Tom Hanks in Finch
See feature review
. Available Nov. 5 in theaters.
I guess if anyone could give an effective performance playing mostly with no other actors, it would be the star of Cast Away
, but even Tom Hanks’ estimable chops can’t quite fill in the blanks in this post-apocalyptic drama. Hanks plays Finch Weinberg, an engineer in St. Louis who appears to be one of the last remaining humans after solar flares have irradiated the earth. Already sick himself with radiation poisoning, Finch makes it his goal to create an artificial-intelligence robot—which eventually calls itself Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones)—to care for Finch’s dog in the event of his death. Director Miguel Sapochnik—an Emmy-winning Game of Thrones
veteran—goes admirably low-key with his bleak scenario, with very little external conflict to get in the way of the Finch/Jeff dynamic. And the robot itself is an interesting creation, jittery with the energy of an eager-to-please toddler, matched by Jones’ voice performance. There’s just a problem with the way the dramatic stakes are conveyed, built almost entirely on the notion that Finch’s relationship with the dog is a long-term act of redemption. The character might have resonated more strongly if it felt clearer that Jeff were a companion for Finch himself that he didn’t realize he needed, or if Jeff’s own emotional evolution were more powerfully developed. As it stands, it's a solid enough buddy-road-picture, lacking a little something to kick it into overdrive. Available Nov. 5 via Apple TV+.
As delicate as the recurring piano motif that underscores many of its scenes, Rebecca Hall’s adaptation of Nella Larsen’s novella remains elusively intriguing without ever landing the emotional body blow you’re expecting. In 1920s Harlem, a Black woman named Irene (Tessa Thompson) encounters an old school friend, Clare (Ruth Negga), who has chosen to pass herself off as white and marry a white businessman (Alexander Skarsgård). As their lives become entangled, it becomes clear that the story is about multiple different kinds of existing between worlds: a racially-divided New York City; Irene believing that she, her doctor husband (André Holland) and two sons can escape racism by virtue of their wealth; the possibility that Irene’s jealousy when her husband begins spending time with Clare is more about an attraction to Clare. The latter subtext remains very subtextual, though Thompson’s tightly-wound performance conveys various levels of feeling uncomfortable in her own skin. But while Eduard Grau’s lovely black-and-white cinematography emphasizes the binaries that everyone is pushing against, the ideas here often feel too abstracted, related in thesis-statement dialogue like “We’re all of us passing for something or other.” It’s thoughtful, elegant and often feels on the verge of evaporating into mist. Available Nov. 3 in theaters; Nov. 10 via Netflix.
Red Notice ***1/2
Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot in Red Notice
A really entertaining action comedy feels like something that should be easier to construct with the right pieces and a clear formula, yet it’s still delightful when a movie comes along that actually puts those pieces together. The ostensible, identified-as-McGuffin-in-so-many-words premise involves the pursuit of three immensely valuable bejeweled “Cleopatra eggs” by three interested parties: art thief Nolan Book (Ryan Reynolds); his frequent rival, a thief known only as The Bishop (Gal Gadot); and John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson), an FBI profiler trying to clear his name after being framed by The Bishop. Hartley and Book end up teamed up for the majority of the adventure, and while the two actors are essentially playing their respective most popular stock screen identities—Johnson the likeable bruiser, Reynolds the affable motor-mouth—it’s a dynamic that works even better than it did when Johnson was paired with Kevin Hart in a previous collaboration with writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber, Central Intelligence
. Gadot, meanwhile, makes for a terrific femme fatale, and the action beats are punchy and inventive. Even if it’s clear from the outset that the multiple-heist scenario is going to involve plenty of double-, triple- and quadruple-crosses (not all of which stand up to much scrutiny), Red Notice
keeps making it worth going along for the ride. Available Nov. 5 in theaters; Nov. 12 via Netflix.
After all the documentaries, TV movies, the most recent season of The Crown
, etc. about Princess Diana, is there that much more left to be learned about one of the most intensely scrutinized people of the 20th century? As was the case in director Pablo Larraín’s previous portrait of an iconic woman, 2016’s Jackie
, the focus here is a narrow one, restricted to the Christmas holidays in 1991, as Diana (Kristen Stewart) approaches the end of her rope under the pressures of being part of the Royal Family. Screenwriter Steven Knight goes heavy on the metaphors, mixing stuff like doomed royal spouse Anne Boleyn, pheasant-hunting and Diana’s longing for her pre-marriage life (hence the movie’s name). It might all have been as stultifyingly oppressive as the “wear the assigned dress” life Diana rebels against, except for the prowling energy of Larraín’s direction, the perfect dissonances in Jonny Greenwood’s score and Stewart’s performance. It feels like the part Stewart was born to play, all internal ferocity hidden beneath downcast eyes and diffident gestures, and there’s something pricklier here about a character we’ve often seen portrayed as fragile. Still, Spencer
is built on how much we already know about Diana’s life, including choices like referring to an unnamed “her” we all know is Camilla Parker Bowles. There are only so many ways to convey that, yes, Diana was crushed by the expectations of royal life, and while this is a good one, it’s still merely another one. Available Nov. 5 in theaters.