The Childhood of a Leader 2016 ***


Before the pop excesses of Vox Lux, Brady Corbet’s debut feature explored the private life of a different kind of public figure. The Childhood of a Leader has a tricky concept to explain; it’s about the childhood of a man who will one day be a dictator, and is only named at the end of the film. Until then, the audience is given various clues and left to stew; we see The Boy (Tom Sweet) and his family round about the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Could it be Hitler, or Mussolini? Before anyone scampers off to google it, The Boy is eventually named as Prescott, but who is Prescott meant to represent? Corbet’s film is slow and stately, with Liam Cunningham and Bernice Bejo as the boy’s parents and Robert Pattinson contributing a small but significant cameo. Corbet’s film is frustrating, but also immersive and rewarding; whatever it means, and the jury is out for now, it’s engrossing and serious work.

Good Time 2017 ****

A good time is not had by all in this blistering low-life thriller from George and Bennie Safdie, featuring Twilight’s Robert Pattinson in a role that blows away any notion of him being defined by his teen-idol status. Pattison is intense as Connie Nikas, who bursts in on his brother’s Nick’s psychological evaluation and whisks him off into an abortive bank-robbery that leave the two men splattered with paint and on the run.  Nick is arrested, and when he’s unable to make bail, Connie decides to bust his brother out of jail, setting in motion a violent chain of events that lead to an amusement park and a bottle of soft drink that’s laced with several thousand dollars worth of LSD. The detail is vivid and persuasive in Good Time, which takes a few handbrakes twists on the way to a downbeat ending.  Bennie Safdie plays Nick well enough, but Pattinson is quite extraordinary here, with good support from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Barkhad Abdi. Good Time made barely a ripple at the box office, but should develop an audience on streaming if there’s a market of hard-bitten, intense crime cinema.

High Life 2018 ***

Every year, the cinematic season brings at least one psychedelic freak out, and following on the coat-tales of mother!, Claire Denis’s super-weird and defiantly original High Life arrives to test the patience of the unwary. Monte (Robert Pattinson) is a criminal who joins a group of convicts working in space, harvesting black holes in a way that’s not entirely clear. Due to the distances involved, it’s a suicide mission, although Dr Dibs (Juliette Binoche) is seeking a loophole through her experiments with some form of artificial insemination. Their story is bookended with lengthy framing scenes involving Monte clearing the dead-bodies of the crew out of the ship, so there’s no suspense about the outcome, only how Monte and the crew got to this point. Throw in Mia Goth and Andre 3000 and you’ve got a very odd package for Denis’s first English language film, which plays down the conventions of sci-fi in favour of something rather more elusive. Pattinson is excellent as ever, and even if the scripts reflections on human sexuality are unclear, High Life has an uncompromising stance on the deadly DNA of selfish human behaviour.

The Rover 2014 ***

roverGuy Pearce is something of an actor’s actor, convincing in any role; pairing him with the highly-recognized if inexperienced Robert Pattinson (Twilight) strikes sparks in David Michods’s post apocalyptic drama. After an economic and society collapse, Eric (Pearce) and Rey (Pattinson) form an uneasy alliance as Eric slowly unfolds a vengeful intent. What he’s avenging is concealed until the final scene of actor Joel Edgerton’s story, but there’s rewards along the way in two immersive lead performances, a desolate atmosphere and some gasp-inducing bursts of action. The Rover could use a few more fantasy elements to keep things interesting, but the studied intensity and bursts of grueling lyricism keeps you watching.