This week at the movies, we’ve got a perilous mission (1917, featuring the voices of George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman), a battle for justice (Just Mercy, starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx), undersea danger (Underwater, starring Kristen Stewart and Vincent Cassel), and a corporate rivalry (Like a Boss, starring Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne). What are the critics saying?
Fresh off a couple of surprise Golden Globe wins for Best Director and Best Motion Picture – Drama, 1917 expands into wide release this week to afford broader audiences the opportunity to see writer-director Sam Mendes’ ambitious spectacle on the big screen. Ingeniously crafted from several long takes to spin its narrative as a single, unbroken shot, the story follows a pair of British soldiers in World War I (played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) who are tasked with delivering an urgent message to a battalion behind enemy lines in order to prevent a massive ambush. It’s the most anticipated film opening this month by a wide margin, according to our fans on social media, and it’s already won heaps of awards (particularly for its stunning cinematography, courtesy of the legendary Roger Deakins) en route to what will likely be a strong showing at the Oscars in February. It’s also Certified Fresh, with critics calling it an immersive and visceral journey that is, of course, technically impressive, but also grounded in a moving tribute to the sacrifices made by the soldiers engaged in the war.
Another film expanding into more theaters this week after a limited release back in December is Destin Daniel Cretton’s Just Mercy, which has already earned star Jamie Foxx a SAG Award nomination. Based on a true story, the film chronicles the efforts of a Harvard-educated attorney named Bryan Stevenson (played by Michael B. Jordan) to exonerate Walter McMillian (Foxx), who was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a teenager in 1987. It was a landmark case for Stevenson, who had set out to represent those he believed were wrongly accused of the crimes they were sent to prison for, and it spanned several years as he battled the systemic racism that allowed McMillian’s conviction in the first place. Just Mercy also impressed the critics enough to earn the Certified Fresh distinction, with reviews praising its timely, timeless themes and its outstanding performances. Though it skirts the edges of feeling overly earnest, it manages to overcome its less than subtle messaging with enough nuance and compelling drama to make it well worth a watch.
Former Twilight star Kristen Stewart has, by all accounts, done an excellent job carving out a unique path in Hollywood, starring in a number of acclaimed indie films and earning rave reviews for her performances. But she still makes time for genre fare every once in a while; last year, it was the Charlie’s Angels reboot, and this week, it’s a deep-sea thriller called, appropriately, Underwater. Stewart stars alongside Vincent Cassell, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, Mamoudou Athie, and John Gallagher Jr., who together comprise a research crew stationed at a facility seven miles below the surface of the ocean. When an unseen force rips their vessel to shreds, the surviving members must figure out a way to get to safety… and avoid whatever it was that did the damage. Critics are fairly split on Underwater, with some crying foul at its all-too-familiar setup and reliance on horror cliches, while others call it a competently crafted thriller that, yes, wears its inspirations on its sleeve, but also mimics them quite effectively. In other words, your mileage may vary here, but if you’re looking for something scary at the theaters this weekend, this is probably at least better than last week’s The Grudge.
Tiffany Haddish has been a comedy queen since her breakout role in 2017’s Girls Trip, and Rose Byrne has proven her own chops in several projects, most notably in 2011’s Bridesmaids. Throw in a scenery-chewing Salma Hayek, and you’d be forgiven for assuming the result would be a surefire hit. The reviews for Like a Boss, however, would indicate otherwise. Haddish and Byrne play Mia and Mel, a pair of odd-couple BFFs who run a modest cosmetics company together but are deep in debt. When they decide to sell 51% of their company to Hayek’s makeup mogul Claire Luna and their business begins to tank, Mel and Mia find themselves at odds with each other, even as they must work together to take Claire down and save their brand. Like a Boss isn’t without its share of laughs, with its heavy dose of physical humor and raunchy jokes, but critics say the film doesn’t explore Mel and Mia’s relationship deeply enough to make their redemptive turnaround feel earned. Plus, thanks to a repetitive series of clashes and reconciliations and a story whose turns are stale and predictable, it feels longer than its 83-minute runtime. Haddish and Byrne have solid chemistry, and they and Hayek appear to be having fun, but that’s one of the few bright spots Like a Boss offers, so if you aren’t a particularly big fan of any of the stars, you may find yourself counting the ways in which it could have been a better movie.
Also Opening This Week In Limited Release