A film of this length rarely rattles along at quite the pace that Believer achieves, a film which starts off jogging for a few minutes before sprinting away for the next two hours. Won-ho (Cho Jin-woong) is a narcotics cop on the hunt for the mysterious Mr Lee who nobody has seen but who runs a major drugs operation in South Korea. After Mr Lee’s senior staff are blown up in a meth lab, Won-ho gains the confidence of the explosion’s sole survivor Rak (Ryu Jun-yeol), a drug runner on the lowest level of the drug empire.
With Rak’s help Won-ho and his team quickly infiltrate a world of million dollar (billion won) drug deals to slowly work their way towards Mr Lee. This journey begins with a spectacular set piece where Won-ho impersonates both sides of a high level drug trade on different floors of a hotel, in the first meeting picking up the mannerisms he would then have to replicate in the second. From here the film kept moving so fast it was up to me to scramble to keep up and I think I just about managed it.
Believer is a big, bombastic Korean thriller that never pauses long enough for you to worry about whether it makes sense or not. This is a silly film that takes itself very seriously and I had a lot of fun.
Jessie Buckley caught everyone’s attention in this year’s Beast as a shy young woman who is awoken by a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. In Wild Rose she is no shrinking violet and the tracks are on the other foot(?) this time. She plays Rose-Lynn, a single mother fresh from 12 months behind bars who dreams of becoming a country star in Nashville. Unfortunately the realities of life, living in a dingy flat with her kids and an ankle tag in Glasgow, make those dreams seem impossible.
Rose-Lynn is supported, and brought back to reality, by her mother, Julie Walters, who has held the fort while Rose-Lynn was in prison and the children’s father was noticeably absent. Starting a new job as a cleaner Rose-Lynn finds her dreams indulged by her boss, Sophie Okonedo, and starts leading a double life. At work she is a single young woman with a unique talent that could take her anywhere, whilst at home she is struggling to relate to her children and can’t leave her flat past 7pm.
The film excellently shows Rose-Lynn’s internal struggle as she bounces between her two realities and the conflicting advice of her mother and her boss. Her mother’s advice coming from years of working class struggle and experience, and her boss’s from a few years of struggle and then middle class utopia. What is achievable in the sending of an email for one is a fantasy for the other.
Wild Rose is a beautifully messy story about figuring out life’s priorities. I kept expecting the film to put a foot wrong and offer up a trite ending but it stayed the course beautifully.
Dragged Across Concrete is a complicated offering. On the one hand it is written and directed by the singular mind that brought us the exemplary Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, S. Craig Zahler. On the other hand it stars the notoriously right-wing, and otherwise problematic, Vince Vaughan and Mel Gibson. Vaughan and Gibson co-star as police detectives who are put on a six-week unpaid suspension for an overly aggressive, and racially insensitive, arrest that someone caught on camera. What the camera missed was that they were being misogynistic too. As they are told of their suspension the two cops lament the overly PC world they live in, a moment where I hope Zahler is gently mocking his conservative cast rather than endorsing their views.
Meanwhile, Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) has just been released from prison and returns home to find his mother selling herself to pay for a drug habit while his disabled younger brother locks himself in his room when the “guests” are round. It’s that kind of film. As the cops look to supplement their six weeks missing income and Henry tries to find his feet again all three find themselves involved in a bank heist heist as they separately try to steal a large amount of cash and gold from notorious and violent occasional bank robber, Vogelmann.
Sorry that took so long to cover but this plot is dragged across a concrete two hours and forty minutes so I’m in no rush. Funnily enough though the one thing I can definitely say about this film is that I did not feel the running time; I sat patiently engaged throughout. Zahler knows how to keep his audience’s attention and somehow earns his bum-numbing running time.
From Zahler’s previous efforts I was primed for lots of extreme graphic violence but in that respect this might be his most restrained work yet. There is even some genital mutilation that happens off-screen rather than in detailed close-up. Can you imagine? Instead he is focused on character interactions, be that the grumblings between Vaughan and Gibson, or the nervous reassurances between Henry and his fellow out-of-his-depth-criminal Biscuit (Michael Jai White). That said we do see a few fingers and faces blown away and an entrail or two but Zahler makes sure we care about the characters before he mutilates them.
Not as surprising as Bone Tomahawk or as otherworldly as Riot, this is its own beast. There are problematic elements but after some reflection I have decided that we don’t need to sympathise with the corrupt cops or their counterparts. There are no good guys to root for but sometimes that is the way life goes.
Could have done without those “I’m not a racist but…” scenes though.