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Don't Worry Darling - 2 out of 5 stars

Amsterdam - 3 out of 5 stars

The Law Society Journal and Potential Films have double passes to giveaway for the film The Night of the 12th.

For Yohan, Clara’s murder proves to be that case. What starts as a thorough investigation into the victim’s life  soon turns into a nagging obsession. One interrogation follows another, there is no shortage of suspects and Yohan has more and more doubts.
Only one thing is sure, the crime occurred on the night of the 12th. A new intense French thriller, The Night of the 12th was named by Le Figaro”the strongest French film of the year”.

To enter, please send your postal address and LawID number to [email protected] by 5pm on Monday 10 October.


Don’t Worry Dalling

The infamy of Don’t Worry Darling preceded it even before its release. For all that it’s worth, none of the drama surrounding the production will be referred to in this review, other than in this paragraph, and then merely to illustrate a point. Don’t Worry Darling’s production woes are dull fait divers, blatantly planted by rival producers, as a smear campaign against an early Oscar frontrunner. It’s all politics, nothing else. 

That said, if this is true, then those producers needn’t have bothered, because Don’t Worry Darling is not a good film. It’s also not the catastrophic dumpster fire many people were hoping for. Its most annoying feature is that everyone involved has the talent to make an entertaining and complex critique of modern society. Instead, the film settles for a half-idea developed to its most shallow level. 

I like Olivia Wilde as a filmmaker — I still do, despite everything. Booksmart was funny, acerbic and unapologetically my favourite film of that year. Her creative eye is exactly what Hollywood needed in order to refresh itself. I had her up there with Jordan Peele as the most exciting artist of the time, with the capacity to infect the big studio system from within: with enough awareness of the wider audience to justify a big budget, but abrasive enough to try to re-invent the wheel. 

Don’t Worry Darling promises to be exactly that on the tin. An original script by previous Wilde collaborator Katie Silberman, it’s a psychological thriller set in the 1950s in a small community of white-picket-fenced houses with the perfect families living perfect lives. The cast is a dream for any director — Florence Pugh may right now be the hottest ticket in town, and a sure bet for “future Best Actress winner”, and Harry Styles is a glamorous pop star with acting skills proven in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.  

They play an attractive couple, enjoying success so perfect it feels too good to be true, until, little by little, the dream shows its cracks, and things are revealed to be not quite what they seem. Think Mad Men meets Stepford Wives meets Blue Velvet, but without the intelligence of the first, the satire of the second, or the psychology of the third. 

Pugh plays Alice and Styles her husband Jack. Every morning he and his co-workers leave for work while the wives stay behind cleaning, cooking, and enjoying a man’s idea of ladylike activities like shopping and ballet classes. They have dinner, cocktails, sex, and parties at night — maybe not in that order. Every man in this place works for the same company, whose head honcho is the charismatic Frank (Chris Pine) — just imagine Don Draper as a cult leader. Frank’s cool enough never to come across as creepy, but you wouldn’t trust him with your house keys. The only restriction on the families is that they are not allowed to leave the community, which is surrounded by a desert. Not that they need to; they have everything they desire. Beautiful dresses, wonderful food, and a never-ending supply of drink. So of course there has to be a catch. 

Saying any more may enter the realm of the spoiler, but let me just say that the big, highly lauded twist is not the nasty shock it’s been claimed to be. In the grand scheme of things it makes sense that that’s the end they went for, but the film never fully justifies it. A big twist should not just be a punch in the stomach of the audience. It has to be a grand statement that wraps up the theme nicely for the unsuspecting audience, and pulls the rug out from under their feet.  

Wilde has clearly been inspired by other films to prepare us for the big unveiling, but doesn’t seem understand that the endings to those films worked not because of the machinations of their plots or or their use of red herrings but because the elements in the first part contrasted so well with those in the second. 

