Saturday, February 15, 2014

February Mini Reviews: RoboCop and Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom


RoboCop (Feb 6) - Directed by Jose Padilha (Bus 174, Elite Squad), this loose remake of RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven's 1987 film of the same name is regarded as a science fiction classic) has its merits. When Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is critically injured in a car bomb ordered by a Detroit City crime boss, he becomes a candidate for the RoboCop Program, a supreme law enforcer who keeps his human intuition, but survives through a metallic exo-skeleton. Multinational conglomerate OmniCorp have drones stationed internationally for peacekeeping, but under the Dreyfus Act they have been inhibited from use in the United States. CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) believes Murphy can be utilized on American soil.

When it is learned that Murphy's abilities don't measure up to the efficiency of the mechanical bots, and he suffers a seizure during the upload of the the police database, Dr. Dennett Noron (Gary Oldman) tampers with his brain chemistry, eliminating his emotions and priming him for the streets. RoboCop possesses the thematic conflict: Is Murphy a humanized machine or mechanized human?  We witness his shift from one to the other, and Padilha makes his dehumanization quite an emotional one, the reveal of his remaining motor functioning suitably shocking. Setting out to build a robot with human intuition Murphy soon becomes more of a robot with a human face. Emotions lacking by OmniCorp's robots - the act of contemplation, empathy, anxiety (a soul) - remain present within Murphy, until he is manipulated into the drone OmniCorp seeks to expand their capital. Murphy's natural instinct is to track down those who attempted to take his life; corrupt cops he knows will get away with it. While being stripped of his precious human qualities, he seeks to resurrect them, which makes him far more unpredictable than OmniCorp had hoped.

Keaton, who always has an unpredictable on-screen energy, and Oldman provide effective support to the unknown, but charismatic enough Kinnaman. Oldman is especially resonant, forced to tweak Murphy into the emotionless law enforcer, but clearly feels guilt when he learns the repercussions. Abbie Cornish doesn't have a lot to do as Murphy's wife, but effectively conveys her understandable anger at being kept in the dark. Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Michael K. Williams and Jackie Earl Haley round out a solid cast. My gripes came with Samuel L. Jackson's book-ending exposition, and the corrupt detectives in league with an arms dealer. Apart from Murphy and his partner (Williams), the only others we're introduced to turn out to be dirty. Thankfully, they only exist as a means for Murphy's revenge, before the real villain of the film becomes evident.

Though far from action-packed, which might have been the source of a group of obnoxious school-skippers' disgruntlement in my screening, this is a lot more thoughtful than it could have been. I haven't seen Verhoeven's 1987 original, but I understand it is excellent. The visual effects are impressive and the shootouts are tense and stylishly photographed - courtesy of Padilha's Elite Squad experience and some inspired use of infrared and night vision. But the struggle of a man, saved from irreparable injuries and promised to once again have a life with his family, to resurrect his stripped human instincts and his identity is fascinating enough to recommend. ★★


Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (Feb 6) - Justin Chadwick's (The Other Boleyn Girl, The First Grader) rousing biographical feature about the late anti-Apartheid revolutionary and South African President, Nelson Mandela, is based on Mandela's 1995 autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. It comes to screen in the wake of Mandela's recent passing; a towering figure who was at the front line of enormous social change in South Africa and whose inspiring deeds are worthy of celebration. Idris Elba is the talented individual assigned with portraying Mandela and it is his performance that gives the film the resonating heft. 

In the film we cover most of Mandela's life - his early years as a practicing lawyer in Johannesburg in the 1950's, through his involvement with the African National Congress where he became a vocal leader of the resistance to white oppression against the African people of South Africa, his imprisonment, all the way until he is sworn in as South African President in 1994. The ANC's non-violent protests began to evolve into acts of sabotage, with Mandela and his other senior revolutionaries eventually imprisoned on Rodden Island. He would remain there for 27 years, intermittently seeing his wife Winnie (Naomie Harris). Outside, the increasingly bitter Winnie led the losing battle - with militancy and torture, even serving imprisonment herself. I found the film the most interesting after Mandela was released from prison a much wiser man. He encouraged his people to seek equality through peaceful resolutions; a quest for peace that proved successful yet ended his marriage. 

While the film suffers from some flat direction, and the episodic-snapshot structure that many decade-spanning biopics fall victim to, the rousing final act and Elba's compelling performance results in a satisfying commemoration of one of the true heroes of the 20th Century. For a film that remains emotionally uninvolving for lengthy stretches, and whose white suppressors throughout the film are mostly faceless antagonists, the final act surprisingly delivered. ★★

2 comments:

  1. I'll end up seeing ROBOCOP sooner than later because of Kinnaman although in retrospect I wonder if it's folly that his first major film role is one where he's constantly in armour, sort of duns much chance of his natural charm shining through.

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