Assassin’s Creed Review

I’ve been waiting for this film for well over a year. After last year’s Macbeth (which had all the same technical crew and actors), I was super excited for Assassin’s Creed. Could it shake the video game-curse or is it another one to throw on the pile?

Assassin’s Creed stars Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Ariane Labed and Charlotte Rampling and is directed by Justin Kurzel. The film follows Callum Lynch (Fassbender) who after being saved from death row by a mysterious company has to relive the memories of his ancestor Aguilar (also Fassbender) from the Spanish Inquisition.

When I first heard about the Assassin’s Creed movie, I was excited when I heard they were moving away from the story of the games. This is what the film does right, it moves away from the story gamers would know and creates its own Assassin and setting, but leaves little hints for the eagle-eyed fans. Kenway’s flintlocks, Connor’s bow, Baptiste’s descendants, they make the world feel rich with history and lore that could be explored in sequels.

Sadly the film also takes the modern day approach to the story. Instead of it just being about the Spanish Assassin’s the film splits itself between that and the modern day wider narrative. We spend more time in modern day than in the Animus (the machine that allows Callum to relieve his memories), which for me was a problem. I came to see 1500s Spain not Michael Fassbender walk around minimalistic settings. The film only goes back to Spain three times, each only lasting around twenty minutes at the most. There is a reason Desmond Miles (the modern day character from the game) is never on the front cover, because we shouldn’t be focussing on him so why are we focussing on Callum rather than Aguilar?

The actors aren’t doing their best work either. Michael Fassbender flits from cracking jokes and madness to being stoic and brooding with no reasoning behind it. Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons look vacant for most of the film with Cotillard only getting some character development near the end. The most interesting character is Maria (played by Ariane Labed), an Assassin that works with Aguilar. Through subtle looks and gestures, it feels like there was a relationship building up between her and Aguilar, but it never builds to anything. Credit to Fassbender and Labed though for learning Spanish for the sections in the past.

The part that annoyed the most was the camerawork. I do not for a second believe that Adam Arkapaw, the man that was responsible for the beauty of Macbeth, True Detective, and The Light Between Oceans, signed off on these shots. The trailer showed off long extended shots and excellent cinematography, but there is none of that in the actual film. Fight scenes are incomprehensible, parkour chases lack cohesion, and everything is shrouded in fog. Every time the Animus is booted up, we have a long sweep of the area from above, but it’s hardly visible due to the fog and clouds. The best shot is the one of Maria killing two guards, but it was in the trailer. The fight scenes also cut between the action unfolding in the past and then Callum doing the action in the Animus. Cutting between two plains of action is just confusing and takes away from what we actually want to see.

It really is a shame. With Fassbender, Cotillard, The Kurzel brothers, and Arkapaw all working together again on a film, it shouldn’t be bad. But there is none of that spark from their earlier films here. I will say, it’s a film that gets better as it goes on. It’s only in the final third where true character development happens and we get some of those action scenes we were promised, but it’s too little too late. I do wish for a sequel though. Hopefully they will take heed of the criticism and develop the film based on the feedback of both fans and critics (of which I am both).

Score: 4/10 Not truly terrible, but not great by any stretch.

Allied Review

Yeah, I don’t have a Fantastic Beasts review yet. A mixture of being swamped with university work and large dose of apathy to watching the latest offering from JK Rowling means that it will be possibly a few weeks after it has come out when I finally get round to it. So instead, this week I have a film that I actually did have a passing interest in, from the director Forrest Gump and Back To The Future.

Allied stars Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard and Jared Harris and is directed by Robert Zemeckis. The film follows Canadian spy Max Vatan (Pitt) and French Resistance fighter Marieanne Beausejour (Cotillard) in Nazi-occupied Morocco. After falling in love and successfully completing their mission, they marry and move to London, but their life is shattered when rumours about Marieanne’s allegiance to the Allied Forces is questioned.

I was looking forward to Allied. There haven’t been many films set in the North African Theater of World War Two (the only ones I can think of are the fabulous Casablanca and Ice Cold In Alex), making Allied stand apart. While the opening half hour is set in Africa, the second part is relegated to London and French countryside. It’s such a let-down to move to an overused setting of WW2, and the film never really recovers. It’s also annoying that incredibly shoddy back projection has been used. It’s so easy to see that Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are sitting in front of a green-screen rather than an actual sand dune, and makes the film worse for it.

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are fine in their roles. They have an old-school glamour about them, easily fitting into the time period and setting, but they aren’t helped by the script. It’s extraordinarily hammy, while also managing to be boring at the same time. There are moments of tension, but the script can’t keep the mystery of Marieanne’s allegiance going. One mystery, however good it maybe, cannot sustain a film’s runtime. You need other story arcs to be invested in, but Allied doesn’t deliver the latter part.

