Paul Greenwood's movie reviews - Labor Day, Starred Up, A Long Way Down, About Last Night

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Escaped prisoner Frank and divorced Adele (Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet) fall for each other while he hides out in her home
Escaped prisoner Frank and divorced Adele (Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet) fall for each other while he hides out in her home

Labor Day (12A, 111 mins)

Director: Jason Reitman

2 stars

Great things were expected from this latest from director Jason Reitman, who has struck gold in recent years with the likes of Juno, Up in the Air and Young Adult.

It's a major disappointment then that he's ended up delivering such a soggy soap as Labor Day, a film with a veneer of quality that can't quite mask the whiff of ripe cheese that lies beneath.

The set-up is perfectly fine as these things go, albeit one that's done through a slightly problematic flashback narration by Tobey Maguire.

He's the present day voice of Henry, who takes us back to the 1980s when he was a teenager (played by Gattlin Griffith) living with his single mother, Adele (Kate Winslet).

Adele has been struggling to cope with depression ever since she and her husband divorced, with Henry unable to fill that void.

Their world is shaken up by the arrival of Frank, an escaped convict who firmly but unthreateningly convinces them into harbouring him at their home while he tries to evade the authorities.

Over the course of several days he and Adele begin to fall for each other, while young Henry finds the father figure that's been missing in his life.

It's a romance that's a bit of a tough one to swallow, though Winslet and Brolin do give you reason to invest in them. Many elements are flung at the story, some of which work better than others.

It's good that each of the three main characters has their own turmoil going on, but this can make for a lack of focus. And there's something to be admired in the way information is portioned out, though this can also make for a disjointed narrative.

And therein lies the main problem; a narrative that at times threatens to get so hackneyed that it's only really the calibre of the director and the cast that lends it any more legitimacy than a Nicholas Sparks adaptation.

And we all know how those usually turn out. It's bathed in a typically Sparksian golden autumn light, but it's a false cosiness that eventually contributes to the liberal sprinkling of sentimentality that smothers the film.

Ultimately it's a question of taste and believability, and there are a couple of scenes, largely centred around cooking, that are just risible in their misjudgement.

It's these more than anything that damage Labor Day and put a sudden and undignified end to Reitman's up-until-now bulletproof record.

See it if you liked: A Perfect World, Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Starred Up (18, 106 mins)

Director: David Mackenzie

4 stars

Nineteen-year-old Eric (Jack O'Connell) has just been transferred from a juvenile detention centre to an adult prison, the term for which gives this film its title.

He clearly knows what he's doing and is prepared for violence as he's thrown into this brutal new world, but do we need another prison drama?

Though all the usual stuff is present and correct, Starred Up is elevated by a couple of things. First and foremost there's a sensational, fearless performance from O'Connell, full of anger and wild energy, that's a culmination of all the promise he's shown in roles over the last five or six years (many of which it has to be said haven't been too dissimilar to this).

Then there's the complication added by fellow inmate, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), a big fish in the prison who also happens to be Eric's father.

He's trying his best to keep Eric out of trouble, and the battle for his soul that develops between him and a counsellor (Rupert Friend) who believes in rehabilitation, provides much more than the usual clichés.

This twisted paternal love, even behind all the violence, means that Starred Up achieves a remarkable power and manages genuine emotional impact rarely seen in this type of film.

See it if you liked: Scum, A Prophet, Offender

A Long Way Down (15, 96 mins)

Director: Pascal Chaumeil

2 stars

A quartet who encounter each other on a rooftop on New Year's Eve, all planning to kill themselves, agree they won't do so until Valentine's Day in this awkward adaptation of a book by Nick Hornby.

That's a big looming backdrop to hang a story on but to do it in such a stale and unengaging way is a waste, and outwith the main thrust there's very little going on.

Sure, you don't want them to die, as they form a surrogate family to support each other, but that's not really enough.

And in Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots, they're not exactly a bunch full of personality, for all the attempts to make them as quirky as possible.

It's oddly toned, and while it's all very well to treat the subject matter with dark humour, attempts to force laughs from glibness are unsuccessful.

That it almost recovers to become something worthwhile is mostly down to Collette, the only one who seems to be doing anything relatable in her part of the story concerning her disabled son.

But the ropey outweighs the decent to the extent that the result is not quite good enough.

See it if you liked: Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, An Education

About Last Night (15, 100 mins)

Director: Steve Pink

1 star

This painful excuse for a romantic comedy is a remake of a largely forgotten Rob Lowe effort from the 1980s, which was itself based on a play by David Mamet.

It's essentially 100 minutes of screeching and unpleasantness, most of it coming from Kevin Hart, who manages to be even more annoying here than he was in Ride Along.

He's one of four main characters we're burdened with as we trace the relationship ups and downs of two LA couples (Hart and Regina Hall being one of them).

In the lower-decibel moments, we get the relatively normal pair of Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant to contend with, but they're just downright bland and uninteresting, which may be even worse.

See it if you liked: Think Like a Man, That Awkward Moment, Baggage Claim

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