Sunday, 22 August 2010

Theatre Review: An early Miller masterpiece makes a welcome return.

All My Sons. By Arthur Miller. At the Apollo Theatre, London. With David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker. Booking until 2 October 2010.

"All My Sons" may not be traditionally the most well-known of Arthur Miller's plays, but this terrific revival proves why it was the piece that made his name in 1947.

A stormy overture sets an ominous tone for this mid-20th-century morality tale. Joe Keller (David Suchet) is a successful air parts manufacturer, who is living with his wife and one of his sons - we learn that the other, an air serviceman, is still missing in action after the upheaval of the Second World War. His business partner has been imprisoned for allegedly supplying faulty machinery that caused the deaths of several pilots in the war, and when his suspicious family come to Keller for answers, the man is forced to account for his own part in the decision to place material gain over social responsibility.

The first act may be necessary to introduce the neighbourhood's complex relations, as well as to contrast the trivial domestic trifles with the more destructive events to come, but it is a very slow burner. When the plot finally accelerates towards the middle of the second half, it explodes with the inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. Director Howard Davies, who oversaw the last major production, expertly piles on the tension again here and coaxes some superb performances. Zoe Wanamaker may be more adept at stricken mothers in serious drama than TV comedy, so convincing is her Kate Keller, who is unwavering in her belief that her vanished son is still alive; Wanamaker generates the right amount of pathos as she becomes entangled in her husband's web of betrayal and deceit. As the surviving son, Chris, Stephen Campbell Moore contributes an equally heavyweight turn in the difficult role of the moral centre of the play, modulating from angered to anguished as he comes to question his father's decency. Naturalistic set and lighting designs add gritty realism to an already volatile atmosphere of blame and guilt, which pervades right up until the devastating climax. The final revelations provide the proof that this early masterpiece from a great American dramatist should be counted among his best work.

Verdict: **** 1/2 out of 5

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Film Review: A blockbuster with brains.

Inception. Directed by Christopher Nolan. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, et al. Legendary Pictures, 2010. On general release. Certificate 12A (moderate violence).

Ever since he shot to fame with his reverse-chronological psychological thriller, 'Memento,' back in 2000, director Christopher Nolan's star has continued to rise. He has garnered both critical and commercial success with 'Insomnia,' a remake of a Norwegian suspense film which relocates the action to the frozen wastes of Alaska, and 'Batman Begins,' a dark reboot of the DC Comics franchise, along with the latter's sequel, 'The Dark Knight.'

Audiences should be waiting excitedly for Nolan's next Batman installment, scheduled for release in 2012. And with very good reason, judging by his latest picture, 'Inception,' which is perhaps the Brit's most ambitious project to date. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Cobb, a master thief who uses the power of dreams to invade his marks' subconscious and steal information their conscious selves would normally prevent from disclosing. In one last mission, he is hired by a Japanese businessman, Saito (Ken Watanabe), to convince the son of a wealthy oil baron and Saito's corporate rival to break up his father's empire. It's an original premise, but as anyone who has seen the clunky Michael Jackson 'musical' "Thriller - Live" in the West End can tell you, a good idea badly executed sounds like a bad idea.

Fortunately, Nolan manages to assemble a believable cast around DiCaprio. Ellen Page in particular excels as the inexperienced but impassioned rookie in the gang, delivering an impressive turn when she confronts Cobb about the skeletons in his closet, which threaten to derail the entire operation. The dream sequences are visually striking, filled with projections (images of the subconscious), Penrose stairs and dizzying mirrors; at one point characters engage in a 360-degree tussle in an imaginary hotel corridor. But what really makes this film a winner is the plot: absorbing and genuinely suspenseful, it convinces as an update on the heist thriller, but its true power lies in the way Nolan exploits the most primal of human abilities - the capacity to dream - for subversive intentions. The ambiguous end may be a logical leap too far, but nevertheless the director's vision of a morally-fractured, heightened sense of reality within what is ostensibly an imagined world is so fully realised in this film, you may be hard-pressed to find another blockbuster this summer as rich, pacey and imaginative as this one.

Verdict: *****/5