Due to both characters being fighters in the war, I was expecting some action scenes. We only get a measly two, and even those weren’t that long or thrilling. The assassination sequence and ensuing escape are barely built up, leading to a lacklustre climax. It would have been cool to see these two highly trained killers cause havoc inside the Nazi compounds, with some nice tracking shots of them moving through the buildings to their escape vehicle. But no, instead we have an incredibly short action sequence, a shame for how good it could have been. We have another action segment in the French countryside, but isn’t even worthy of merit to even talk about.

It’s not all bad. The film has its individual moments of brilliance, reminding us how good a director Robert Zemeckis is. The good parts are mainly in the Casablanca section; the first few hectic moments of the assassination and Marieanne and Max making love in their car while a sandstorm rages around them. The film has scenes with visual flourish, but can’t sustain them throughout an entire film.

It’s shouldn’t be hard to film a tense war-time thriller. Hollywood has been doing it since the 1950s. Heck, we just had one a few months ago in Anthropoid. And due to the lack of chemistry between the two stars, I’m not even interested in the ‘romance’ side of the ‘romantic-thriller’ that Allied has been billed at.  Unless you truly love the actors, or have an affinity for war-time aesthetics, this one should be a miss.

Score: 5/10 Early good looks and scenes give way to a dragging second half.

Macbeth Review

William Shakespeare is one of the most adapted writers in history, with an estimated nine hundred films based on his plays. In my opinion, I would say Macbeth is his mostly widely adapted. I’ve seen versions of it set in Soviet Russia, in the back streets of London and even one done with Team America-esque marionettes. But by far the best adaptation of the infamous play is the 1971 Roman Polanski version. Can the new adaptation, starring Michael Fassbender reach the heights of the much watched 1971 version?

Macbeth stars Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, David Thewlis and Paddy Considine and is directed by Justin Kurzel. Based on the William Shakespeare play of the same name, the film follows Macbeth (Fassbender) as three witches tell him he will one day become King Of Scotland.

The cast for Macbeth is spectacular, Along with the four top actors I named in the introduction, the film also features such great actors as Elizabeth Debicki (last seen in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Sean Harris and Jack Reynor (who we last saw in the woeful A Royal Night Out). It’s a stellar cast, and all of them perform Shakespeare’s lines with passion. The script hasn’t been modernised or updated, it’s a simple transition from stage to screen. In fact, the film feels more like a play than it does a film, with long takes of the actors performing their soliloquy’s out loud. It’s nice to see a film that isn’t afraid to keep the meddling of Shakespeare’s material to a minimum and just let the film play out.

The standout actor of the film though has to be Michael Fassbender. The man brings an entirely new take on the classic character, giving a much more battle-scarred approach to the role. The action scenes, which seem to all be performed by Fassbender himself is making me very excited to see him in next year’s Assassin’s Creed. Macbeth could almost be his audition piece, as he glares menacingly at his foes (in that assassin way) before coming in with his dual swords or his nifty twin daggers that are strapped to his arm.

This version of Macbeth is rooted much more in the battles than the supernatural elements that other adaptations have been based on. The very first scene after the title credits come up is of the battle that the play opens with, and it’s brutal. Fassbender roars like a madman as he races towards his enemies and just as the two opposing sides clash the film drops into slow motion, similar to Zach Snyder’s 300, and lets us watch the blood soaked action unfold.

The Director of Photography is Adam Arkapaw (the guy responsible for the six-minute long take in the first season of True Detective) and just like his television credentials, Macbeth looks stunning. I’ve already talked about the long soliloquy takes and the wide shot battle scenes, but just the establishing shots of the Scottish Highlands are incredible to look at. Another scene worthy of mentioning is the final battle that is surrounded by burning trees. The film basically becomes one giant red haze, with only the silhouettes of the actors outlined amongst the flames. It looks like something out of Dark Souls or The Cursed Crusade, and it’s awesome.

Jed Kurzel (brother of the director) returns to a Michael Fassbender production after their collaboration on Slow West and provides yet another amazing score. There are no stereotypical bagpipes here, it’s mainly violins and battle drums, each perfectly encapsulating the misty highlands and the war-centric story. I remember several times sitting in the movie theatre with a massive grin on my face when Kurzel’s music kicked in, punctuating certain scenes and bringing them to a higher level of filmmaking.

I did find some problems with Macbeth. For some bizarre reason, nearly every line of dialogue is spoken in a half-whisper by the cast. It’s like a weird game of Chinese Whispers, and it sometimes gets to a point where you are struggling to hear the actors speak their lines. Second of all, the first act simply drags on for way too long. I know that the first half is crucial to the story progressing but there was two times within the space of a minute where I did nod off for a couple of seconds. Luckily just as I was falling asleep an incredibly violent stabbing took place on screen (I don’t care if the play has been around for almost 400 years, still no spoilers) and it was the perfect remedy to wake me up for the rest of the film.

In summary, Macbeth is one of the greatest hack ‘n’ slash films since Gladiator. If you think you would be put off by the fact that it’s a true Shakespearian script don’t be, otherwise you’ll be missing out on quite possibly the most epic film of the year.

Score: 9/10 Dark, brooding, moody and blood-drenched, everything you want a Shakespeare play to be.