Coens inspire with a gritty Western

Film
TRUE GRIT
Cert: 15

In this Coen Brothers-directed re-make of a John Wayne Western, Jeff Bridges is the maverick, whisky-slugging gun-slinger Marshall Rooster Cogburn, a self-professed "foolish old-man who has been drawn into a wild goose chase by a harpy in trousers and a nincompoop".

The harpy is 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who, thanks to a mother who is “indecisive and hobbled by grief” has taken it upon herself to avenge her father’s recent slaying by wanted criminal Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). The nincompoop is the pleasantly dim-witted Texas Ranger Laboeuf (Matt Damon). Together they embark on a mission to get Chaney.

With its crisp, wide-angled vistas, the film earns its Best Cinematography Oscar nod. Likewise Steinfeld and Bridges’ performances are both superb. The script is infused with the hilarious, machine-gun verbosity that’s been the Coen brothers' trademark for 25 years.

Mixing the drama of No Country For Old Men with the humour of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, True Grit is among the finest of the Coen Brothers’ films.
Tom Latter

NEVER LET ME GO
Cert: 12A

Richard Nixon used to tell his psychiatrist that when he looked into the mirror in the morning, he saw no one there. I felt a similar sensation watching the spectral Keira Knightley’s void-like performance in this drab adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel.

Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Knightley) grow up together in the 1970s and ‘80s at a seemingly-idyllic English boarding school. But all is not as it seems. The pupils are special. Because when they hit adulthood, they will be systematically harvested for their organs, until their skin drapes over their empty skeletons like a withered balloon and they die.

Mulligan – with her ruddy, English Cream Tea charms – is watchable as the likable Kathy. Garfield (The Social Network) does his best with the irritating script. Knightley floats through the film with dead-eyed vacuity; half mannequin, half human abyss.

The film hints at Big Issues – being human, science and morality, the brevity of life – but the trite, laughably earnest love triangle saps away all life from it. Awful.
TL

GNOMEO & JULIET
Cert: U
The greatest love story ever told… re-told with animated garden gnomes and an Elton John soundtrack. Gnomeo and Juliet does not, it must be said, look promising on paper. Yet on the big screen, what is conceptually unconvincing becomes a high-camp, off-the-wall, seriously enjoyable romp that kids and their parents will love.

In fair suburbia where we lay our scene, the ongoing feud between warring neighbours Mr Capulet and Miss Montague has been taken up by their respective garden gnomes, the Reds and the Blues. When bright young Blue thing Gnomeo (James McAvoy) meets feisty Red stunner Juliet (Emily Blunt) on a rare trip outside the Blue garden, cupid strikes and, well, you know the rest.

What Gnomeo and Juliet lacks in faithfulness to Shakespeare (the tragic third act is ditched in favour of a fairytale ending, naturally), it makes up for with an imaginative and irreverent playfulness. It is also packed with familiar-sounding voices (Ozzy Osbourne, Hulk Hogan and Dolly Parton among many others) – no doubt thanks to the showbiz connections of the film’s producer David Furnish.

And, if nothing else, viewers can have great fun working out who is who.
Amy Higgins

Theatre
THE CHILDREN’S HOUR
Comedy Theatre

THE excitement of seeing Keira Knightley and Elizabeth Moss – Peggy in cult TV series Mad Men – in the flesh seems at first to overshadow the play. The first time they share the stage, it feels as though Keira is being Keira (that controversial mouth and skinny frame working overtime) and Moss is, well, not quite sure what to do with her hands and talks a bit loudly.

But as the the spell-binding action of the play unravels (Hellman, a German Jew from New Orleans, wrote it as the Nazis are coming to power but the play is in the midwest), the two become riveting.

Karen (Knightley) and Martha (Moss) have spent their twenties slaving away to set up a school for girls in a farmhouse in Michigan while other girls their age were out at parties. Among the pupils at their school is Mary, a spooky, deranged girl and a compulsive liar (played brilliantly by the androgenous Bryony Hannah). Finally, one of her lies – inspired by a row that her two friends overhear – has grave consequences. But it is Mary’s doting grandmother – who chooses to believe Mary and the friend she manipulates into slandering Martha and Karen – who becomes the moral focus of the play. Hellman’s preoccupation here is the wreckage that lies – particularly those containing tiny grains of truth – can do. And so the play becomes a gripping moral piece, with a host of riveting performances.
Zoe Strimpel