Filmmaker Gavin Hood's leftist politics have finally found a shrewd, crackling home in this tale of a British whistle-blower (Keira Knightley) and the investigative/legal melee that erupts around her after she leaks a damning classified document to the press. I can't say it surprises me that the British government was just as morally corrupt and blinded with land-grab avarice as the U.S. in proclaiming a war against Iraq, but "Official Secrets" does maintain some levels of genuine intrigue even if we know how the based-on-true-events eventually plays out. Half investigative procedural as the Observer staff (strong performances by Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode and Matt Smith) stagger to fit the pieces together to mold a believable story and half moral legal drama as Knightley deals with the personal consequences of her stubbornly realized actions (including the presence of a great Ralph Fiennes as her lawyer), the film juggles all of this with confidence, even if the narrative beats feel a bit hemmed from the start. Regardless, it's a film that rewards the viewer with intelligent conversations and mounting drama without patronizing.
Brittany Runs a Marathon
Paul Collaizo's "Brittany Runs a Marathon" was snapped up by Amazon Studios fresh out of this year's Sundance, and it fits their middle-of-the-road expectations perfectly. It's not a bad film, by any means, it's just a safe, audience-friendly slice of self-help intervention that breaks no rules or extends beyond its pat circumstances. As the woman who decides to change her life and begin running, Jillian Bell is admirable, flashing streaks of warm humanity within a narrative that rarely paints outside the lines and its cast of secondary characters (such as Michaela Watkins) often threaten to become more interesting than anything else.
Far from the disaster that's been plastered on this film for several weeks now, John Crowley's "The Goldfinch" is more of a gilded whimper than anything else. Adapted from a well loved novel of the same name, the film hints at greatness through the machinations of a teenager's growth into adulthood after a shocking act of violence alters his course. Like life itself, "The Goldfinch" is messy with subplot and supporting characters..... replete with missed connections, lost attachments and personal tragedies... that dot the landscape of his lost compass path. Sometimes, this jagged journey can be mythical and immensely moving. Unfortunately, the journey here feels much too earnest to allow anything to sink into one's bones. Performances by Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman, especially, feel overly internalized and oddly suffocating. Only when the film breaks away from their posh New York lifestyle and journeys to the desperate ends of the earth (literally a decrepit housing division at the edge of Las Vegas) does it ever really come alive with conflicted characters and energized emotions (courtesy of young Oakes Fegley and Finn Wolfhard).