Friday, April 26, 2019


STEEL COUNTRY is a genuinely bad film, and all the worse for wasting the talent of lead actor Andrew Scott - the talent behind SHERLOCK's Moriarty and currently popular as the love interest in Phoebe Waller-Bridges' TV comedy FLEABAG.  A movie that should be a character-driven detective thriller becomes a boring, cliche-ridden murder without the mystery, pivoted on a performance hamstrung by a bad script and a strange choice of accent. 

Scott plays a rubbish collector is a poor American town with a learning disability and thus a slurring accent. He becomes obsessed with the disappearance and then death of a local boy and starts to literally tootle through people's rubbish to get to the truth.  We're meant to sympathise with him and hate the locals who are so prejudiced against this odd man that they think he did it. But the problem is that the character IS genuinely sinister. Just look at the way he obsesses over his Baby Mama, constructing a weird fantasy around her, refusing to acknowledge that she doesn't want him. I'd be applying for a restraining order stat.  

That said, the movie is beautifully shot by Marcel Zyskind, and builds towards a genuinely moving (if unsurprising) confrontation between our protagonist and the dead boy's mother.  Scott's genuine quality shines through here.  And we're about to move toward a rather emotionally satisfying conclusion until director  Simon Fellows (GOD THE FATHER) and debut screen-writer Brendan Higgins balls it up with an absurdly out of character, tonally jarring, and absurdly melodramatic ending. 

STEEL COUNTRY AKA A DARK PLACE has a running time of 89 minutes. It was released last week in the USA and is now available in the UK, in cinemas, and on streaming services. 


Paolo Sorrentino's latest film LORO (THEM) is a film about the obsequious corrupt parasites that tried to make money during the reign of the abominable Italian President Silvio Berlusconi.  Infamous for amassing a media empire, then using the presidency to protect himself from prosecution and taxes, Berlusconi was a glutton for money and sex.  Moreover, in many senses he was the precursor and pioneer for a new breed of businessman turned populist demagogue - with a line leading from him via Orban to Trump.  Accordingly, one might have expected an urgent and excoriating film treatment from Italy's premier arthouse film-maker, Paolo Sorrentino.  After all, Sorrentino has form!  His nonpareil take-down of Italian Prime Minister Andreotti, IL DIVO, is one of my all-time favourite films.  And his bizarre surreal TV series THE YOUNG POPE is a similar, if fantastical, take-down of the corruption in the Vatican and its links to contemporary Italian politics. 

Imagine, then, my disappointment in finding LORO to be a rather toothless affair. Worse still, baggy, directionless, dare I say it? Dull!  Maybe this is a result of the format that I watched - a still over-long 150 minute compression of what were originally two separate feature films released in Italy last year.  But that still doesn't excuse this highly disjointed, weird final product.

The film opens with its focus on a sleazy low-level businessman who wants to move into the orbit of "him".  He pimps out pretty much every woman he knows, including his partner, for advancement.  He courts one of Berlusconi's mistresses. And makes a final expensive gamble - filling a villa with prostitutes and drugs and dance music - hoping to tempt Berlusconi to this apparently all-summer long bunga bunga party.  This section is really dull. It feels like a succession of beautifully shot living tableaux, set to moronic dance music. Endless shots of scantily clad women.  At some point you ask yourself when the depiction of sexual exploitation is itself exploitative - when the depiction of vacuous people is itself vacuous. 

It's only about an hour into the film that we meet Silvo, as played by the always charismatic Toni Servillo. The disappointment is that Silvio is shown in an almost sympathetic light. He's out of office and out of the good graces of his wife - showing a vulnerability that's disarming.  As the audience, we delight in him flexing his con artist muscles, persuading a random Italian housewife to buy a non-existent flat that she can't afford. THIS is the movie I wanted. A movie that explained Berlusconi's brilliance and charm and ruthlessness. But it's just that one scene.  Finally his wife breaks away and in this desperation he finally falls for the bait in the villa next door. But after so much moral corruption on show, he hardly seems worse than the rest of them. And maybe that's Sorrentino's point?  We get the President we deserve, resemble, need to enable us?

LORO has a running time of 150 minutes. It is currently available to watch in cinemas and on streaming services in the UK and Ireland.