Welcome to this first edition of The Streaming Pile; my excuse to use a good pun thinly disguised as a monthly column discussing the latest crop of Netflix’, er, ‘cinematic’ content. This month saw the release of three fairly high-profile films (as opposed to the usual strain of Friday night horror dreck): Operation Finale, 22 July, and Apostle.
Chris Weitz (directing for the first time since 2011’s A Better Life) oversees Operation Finale, a historical thriller detailing the hunt for Nazi war criminal and architect of the “Final Solution”, Adolph Eichmann (Ben Kingsley). On his trail is Oscar Isaac as Mossad agent Peter Malkin. Malkin tracks Eichmann to Buenos Aires, but complications arise when he and his team must secure their prisoner’s signature, to officiate his appearance before a court in Israel.
The scenes between Isaac and Kingsley are – as one would expect from two of Hollywood’s finest presences – riveting, and there’s certainly thrills (however scattershot) to be had in the Argo-like mission to capture Eichmann. The supporting cast are – perhaps as a result of having to square up to the two leads – somewhat less engaging, and the casting of American comedy staple Nick Kroll as one of Malkin’s subordinates is more distraction than revelation.
Also, the moral conflicts presented by Eichmann as an attempt to throw Malkin off his game feel thin and half-baked, and are almost immediately disregarded by the viewer because (thanks to seven decades of hindsight) we know him to be a cruel, deceitful manipulator. Nevertheless, it’s a largely gripping race to the finish with a sublimely righteous coda.
Far less successful (and efficiently constructed in all the wrong ways) is Paul Greengrass’ 22 July, which details the events and aftermath of far-right Anders Breivik’s attack on a government building and a Workers’ Youth League summer camp in 2011.
Greengrass begins with a well-detailed re-enactment of the atrocities, then following both Breivik’s internment and one of his victims, Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli). And it’s that latter half (largely centred on the all-too engaging Anders Danielsen Lie as Breivik) that presents a problem: this is one instance where the United 93 director’s even-handed, tell-both-sides cadence is unsuccessful at best, and abject moral cowardice at worst.
Its frame is cold, its focus is askew, and fails to make any real statement beyond ‘this is what happened’. When it comes to showcasing such appalling acts of violence, taking a detached standpoint is precisely why monsters continue to rise in Breivik’s stead, because cinema (and the media as whole) continue to give his ideologies as much air – if not more – than the voices of his victims. Simply presenting a competent, functional thriller-drama – as Greengrass does here – is not enough anymore.
Gareth Evans’ Apostle, too, contains no deeper message, meaning, or political persuasion…and is all the better for it. In stark contrast to the timid Welshman’s previous efforts – high-octane martial arts duo The Raid and The Raid 2 – this slow-burn chiller takes its cue from classical British horrors like The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General. Dan Stevens (who, for this writer’s money, doesn’t appear in enough movies) stars as a tortured traveller, bound for a remote island in search of his kidnapped sister.
The tiny isle is the home of a religious cult under the sway of Michael Sheen’s rabid preacher, Malcolm. Stevens’ character, by virtue of existing in the early 1900s, has never seen a film before and hence doesn’t run a mile when confronted with the aforementioned premise and it’s connotations. Thus, he’s caught off-guard when the eerie power of the island and Malcolm’s religious fervour take a darker turn.
What happens next is best left unspoiled, but rest assured that fans of The Raid films (who might find themselves on uncertain turf here) will be more than sated by the final act. Their salvation is signalled by the moment when someone has their leg broken from under them while another takes a spear through the face: “There he is! There’s our Gareth!”
Operation Finale, 22 July and Apostle are now available to stream on Netflix in the UK.
Powered by WPeMatico