~posted by Frank
Predictability can be lethal to a film. Sure, sometimes it’s fine going into a film knowing exactly how it’s going to play out and how it will make you feel, but more often than not I end up feeling disappointed once the credits roll. These four films surprised me, for different reasons, and I think they’ll surprise you too.
A Most Wanted Man, based on the John Le Carre novel, won’t be a surprise to those who’ve read the book, but to the uninitiated it’s quite the trip. Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his final role, is Gunther Bachmann, a German intelligence officer caught up in the investigation of a Chechen Muslim who is either a refugee or a terrorist. A stellar supporting cast (Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Daniel Brühl and Nina Hoss) add layer after layer of intrigue and shifting allegiances, all the way to the shocking, heart-stopping finale.
The Drop started out life as the short story “Animal Rescue” by Dennis Lehane; after writing the screenplay for the film, it was published as a novel. It stars Tom Hardy as Bob Saginowski, a shell-shocked bartender who takes orders from his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini, in his last performance) day after day until a “drop” – where the mob deposits money at their bar for a short time – goes awry. Throw in a crazy stalker (Michaël Roskam) an erratic love interest (Noomi Rapace) and a puppy and see how Bob deals with the chaos. It may not be Lehane’s most exciting work, but this character-driven film is strange and ultimately very satisfying.
Irish import Calvary is billed as a comedy, which it is – it is just about as black a comedy as they come. It stars Brendan Gleeson as Father James, a cynical but kind small town Irish priest whose life is threatened during confession. Unsure of who it is, he looks at the parishoners – a quirky cast of disturbing characters featuring oddball performances from Chris O’Dowd, Aiden Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson and M. Emmet Walsh – while trying to keep the peace with his estranged daughter (Kelly Reilly). If you are a fan of director John Michael McDonagh’s previous film, The Guard, and its distinctly Irish sensibility, than this is the film for you.
Last but certainly not least is Starred Up, a Northern Irish prison drama starring Jack O’Connell (known to audiences as the star of Unbroken). O’Connell is Eric Love, an exceedingly violent teenager who is “starred up” – transferred to an adult prison when he turns 18. His estranged father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) is in the same prison, and tries to help him adjust (and keep him alive) by forcing him to attend therapy sessions for the prison’s most violent offenders under the guidance of a volunteer therapist (Rupert Friend). Fans of Oz and The Wire will appreciate the combination of strong characters, uncompromising realism and sociological commentary about the prison industrial complex and a society that breeds violence. It is not to be missed.