24 Lies a Second: Roar Deal

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Roar Deal

Baltasar Kormakur's new movie has a bit of a problem in the title stakes: all the obvious and good ones have gone. This is a film about Idris Elba being chased by a lion for the best part of an hour and a half, but he couldn't call it Lion, as that was the name of a well-received Dev Patel vehicle from a few years ago. Likewise, calling it Pride would run the risk of getting mixed up with a movie about LGBT activism during the 1980s miner's strike from even further back. Help! It's a Lion! would probably have been a bit too on-the-nose even for a modern studio picture. In the end they've gone with Beast, which is hardly a perfect solution because – as any fule kno – there was a rather superior psycho-thriller of that name in 2018. First world problems, eh?

The film itself is, obviously, concerned with nothing of the sort, and opens with some people whom we eventually learn to be poachers shooting some lions deep in the South African bush. However, they miss the male of the pride, which – presumably due to the trauma of the experience – transforms into a sort of magical monster lion, capable of killing people in complete silence, shrugging off tranquiliser darts, teleportation, surviving being inside exploding vehicles, and so on.

None of this is known to Idris Elba, playing a doctor who's flying into the country with his two teenage daughters (Iyana Halley and Leah Sava Jeffries) for a much-needed holiday: his estranged wife, the girls' mother, has recently passed away and everyone feels it is important that the family spends time together (no-one actually uses the word 'bond', presumably as Idris Elba always gets very agitated whenever he hears it, even in passing). They are staying with an old family friend who is a game warden: as this is an Afrikaans character, he is of course played by Sharlto Copley, who has owned the Hollywood concession on playing white South African supporting roles for a good many years now.

Off they go into the bush for some driving around and looking at animals, and it is all fairly agreeable until they come across a village where every single person has been killed by the magical monster lion. The lion even has a go at eating Sharlto Copley, but as this would mean Idris Elba would essentially have to be in every scene for the rest of the movie, it just nibbles on him a bit. Elba and the kids end up stuck in a landrover looking worried. This takes up a surprisingly long section of the movie. Eventually, of course, it falls to Elba to put aside his metropolitan skittishness and man up, for the sake of his children if nothing else. How is he feeling emotionally as the struggle gets underway? The magical monster lion could probably tell you the answer: raw!

There's a lot of meat on the menu in Beast, but really this movie does feel like low-hanging fruit somehow: it's a film about Idris Elba being chased by a lion. At heart it is as basic and straightforward as that. It takes exactly the shape and form you would expect from a movie about Idris Elba being chased by a lion. There is an initial opening section in which there is no lion, in which there is some industrious laying-in of heavy-duty backstory and relationships. You know from the start that the classic, archetypal story of Idris Elba being chased by a lion is going to (in theory) be given some emotional heft and colour by the subplot about this damaged family coming together in adversity, as there is always an upside to this kind of experience, apparently. It's a bit like in the Spielberg version of War of the Worlds where thousands are killed and civilisation nearly collapses, but it's all okay because this teaches Tom Cruise how to be a better dad. In the same way all those people who get mauled to death by the magical monster lion must end up resting easy as they reflect on how their agonising demises at least served to help Idris Elba and his kids remember that they are really quite fond of one another.

It is, I suppose, quite functional; the scenery is nice, there are some decent jump-scares, there is nothing to nitpick in the special effects department, and Copley is always a watchable presence on screen. Elba isn't really done any favours, by the script, however – I know this is supposed to be the story of how Elba finds the strength and will and ingenuity to fight for his family, but he's so completely useless at the start of the film it's genuinely quite irritating (it's like a suspense thriller where the main character is Daddy Pig – Peppa's old man). I found myself actually wanting him to get eaten by the lion; it almost feels like he deserves it.

Then again, you have to admire Idris Elba, if only for his sheer staying power: the man keeps plugging away, even if the average person would be hard-pressed to name a hit film where he is genuinely the leading man as opposed to the head of an ensemble or a supporting player. (His people would no doubt point out Elba's sheer bankability, given his films have made nearly four billion dollars in total, but most of that would probably come from cameos in half a dozen Marvel movies – an experience he apparently hated.) As this film goes on he becomes less irritating and his innate charisma is allowed to manifest; in the end, it's not actually a bad performance, even if the climax, when it finally arrives, put me very much in mind of part of the Monty Python Scott of the Sahara sketch, which was rather disastrous for it as a piece of drama.

It's… okay. It's the kind of film you'll probably end up watching on TV on a Saturday night, because you fancy watching a thriller about a man-eating lion and your partner likes Idris Elba (or vice versa). It's about Idris Elba being chased by a lion. It delivers everything that description promises, but very little else of substance or genuine interest. If you want to watch Idris Elba being chased by a lion for the best part of an hour and half then this is the movie for you. Otherwise, not so much.

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