Deep trouble: Sophie Lowe in ‘The Dive’.
THE DIVE **** (91 minutes) M
Wowie. What an excellent, tight, sweat-inducing survival thriller The Dive is as adventure-hungry sisters May and Drew (Louisa Krause & Sophie Lowe) fall victim to an undersea catastrophe while diving at a beach located, of course, in the middle of nowhere.
An avalanche sends rocks showering down upon them, pinning May’s legs under a giant slab, 127 Hours-style and sending Drew on a nail-biting race against the oxygen gauge as she returns to the surface several times trying to get equipment from their rented car.
Director Max Erlenwein, who co-wrote with Joachim Heden, does a superb job turning the screws as Drew’s desperate schedule gets tighter and tighter.
The underwater photography evokes a powerful sense of claustrophobia as the pair gasp for air, contrasting neatly to the open spaces above the water as Drew rushes about.
It’s top stuff, with Sophie Lowe’s increasingly exasperated performance driving a terrific adventure tale that also works as a companion piece to The Fall, which saw two girls get stuck on the tip of an abandoned TV tower.
BRING HIM TO ME **1/2 (96 minutes) MA
For most of its running time this pacey, swiftly directed crime thriller works really well as a professional underworld driver (Barry Pepper) speeds an unwitting passenger (Jamie Costa) through a dangerous night towards an uncertain fate.
Deftly inserted flashbacks fill in the backstory about the passenger’s dire situation and the crime gone wrong that is now speeding him towards a doom he has no idea about.
The two get talking and, predictably, the driver’s conscience begins troubling him as they head towards a destination where violence likely awaits.
Director Luke Sparke (working from a screenplay by Tom Evans) generates an appreciable degree of tension across the nocturnal road trip, with a heavily bearded Bary Pepper (Saving Private Ryan; The Green Mile) carrying much of the film with a convincing, grounded performance.
Best known for several ambitious films such as the creature feature Red Billabong, the alien invasion sci-fi adventure Occupation and its large-scale sequel Occupation: Rainfall Sparke proves adept at working on a smaller canvas.
Alas, just as everything seems to be going well and you’re happily going with the flow and getting into the intrigue of the characters, Rachel Griffiths shows up.
As we all know by now, Rachel Griffiths is a national treasure, not only a superbly versatile actress, but also a successful director (Ride Like a Girl). She’s usually magnificent.
Unfortunately – and hard as it is to say – she’s not magnificent here.
She turns up in the third act as a ruthless crime boss with an American accent so off-putting it takes you out of the film. It sounds like a party trick impression of a Sopranos character. It’s the film’s only real flub, but it’s a sizeable one.
Kudos to the production team for pulling off the rare feat of making a film shot in Australia look like America. This usually fails spectacularly but there are no jarring landmarks or telltale signs. The cover of night probably helped.
BECKHAM ***1/2 (285 minutes; four hours, 45 minutes; four episodes) M
whole series review
The stellar sporting career and bumpy family life of soccer mega-star David Beckham gets a thorough going over in Beckham, a four-part docu-series that turns out to be surprisingly compelling, even to those who have little interest in him or the sport.
Maintaining a carefully managed dual focus on Beckham as an athlete and as a globally adored celebrity, the show presents a largely chronological profile, each episode beginning with a personal snippet before diving into the archives.
In the lavish home he shares with wife Victoria (aka Posh Spice – does anyone really not know that?) the couple are interviewed extensively and separately about the highs and lows of their entwined lives. The show could easily have been called Posh & Becks, and perhaps should have been.
From his beginnings as a child wonder through to his time at Manchester United and defection to Real Madrid, Beckham has lead a comprehensively recorded life, especially on the field where his exploits are exhaustively covered.
More interesting, however, is the show’s tracking of Beckham’s morphing from soccer star to celebrity commodity, something he wholeheartedly embraced when it came to magazine covers and sponsorship deals.
The series shows how with the fame, money and over-exposure of having an ultra-high profile came tripwires, one of which saw him go from being universally loved to universally despised.
Victoria is there mostly to unpack the personal side of the saga, in particular the effect merciless media scrutiny had on their relationship and family. One golden moment captures her horrified reaction to huge crowds chanting how she takes it from behind.
All up, Beckham serves up a pretty comprehensive portrait, talking to almost everybody who ever had anything to do with him – teammates, parents, managers, club owners, even the Manchester United receptionist gets to put in their two bob.
The show does go soft here and there. The issue of Beckham’s alleged infidelity is glossed over and isn’t investigated – well, did he cheat or not? – and too much is made of his grand failure to succeed in America, where he was on a staggering $250 million deal to play on some low-ranking team.
This produces a most amusing bit as a player explains how Beckham’s teammates were all ordinary guys with full-time jobs being paid a meagre $13,000 a year.
Timing his visit to the loo, it was calculated that Beckham made more money while relieving himself than the rest of the team did in a year.
Still, it’s hard not to come out of the series liking the guy.
OLD DADS *** (102 minutes) MA
There are laughs aplenty on offer in Old Dads, the very funny directorial debut from hugely popular lowbrow US comedian Bill Burr.
Resoundingly uncouth, Old Dads follows the fortunes of Jack Kelly (Burr), a grumpy middle-aged working class guy trying to negotiate his way through the mid-life blues in a world he finds annoying woke and way too PC.
His outburst at his kid’s early learning centre puts him in the crosshairs of its director, who Jack and wife Leah (Katie Aselton) are relying on for a good reference.
Alongside him are his best friends and business partners Connor and Mike (Bobby Cannavale & Bokeem Woodbine), who each have their own trials and confrontations with woke culture.
Burr, who co-wrote the film with Ben Tishler, proves himself a fine director, giving each character arc, even the supporting ones, their due.
Despite the critical drubbing it’s received, Old Dads serves up a sound backhander to the insipid nature of woke culture where offense is taken at every turn and everyone is primed to switch to snowflake mode.
The general tone of the comedy is coarse and often raw, reflecting Bill Burr’s straight-talking stand-up signature style.
Yet while the gags might be jagged, Burr is conscious to ground the film with an ultimately warm feel. Burr fans will love it and appreciate the similarities with F is for Family, his very underrated animated Netflix series. Catch it if you can.
PAIN HUSTLERS **1/2 (122 minutes) M
In the wake of Painkiller comes Pain Hustlers, another look into the nefarious manner in which people made a killing by pushing pain medication onto doctors and unsuspecting patients, many of whom died.
Based on a true story, Emily Blunt (also a producer) plays Liza Drake, a financially-troubled pole dancer who chases up an offer from regular customer Pete Brenner (Chris Evans, aka Captain America) to work with him in pharmaceutical sales.
She quickly discovers how little effort is involved in making piles of money, and as greed overwhelms her better judgment she even recruits her mother (Catherine O’Hara) into the business working for her eccentric boss (Andy Garcia).
Oddly, the direction by veteran David Yates – who did the last four Harry Potter films and all three Fantastic Beast epics – is occasionally muddled, with the story points about the lucrative “speaker” program being somewhat vague.
The tone also swings too hectically between drama and comedy, as though the film is in two minds about being a satire or a straight drama.
Still, the whole thing is nicely anchored by Blunt, who puts in a sterling central performance with a very convincing heartland American accent.
There’s also terrific work from a barely recognizable Chris Evans, reminding us that there’s much more to his acting chops than his Marvel wardrobe.