Rating: The Good – 96.2 Genre: Horror Duration: 114 mins Director: Peter Weir Stars: Rachel Roberts, Anne-Louise Lambert, Vivean Gray
Quite simply the most haunting film you will ever see, this tale of three girls who walk up a rock formation never to be seen again forgoes ghouls, monsters, or ghosts in favour of an intangible force altogether more terrifying. Set in the early 1900’s, it follows a party of school girls from a prestigious boarding school who, accompanied by their teacher, visit the ancient rock formation known as Hanging Rock on a sunny Valentine’s Day afternoon. Weir gives the early stages to this film a hypnotic dreamlike flow as the teenage girls prepare for and embark upon their eagerly awaited trip. However, as the movie proceeds, this dreamlike haze begins to feel more and more like a spell cast on the girls and audience alike by an inexplicable force. As three of the party break away to be whisked up the rock by some irresistible pull, out of nowhere, the film takes a startling if not piercing turn.
Peter Weir’s ability to imbue the otherwise lifeless rock with an elemental and terrifying life-force that dwarfs anything our minds can conceive of is one of the truly great directorial feats even if it’s relatively unrecognised as such. However, looking back on Picnic at Hanging Rock after just watching it, what he does in this film seems far broader in scope, as you get the unavoidable feeling that you were truly mesmerised and lulled into a thick perceptual and conceptual haze. That you were lured up that rock yourself! This isn’t frightening in the typical shock horror movie sense. This is frightening in a much more primal and evolutionary sense as if Weir is tapping directly into the baser regions of our psyche. This is cinematic power at its most sophisticated.
Peter Weir’s thriller is a case of a standard enough plot elevated by superb direction and strong central performances. Harrison Ford plays John Book, a Philadelphia detective investigating the murder of a police officer where his only witness is a young Amish boy. When that boy identifies another policeman as the murderer Book is injured in a shoot-out with him and is forced to flee with the child and his mother to their Pennsylvanian community until he recuperates. Witness is a unique looking film which offers a subtle meditation on the wonder of the unknown and Weir captures it flawlessly. The tempered pace at which he develops the characters combined with Maurice Jarre’s gorgeous score and John Seale’s majestic cinematography results in an enchanting movie experience. He balances the explosive action sequences with the explorative dramatic scenes so well that each complements the other. For his part, Ford gives us a thoroughly interesting performance as the tough city cop out of his element and he is matched by Kelly McGillis who is quietly exceptional as the recently widowed Amish mother of the young witness. She brings just the right amount of innocence and undiscovered strength to the part which more than anything else sets the tone of the romantic relationship that develops. Lukas Haas does very well as the boy while Danny Glover and Josef Sommer are great as the nasty bad guys.
Rating: The Good – 80.2 Genre: Adventure Duration: 133 mins Director: Peter Weir Stars: Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell
Directed by one of most profoundly talented directors of his generation and featuring three seriously impressive performances from Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, and Saoirse Ronan, The Way Back is amongst the most extraordinary movie going experiences of recent years. It tells the true story of a group of political prisoners who escape from a Siberian gulag and traverse 4,000 miles of snow swept wilderness and searing desert to freedom. There are few directors with Peter Weir’s ability to exhilarate with the simple and mundane so you can imagine what he does with this material. But it’s not Hollywood exhilaration – full of slow-motion and melodrama. It’s a tempered, meditative, and ultimately more satisfying form of exhilaration. The film looks and sounds almost as spectacular as the story itself. Russell Boyd’s cinematography (particularly the night time scenes) pulls you into the film while Burkhard von Dallwitz’ beautiful score carries you through it with ease. It’s a long watch at just over two and a half hours but like all great films you don’t notice it, nor do you want more, it’s just right.
