Son Of A Gun. Use (A Lot Of) The Force.

son_of_a_gun_posterThe Sloth has been a big fan of Ewan McGregor since he first burst onto our screens in Shallow Grave and the magnificent Trainspotting. Since then he’s not always made the best role choices, in our humble opinion, so we were very excited by the prospect of him returning to ‘edgy’ and ‘Scottish’ in Son Of A Gun.

JR (Brenton Thwaites) is entering an Australian prison for a minor crime. Young, smart and a first time offender, he’s prime meat for the assorted Neanderthals and sexual predators that come with prison territory. Finding himself cornered in the showers in an attempted rape, help fortunately comes to hand from Brendan (Ewan McGregor, in his natural Scottish accent for once), an intelligent master criminal who is alpha dog in the prison pecking order. Realising JR also shares his love for chess, Brendan takes him under his protective wing.

But not for long. Being an intelligent master criminal type, Brendan is planning a jailbreak. A properly good one, with guns and helicopters and suchlike. Wooo! And being a newly paid up member of Brendan’s gang, lucky JR gets to bust out with him. Now you’d presume, once you’re back on the outside, you’d be more than happy with a trip to the pub, but no. Once a master criminal, always a master criminal, so Brendan is soon planning another, final heist to which JR will be getting involved.

Son of A Gun isn’t subtle. It’s full of macho, breast beating characters with tattoos and steroid-pumped muscles doubtless called things like Johnny Five Knuckles. There are obligatory Russian gangsters and ten foot high literal references to chess games / making moves / checkmates etc. But it doesn’t pretend to be subtle. It crashes erratically across the screen in a violent flurry of bullets, veers off temporarily to explore a love interest (Alice Vikander) for JR, then twists through a myriad of double crossings. With decent performances across the board and Ewan transferring his obligatory charisma to The Dark Side, if you’re in the mood for an immoral, blood and guts action thriller, you could do a lot worse.

UK release 30 January 2015

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Testament Of Youth. The Battle Of Brittain.

TestamentOfYouth-PosterIf there’s one thing us Brits do well, it’s a glossy costume drama (and swearing, but not normally together in the same room). Staunchly keeping up period appearances is Testament of Youth, as glossy and dramatic as they come.

Testament is based on the memoirs of Vera Brittain (Alice Vikander) a young, privileged, upper class woman who lived through WW1. Highly intelligent, beautiful and feisty, after a long battle with her traditionalist father (Dominic West) and mother (Emily Watson) she was granted permission to attend Oxford University, whilst simultaneously racking up a slew of adoring suitors of whom Roland (Kit Harrington) eventually won her affections.

Soon after her studies began, the outbreak of war saw Roland, her brother Edward (Taron Egerton) and friend Victor (Colin Morgan) leave for the front line. Frustrated by the comparative frivolity of university life, Vera left to become a nurse on the front line, tending the horrifically wounded on both English and – movingly – German sides with as much compassion as the hellish conditions allowed. Meanwhile, the war began ruthlessly and systematically claiming her nearest and dearest.

Now, we’re going to admit we appear to be in a minority (seemingly of one…) who weren’t over keen on lead actress Alice Vikander as Vera, finding her a touch too frostily regal to full engage with, certainly in the beginning. However we do credit her with growing into the role as the film progresses, as indeed Vera grows.  Aside from that personal gripe, we found this an unexpectedly emotional experience. Its strength is in bringing alive the horrors of an elusively distant past. It doesn’t shy away from the brutality of war and captures the devastation and overwhelming loss of life. Yes it’s glossy, but there is genuine substance underneath that asks whether we’ve learnt our lesson.  Let’s hope so.

UK release 16 January 2015

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