BARRY NORMAN: FILM OF THE DAY
Based on fact, this is the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first black regiment in the Union army during the American Civil War. It was raised and commanded by a white officer, Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), scion of an abolitionist family, and the story is told from his point of view in letters home to his mother. At first the black troops are not treated well by the Union; they’re paid less than their white counterparts and are used mainly in construction work and the like. And when, finally, they are allowed to fight, they learn that the Confederates will summarily execute any captured black soldier. The heart of the drama involves Broderick’s difficulty in asserting his leadership on sometimes recalcitrant troops and especially his complex relationship with a tough runaway slave played by Denzel Washington, who won the Oscar for best supporting actor. But there’s also plenty of rousing action culminating in a desperate, heroic assault on a Confederate stronghold.
9.00-11.20pm Film Four
Keira Knightley and James McAvoy do a masterclass in brooding intensity as lovers torn apart by war, class conflict and sibling jealousy in this glossy take on Ian McEwan’s novel. For McAvoy, this movie was a crossroads moment, as his next role in 2008’s Wanted would set him on the path to the X-Men franchise and all-round Hollywood action star. Meanwhile, Knightley continues to choose a winning mix of period drama and romantic comedy that will probably steer her to a National Treasure position before she’s 40.
Friends with Kids ★★★
Jennifer Westfeldt announced herself to Hollywood with style in 2001, co-writing and starring in Kissing Jessica Stein, and made waves on Broadway, too, before TV roles in Notes from the Underbelly and Grey’s Anatomy. For Friends with Kids she added directorial duties to her involvement, in addition to writing and starring. The story, about two best friends who want to have children without the pitfalls of parenthood, wouldn’t be out of place in the Judd Apatow canon, and the cast is studded with Bridesmaids alumni, including Westfeldt’s partner and co-producer here, John Hamm.
Coogan’s Bluff ★★★
Clint Eastwood’s Arizona sheriff is up against New York City red tape as well as his escaped murdering adversary in this fish out of water crime flick that is an entertaining tale in itself as well as being a key crossover film in Eastwood’s career. Not only do we see Eastwood’s iconic spaghetti western character morph towards that of “Dirty” Harry Callahan, but the movie is directed by Don Siegel, who had made his name in the late 1950s with Riot in Cell Block 11 and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and who would accompany Eastwood from Coogan’s Bluff to Dirty Harry. Eastwood later claimed that everything he knows about film-making was learned from Siegel.
Patriot Games ★★★
When this efficient thriller came out in 1992, not many people would have thought that the then 50-year-old Harrison Ford would be continuing to throw himself round a soundstage 23 years later. As a result, with hindsight, he looks surprisingly young as retired CIA analyst Jack Ryan, who saves James Fox’s politician and minor royal from assassination while on holiday in London, and comes up against disgruntled IRA killer Sean Bean as a result. Director Phillip Noyce’s use of high tech surveillance equipment is highly effective, but his stock Hollywood climax takes the wind out of the movie.