MAP TO THE STARS ***


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FOR DIRECTOR DAVID Cronenberg (“A Dangerous Method”, “Eastern Promises”, “A History of Violence”) the people who inhabit planet Hollywood are really a species who inhabit a separate constellation. Their lives are as empty as the large, opulent empty houses they rattle around in. It is into this constellation of stars that an alien, Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska) lands. She is from Jupiter. That’s Jupiter, Florida.

www.indiewireShe’s the coy, charming, totally deranged homicidal daughter of masseuse/therapist/media star, Dr. Stanford Weiss (John Cusak) and his overbearing wife, Christina (Olivia Williams). Stanford and Christina have sired two children, Agatha and a thirteen year old Bieberish punk child star, Benjie (Evan Bird).

Stanford and Christina are also siblings.

Like parents like children: Agatha also wants to be married to her brother.

It must be something in the water.

When Stanford discovers that Agatha is baaaaack (after seven years in a clinic) he’s understandably concerned, you could say hysterical, since the last time she was in town, she burnt down the family home, in some sort of attempt to kill the ghosts of dead people who were haunting her. The fire has severely scarred her. They are the scars of her past upon her person.

The others are not so lucky. Benjie bears his scars inside his tormented head. He sees dead people. They are the ghosts of his guilt.

Ageing star Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) also sees dead people: her mother – who she thinks or at least claims, had abused her sexually as a child.

Incest, like dead people runs rife in this planet.

Havana is obsessed with neutralizing the ravages of age. She’s puffed up her lips and is intent on landing a role that will reprise the movie that made her mother a hit star (and somehow turn back time). She wants to both outperform her mother and through this role, reclaim her youth. But the ghost of her mother is having none of that and she is haunted by it. The role is one that Agatha wants so desperately that she’s prepared to sleep with anyone to get it. (Which is par for the course in planet Hollywood)

Havana has hired Agatha to be her gofer. In this planet, that means doing everything including, we are shown, helping her shit.

And hovering around these stars is wannabe actor, script-writer, chauffeur and resident stud muffin, the man with the movie star sounding face and name – Jerome Fontana (a Robert Pattinson), there to help Agatha feel beautiful and Havana feel young.

Pattinson is out of his depth here. He is a bland invisible presence in what is really a stellar constellation of talent working really really hard to deliver some sort of emotional resonance into a movie geared at little more than making its audience feel haughtily superior to these well paid losers.

It’s fun to watch, but the overriding questions we’re left with as the lights come up are, “And so? Do we care? Is this it?” This is the kind of cathartic navel-gazing that Hollywood seems to revel in. No wonder it headlined Cannes: it’s big hearted Hollywood showing the world how self-critical it can be: the emptiness and perils of fame. But Cronenberg and writer Bruce Wagner (who adapted his film script to book form in “Dead Stars”) are careful to keep anything that veers into tangible reality at arm’s length. The viewers in Cannes need not fidget too much in their seats. The protagonists after all, see dead people; the performances are boldly coloured caricatures of stock weirdoes; there’s enough death and agonizing hysteria to give the viewers at Cannes the way out: we may be rich and famous and in therapy, but we’re not like these weirdoes. These types only exist in the movies.

 

A MOST WANTED MAN ****


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MID WAY THROUGH this magnificent movie, CIA Agent Martha Sullivan, Robin Wright’s character, a brunette version of her character in “House of Cards”, says in response to a question posed to her by Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that she does what she does “to help keep people safe”. Later on, in front of a committee, when he’s asked the same question, Gunther repeats Martha’s words. He skulks around in the dark of the night, well outside the law, as the head of a deep covert German spy agency “to keep people safe”

The big difference between Martha’s and Gunther’s identical statements is that even for him, this ‘been there, done that’, seen too much, cynical spy master, his is a genuine expression of honesty. He’s somehow, despite it all still acting for the good of keeping people safe. Martha’s attitude represents pretty much the attitude of the people Phillip is up against: she does what she does for the headlines and the career boost it’ll give her.

John Le Carré’s novel turned movie (and written by him) is, as you’d expect, set in the shadows. And it’s claustrophobic: the action moves from one small, enclosed space to another. We’re in a world of people listening in on others, following them and plotting out moves like chess masters. Indeed, probably the two only ‘innocent’ or rather naïve people in the movie are chess players. Le Careé’s cynicism is reflected in the fact that in the end, in this world of lies and subterfuge, honor and truth really are out of place.

The wanted man of the title is ostensibly Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobyrgin), a refugee Chechen Muslim who has slipped into Hamburg, a city we are told on high alert ever since 9/11 (i.e everywhere). He’s there to locate one Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe), a shady financier, who holds in trust for him over €10M – the legacy from his dead, gangster father. The German police believe he’s in the city to finance and organize a terrorist plot. They want him caught, arrested and Guantanamo-ed.

For Gunther and his team, however, Issa is just a – probably innocent – lead to much bigger fish. Gunther’s following the money and playing the long game. His intent is to get to the source, to unearth the heart of terrorist funding. As he says, “the minnoes get eaten by the barracudas; the barracudas get eaten by the sharks”. He’s after the killer-whales that eat the shark. It’s a strategy that requires patience and gamesmanship.

His American counterpart – the ruthless, double-crossing Martha – who is quite clearly pulling the strings of both the German counter-intelligence and Internal Security agencies, is all for the fast kill. The quick headline-grabbing imprisonment…which will get her the kudos. She’s happy to sacrifice the sharks for a publicized kill of the barracudas. That at least gives the appearance of success in the ‘war against terror’. It’s a policy that ensures that the cycle of terrorism is forever perpetuated.

These are the guardians of our security.

The most wanted man remains, despite arrests, at large.

In a movie without a car chase or a murder, and with hardly any action to speak of, Director Anton Corbijn (and writer Le Careé) who also gave us Clooney’s moody spy thriller, “The American”, offers us as taut a thriller as you’re likely to get this year. As the story unfolds, and the red herrings are dropped here and there, the audience is kept at the edge of their seats. We know things are going to go wrong. They always do. But when and where? Will people get caught out? Will Gunther’s hunch prove right?

What makes this so irresistibly gripping is its compelling credibility. Who knows how this world of spies really operate. No matter. “A Most Wanted Man” makes us feel that we’re not an audience to an entertainment, but an eavesdropper to a shadowy reality. You keep thinking, as you follow the story down its dark tunnel of lies and deceptions that this really is how it actually works. And this is a credit not only to Corbijn, but to the persuasiveness of the acting.

Philip Seymour Hoffman towers over the movie. My, will he be missed! His Gunther is the absolutely believable antithesis of the movie spy: overweight, alcoholic and chain-smoking. When he speaks (in what seems to me a flawless German accent), his low rumble of words well up from somewhere deep and dark. He manages to combine physical menace with an avuncular tenderness and we can understand precisely why he can both seduce people to go against their friends, and stand up fearlessly to anyone in his way.

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Hoffman is not alone. Robin Wright’s CIA Agent Martha is all smiling insincerity. Willem Dafoe’s Tommy is the sleazy wealthy banker forced into acting for the forces of good, despite his best intentions; and the surprise of the movie: Rachel MacAdams as the naïve liberal human rights lawyer, Anabel Rihjter (in a world where she has no rights). She is a compelling balance between vulnerable stupidity and pragmatic acquiescence.

Sadly, this bureaucracy of back-stabbing spies is the force tasked with keeping us all safe. Lock your doors!