DVD review: Boyhood

  The growing up process is, of course, universally familiar and we’re no stranger to watching characters age on screen. Whether it’s child actors transitioning to adulthood across many years on television or film franchises, or fictional characters lives developing through various actors, it is a progression that we are very used to. In a project that was filmed across a twelve year period, forward-thinking director Richard Linklater presents a coming-of-age story with unique scope. ‘Boyhood’ stars Ellar Coltrane as Mason Jr who starts the film a six-year-old boy riding around care-free on his bike, and ends an eighteen-year-old ready to start college. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play Mason’s parents and his older sister is portrayed by Lorelai Linklater, who is the daughter of the director. The film steadily follows Mason and his family’s growth, through their ups and downs, and revolutionises the art of storytelling in doing so.
  The logistics of filming one group of actors once a year, every year, for over a decade is astounding, and moulding the footage from each shoot into a coherent, touching tale is admirable. Decorated with references to politics and pop culture, the passing of time is completely natural – so much so that it’s almost documentary-like. There are no title cards or captions to assist in illustrating time hops in the narrative. Instead, subtle pacing is utilised to offer a pure unprocessed flow. An avid video game fan, we watch in awe as noughties kid Mason upgrades from Gameboy Advance to XBOX to Nintendo Wii and matures whilst dealing with his at times turbulent home life. In all honesty, the plot itself is nothing too remarkable, and with a standard delivery involving different Masons and a little make-up for the grown-ups, it’d make a good film. However, it is the reality of the film-making process and the sheer commitment shown by all involved that makes the result truly extraordinary.
  In work that will so obviously be talked about in terms of its development, it would be a shame for the acting talent displayed to go unnoticed. In the early stages, when Coltrane and his character Mason were just small children, I guess he couldn’t do much more than be himself. Into his teenage years though, Coltrane grew up and grew into his role, giving a likeable performance, despite the awkward puberty stage. The same can be said for Lorelai Linklater who gets the annoying yet loving older sister part just right. Whilst building the structure of Boyhood, Linklater worked with Ethan Hawke on a trilogy of romantic films which spanned a whopping 18 years so the pair are more than accustomed to unorthodox film-making. Hawke, in his role as Mason’s father, gives similar speeches to those that we associate with his work for Linklater, giving ‘birds and the bees’ wisdom while he does a bit of growing up himself. His dialogue is always interesting, and his laidback father figure attitude juxtaposes with the stricter mother who, after separating from her children’s father, goes from one bad relationship to the next. The family dynamic plays out realistically, and when they come together, the time that they’ve spent together on and off screen is evident.
  In the past year or two, we’ve had a few treats that are not only enjoyable films, but wonderful cinematic experiences which are helping move the industry forward. Films that enhance the movie-going experience should be held in the highest regard and this falls firmly into that category. It provides a perfect sense of escapism as we forget our own lives for a few hours and become engrossed in Mason’s. Richard Linklater has proven himself as a pioneering creator of film, constructing his craft in one of the most personal projects you can imagine. ‘Boyhood’ is his brainchild invention and he has carefully raised it to become his masterpiece.
See the trailer:

DVD review: A Most Wanted Man

 Earlier this year, the film world was hugely saddened by the tragic death of the award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. His passing resulted in the heightened sense of anticipation around Anton Corbijn’s spy thriller ‘A Most Wanted Man’, the film to feature his last leading role. Adapted from the book by acclaimed espionage novelist John le Carré, the story centres around intelligence operative Günther Bachmann (Hoffman) and his efforts to track Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a suspected Russian terrorist captured on Hamburg CCTV. The intricate plotting combined with Corbijn’s creative style makes for solid if unspectacular viewing, boosted by an awe-inspiring swan song from one of our most highly regarded performers.
 The bleakness of the seedy setting seeps into the atmosphere of the film from the outset with a gloomy sky view of the Elbe harbour, and this murkiness bleeds into the characters, or Bachmann in particular. Wanting to put his blemished past behind him, his old-school methods are upgraded to fall in line with the 21st century but are continuously questioned and intervened with by the post 9/11 westernised attitude towards the Muslim community. Bachmann, fighting what always feels like a losing battle, is dishevelled and weather-beaten though not without a dry sense of humour. He mulls over his evidence on the staple diet of black coffee, cigarettes and Scotch. Like the last le Carré film adaptation Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I found the pace sluggishly slow and it is very much in the grown-up cinema category. I imagine I may appreciate its complexities more in time or perhaps after a second watch, but aside from Hoffman’s fine character work, there was little else in this for me.
 After a string of strong performances throughout his career, it comes as no surprise that his final central turn is as good as we all hoped it would be. The excellence of his Teutonic accent draws us in initially until we are so taken in by the character that it becomes merely a side note. Bachmann is a man whose talents go unrecognised as others interfere with his carefully planned end game in order to achieve a quick result, and his frustration over this is compelling. No stranger to playing lonely souls hampered by personal demons, this time it feels incredibly raw given the circumstances and the closing scenes hold a cold air of finality. Willem Dafoe and Rachel McAdams are less than memorable in their supporting roles, the latter’s take on the German accent leaving a lot to be desired. Daniel Bruhl is criminally underused as a spy-tech expert and his casting seems based on geographical factors alone as he isn’t given much to do, despite his capabilities.
 ‘A Most Wanted Man’ takes a visually interesting look at modern day espionage, bringing racial politics and corruption to the forefront. Despite the plodding nature of the pacing and weightlessness of the supporting cast, it has a vital performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman that just about makes it all worthwhile. We’ve still to see him in the final Hunger Games instalments, but his portrayal of haggard underdog spy Bachmann marks a bittersweet penultimate chapter in his fascinating back catalogue, only highlighting the poignancy of the loss.
See the trailer: