When Marianne (Tilda Swinton), her lover, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), Harry (Ralph Fiennes), and his formerly estranged daughter, Pen (Dakota Johnson), retreat to a sun-drenched Italian island, relationships become confused, jealousies flare, and it all culminates in a death. Bestrewn with references to songs, album titles, and personnel, A Bigger Splash is a virtual paean to The Rolling Stones, and simultaneously a remake of 1969’s La Piscine, whose death by drowning denouement is now recontextualised to include Ralph Fiennes and the watery demise of Stones founder, Brian Jones, at the bottom of his swimming pool.
The reconfiguring is odd, but only in a comparative sense. The restlessness of the film comes from its quavering attempts to reconcile archetypal rock debauch with modern sensibility. As such, articulate character pathos vie intermittently with a Bacchanalian sense of fun that doesn’t stop short at misfortune. When one of the protagonists perishes, Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into The Fire” suggests less a sense of chaos than a mordant dance of joy. The film’s sense of opposition is partially appropriate because two of its main characters are intentional artefacts: Harry is a hedonistic Limey record producer, and Marianne, his ex-lover, is a washed up, Bowie-esque androgen recovering from throat surgery. Yet simultaneously, the logistics of time suggest a serious displacement, a nostalgia that exceeds their own middle age.
Fiennes is a standout in an excellent cast, including Swinton, who barely talks, and Johnson, whose frequently poor roles belie her own ability. A Bigger Splash is both livelier than the movie on which it was based, and more confused in its intent. Like the band that it adulates, its best asset is the vulnerability with which it underscores its own sleaze.
One of the most controversial films at Sundance, the in-your-face Goat – starring Nick Jonas and Ben Schnetzer, and directed by Andrew Neel – digs into the dark subject of US college fraternity house hazing and bullying.
If you thought that 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen was the end point when it comes to xenophobic wish fulfilment, then think again. The loopy, goofy sequel, London Has Fallen, takes everything that was inappropriate about that smash hit, and magnifies it to even more garish extremes. The result is, well, not quite a guilty pleasure, but it’s certainly a guilty something, inadvertently painting a broad-stroke picture of American arrogance that gives the film far more import than it deserves. The action sequences are stunningly orchestrated, but there’s a sadism and sense of superiority here that is occasionally hilarious in its bold political incorrectness, but also undeniably sour in its mean spiritedness.
After saving the life of US President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) in Olympus Has Fallen, Secret Service hard-man, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), is now eyeing off a career change so he can avoid being killed and be a good husband and father to his wife, Leah (Radha Mitchell), and their unborn child. But when the British Prime Minister dies, Banning accompanies President Asher to London, where hell soon breaks volcanically loose. With vengeance minded Middle Eastern arms dealer, Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul ), pulling the strings in retaliation for the US drone bombing that killed his on-the-way-to-the-altar daughter and all of her wedding guests, London is soon under attack, with terrorists jumping up out of nowhere to kill off the visiting world’s leaders, and anyone else who might be in the way. But the man that they really want is President Benjamin Asher, who they plan to behead live online. Their problem? Mike Banning is a barn-storming, Bruce Willis-style badass, and he has other ideas about how things are going to pan out.
With insensitivity the order of the day, London Has Fallen merely uses the wholesale destruction of the English capitol (where all of the free world’s leaders – thankfully, Australia is not represented, obviously not really deemed a major player by the US – get gruesomely assassinated) as a curtain raiser for the big show – namely, the survival of the US President. It’s hard to imagine any American citizen making jokes straight after 9/11, but that’s exactly what happens here; as London burns and its population bleeds (and a cast of acting heavyweights – including Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster, Jackie Earle Haley, and Colin Salmon – is criminally under used), the tough talking Mike Banning and the too-good-to-be-true President Asher set off on something akin to a boys’ own adventure, mowing down terrorists (Banning blasts more bad guys in London Has Fallen than Clint Eastwood did Nazis in Where Eagles Dare) and cracking jokes about their driving skills. Admittedly, Mike Banning is an hilariously balls-to-the-wall character, for whom even taking a drink of water is an act of war. “I don’t know about you,” he growls to President Asher in a rare moment of post-violence repose, “but I’m thirsty as FUCK!” Banning’s full-tilt machismo is gut-bustingly over-the-top, but its cruel and xenophobic edges (“Why don’t you fuck off back to Fuckheadistan,” he seethes before dispatching a bad guy) cut a little too deep, no matter how many scenes show him being all doe-eyed with his pregnant missus.
Disturbingly, London Has Fallen constructs a number of buffers to sneakily allow this kind of rampaging trash talking into the film’s deliriously hyper-aggressive mix. Crucially, the villain here is not a Muslim fundamentalist terrorist, but rather an angry arms dealer with an axe to grind who supplies Muslim fundamentalist terrorists with weapons, setting up a kind of apolitical playground that uses current real world terrorist horrors to make the metaphorical swings go higher and the slides dip steeper. It’s a cynical cloaking device, as is – at the risk of defamation – the hiring of Iranian-born Babak Najafi (Sebbe, Easy Money II: Hard To Kill) to direct. While his skills as an action point-man are beyond reproach, you can’t help but wonder if the film’s producers thought that having a Middle Eastern-born filmmaker at the helm might smooth over the cracks wrought by the borderline offensive antics in which the film so gleefully indulges.
While it starts off as a taut, straight-from-the-headlines thriller, London Has Fallen eventually devolves into a giddy, cartoonish fantasy, where the world’s complex problems can be solved with a punch to the face and a follow-up wisecrack. It’s as unashamedly gung-ho as wrong-headed 1980s actioners like Invasion USA, Rambo III, and Red Dawn, but without the benefit of the softening passage of time. When you feel yourself enjoying the propulsive, excitingly staged London Has Fallen, it’s decidedly more difficult to feel good about it.