24 Lies a Second: Growing Old Disgracefully

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Growing Old Disgracefully

A couple of films from the subgenre I would describe as the bus-pass bad-ass action movie were showing in the UK the other weekend, although both of them put their own interesting spin on the form (and, strictly speaking, the leading men were in their fifties rather than being of pensionable age).

Just reaching the end of its UK release is Ilya Naishullan's Nobody, a star vehicle for someone who wasn't previously a movie star, the character actor Bob Odenkirk. He plays Hutch Mansell, an anonymous middle-manager at a small factory with a successful wife, nice kids, a nice house, and so on. Hutch's life is drowning in routine until the night he is burgled. The situation resolves without violence, but the incident fuels a long-smouldering flame deep inside him, and before long he is on a late-night bus launching himself into action against a gang of young thugs and sending them all to the hospital. It turns out Hutch has a bit of a past which he keeps quiet about, which may be just as well given one of the men he put into intensive care is the little brother of a Russian Mafia boss who is a homicidal karaoke-loving psychopath…

Believe it or not this is as much a comedy as an action film (doesn't stop the violence being pretty uncompromising though). Most of the humour comes from the slight and unassuming-looking Odenkirk busting out in frenzies of violence. This is very well choreographed and directed, as you would expect from a film made by the writer and producer of the John Wick series. This is less stylised and funnier, with a great supporting turn from Christopher Lloyd as Hutch's dad.

The plot goes round the houses a bit, but the set pieces are great, the pacing is spot-on, and – most surprisingly – it has unexpected depth and emotional heft. Odenkirk isn't just giving a comic turn, but finding the pathos in a character who genuinely seems to regret his colossally violent impulses – not that this stops him gleefully enjoying his various rampages of vengeance. It's a more plausible take on the ‘man steeped in violence, unable to escape' archetype than most Hollywood films manage, and adds a wonderful extra level to what was already a witty and superbly entertaining thriller.

Similar stuff, but slightly different in tone, with Anders Thomas Jensen's Riders of Justice, another thriller with comic tendencies. This time it's Mads Mikkelson who plays fifty-something hard man Markus, a veteran Danish army officer who is summoned home when his wife is killed in a train accident. But professional statistician Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) turns up on his doorstep suggesting there is evidence that the accident was nothing of the sort, and that a gang named the Riders of Justice were really responsible. To track the gang down, Markus is forced to team up with Otto and his oddball friends (also data scientists), and a very peculiar vigilante revenge squad is formed…

Less carnage and more character in this one, and the delineation between the thriller and comedy elements is more pronounced: the director manages the frequent shifts in tone between the serious (and often very dark) and deeply silly with impressive skill, helped by a great set of performances from the cast. It's more than just a comedy-thriller, too: it's clear from the start that the film is about how the world functions in terms of cause and effect, and how people cope with this, and also about the nature of the grieving process. This is the core of the film much more than the violence or the jokes, but everyone involved handles all three elements with aplomb. Not quite as much sheer fun as Nobody, but an extremely accomplished and satisfying film.

Slightly different fare on offer in M Night Shyamalan's latest offering, Old. Vicky Krieps and Gael Garcia Bernal play a well-off couple who take their kids to a suspiciously cheap luxury resort, where they are offered the use of a private beach with only a handful of other tourists. Of course, there is a snag, which in this case is that – due to a freak geophysical effect (i.e. a brazen plot device) – anyone on the beach ages at a rate of two years every hour. Turns out this could be the holiday of a lifetime after all, but not in the sense anyone expected…

An interesting premise, if you like that Twilight Zone sort of feel – with lots of potential for tackling the underlying fear of old age and the ageing process itself which is surely at the back of everybody's minds. However, Shyamalan clearly feels he has to keep the film grounded and functioning as a credible thriller as well as a metaphorical fantasy, and the sacrifices involved undercut the effectiveness of the film – the quasi-scientific rationale he adopts precludes anyone from getting white hair or looking genuinely elderly, while the nature of the film as a piece of horror demands a series of slightly contrived deaths from other causes.

The result is a schlocky and often frantic experience; a film supposedly about fear of ageing in which hardly anybody seems to actually die of old age. It hangs together, although this was never going to be a film with the most credible plot, and Shyamalan directs with his usual inventiveness and achieves a few very clever effects. (He also acts with his usual indifference, but then you can't have everything, I suppose.) There is sort of a twist, but not, I think, an attempt at the bravura wrong-footing of the audience he is famous (and notorious) for. The problem is that the choices he makes when it comes to focusing the film on plot and structure rather than theme mean that in the end this is just a piece of rather silly, fairly diverting tosh, as opposed to something genuinely interesting and resonant. Then again this is par for the course with M Night Shyamalan nowadays, and this is at least a step up from his last film.

(In the time between this being written and submitted the news broke that Bob Odenkirk had collapsed and been admitted to hospital for causes which remain unknown as I type. It would be churlish not to wish him all the best.)

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