There’s a moment near the end of the film that left me thinking a good chunk of it probably ended up on the cutting floor. After the big confrontation, when Alice makes her stand, she inspires other characters to act, but the film doesn’t work those characters enough to make their response believable. Alice’s stand is supposed to be an empowering moment for women’s liberation — in tune with the film’s theme — but it’s so dissonant with what we know of the characters that it keeps the audience scratching their heads at that point where they should be raising their fists instead. 

For all that’s worth, Don’t Worry Darling is beautifully shot by Wilde. I still trust her ability to deliver an intelligent and unique film in the future, and to achieve that there may be some misfires along the way — especially for an experimental film of this kind. Pugh carries the whole movie on her back, and Pine deserves more roles like this. The less we say about Styles the better. 

Don’t Worry Darling is not good enough to win any awards, but worse films have been nominated in recent years. If anything, Don’t Worry Darling entertains. It’s messy, witless, and even a little smug, but it’s an entertaining, smug, witless mess. 

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Christian Bale, Margo Robbie and John David Washington


If Don’t Worry Darling doesn’t deserve a conversation that starts with references to the drama surrounding it, Amsterdam demands a disclaimer right at the start.  

This film was written and directed by David O. Russell, a filmmaker with a history of on-set abusive behaviour, who also admitted to having sexually assaulted his own niece. None of that is relevant to the film, but it needs a reminder, as separating art from the artist is still very much down to the viewer’s discretion. 

With that in mind, it also bears saying that Amsterdam is not a great film. It’s not bad, certainly better than Don’t Worry Darling, but not great. 

A convoluted comedy/crime drama, Amsterdam owes its essence to the work of the Coen brothers, down to the subtitle right at the start telling us that some of these events actually happened. The story, set between the two great wars, revolves around three friends, Burt (Christian Bale), Valerie (Margot Robbie) and Harold (John David Washington), who made an unbreakable pact of friendship while the three were living their best artistic life in Amsterdam. Now older, Burt, stuck in a complicated marriage with Beatrice (Andrea Riseborough), is accosted by Harold to help an old acquaintance’s daughter (Taylor Swift). This kickstarts a serpentine web of mysteries and situations involving a secret society, Valerie’s wealthy family (Ramy Malek and Anya Taylor-Joy), a mysterious thug (Timothy Olyphant) involved in a murder, an American and British spy (Michael Shannon and Michael Meyers respectively), and a respected war hero General (Robert de Niro). The film mixes politics, the rise of fascism, social commentary, and modern art commentary. It somehow also finds time for Chris Rock, Matthias Schoenaerts and Zoe Saldaña to stop by. 

The idea behind Amsterdam is interesting, and if the previous paragraph was confusing, don’t worry: that was by design. Amsterdam belongs to the zany American comedy noir tradition, like Coen’s The Big Lewbowski and Burn After Reading or even Russell’s own I Heart Huckabees. It’s a challenging feat that can be rewarding if done well. Unfortunately, Russell fails to make it work, due to the same issues that plague the rest of his body of work. 

After a very compelling start that sets up the plot perfectly, the film’s second act is a series of long-winded episodes where a line of supporting characters take turns to spew information to advance the said plot. The protagonists rarely get a say in the action until the final plan is set in motion. So most of the story piles up layers onto the mountainous plot, with the filmmaker clearly hoping that by the time it all unravels, it’ll satisfy an intelligent audience. But it doesn’t, because the final result is way too simple to be compelling. 

This structure works in the Coen brothers’ films because their lovable protagonists are dim-witted, and their stupidity becomes their downfall. But Russell is too conceited to create stupid protagonists, afraid that the audience will think they are an extension of him. 

I had a similar issue with Russell’s critics’ darling, American Hustle, a film with the thematic skill of a high-school philosophy student and the smugness of a rich boy mansplaining a social issue to his bored date. At least Amsterdam doesn’t have the same pretensions because I honestly believe Russell aimed to please with this film, but was blocked by his egocentric shortcomings. If you are a fan of Hustle, I can imagine you leaving Amsterdam satisfied. If you’re not, there is little here to convince you that Russell’s style is worth your time.