The Little Things (2021) feels like a film from another time. Yes it’s set in the early nineties, but it’s more complicated than that.
Rural policeman Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) returns to Los Angeles on routine business, where he gets drawn into the hunt for a serial killer, that may be connected to one of his old cases.
Washington does that brooding thing as the man haunted by personal and professional mistakes. Jared Leto is in full needs-a-wash-creepy mode as the suspected serial killer. And Rami Malek is all clean-cut confidence as the lead investigator, who looks like a child next to the seasoned Washington.
John Lee Hancock complicates this standard procedural with hints of coverup and vigilantism, that has the good doing bad for good reasons.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2022) is a fairy tale, a kitchen-sink Cinderella story, in the tradition of those energetic comedies made at Ealing Studio throughout the nineteen-fifties.
Salt of the earth cleaning lady Mrs. Harris, irreplaceable in an unseen kind of way, falls in love with a couture Dior owned by one of her employers, and resolves to get one for herself.
Hard work and good luck conspire to get Mrs. Harris (Lesley Manville) the money she needs. There’s a small reward for handing in a precious ring, added to a lump sum from her backdated widow’s pension, that’s put with the winnings from a sneaky bet. Quicker than you can say, I will go to the ball, she’s clutching a small fortune, as tightly as her dreams of a dress, arriving in Paris just in time to crash the latest Dior show.
If fortune favours the bold, naivety, persistence, and a kind heart favours Mrs. Harris, letting her win over the younger members of house Dior, and wrangling the second best dress of her dreams. Her first is nabbed by the snobby wife of a businessman, who’s petty frock grab is as pouty as her sullen daughter.
As the dress comes to life, so does Mrs. Harris, slowly discovering her joie de vivre for the first time. Part of me wishes it wasn’t a dress bringing her out of her shell, animating her. It feels patronising for her to be defined that way. Which is perhaps why it’s set in the nineteen-fifties? It’s less plausible outside of that frame.
Mrs. Harris is an unapologetically optimistic film, old inspiring young, breathing new life in the old, all spurred on by Mrs. Harris and her indomitable spirit. This optimism comes with a side order of nostalgia, appealing to ideas about our past that just aren’t real, but it is a Cinderella story about a beautiful princess, in a stunning frock, finding her prince.
Truth is, for all of its faults, I was charmed by a warm hearted film.
1890, Pawnee cavalry scout Eli Whipp (Chaske Spencer) retires from the army and heads north to claim land he’s entitled to as an ex-government employee. He’s a man of few words, an outsider to both Indians and the genocidal white men who now occupy the country. Spencer brings a real stoicism to Whipp, holding the horrors of the time and ghosts of his past in check. Somehow, given all that’s happened in the name of progress and civilisation, he’s able to avoid the anger most would choose.
The moral bankruptcy of the settler project gets its first real outing when Whipp encounters the very capable Lady Cornelia Locke (Emily Blunt), recently arrived in America to avenge the death of her son. It’s typical of this Byzantine plot, weaving personal tragedy with the history and horrors of the American west, that Whipp and Locke get less of a meet-cute and more a meet-murder.
Referencing Harmonica from Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Whipp has been strung up to a corral gate. Outraged by this torture, Locke tries to buy Whipp’s freedom, but is knocked unconscious by the hitman sent to meet her. Why a hitman is there to meet her gets explained later. One murder begats another, and another, until only Locke and Whipp are left standing. Locke’s determination is evident from the start. She’s a well educated, mannered, English lady, who’s not afraid to get her hands dirty, or drown a man in a bucket. Blunt is perfect as a woman with agency in a world that thinks her weak, or property, or doesn’t consider her at all.
This pattern of extreme violence and genocidal cruelty continues as Whipp and Locke head for Hoxem, Wyoming. Navigating the harsh realities of the nineteenth century West, they become ever more entwined the longer their odyssey continues.
Visually stunning, following Leone to locations in Spain, writer and director Hugo Blick does a brilliant job of keeping the umpteen strands of story moving, weaving them satisfyingly towards a conclusion, that’s as cinematically complete as it’s possible for a story to be. If you wanted to be unkind, you could accuse it of being contrived, but the way the various stands of the story are resolved in the final showdown is elegant, and in perfect keeping with the genre.
Special praise should be heaped on Rafe Spall for his demonic David Melmont, about as evil a character as you’re likely to meet in any film, especially a story with so many unpleasant people.
The brutality of this world should not deter anyone from watching what, at its heart, is a love story.
The title sequence, entirely in keeping with the tone of those early Leone westerns, was directed by Steve Fuller, the man responsible for the Mad Men titles. They feel fresh while still being grounded in the history of the genre.
The first was way back in 2013, before Donald Trump was elected president, and The Handmaid’s Tale redefined our understanding of America as the totalitarian theocracy, Gilead.
Since then there’s been two sequels, a perquel, two seasons of a television show, all revelling in the idea that lawlessness, for one night of the year, purges the population’s rage. It’s blood-letting as balance for an unjust society.
The underlying tenet of this night of violence is inequality. By making violence more than acceptable, necessary, it offers those at the bottom of the pile a chance to take revenge for the injustices they feel, the violence done to them. In a society that believes might is right, the purge is justification, reinforcing business as usual.
The plot for this iteration is simple. Two families, one American the other Mexican, flee the forever purger’s revolution, battling their way across Texas to Mexico. The good guys survive and protect their families by killing purgers. The story is equally heroic. The mildly racist American learns to respect his Mexican allies, fighting beside them as they seek sanctuary in Mexico. The action is fast, the explosions large, and the violence intense.
The purge represents more than a comment on the world we’re all surviving, it’s a prediction. Inequality, enforced by violence, benefits those with resources and punishes those without. It thrives in the simplistic polarisation of us and them, and appeals to the authoritarian mindset of the far-right. It’s entirely logical the managed civil unrest of the purge, is the catalyst for a nationalist revolution. It’s what would’ve happened if the January 6th insurrection had taken hold. The ensuing violence would’ve seen America turned into Gilead, making the New Founding Fathers commanders, and Purgers their Eyes.