Detective Harry Hole is an iconic character in the novels of international best-selling Norwegian author Jo Nesbo, having featured in eleven of his books. This first transfer to film (starring Michael Fassbender – 12 Years A Slave, Prometheus) is unlikely to lead to a rush for more.
Sumptuous it may be, set as it is in the winter landscapes of Norway (cinematography courtesy of Oscar-winning Dion Beebe – Memoirs of a Geisha, Collateral), but the film simply does not gel. In telling its story, whole chunks of the source material have been abandoned, with crucial plot and character development simply ignored.
Hole’s search for a serial killer should have been a dark psychological chiller of a thriller. Instead, it’s uninvolving, predictable and a waste of a seriously classy cast (J.K.Simmons, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rebecca Ferguson, Toby Jones, Val Kilmer). Not what was expected from Tomas Alfredson, director of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Let the Right One In.
It’s not the most coherent of the Alien/Prometheus films and, at times the action seems a little rushed after an overly slow intro, but Alien: Covenant is nothing if not spectacularly crafted.
Thrills and (literally) spills abound as the synthetic David (a sublime Michael Fassbender – Prometheus, 12 Years a Slave) looks to creation and immortality. But the real story of course is the virus that evolves into the deadly creatures – and what’s low in number in Alien: Covenant is still enough to create carnage on an unchartered planet and aboard the colony ship, Covenant.
Ridley Scott (The Martian, Alien) plumbs the same scares from the original to great effect along with several references to earlier films in the franchise as the action keeps on coming and the gore count keeps on rising.
Having extremely low expectations meant that this was not as bad as anticipated! Don’t get me wrong, it’s still bad, wasting the talent on offer, from young Australian director Justin Kurzel (MacBeth, Snowtown) through to Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard (MacBeth, La vie en rose) and Oscar-nominee Michael Fassbender (MacBeth, Steve Jobs).
An adaptation of a best-selling video game, Assassin’s Creed‘s saving grace is the visually arresting set pieces as we move between 15th century Spanish Inquisition and modern day. But even they wear thin.
Personally, 2016 was not awash with great films (or at least not yet released in Australia). And the same can be said about male performances. Drawing up the list was something of a struggle. There’s lots of good performances (Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs, Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Reynolds and Deadpool, Viggo Mortensen as Captain Fantastic, Tom Hanks in Sully and Don Cheadle in his personal labour-of-love that was Miles Ahead) but few that were that one rung up the ladder.
But my top five male performances of 2016 are:
5: Leonardo di Caprio (The Revenant)
4: Geza Rohrig (Son of Saul)
3: Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
2: Dave Johns (I, Daniel Blake)
1: Michael Keaton (The Founder)
Keaton’s renaissance over the last couple of years continues (Spotlight, Birdman) although chances are he will be overlooked again for his less than flattering portrayal of Ray Croc, CEO of McDonalds.
Part-time actor Dave Johns is riveting – and completely carries Ken Loach’s latest deeply humane British social commentary, I Daniel Blake. Jeff Bridges is in the supporting role for Texan sheriff in Hell or High Water – more screen time may have elevated him higher on the list. Like Johns, Geza Rohrig is rarely off-screen in the Hungarian Holocaust Oscar-winner, Son of Saul. And last year’s Oscar winner for best actor, Leonardo di Caprio, makes my top five for his role in The Revenant – narrowly beating out Tom Hardy who starred alongside him.
The list would have undoubtedly looked very different if the Australian release schedule mirrored the US – Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Denzel Washington (Fences), Joel Edgerton (Loving), Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) and Dev Patel (Lion) could well have formed the top five.
It may veer from the truth and nothing but the truth in the telling of a few key years in the life of Steve Jobs, but Danny Boyle’s biopic, Steve Jobs, is an electric, quick-fire, multi-layered drama written by Aaron Sirkin (The Social Network, Moneyball).
Overcoming the ‘controversy’ of looking nothing like Jobs, Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave, Shame) is magnificently self-aggrandising in the title role – a modulated performance of ego, self-confidence and God-like arrogance… (And to think the portrayal has been toned down from the real thing). And whilst Jobs is “the conductor to his orchestra” (maestro would have been more self-appealing), the bit players in this unfolding drama are unanimously excellent, with Kate Winslet receiving her seventh Oscar nomination.
This sits up there with some of the very best screen adaptations of Shakespeare’s stage plays. It looks stunning with sweeping Isle of Skye vistas, slow-mo battle scenes, appropriation of figures looming through mist and fog along with suitably dour costuming.
Australian director Justin Kurzel (Snowtown, The Turning) has chosen to make it surprisingly less bloody than anticipated (although this is the Dark Ages – there’s still plenty of it!) and the pace is brisk – it’s almost matter-of-fact in its telling. At the film’s core is a powerful central performance by Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave, X-Men) ably supported by Marion Cotillard (La vie en rose, Inception) and a bevy of character actors.
The only thing against it on a personal note is that Macbeth is one of my least favourites within Shakespeare’s canon.