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New Escapist Column! On How “The Suicide Squad” Uses Idris Elba…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of The Suicide Squad, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at one of the keys to the film’s success. James Gunn understands how to use Idris Elba as a leading man.

Movie stardom is a fascinating concept. So much of what makes a particular person a movie star is ineffable. It is hard to quantify or gauge. It can also be difficult to harness with intent and purpose. This is particularly true in an era where Hollywood seems to be moving away from movie stars, and films like Jungle Cruise seem to struggle against their leads’ screen personas. However, part of what makes The Suicide Squad so effective is that it understands exactly what makes Idris Elba so compelling as a screen presence, and finds a way to play into that to the movie’s benefit.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: The Way Back

The Way Back is a paint-by-numbers redemption narrative, anchored in a tremendous central performance from Ben Affleck and enriched by its keen observations.

The basic plot of The Way Back will be familiar to most audience members. Jack is an alcoholic construction worker who is struggling to hold his life together. He has learned to do just enough to remain functional, but not so much that the people around him haven’t noticed his struggles. Jack stubbornly refuses any assistance offer by his family or by his ex-wife, believing that he has found something resembling an equilibrium. His addiction has pushed him into a slow and noticeable decline, but he has yet to implode.

He’s Backfleck.

Almost entirely by chance, Jack finds himself drafted back to his old high school, emotionally blackmailed into coaching their basketball team. Jack had played basketball as a teenager, but gave up on the sport in much the same way that he has recently withdrawn from the world around him. Inevitably, through his coaching, Jack finds himself connected with the lovable misfits that he takes under his wing. Jack guides these young men towards sporting glory, helping them (and himself) to find purpose in what they are doing.

It is all very conventional. There are very few surprises in The Way Back, which feels almost like one of those well-executed manoeuvres that Jack has his team execute out of the court. Everything lines up, all the pieces are moved with purpose, and the end result is never really in doubt. However, The Way Back elevates this well-worn formula with two secret weapons. Most obviously, Affleck finds an intersection of his traditional movie-star charisma with the baggage of his star persona. More subtly, the film is willing to just observe its characters, to let them be themselves.

Team works.

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