Film Review: “Trespass Against Us”

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Sean Harris, Lyndsey Marshall, Rory Kinnear
Directed By: Adam Smith
Rated: R
Running Time: 99 minutes

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

For a man seeking a quiet life, Chad Cutler drums up an awful lot of trouble in Adam Smith’s rural family drama, Trespass Against Us. Set deep in the English countryside, the feature debut from Smith can be tonally uneven but boasts enough solid performances and pops of quality car chases to recommend it.

Michael Fassbender stars as Chad Cutler, the heir apparent to a family of thieves in a caravan park. His father is the blustery Colby Cutler (Brendan Gleeson) who preaches only what his father taught him. In between sending his son and their gang out on robberies, Colby interferes with Chad’s young son Tyson (Georgie Smith) getting an actual school education. It’s a life Chad wishes to escape as he sets his eyes on moving into an actual house with Tyson and his wife Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal). Unfortunately Colby’s infamy looms large over the local population, often stifling Chad’s ambitions. Also impeding his progress? Chad himself. Chad is a caring father, but his whole world has been crime and he’s great at it. Despite his illiteracy, he’s the most intelligent of his crew as well as the best driver–crucial for their hit and run robbery jobs in the neighboring towns. The entire trailer crew becomes endangered when Colby sends them unknowingly to invade a local judge’s mansion.

Fassbender isn’t often cast as the family man (Steve Jobs was hardly the best example) and here it works well. Him and Smith share some touching scenes and I also got a kick out of Chad’s chastising of Tyson at a chip stand. More importantly Fassbender skillfully conveys the simmering conflicts within Cutler. His shark-like grin when dealing with his cohorts is equal parts charming and threatening, belying his frustration with his continued position in this dim gang. Conversely Chad clearly enjoys the thrill of the car chases when he is persuaded to work. Most of the persuasion here carried out by Gleeson’s formidable Colby who growls his way through some good scenes.

The English countryside makes for an unconventional crime story background and Smith does quite a lot with it. The car chases through the village then out into the woods are well shot and thrilling despite their relatively small scale. I’d never seen cows incorporated into a manhunt quite like they are here! At times, the local population can skew too quirky (Sean Harris as a perpetually filthy yokel is a bit much) but the familial drama central to the story keeps things grounded thanks to the strong performances of Fassbender, Gleeson, Marshal and newcomer Smith.

Trespass Against Us is now out in theaters as well as on DirecTV

Film Review: “Live By Night”

Starring: Ben Affleck, Sienna Miller and Zoe Saldana
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs 8 mins
Warner Bros

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

If you don’t include the 1930s and 40s, the list of good gangster films is pretty short. Off the top of my head, I consider “The Godfather” trilogy, “Goodfellas,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Road to Perdition” and “Miller’s Crossing” to be among the best of the genre. I’m guessing that Ben Affleck also agrees with my list as his latest directorial effort, “Live by Night,” samples a little bit of all of them.

After serving his country in World War I, Joe Couglin (Affleck, who not only directed the film but adapted it’s screenplay from a novel by Dennis Lehane) decides he’s not going to take orders from anyone any longer. Wanting to “sleep during the day and live by night,” he decides to pursue a life of crime with two pals from the neighborhood. He doesn’t want to be a gangster. He just wants to be.

Of course, things never go according to plan and Joe soon finds himself in love with the boss’ girl, Emma (Miller). The boss finds out and, after a pretty good beating, Joe lucks himself into the hospital, where he plots his revenge. A revenge that’s not best served cold but one that emanates from the sunny prohibition streets of Tampa.

Directed with an obvious love for the genre, “Live By Night” is a stylish – man did they know how to dress back then – film that overcomes some obvious errors with a first rate cast. Affleck does fine as Joe and I couldn’t help wondering, as I watched the film, if he wouldn’t be perfect if they ever did a bio pic about Gene Kelly. He has the chin and he can certainly wear the clothes. Miller also excels as a girl who seems to be hiding a secret. As Joe’s rum-running partner and later wife, Saldana rises above what could have been a stereotypical “black woman in the south” caricature and makes her Gabriella a strong and equal partner. Other notable performances are turned in by Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson and Chris Messina.

Technically the film is quite faithful to the Tampa of the times and, as a Tampa native who once lived at Nebraska on 26th Street, I couldn’t help but swell with pride when I learned that Joe was selling his rum as far north as Nebraska and 27th Street. Not sure if I like rum – I’m not much of a drinker – but it’s nice to know that in the early 1930s I would have been able to have a drink every now and then!