Paul Newman and Robert Altman are hardly the first names that come up in discussions of science-fiction, but 1979 oddity Quintet sees them sparking a pre-Hunger Games vision of a dystopian society. Newman plays Essex, a loner who stumbles into a snow-white netherworld where a living board game called Quintet is being played out, with Vittorio Gassman, Fernando Rey and Bibi Andersson amongst the players. Essex agrees to play, with a pregnant wife to support, but the game itself proves to be as inhospitable as the nuclear winter everyone appears to be living through. Quintet is a bizarre entry in Altman and Newman’s careers, but not an unrewarding one, with echoes of Tarkovsky’s austere sci-fi popping up in a chillingly oblique drama.
Writer/Director Scott Frank followed up Get Shorty and Out of Sight with this tense little thriller, with Joseph Gordon Levitt as high-school athlete Chris Pratt who is reduced to janitorial work by an accident. That makes him vulnerable to the nefarious plans of aspiring bank robber Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), with the comely Luvlee (Isla Fisher) offered as bait. For Pratt to attempt to keep his thoughts in order with a notebook recalls Memento, but Frank’s film has a low-key feel of its own, with Goode menacing throughout and a palpable tension throughout. Both Sam Mendes and David Fincher were touted to direct, but Frank does an excellent job with a talented cast in this under-seen little film noir from 2007.
A pre Hunger Games and American Hustle Jennifer Lawrence displayed her acting chops in this terse backwoods thriller, in which she plays Ree, a young woman who is forced to trawl through the darker denizens of the Ozark mountain criminal fraternity in a bid to find her missing father. Writer/director Debra Granik captures the sights and sounds of Ree’s journey with observational skill and a sense of dread, with John Hawkes excellent as always as Teardrop, a crystal meth victim to offers ambiguous help to Ree in her quest. Like a Coen Brothers movie but without the oddball twists, Winter’s Bone builds to a startling revelation, and if the final scenes are a little too pat, Lawrence displays all the star-quality that would lead her to the top of the Hollywood tree.
Following up on the success of Frederick Forsyth adaptation The Day of The Jackal, Ronald Neame’s 1974 thriller opens with John Voight driving through the Christmas snows listening to Perry Como’s Christmas Dream. Having established journalist Peter Miller’s penchant for Andrew Lloyd Webber, the plot thickens as Miller is drawn into a conspiracy protecting former SS officer Eduard Roschmann (Maximillian Schell). The 1963 setting is sparingly evoked, but the performances and excellent and the intent serious; the uncovering of WWII secrets is handled with commendable gravity, and Voight’s wide eyed-horror is palpable as he discovers his own complicity. Support from the glamorous Mary Tamm and an early film role for Derek Jacobi.