A right royal mess of a biopic

Cert 12a | By Daniel O’Mahony
One star

OLIVER Hirschbiegel’s film is an excruciating, tacky attempt to tell the story of the last two years of Diana, Princess of Wales’ life, starring Naomi Watts as the press-hounded princess.

It revolves around her love affair with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews) and the whole thing has the over-sentimental feel of a poor TV movie, subjecting the People’s Princess to yet another posthumous indignity.

Watts shows flashes of her talent but there is no saving this melodramatic farrago. She’s at her most convincing when recreating the infamous Panorama interview from 1995 (you know the one: “There were three people in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded...”). It says a lot that the most believable scene in the movie is the doubly artificial scenario of a recreated television interview.

The scene highlights by contrast the fatal flaw of the film – a terribly contrived screenplay. Screenwriter Stephen Jeffreys has produced nearly two hours of imagined conversations between Hasnat and Diana that are at best lame, and at worst laughably ridiculous. The audience are supposed to invest in the relationship between the two (it is the fulcrum of the film) but the writing simply isn’t good enough.

It’s laudable that Andrews manages to keep a straight face through most of the movie, given the epic clangers he is forced to deliver. Unfortunately, this seriousness is also the most commendable aspect of a tepid, affected performance.

Unlike in The Queen, in which the shadow of Diana loomed large over Helen Mirren’s monarchy, here there is a bizarre absence of other major figures in Lady Spencer’s life. Not only do they not appear, they are never even mentioned. Charles’ role is as a mere punch line for a few throwaway snipes. While the intention of this is clear – to focus the film tightly on Diana and Hasnat’s relationship – it feels disingenuous to discard the past so completely in the attempted retelling of a complex love affair.

Of course, we are so familiar with the tempestuous trajectory of Diana’s public fortunes that we are able to fill in the gaps ourselves. But it’s disturbing how the film manages to entirely erode that sense of context.

Coming from a director like Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall, the excellent chronicle of Hitler’s last days), and an actress of Naomi Watt’s calibre, this is quite an exceptional flop. It is a strangulated attempt at a biopic that does nobody any favours – certainly not the individuals it claims to portray, both alive and dead. Despite its presumably noble intentions, Diana comes off as yet another unnecessary and intrusive exercise. It’s a shame they couldn’t have just let the poor woman rest in peace.

Cert 15 | By Ben Butcher
Three stars

BRAD Anderson (director of the excellent The Machinist) continues his descent from critical acclaim with The Call, a sometimes suspenseful yet ultimately disappointing abduction thriller. Halle Berry plays Jordan, a 911 operator still distraught from a mistake she made six months earlier that resulted in the death of a teenage girl. Since the incident she has taken on a safer backroom role, but a call from an abducted teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) forces her to take responsibility for the fate of a person’s life once again.

Berry appears to enjoy being the best thing in a mediocre film. The Call is held together by her engaging performance, and she does an excellent job of selling the torment and helplessness that permeates throughout the first two acts. Breslin is game for the requirements of her role as the abductee, whimpering and snivelling to great effect. Michael Eklund’s turn as the villain begins promisingly, but his enthusiasm is wearing by the end.

The focus on 911 operators is where the film’s strength lies. Evidently it is the worst job in the world, as human tragedy and suffering are fed to you on a never-ending conveyor belt. When a call “goes bad” – a euphemism for “you’ve screwed up and indirectly killed someone” – an oppressively lit “quiet room” is the only refuge.

As with many films of this nature, the trouble begins with the end. While Anderson’s confident directing ensures The Call remains engrossing throughout, he fails to prevent the film sliding into cliché. What started out as a tense, disciplined thriller descends into macabre chaos. The contrivances escalate, as does the violence, and The Call eventually collapses under the weight of its own implausibility.

Cert 12a | By Daniel O’Mahony
Two stars

YOU might be tempted to compare RIPD with Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. Both are set in Boston, and concern the city’s police department. Both have titles alluding to death. The key difference is that The Departed is excellent and RIPD is poor. Director Robert Schwentke tries to deliver a zany fairground ride, a supernatural take on the buddy cop genre. But it packs few punches and even fewer jokes.

Ryan Reynolds plays Nick Walker, a Boston Police Department sergeant with money problems. His wife Julia (Stephanie Szostak) tells him not to worry – just before he gets killed in the line of duty. Sucked through a vortex, he lands in a strangely familiar afterlife: the otherworldly offices of the Rest In Peace Department. Apparently you can’t escape the law, even when you’re dead.

Walker is teamed with the irascible Roy Pulsifer (Jeff Bridges), a long-dead Wild Westerner with a deep attachment to his cowboy hat.

With his chiselled features and straight face, Reynolds has come a long way from Van Wilder, but this newfound maturity manifests as boring. He goes too far as the movie’s straight man – no amount of 3D can coax out a different facial expression.

As for Bridges, you can’t help wondering why the Dude agreed to this dud?

Maybe it was just to be in a film with Kevin Bacon – he’s now got a Bacon number of one. Sporadic comic relief provided by Bridges is the only saving grace in an otherwise lacklustre affair.