Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and second film or series available on DVD or instant-streaming service.
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In a time of troubled leadership, it is natural to look back in history and pine for strong leaders. Winston Churchill was one of those leaders. In this new film from director Jonathan Teplitzky, we get a peek into a slice of his life at a time that definitively shaped our modern world. Teplitzky mined similar territory in his 2013 The Railway Man, a wonderful film that told the story of a British Army officer who was a Japanese POW during WWII. Much like that film, Churchill succeeds as both an intense character study and a visual pleasure that is professionally done on all levels.
The story begins on the eve of the D-Day invasion in early June of 1944. As the largest amphibious mission in history, there was much consternation and bickering amongst the important players: Churchill, British General Bernard Montgomery, and Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower. Churchill had his doubts about the plans, and he wished to change them at the last minute. Then he demanded that he go into battle himself and lead the men (at the age of 70!). He was rebuffed, by Montgomery and Eisenhower, and finally by King George VI. Churchill listened to his King.
The close character study of Churchill is juxtaposed with the military planning and decision-making concerning the invasion. The film’s most thrilling moments come here—when we are in the room as Eisenhower decides to delay the invasion due to the weather, or when he decides to go as the weather clears. Bryan Cox as Churchill is very good, even if his frequent outbursts can get stilted. Still, the film is well-plotted, well-paced, well-acted, and well-directed.
Some of these events are not exactly historically accurate, and the film veers into fiction at points. But this is a film and not a piece of journalism; if you are learning your history from movies, well, that’s another issue entirely. Finally, watching these great leaders decide the fate of millions, it is hard to imagine such cooperation, nerves of steel, or competence in today’s world. Thank goodness for them.
You will like this film if you enjoyed Lincoln, Saving Private Ryan, and/or The King’s Speech.
Starts June 2 at Chez Artiste
I have frequently noted that in this Golden Age of TV, Amazon series continually best the other networks in terms of writing, production values, and in most cases, acting. Another in their line of offerings is Patriot, a dark, funny, quirky, and unsettling spy thriller that seems to be the love child of Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers. Quentin Tarantino would be its uncle.
The story concerns a covert intelligence operation to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. The sole agent in the operation, John, is played with wonderful insouciance by New Zealand actor Michael Dorman in a star-turn performance. His father is the intelligence boss who rescues John from a pot-soaked sabbatical in Amsterdam following a failed mission. John’s brother, a U.S. congressman, also helps rescue John from his smoke-filled, folk-singing stupor and subsequently nudges him throughout the mission. The three characters could be straight out of an Anderson, Tarantino, or Coen Brothers film, plopped into the serious world of U.S. espionage. Oh, and there is the matter of the Midwestern pipe company that serves as John’s cover job and allows him to travel to Europe, a job for which he is ill-suited and which provides a great deal of the (dark) humor and oddity.
The tone is wonderfully sustained over the course of the 10-episode first season, and it is not an easy tone to pull off. The juxtaposition of humor, violence, and outlandishness mixed with a close family dynamic sometimes gets in the way of itself, but for the most part it is extremely engaging, endearing, and biting. The cinematography is particularly compelling here: sustained long takes that focus on the psychology of a character; odd angles that mirror the oblique nature of the players and the action; and deep focus shots that keep the background and foreground in focus—the net effect of which highlights the strangeness of the reality.
The mission quickly goes awry and the characters are thrown into a spiral that has them chasing their tails throughout most of the season. This is where the acting really takes hold: the aforementioned Dorman carries the show and inhabits his character; the excellent Terry O’Quinn (Lost) as his father manages to be tender, funny, and ruthless; and Michael Chernus (Orange is the New Black) as brother Edward is the most hilarious of the bunch. Their combined travails include a run-in with Brazilian wrestlers, questioning by the Luxembourg police, a hunting trip to backwoods Wisconsin, and a mechanical bull riding competition in Amsterdam. Really.
You will like this if you enjoyed Fargo (film or series), The Grand Budapest Hotel, and/or Six Feet Under.
Season One is available on Amazon.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.