ex-partner and close friend Jackie ‘Stevie’ Stevenson (Nicola Walker, Unforgotten), River seems to have suffered a psychotic break, and is now plagued by visions of dead people – not least his recently deceased colleague.
River’s investigation into Stevie’s death begins to reveal her deepest, darkest secrets, and the tormented cop is forced to question everything he thought he knew about his one true friend. His state of mind is tested even further by his increasingly intense hallucinations, which include sneering visits from Eddie Marsan’s Victorian poisoner, Thomas Cream.
Skarsgard adds serious depth to a potentially hokey story, and his hangdog cop shoulders the warped narrative in impressive fashion. The fusion of whodunit and ghost story is compellingly rendered, and while the mix can be unwieldy at times, River is an ambitious, striking drama full of excellent moments.
Set at the tail-end of the 19th century, Slow West (eOne) tells the story of 16-year-old Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road) who ventures deep into the American frontier in search for the woman he loves. Naïve Jay encounters a mysterious fellow traveller Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender, Shame), who agrees to be Jay’s guide – albeit for his own dishonourable ends. As they embark on their journey they cross paths with a ruthless outlaw named Payne (Ben Mendelsohn, Animal Kingdom) who is hoping to reach Jay’s love interest first – and claim the bounty on her head.
The directorial debut of former Beta Band member John Maclean, Slow West is a self-consciously arty western that ultimately adds up to less than the sum of its intriguing parts. The ponderous, episodic pace sometimes recalls Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, but Maclean’s attempts to inject a similar degree of quirky charm often fall flat.
After watching Tommy Lee Jones’ gritty The Homesman earlier this year, Slow West suffers badly by comparison. While that movie also offered an episodic approach, its gruelling plot gave it real emotional bite. Slow West doesn’t come close in this department, and the lightweight plot sometimes underwhelms Maclean’s laudable aims. At its best, Slow West is a cool, crisp revisionist western. At its worst it is underwhelming and unconvincing.
37-year-old Maggie Gyllenhaal made the headlines recently when she revealed that she had been turned down for a role opposite a 55-year-old leading man because casting directors thought that she was ‘too old’ for the role. The admission reignited the debate over Hollywood’s perennial age-gap inconsistently, and never has this been more in evidence than in Pierce Brosnan’s new rom-com Lessons in Love (Arrow Films).
Richard Haig (Brosnan – 62) is a well-respected English professor at the renowned Trinity College in Cambridge, teaching 18th century romantic poetry. By night, he follows in the footsteps of his father (Malcolm McDowell – 72), indulging his own fantasies with beautiful undergraduates. When one of his student conquests, Kate (Jessica Alba – 34), falls pregnant, the pair relocate to Malibu, only to split up when she falls in love with a younger man. Complicating things further, Richard falls for Kate’s inexplicably Latina sister Salma Hayek (49), jeopardising his faux-relationship with Kate – which has been preserved in order to protect his immigration status.
If the illogical casting decisions were the film’s worst problem, Lessons in Love might have stood a chance, but the patchy script and jumpy narrative undermine the exercise further still. In his post-James Bond wilderness years Brosnan has slipped effortlessly into a series of aging lothario roles, of which this is typical. While his easy-going charisma is undeniable, it is a shame that so many of his latter-day projects have been so half-baked. If undemanding, undercooked rom-coms are your cup of tea then Lessons in Love may hold a sickly appeal. That said, I would be surprised if this movie does much business outside of Brosnan’s loyal fan-base.