⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for language and rude gestures.
Three cheers for intelligent casting: Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave elevate the potentially maudlin old-age drama “Unfinished Song” to a compassionate and touching gem. He’s Arthur, a scowling grump content to hole up in their flat and growl at the world. She’s Marion, his ray-of-sun wife, whose cancer is approaching the terminal stage. When she passes, her fondest wish is that her beloved recluse will join the old-folks singing group that became her second family.
There’s a fair amount of gooey grandma comedy, with the old age pensioners singing Salt-N-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex.” Considering that most of these geezers would have been in their prime in the libertine ’60s, is that so tee-hee shocking? Is the sight of coffin-dodgers in heavy-metal regalia automatically funny? Must Gemma Arterton turn her perky-meter up to 11 as the choir conductor? I think no, no and no. The arc of the story is predictable. With all the shameless manipulation, it’s a wonder writer/director Paul Andrew Williams didn’t score the whole half-overwrought, half-underdone thing to Cheap Trick.
Still, there is acting magic here. Stamp handles his role with abrasive panache, all dagger stares and cloaked intensity. His long, slow thaw is like witnessing a majestic iceberg crumble. Redgrave peels away the melodrama of her dying life-force character to get at the drama. We hear of the shortage of good film roles for older actresses. Well, Redgrave is the kind of performer filmmakers should be writing roles for. Both stars are compelling and irresistibly affecting in their solo numbers. When Redgrave warbles “True Colors” and Stamp speak-sings Billy Joel’s “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” I dare you to keep it together.
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated: Violence, language. In Danish, English and Somali.
You know what a hostage drama looks like to a movie studio: an excuse to give Liam Neeson a box of hand grenades and a license to kick unlimited kidnapper butt. The Danish piracy drama “A Hijacking” takes a gripping, realistic approach. It builds high-stakes tension with a blend of cinéma-vérité naturalism and nerve-shredding emotional verisimilitude.
Somali pirates on the Indian Ocean demand a stratospheric ransom to release the Danish tanker Rozen and its seven crewmen. The respected but egocentric CEO of the shipping company (Soren Malling, underplaying beautifully) ignores professional advice and negotiates with the pirates himself. As the crisis stretches over weeks and months, he becomes emotionally involved in a battle of wills that imperils his men and his own future at the company. His performance makes us wrestle with our own worst suspicions about how we would fare if we faced the choice of losing our standing in society or sacrificing our soul.
Viewers experiencing midsummer destruction fatigue will appreciate writer/director Tobias Lindholm’s rock-solid grasp of character (Pilou Asbæk is wrenching as the Rozen’s shaggy, terrified cook) and claustrophobic visuals. The men talking on phones in the cool, modern Copenhagen crisis room are trapped as surely as the hands on the overheated, undersupplied ship. This is high-order filmmaking, every shot measured, every scene paced just so, grueling suspense melded with meaningful human drama.