Spy catcher: Bryce Dallas Howard and friend in ‘Argylle’.
ARGYLLE *** (139 minutes) M
Much-hyped but scarcely previewed, Argylle lands as a fun, clever, twist-charged espionage action-comedy about a best-selling spy novel writer (Bryce Dallas Howard) who discovers that her fiction is seeping into reality.
Starring Henry Cavill (Superman) as her fictional hero Argylle and Sam Rockwell as an IRL spy, the heightened, knockabout lark is front-loaded with lots of well-staged, cutely improbable action bouncing off a progressively loopy plot where things constantly change.
Director Matthew Vaughn (who gave us the King’s Man films) does a solid job with the featherweight mock-Bond shenanigans, though matters do veer into outright silliness, especially towards the climax.
One big mystery surrounding Argylle (set to stream on AppleTV+) is why such an innocuous piece of throwaway action-comedy nonsense has attracted such critical venom. The thing has been hated upon without relent. Go figure.
FORCE OF NATURE: THE DRY 2 ** (112 minutes) M
In Force of Nature, the hugely anticipated, rapidly made follow-up to the hit 2020 Australian film The Dry, five white-collar women head into the wild woods.
As a corporate team-building exercise it doesn’t work out so well, with lots of friction and bickering leading to only four of them returning to the nicely located tourist hotel with the scenic views.
Enter – or rather, re-enter – detective Aaron Falk (Eric Bana, also a producer) who heads into the wet, foreboding forest (along with every other police office in the area, it seems) to suss out what happened and why.
Regrettably, the mystery doesn’t turn out to be all-that-compelling or all-that-thrilling; there are some strong performances, especially from Deborra-Lee Furness, and plenty of strong atmospherics but the story – again based on a novel by Jane Harper – is rather rickety.
One of the film’s persistent irritations is how heavily the plot relies on coincidence, clumsiness and happenstance. You also need to hand the film a big pass as to how five presumably intelligent women could get so bamboozled in a forest full of trails and signage.
As for Falk, he spends far too much time in the comfy confines of the hotel and not enough out in the rough trying to get to the bottom of things.
Again directed and written by Robert Connolly – no question one of the best filmmakers in the country – Force of Nature can’t quite generate the tension or killer moments we got in The Dry.
That said, Force of Nature deserves credit for being that rarest of all beasts – namely, an Australian film that people have actually been looking forward to seeing.
Given the sad state of Australian film at the minute such films should be the rule rather than the exception.
Ah, the dream lives on for such an era. But will any of us live long enough to see it?
ANATOMY OF A FALL *** (152 minutes) MA
Devotees of courtroom intrigue will be sated by the engrossing drama of Anatomy of a Fall, a crime mystery (nominated for five Oscars) that’ll keep you guessing across its generous running time.
The dark deed occurs at a fashionably remote French chalet where a famous writer (Sandra Hüller) has her life turned inside out when her husband apparently falls from the third-floor balcony, hits a shed and lands face-down in the snow, dead.
She’s distressed at the discovery – but as investigators peel back the circumstances of the incident suspicions are roused over whether the claim it was a tragic accident are plausible.
Like most courtroom dramas there are loads of extended flashbacks here, and while the film runs long, the exceptional lead performance from Hüller holds it together.
ALL OF US STRANGERS *** (105 minutes) MA
The manner in which grief can embed itself into one’s life is given vivid, unnerving focus by writer/director Andrew Haigh (45 Years) in the beguiling All of Us Strangers.
The sad sod at the centre of this delicately drawn psychodrama is Adam (Andrew Scott), a lonely guy living in a new, all-but-vacant London apartment building with nothing but the pain of having lost his parents decades earlier.
After getting involved with Harry (Paul Mescal), apparently the only other occupant in the building, Adam visits his old suburban home, only to discover his parents (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell) happily living there.
Are they ghosts? Or has Adam’s innocent trip on public transport taken him through a mystical portal across space-time designed specifically to deliver unto him the joys of the loving parental embrace denied him for so long?
Along with the explorations of love, loss and grief, Haigh also offers us a look inside the mind of someone whose hold on reality has become unshackled. One scene involving a collision of perception is deeply affecting.
So, too, are the film’s concluding scenes, effectively designed to stay with you as you wonder what, exactly, has happened.