DATE NIGHT ***
Tina Fey and Steve Carrell in a New York comedy directed by Shawn Levy should offer great delights. Instead, it offers a very amusing first third before descending into an 80s-style “action comedy”, complete with multiple car chases, handguns, and black-leather-clad villains. Why it was decided that these two classy comedians needed whiz and bang to complement their excellent skills is beyond me. If only they’d stuck with the talent and given away the stunts, guns, and villains, this would have been a much funnier film. Amusing cameo roles from Mark Wahlberg, James Franco and Mila Kunis help, but not nearly enough scripting – or screen time – is given to Ray Liotta and William Fichtner, both brilliant actors who are completely wasted here in extremely generic “bad guy” roles. Manhattan locations are very well used and the film looks and sounds great – but you just get the sense that it could have been so much funnier with a bit more script work.
BENEATH HILL 60 ****1/2
Jeremy Hartley Sims’ film of David Roach’s extraordinary script is a new Australian classic war film detailing an extraordinary – and largely unsung – period in WWI history. As the western front got bogged down into a horrendous stalemate, a new war began – beneath the trenches of the front. This film gives an insight into this insanely treacherous – and, from a modern perspective, ludicrous – method of warfare, through the prism of ten Australian soldiers, lead by the real-life figure Oliver Woodward, a mining engineer from Tenterfield who followed his nation’s call and proved himself to be a surprisingly remarkable soldier and leader of men. In the role of Woodward, Brendan Cowell gives a revelatory performance – easily the best of his still-blooming career – and he is matched in similar career-best performances from Steve Le Marquand, Alan Dukes, and an almost unrecognisable Anthony Hayes (playing against stereotype in a major way by actually being clean-shaven, neat and well-spoken). Also popping up are veterans Chris Haywood, David Ritchie, and – surprise! – John Stanton, who has not lost an ounce of gravitas in the years he’s been away from our screens. A truly gripping film, the incredibly well-wrought script makes the seriously brain-straining concepts of “tunnel warfare” not only possible to follow, but actually exciting – which is a massive achievement, given that it is quite possibly the slowest and most labourious method of warfare in history. If the movie occasionally strains to make such a bizarre form of combat “minute-to-minute” exciting, it completely makes up for it with compelling and believable production design, sound design and truly stunning cinematography. A brilliant film, and a film that will delight all ages and tastes. It should carve up the AFIs, in all categories.