Prairie Messenger Header

Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


Hell or High Water
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — The age-old question whether good ends can ever justify moral or criminal wrongdoing gets an intricate examination in director David Mackenzie’s sober drama “Hell or High Water” (CBS).

But, along with a gritty atmosphere and dialogue to match, the issues Mackenzie weighs call for careful analysis on the part of mature viewers in this artistically accomplished film.

Working from a screenplay by Taylor Sheridan, Mackenzie gravely unfolds a hardscrabble story of exploitation and desperation. With their West Texas family farm in the clutches of a manipulative banking firm, brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) Howard strike on a plan to rob various branches of the bank until they have just enough money to reclaim their property.

For cynical ex-con Tanner, lawbreaking is nothing new. But divorced dad Toby has always walked the straight-and-narrow.

Yet, in keeping with an overarching theme in Sheridan’s script, the ethical divides are not as clear as they might initially seem. It’s Toby, for instance, who first comes up with the scheme for the heists.

Ambiguities also characterize the movie’s other primary relationship, that between the two Texas Rangers who take up the investigation.

A grizzled veteran on the verge of retirement, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) likes to hurl abuse at his even-tempered partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), based on Alberto’s mixed Hispanic and Native American heritage. But viewers easily recognize these slurs as disguised (and misguided) signs of affection. As for Alberto himself, he generally accepts them with quiet exasperation.

He does respond occasionally, though. When Marcus express surprise that Alberto wants to watch a televangelist, and isn’t instead dancing around the motel room they share on the road burning sage, Alberto, plainly out of patience, shoots back: “I’m Catholic!”

The cat-and-mouse game kicked off when the Rangers begin their pursuit winds up having unexpected — and tragic — consequences. Along the way, Bridges makes the biggest impact, but the cast as a whole is uniformly fine.

As for the underlying moral conflict, ultimately embodied by Toby on the one hand and Marcus on the other, it reaches a near stalemate. Still, the audience’s sympathies are subtly channeled in the right direction.

That will be reassuring for viewers whose perspective is shaped by St. Paul’s teaching in the third chapter of his Letter to the Romans on the fundamental issue raised by “Hell or High Water.” “And why not say,” Paul asks rhetorically, “that we should do evil that good may come of it?” As the phrasing of the question itself implies, the answer to that query is, and will always remain, decisively negative.

The film contains some strong violence with brief gore, fleeting but graphic casual sex, occasional irreverence, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, frequent rough and crude language and numerous ethnic insults. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
- — -
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.


The Light Between Oceans
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Beginning with 1979’s “The Europeans,” the producer-director team of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, whose partnership was already of 15 years standing, churned out a succession of high-quality period films. The duo’s pictures were famous for their lush cinematography, all-star casts and compelling story lines, usually based on a deep, dark secret.

Think “A Room with a View” (1985), 1992’s “Howards End” and “The Remains of the Day” (1993).

Writer-director Derek Cianfrance (“The Place Beyond the Pines”) picks up the Merchant-Ivory mantle with “The Light Between Oceans” (Disney), his adaptation of the 2012 novel by M.L. Stedman. Beautifully shot in Australia and New Zealand, this melodrama is an old-fashioned weeper about love and loss, with a powerful message about forgiveness and the role of conscience.

After fighting in the First World War, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) returns home to Australia a broken man. He eagerly takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote island called Janus Rock, seeking solitude as a balm for his emotional wounds.

He lives just at the point where the Indian and Pacific Oceans meet, and his signal is thus a vital beacon for passing ships.

As he sets out from the mainland, Tom catches the eye of charming, spirited Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander). They correspond, fall in love, and eventually marry.

Making a home on their lonely island, the pair initially finds happiness together. But they remain childless. Two miscarriages drive Isabel to the brink of despair.

But one morning a dinghy washes ashore, carrying a dead man and an infant girl who’s barely alive. In this, Isabel sees the answer to her prayers. She persuades her reluctant husband not to report the tragedy so that they can raise the child, christened Lucy (Florence Clery), as their own.

Years pass, but the weight on Tom’s conscience never lifts. A chance encounter on the mainland with Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz), Lucy’s real mother, only makes matters worse. Hannah continues to mourn the loss of her husband and child.

