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Non-Review Review: The Mauritanian

The Mauritanian is an odd film in a number of ways.

In some ways, The Mauritanian feels like it has arrived late to the party. Obviously, the War on Terror is still a major defining event of the twenty-first century. Guantánamo Bay is still open and housing forty inmates. It’s possible to trace the xenophobia that defines so much of contemporary American politics back to the War on Terror, most obviously by looking at the countries affected by President Donald Trump’s infamous “travel ban.” So the War on Terror is very much an ongoing concern that merits discussion and exploration.

Maur, Maur, Maur…

However, it is also a period of American history that has been very thoroughly explored in film and television, particularly in the context of prestige awards-season releases. The Hurt Locker won Best Picture a decade ago. Zero Dark Thirty was a major awards contender a few years after that. The War on Terror has been dissected through the lens of forensic introspection in movies like The Report and through broad satire in movies like Vice. As such, any movie hoping to explore the War on Terror exists in the shadow of larger culture.

This is perhaps the biggest issue with The Mauritanian. Director Kevin Macdonald’s earnest exploration of the incarceration and torture of Mohamedou Ould Salahi feels like a movie that should have been released during the early wave of this cinematic excavation. Even allowing for the fact that Salahi was only released five years ago, those five years feel like a very long time. The result of all this is that The Mauritanian feels like a movie displaced in time, feeling like a retread of the earliest films grappling with the topic, like Lions for Lambs.

Interrogating the War on Terror.

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Non-Review Review: Whitney

Celebrity documentaries can be tricky.

There are so many forces that pull narratives in so many directions; the attempts by those in the celebrity’s orbit to shift the story in order to favour their account of events, the yearning for a tabloid sensationalism to feed the impulses of the public, the difficulty separating personality from persona, and the fact that deceased celebrities cannot speak for themselves. Whitney has to contend with all of these challenges in its attempts to construct a portrait of one of the most vocal artists of the twentieth century.

Director Kevin MacDonald does a remarkably job in structuring his account of the troubled singer’s life and times, of capturing what it was that made Whitney Houston such a compelling figure for so long in the public consciousness, and the forces that contributed to her rise and her eventual implosion. Working with interviews of friends and family, and drawing from a variety of interviews both public and candid, MacDonald manages to sketch an outline of an intriguing figure and to explore a deeply harrowing story of fame and self-destruction.

Whitney is a deeply moving, sincerely soulful and truly heartbreaking piece of documentary cinema.

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Trailer for Kevin Macdonald’s Bob Marley Documentary…

Director Kevin Macdonald is producing a documentary on Bob Marley for Universal Pictures. Macdonald has always been a fascinating director, if only because he’s very hard to pin down. Macdonald has arguably won the most critical acclaim for his work on the superb Last King of Scotland. He was also responsible for last year’s highly ambitious Life in a Day, the famous “youtube movie” that attempted to capture, in snippets, a glimpse of life as lived and recorded on 24th July 2010. Bob Marley, of course, continues to be one of the most boldly iconic and recognisable musicians in the world, even thirty years following his death at the age of 36. The combination is interesting, and I look forward to seeing what Macdonald brings to the table – I can’t imagine handling a pop culture icon like Marley is an easy task.

Luckily enough, Marley will be opening in Irish cinemas on the 20th April. The trailer is below.

Non-Review Review: State of Play

Ah, the good old conspiracy thriller theory movie is alive and well, it would appear. For those not quite up-to-date on Hollywood’s fascination with sequels, remakes and adaptations, State of Play is a remake of the classic BBC miniseries of the same name. Following an old-fashioned investigative reporter as he attempts to investigate the death of a Congressman’s aide, he finds himself getting drawn closer and closer to a lion’s den of corruption and defense contractors. It’s a solid conspiracy movie elevated by superior performances that doesn’t really live up to its potential.

Russell Crowe attempts to explain the plot twists of State of Play to a confused Ben Affleck...

Russell Crowe attempts to explain the plot twists of State of Play to a confused Ben Affleck...

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