Day three then and at least this one didn't begin with a hangover. I'm lying but at least it was less of a hangover than day two. On the menu today, world famous cheater Lance Armstrong and some particularly strange shenanigans in a brutalist block of flats. Oh and newly crowned BFI Ambassador Tom Hiddleston on the red carpet of course...
Lance Armstrong has been a fascinating character for a couple of decades now and for very contrasting reasons during that time. Alex Gibney’s recentish documentary was serendipitous in its timing, spanning as it did both the extreme hight and extreme depth of the cyclist’s career. That movie as as fascinating as it was frustrating in that although Gibney had unprecedented access to Armstrong, you never actually felt that you got close to the man himself.
Stephen Frears and John Hodge have adapted cycling journalist David Walsh’s book of his pursuit of the Armstrong truth (Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong) for this based on a true story version. It treads very familiar ground - there are no revelations that will knock you off your seat here - but, thanks mainly to a truly impressive turn by Ben Foster, does at least hold your interest for its relatively zippy 103 or so minutes.
Frears uses some suitably large cinematography along the way and weaves in the various characters that were instrumental in Armstrong’s rise and fall. Or at least the ones that came through from Walsh’s presumably sport-centric book. I say presumably because I obviously haven’t read the book but as there is very little of Armstrong in the movie that isn’t related to his sport of his charity, I doubt I’m far out. Armstrong’s wife and family for example feature for all of about ninety seconds of screen time although they surely played a significant part in his career. Likewise we don’t get any particular attempts to get into Armstrong’s early years or anything that might have led him to believe that winning was the absolute beginning and end. This in itself isn’t necessarily an issue with this movie, more that we’ve seen all this before so it would be nice for a slightly different perspective.
Of the other players beyond Foster’s superb imagining of Armstrong, Chris O’Dowd is suitably harried as David Walsh but you don't really get a great sense of his complete isolation within the sport and the journalist community. Guillaume Canet is almost hilariously over the top as the mercurial doctor Michele Ferrari but it’s probably Jesse Plemons who stands out alongside Foster as the conflicted Floyd Landis, at once a part of Armstrong’s great lie but also a latecomer from a deeply religious background who didn’t quite fit in and who would ultimately precipitate the great downfall.
The Program is a solid movie in its own right with some impressive photography and use of archive footage (or at least footage that has been made to look archive - I’m unsure which) and standout performances from an utterly committed Foster and from a super Plemons. Shame there isn’t anything new to hold our interest.
I’ll get two things out of the way from the outset on this one. One, if you’re really interested in Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s novel, you should read as little as possible about it beforehand and Two, I obviously have not read the novel on which this is based, though apparently everybody else has.
So, that being the case, High-Rise is a very difficult movie to summarise but the long and the short of it is that Tom Hiddleston’s Dr. Robert Laing moves into his new apartment after the death of his sister. The apartment is part of a huge brutalist construction built by Jeremy Irons’ architect Anthony Royal and houses a range of people from the lower (in both senses) floors up to the overhanging penthouses that dominate the top of the building. Over the course of the first three years of the building opening, all hell breaks loose and the entire edifice comes crumbling down around the ears of both rich and poor.
And it’s a spectacularly messy fall. I was a huge fan of Wheatley’s Sightseers but to be honest, didn’t really fancy his subsequent efforts. Suffice to say though if you got on with the kind of everyday deadpan brutality of that movie, you’ll be on solid ground here. Well, thoroughly fetid ground but at least you’ll know where you stand. Decadence and creeping horror seep out of every horrible concrete pore of this movie. From the moment we glimpse the savagely angular lines of Laing’s apartment (little context is given within the space - there is a balcony that seems to allow little light, a kitchenette but no real rooms as such), we are sucked into a vicious world where a man can escape being thrown off the roof only because he owes the architect a game of squash.
Sienna Miller is great as Laing’s direct neighbour one floor up, a predatory mother with a son of deeply dubious provenance who slinks around the inhabitants of the upper-lower floors. Likewise Luke Evans, resplendent in some awful 70’s facial hair and responsible for the majority of the rabble rousing against the power hungry (in a literal sense) elite above him, as well as ‘raping people he shouldn’t’. And Jeremy Irons is, well, Jeremy Irons. Absolutely perfect as the mysterious ‘genius’ responsible for the complex that so accurately comes to represent the horrific nature of its inhabitants.
Wheatley has constructed a wonderful monster in High-Rise and just watching it breathe in and out, spewing rot is a sight to behold. One particularly brutal set-piece in the monolith’s shopping centre is a superb piece of work that brings together the carnage perfectly. And then there is the soundtrack. Never have you witnessed Abba so utterly, brilliantly abused. Portishead’s cover of SOS is magnificent and perfectly reflects the building escalation of the horror within the walls of the building. Taken as its parts, this movie will make you uncomfortable and probably pretty baffled. As a whole though, it’s a vile, spewing, mutated look on the underbelly of civilisation hiding in very plain concrete clad sight.