Review: A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash is acted to perfection. Luca Guadagnino’s sexually charged flick is visually stunning and its script – penned by David Kajganich, based on a story by Alain Page – escapes clichĂ©s and reflects a wonderful originality. Despite the genuinely brilliant nature of this critically acclaimed drama there’s something amiss, and it’s incredibly hard to put a finger on what that might be.

Tilda Swinton (one of the best actresses of her generation) stars as rock star Marianne Lane. Vacationing in Sicily with troubled boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), they are joined by the outrageous Harry (Ralph Fiennes clearly had an absolute ball in this role) and promiscuous daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). The small ensemble is phenomenal but Schoenaerts struggles alongside Fiennes in a subdued role that doesn’t allow him to shine amongst a cast of acting heavyweights. Johnson is an unexpected star, showing herself to be a young actress of such sheer talent that she will surely go on to bigger and better things than the truly absurd Fifty Shades of Grey franchise.

Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash

Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash

Guadagnino directs with a sharp eye, demonstrating his artistry early on through snappy camera direction and set pieces reminiscent of Woody Allen. The film is sexy and boisterous with a sun-drenched visage that masterfully deceives its audience, resulting in a finale that is tinged in unexpected darkness. Its cinematography is a triumph and Yorick Le Saux’s photography truly rouses the senses while the enviable costume design further propels the film into stunning territory.

A Bigger Splash questions the price of fame while exploring the boundaries (and burdens) that come with intimate relationships, whether that be father/daughter or boyfriend/girlfriend and this it does truly successfully. Cracks in the plot begin with the unlikeable characterisation of the majority of those seen on-screen. Yes, Marianne is a tour-de-force of a protagonist and Swinton is a gem as always, but Schoenaerts’ Paul is weak and easily forgettable while Harry‘s overbearing nature loses effect early on and the escalation of his behaviour becomes meaningless. Each character holds secrets and these are much beyond having slept with each other. Alcoholism, drug addiction, underage sex, suicide; Alain Page’s story unabashedly explores these themes but they are thrown at the audience with such an eager force that the twists and turns of the plot lose effect.

It’s certainly flawed but A Bigger Splash is lavish filmmaking with a stellar ensemble that boasts some of the best the big screen has to offer. Sophisticated and gorgeous to look at, Guadagnino’s layered flick is a treat on the eyes despite never fully delivering an engaging premise.

Skyfall, review

I know what you must be thinking – ‘Bit late on the Skyfall wagon, aren’t you?‘, well forgive me but Bond and I have never managed a connection. However, Christmas Eve came along with the ITV premiere of the latest 007 affair and I gave it a go. And loved it. And then re-watched it. And loved it some more. Many are of the consensus that Skyfall, the twenty-third film in the most successful franchise in movie history, is the best Bond film ever made – and I think they might just be right. Sam Mendes has re-worked the series and given James a disheveled grit and M a vulnerability that viewers have never seen before. Daniel Craig continues to prove why he is the best actor for the job and Javier Bardem is quite possibly the most malevolent villain to date. Rather than a review, this may turn into a fan article – apologies.

We join the MI6 in a vulnerable state – undercover agents are being targeted by a team of sadistic terrorists (led by Bardem’s Silva) and it falls on Bond (like it always does) to track down and take out these assassins. While all this is going on the audience are introduced to three key characters, all of whom were of integral importance to older films in the franchise. Naomie Harris is on as Eve Moneypenny, relative newcomer Ben Whishaw makes a fantastic turn as tech genius Q and Ralph Fiennes finishes the trio as Gareth Mallory, a role which I will leave up to you to understand. This ensemble work charismatically together to finally make James Bond a truly contemporary, and riveting, narrative which sparks with originality.

daniel craig as james bond in skyfall

daniel craig as james bond in skyfall

Why is this so different? It really depends on a number of elements, and it is these elements that made the naysayers of 007 finally stand up, applaud, and treat James Bond as a serious picture. The first of these elements is the adult nature that Mendes has adopted while taking on the position of director; there is a fair amount of violence, with one scene genuinely looking as though it should belong in a 15 rated film. The sexual chemistry between Moneypenny and Bond is electric and just proves you don’t need a sex scene to make a statement. Beyond this obvious shift in tone is the strength in Mendes as a director aware of the weaknesses that the majority of the more recent Bond films carried with them – the cliched bar scenes, the victorious ending, the corny lines that were featured time and again – they are all gone and replaced by an array of visceral scenes that bring a genuine quirk to this somewhat stilted series of films.

Many will disagree with my lack of enthusiasm for 007 and the twenty three films that have exploited the agent and his misgivings, but everyone will agree that Skyfall is a film to be championed, for it breaths life back into a tired man. While the narrative is pretty formulaic and follows Todorov’s theory, the 143 minutes (an incredibly long running time for what is essentially an action film) are accompanied by neon-infused cinematography (OK, only one scene but its pretty jaw-dropping), surreal stunts that make you wish you could do that, and an overhanging sense of impending doom which Bardem should be thanked for. Oh, and this is a particularly poignant feature, for audiences say goodbye to the beloved Judi Dench who, lets be honest, could act in her sleep and win an Oscar.

Spectre, the twenty fourth adventure, is currently in the works and with Mendes back on board we can all start excitedly marking the days until its release.