Let The Right One In and State of Play

April 24, 2009

Having watched two very different films in the last couple of days (as well as having been to see Crank: High Voltage twice) I thought a side by side review of each would be enlightening, but it almost certainly won’t be.

First, Let The Right One In, a top class Swedish film that has been advertised as being a horror film but in essence is a film about adolescence which only pushes the horrific elements when it feels the audience might be getting complacent or at worst bored. Think The Orphanage rather than Jason Goes To Hell. The film follows Oskar, a young, pale, white blonde boy who is bullied terribly at school and fantasies about killing his tormentors. He meets Eli, an immortal blood drinking vampire trapped in a young girl’s body whose deep voice is the only concession to her age and experience. At times the film feels like a snow bound Lord of the Flies and the suffering of Oskar in schools is by far the most disturbing aspect of the film. Most of the times the gothic, horrific elements work well, and the director certainly grasps the fear that loud, ragged breathing can induce. However, a scene with poorly animated CGI cats look comedic by comparison to other well implemented virtual elements, for example one of the most convincing facial wounds I’ve ever seen on film.

The film is touching and disturbing, and even minor characters are developed well without the need for lengthy exposition or clumsy dialogue. Perhaps the best example of the director’s ability to be both economic and powerful occurs whilst Oskar is staying with his father who has seperated from his mother. In the isolated cabin by a frozen lake the two are playing a game when a visitor arrives. His father immediately greets the man warmly, gets him a drink and turns his attention from Oskar and the game. The new arrival attempts to chat to Oskar, but there is tension and an unspoken discovery by the audience that this must be his father’s lover. This level of subtlety is present throughout the film, and the use of a glance, a sound or a musical burst to convey meaning or feeling is refreshing and recognises the audiences intelligence rather than insulting it with repetition.

Camerawork is handled with skill and the oppressive white landscape that is so often shrouded in darkness is a constant threat as much as the violence of Eli and the bullies is. There is little camera movement and this helps to hide the artifice of the medium whilst still operating as a powerful narrative tool, and every shot is filled with contrasting visuals thanks to the white of the snow, the pallid complexions and the deep red of the blood.

State of Play is by contrast a star studded Hollywood political thriller that throws a modern spin on the age old story of corruption. This time it’s private military contractors who are in the firing line of Russle Crowe’s investigative reporter, bending the laws and the codes of news journalism in order to protect his old college buddy and now senator played by Ben Affleck. This film has got decent reviews from most people, and for the most part it is a decent story with action and corruption, though the small scale of the final twist and the resulting impact is disappointing. Crowe is pretty much on auto pilot, playing the same basic part as he did in American Gangster but this time with a note book instead of a Gun, and Rachel McAdams is functional more than she is feisty as the rookie reporter tagging along for the ride. Why the film felt it necessary to imply occasionally during and strongly in the closing act that Crows and McAdams’ characters might become romantically involved is beyond me. Jason Bateman provides some comic relief in what is an otherwise serious tale and it’s nice to see Affleck back on the screen and trying something with some weight, even though the greying temples don’t make him look quite the statesman that his character was supposed to be. It’s also hard to take Brennan Brown (that bloke from the Orange cinema adverts) seriously in his role, especially as he appear next to Jeff Daniels for the majority of his screen time.

Sylistically State of Play goes for the standard shaky camera style that’s popular at the moment and looks like a toned down Bourne film though there is less action and little violence.

So, go and see Let The Right One In before it’s bannished from the big screen and go and see State of Play if you want some well made if unoriginal thriller material. The latter is a 12A as well so you can drag any children that you may have in with you.

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