From its perch on the aptly named Janus Rock, “The Light Between Oceans” looks both toward the past and into the present, keeping viewers guessing as to whether the truth will out and some version of justice prevail. In passing through this beautifully landscaped vale of tears, sensitive viewers will find that a jumbo box of tissues comes in very handy.

The film contains mature themes, scenes of marital sensuality and a few profane oaths. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
- — -
McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


Mechanic: Resurrection
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — For Arthur Bishop, the protagonist of the “Mechanic” franchise, the sole purpose of existence is to effectively dispatch bad people using elaborate, spectacular methods in exotic locales.

The fact that he targets only villains means there’s something of a vaguely well-intentioned, though obviously off-kilter, moral core in “Mechanic: Resurrection” (Summit), the second film in the current series.

Bishop (Jason Statham), retired and living undercover in Brazil since the 2011 installment — the remake of a 1972 movie starring Charles Bronson — is forced to take up his craft again after his mysterious childhood friend, Crain (Sam Hazeldine), kidnaps his true love, Gina (Jessica Alba). Poor old Gina, who runs a shelter for human trafficking victims in Cambodia, doesn’t have it easy; Bishop had earlier rescued her from an abusive relationship.

To spring Gina, Bishop will have to carry out three kills. Given that director Dennis Gansel and screenwriters Philip Shelby and Tony Mosher aren’t very skilled at dispensing exposition, all of the foregoing is presented rather murkily. The story only gains focus once Bishop, who has a vast knowledge of science, is physically fearless and also somehow tenderhearted, starts planning and executing his hits.

Thankfully, Gansel and his collaborators downplay the gore as Bishop goes about his business, which involves the trademark gimmick of making the mayhem he wreaks appear to be an accident. But the overall effect is something like a cut-rate “Mission: Impossible.”

The filmmakers are apparently anxious to deliver the audience from any danger of having to think too much. That way, viewers can sit back and enjoy Bishop’s stunts, such as disguising himself as a murderous inmate in Singapore, or emptying a skyscraper’s cantilevered swimming pool in Australia.

The film contains pervasive, mostly stylized violence, an implied nonmarital sexual encounter and frequent rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


Don’t Breathe
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Moviegoers with long memories may recall director Terence Young’s 1967 adaptation of Frederick Knott’s play “Wait Until Dark” in which Audrey Hepburn portrayed a blind housewife forced to defend herself against three sighted thugs.

The film’s premise — involving a doll stuffed with heroin that Hepburn’s character, Susy Hendrix, had innocently come into possession of — may have been flimsy. But the confrontations to which it led, in which Susy proved remarkably resourceful at tilting the battlefield against her adversaries, had viewers in danger of slipping off their seats.

Lo, the years have passed, and director and co-writer Fede Alvarez’s generally effective but sometimes nasty thriller, “Don’t Breathe” (Screen Gems), turns out to have a great deal more in common with Young’s movie than just a title in the imperative mood.

Once again we have a trio of home invaders, this time made up of youthful friends — and partners in petty crime — Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). And once more have a sightless victim waiting in the wings in the person of a reclusive veteran (Stephen Lang) the script, penned with Rodo Sayagues, never names.

As the purloining pals quickly discover, though, their supposedly easy mark is no Audrey Hepburn, intrepid or otherwise. A sympathetic figure in theory — he’s been targeted by the burgling buddies because of a large legal settlement he was awarded after his young daughter was killed by a reckless driver – he’s actually a homicidal loon with well-honed combat skills.

Add to that the fact that his house is the only inhabited dwelling in an abandoned area of Detroit, and that it’s watched over by a ferocious guard dog, and it’s pretty clear just how soon the tables will be turned on the amateurish thieves.

Alvarez is fairly restrained in his presentation of the mayhem that follows. Though blood flows, it’s measurable in ounces not bucket loads.

Yet, as the action progresses plot developments begin to strain the laws of logic. More significantly, perverse behaviour and the horror equivalent of gross-out humour creep in — and creep out the audience in a way those seeking casual entertainment are unlikely to appreciate.

The film contains intense violence with some gore, a disturbing sequence involving a bizarre sexual assault, brief scatological humour, a couple of uses of profanity, much rough and crude language and an obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
- — -
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

Copyright (c) 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops