Seeking something to spice up your Saturday night? Try these three gritty thrillers, which expose the ultimate extent of human cruelty and the defiance it inspires…
The Treatment: This Scandinavian-style crime-thriller is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a subtitled Belgian production, masterful in its manipulation of emotion and plot. It’s utterly gripping, and not a little harrowing in both its subject matter and intensity. The full-on pace and performances don’t let up for an entire two hours. Its realistic treatment of an appalling subject, where families are abducted and brutally maltreated, can make it hard going at times. However, the director skilfully presents the violence more through suggestion and ‘sleight of sight’ than explicit on-screen action.
For most of the film, we experience the extremes through the emotions of the investigators – particularly Nick, whose own brother was probably abducted in childhood. His torment, as he desperately tries to prevent something similar happening to another child, provides the powerful momentum which pushes this film into some extremely dark places. Inevitably, the drama pushes beyond the bounds of possibility, and Nick’s furious reaction to witnesses / suspects would have seen him removed from the case. A small flaw in an otherwise accomplished and compelling drama.
The special features are interesting, too. Apparently, the director shot a different ending which would have resolved the storyline in a very different way. My feeling is that they chose a better resolution, in keeping with the grim, gritty feel of the whole film. 8/10
Black Mass: This isn’t a typical gangster flick, rammed with shoot-outs and car chases. It’s two hours of extreme intensity, centred on a massive performance by an almost unrecognisable Johnny Depp and backed up by inspired casting in the supporting roles. The whole film is a treatise on the nature of corruption and rank ambition; not simply greed for material wealth but the need to be the alpha dog, to be measured as a stand-up guy by your peers. Jimmy Bulger embodies urban violence to the extent that he makes the Kray twins look like a pair of wet nellies. Bulger is totally ruthless, prone to throttling the life out of anyone he feels has turned against him – even the mother of his son…
Depp’s performance as the shark-eyed sociopath dominates every scene, but giving Benedict Cumberbatch the role as his ‘wholesome’ politician brother was a master-stroke. Their few scenes together are immensely powerful. Yet maybe the most chilling moments are Depp’s alone, when he morphs in a moment from a charming dinner companion to a callous manipulator, capable of the most extreme cruelty. Bulger isn’t simply depicted as a one-dimensional brute (although he surely is brutal), but as a nuanced, intelligent individual who honoured his mother and loved his son; in a way, making him all the more intimidating.
A potent film, one which shows just how easy it is for weak men to be corrupted – not necessarily by bad men, but by their own desires. Not easy viewing, especially some of the in-your-face scenes of death and violence, and fairly predictable (it’s a true life story, after all). Kept our attention utterly focused, however. 8/10
Marshland: This extremely atmospheric, foreign-language crime drama is set in rural Spain in 1980 as the country balanced partway between its fascist past and its democratic future. Comparisons with the first season of True Detective are inevitable, because Marshland features a similarly astonishing landscape to the Louisiana swamps. The filming goes out of its way to frame the intense action against breathtaking vistas from an unfamiliar area of Spain. The investigating officers form an uneasy, semi-antagonistic partnership not unlike that of Cohle and Hart. Almost every character, including the detectives, is riven by conflict or keeping a secret, many of which come to light as the threads of the mystery unravel.
However, Marshland tells a much shorter story of a serial killer who preys on the small town’s teenage girls, and it concentrates multiple plotlines (drug smuggling, female exploitation, industrial unrest, political corruption) into just a couple of hours. It’s rather more oblique and understated than most crime-thrillers yet it’s visually arresting and intellectually stimulating. The outbursts of sudden violence have a queasily realistic feel to them and a tone of ambiguity is sustained throughout the film. There are few original concepts here, but the photography and performances give it significant heft. Marshland creates chilling claustrophobia amid sprawling, open spaces – a neat trick indeed… 8/10
Reviews by Rowena Hoseason
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