Rating: The Good – 86.4 Genre: Adventure Duration: 138mins Director: Peter Weir Stars: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd
One of the most exhilarating movie going experiences, Weir’s adaptation of Patrick O’Brian’s novels is a breathtaking adventure of tactical warfare set on the high seas of the early 1800′s. Russell Crowe is magnificent as Captain Aubrey, a well learned and seasoned battle commander who must balance his concern for his men, his duty to his country, and his respect for his closest friend with his mile-long competitive streak. Sailing off South America, his HMS Surprise becomes embroiled in a game of cat-and-mouse with a heavily armed French frigate whose Captain initially proves more than a match for Aubrey.
Aubrey’s friendship with the ship’s surgeon (played wonderfully by Paul Bettany) is the backbone of the story and it adds sincere touches of poignancy to the two and a half hour long pursuit. Their relationship becomes a reference point for the rest of the dynamics on board either through their explicit conversations regarding the morale of the crew or more implicitly as Aubrey’s interactions with the rest of his men are contrasted with the openness of those moments he shares with his friend. Their nightly music sessions where they sit down to their string instruments much to the bemusement of the crew are serene in quality and Weir softly unfolds some stunning aerial and underwater photography against these beautiful sounds. Yes, this is much more than an action film. This is everything Terrence Malick brings to the table but with a tangible story to get our teeth into. That and some of the most stunning action ever filmed.
Director Peter Weir, perhaps the most consistently great director of the past 30 years, redefines this outmoded genre into something more explosive than even most sci-fi flicks offer. Favouring live action stunt work over CGI and being as bold with his direction as John McTiernen was in his prime, this is nothing short of an action showcase. There has simply never been a series of better conceived, shot, and acted battle sequences such as those which are on display here with the climactic battle being utterly mind-blowing. That said, as astonishing as the choreography of the battle scenes is, it’s the battle of wits which proves most compelling in Master and Commander, as Aubrey finally meets and must out-think an enemy as crafty as he is. It’s these compelling mind-games which set the scene for those battle sequences and make them all the more thrilling because the audience becomes invested in the plans and tactics of the cunning captain. Master and Commander is an extraordinary achievement and perfectly illustrates why an action film should always remain, first and foremost, a film. There’s a spirit to this film which is not only in keeping with the majestic series of books they are based on but with the spirit of cinema itself.
Rating: The Good – 76.3 Genre: Drama Duration: 103 mins Director: Peter Weir Stars: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris
Peter Weir somehow manages to turn what could’ve been just another mundane concept piece into a deeply touching tale of loneliness, celebrity, and self-determination in this story about a young man named Truman who is the unwitting star of a reality TV show based around his life. Having grown up in a self-contained artificial bio-sphere where day and night are at the whim of a manned control centre and where everyone he knows are actors playing to a script, Truman’s life has been staged and manipulated from the minute he was born. At the centre of all this is the guru-like producer, Christof, who treats Truman like his greatest artistic masterpiece and who professes love for him. That is until that Truman begins to suspect that there is something strange about his world and decides to leave his “town” for the first time in his life.
Jim Carey turns in one of his best and most straight-laced performances as the star of “The Truman Show”. His eccentric qualities turned out to be well suited to playing a person who had a less than normal upbringing while his genuine acting ability allows him to make the entire thing believable particularly in the more emotional third act. Ed Harris is in terrific form as the temperamental Christof and he too pulls some acting aerobatics in grounding what would in other hands come off as a rather wild concept. Laura Linney is her usual expert self as Truman’s on-set wife and Christof’s most surgical tool of manipulation.
Of course, as with any Peter Weir film, the director is the true master behind the project and as ever, his iron hand in a velvet glove approach ensures this is a subtle but powerful piece of film-making. The humour of the early sequences is well handled but it’s the shifting of gears in the third act that makes what he does here so special for out of nowhere, The Truman Show (both the film and show within a film) becomes a profound and touching crucible for the exploration of free will, personhood, and self-expression. Carey is with him all the way and the by the beginning of the closing scene, they’ve firmly got a hold of their audience which allows them to deliver one hell of an emotional pay-off.