Film Reviews

Leeds International Film Festival 2019 – Week 1

We’re attending the Leeds International Film Festival 2019, which promises a fantastic and diverse spread of films and opportunities over the next few weeks. Here are a couple of films that reviewer Chris Haigh managed to squeeze into the first week.

All About Eve (1950)

A bonafide classic that needs revisiting time and time again, All About Eve is a tour de force film that examines the boons and perils that come with an intense mentor-mentee relationship, as well as the price that ambition pays in the long term.

For those unfamiliar with the iconic 1950s flick, All About Eve tells the story of Broadway star Margo (Bette Davis) and her downfall, orchestrated by super-fan Eve Harrington (Anne Bater) who wants Margo’s solid career treading the boards for herself. Surrounded by a cast of supporting players, the rivalry that develops between the two as Eve climbs the ladder makes for pure cinematic gold.

Davis makes a career-best performance as Margo, insecure and drained by her persistent fear that her age will sabotage her career, but with plenty of vibrant venom still coursing through her veins. Playing opposite her, Anne Baxter more than holds her own as Eve, a girl so infused with ambition and manipulation, she’d make a terrifying Slytherin; Baxter practically dances across the screen with wicked grace and engaging villainy.

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The rest of the cast is pitch-perfect too; Gary Merill plays Margo’s supportive boyfriend with charm, while Celeste Holm plays her best friend with prickly warmth (the iconic Marilyn Monroe plays a tiny role here with sufficient charm too). Best of all is Thelma Ritter as Margo’s assistant Birdie, managing to strike both achingly vulnerable and hilariously funny in a single beat.

Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz frames the melodrama exceptionally well, casting this crew of characters together and letting them break each other down and build one another up, crafting a cinematic experience that more than earned its record-breaking plethora of Oscar nominations and its triumphant win as Best Picture. By the time the cathartic, darkly satisfying ending rolls around, you’ll be happy to have experienced one of the best films of the mid-twentieth century, a truly modern fable of avarice that still plays relevant to this day.

The Gangster, the Cop, and The Devil (2019)

Based on a semi-true story, The Gangster, The Cop, and the Devil sees a uniting of forces in 2005 South Korea, as a gangster and a cop team up to stop a serial killer from plaguing the streets when crime boss Jang Dong-soo (a vivacious and energetic Ma Dong-seok, best known for his turn in the now-classic horror Train to Busan) survives an attack.

All of the characters anchor the slightly unwieldy plot, with a trio of strong, fun performances ensuring that the plot is driven forward and the general conceit of the film remains an enjoyable ride. Ma mines a deep vein of goofiness for his violence-infused gangster who churns out insults and sports gaudy sunglasses at any opportunity, while Kim Moo-Yeol who plays the cop who (true to gangster thriller archetypes) doesn’t mind stepping outside of the law to exact justice. Rounding out the main trio is K, played by Kim Sung-kyu, a deranged and vicious serial killer who uses his car as part of his modus operandi; K gets less depth than gangster and cop respectively, but his chilly villainy plays well to act as the catalyst for Ma and Kim to tentatively team-up.

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The film itself acts as both a love letter and a knowing wink to the hardboiled noir genre and the modern thriller; everything is soaked in oppressive rain and neon shadows, while the guitar-heavy score thunders along to dramatic effect. Director Lee Won-tae sticks to a well-trod and refined palette, making sure that there’s enough balance between the moments of genuinely grisly violence on-screen (a couple of scenes are teeth-achingly brutal), and moments where Ma’s criminal persona treads into caricature mode, lending some levity to the largely dark proceedings.

Is it one of the year’s best thrillers? Probably not, as it squanders its solid premise in favour of a more generic take, but with winning performances, particularly from Ma who has already been tipped to reprise the role for an American remake, and a solid sensibility, it makes The Gangster, The Cop, and The Devil an entertaining if slightly unoriginal ride that will more than satisfy the desire for a Friday night thriller.

You can follow our coverage of the Leeds International Film Festival here.

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