This week at the movies, we’ve got a killer app (Countdown, starring Elizabeth Lail and Jordan Calloway), corrupt cops (Black and Blue, starring Naomie Harris and Tyrese Gibson), a corporate feud (The Current War: Director’s Cut, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon), and kooky keepers (The Lighthouse, starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe). What are the critics saying?
Every great accomplishment begins with a small idea, something that sparks the imagination or inspires a flurry of creative impulses, but sometimes small ideas stay small ideas. They may get gussied up in the trappings of larger ideas, but they remain small ideas. That appears to be what happened with Countdown, a high-concept horror flick that asks and answers the question, “What if there was a mobile phone app that could predict the exact moment of my death?” Elizabeth Lail stars as Quinn, a young nurse who, along with her colleagues, downloads the titular app out of morbid curiosity after an unusual encounter with a patient and discovers, much to her chagrin, that she may only have days before her time is up. And what happens to those who attempt to side-step their digitally predestined fate? It still comes to pass, of course, albeit under… spookier circumstances. Critics say Countdown is a derivative thriller that reinterprets familiar ideas into a just-different-enough hodgepodge of jump scares and unnecessary subplots in order to stretch its central conceit to feature length. That said, most also agree that Lail and co-star Jordan Calloway are both likable leads, and it’s a fairly short run to the finish line, so if you’re just looking to get the heart rate up for a little bit, it may do the trick.
If a film is marketed as a “cop thriller,” there’s a pretty good chance that corrupt officers are going to figure into the plot at some point. Maybe they shake down local gangsters for cash, maybe they pilfer from the evidence room, maybe they’re secretly involved in organized crime. Whatever the case, it’s kind of refreshing when the film puts that bit of bad business front and center right from the jump, and that’s what we get in Black and Blue. Naomie Harris (a.k.a. the James Bond franchise’s current Moneypenny) stars as a rookie cop who catches an officer-involved shooting — one that she wasn’t supposed to see — on her body cam and has to dodge both the corrupt officers involved and the distrustful members of the surrounding community as she hoofs it back to the station. Critics say Harris contributes a committed performance, and that helps elevate the material, but the film struggles to find a balance between its heady themes and more visceral thrills. Taken as a pure action thriller, it’s decent, if familiar, and taken as a commentary on the current state of community policing, it’s a little thin and simple. Go into it expecting a strong treatment of both angles, and you may be disappointed.
It’s got an impressive A-list cast, a turn-of-the-20th-century period setting, and a basis in historical fact, and it’s executive produced by Martin Scorsese, all of which would seem to make The Current War a solid awards season contender. Strange, then, that it’s been sitting on a shelf since 2017. The story here is that the film — which recounts the corporate rivalry that erupted between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse (together with his partner Nikola Tesla) over the supply of electricity as a utility — originally premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival two years ago in September, and was set to be distributed by The Weinstein Company that same November. Then, of course, the allegations against Harvey Weinstein came out, TWC sold off the rights to the film, and it sat in limbo until 101 Studios picked up the distribution rights and scheduled for release, well, this weekend. This gave director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon some extra time to retool the movie after its lukewarm reception at TIFF in 2017, and here we are. For what its worth, critics who have seen the Director’s Cut say it’s marginally better than what was shown in Toronto, but it still suffers from the same fundamental problem: despite its star power and some well-crafted costumes and production design, the drama falls a little flat. That said, the performances are all ace, and everything really does look beautiful here, so if you just want to spend some time in a historical setting with the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Katherine Waterston, and Tom Holland, you won’t be disappointed.
If director Robert Eggers‘ debut feature, 2016’s The Witch, was divisive, audiences should now at least have some idea what they’re in for if they decide to see The Lighthouse. And since the film is expanding to several hundred more theaters this week, there will certainly be more audiences who see it. Robert Pattinson stars as a young lighthouse keeper who accompanies a grizzled veteran keeper played by Willem Dafoe as they relieve another pair of keepers on an isolated island, where they’ll learn to work together over the course of a few months. As time passes, the isolation winds its way through their psyches and they begin to lose their grip on reality… or do they? Critics say The Lighthouse is beautifully shot — it’s photographed on black and white film, in an unconventional aspect ratio — and impeccably acted by both of its leads, who endured a famously grueling shoot. You may not be able to decipher all the mysteries hidden within the film — and perhaps that is as Eggers intended — but it should be a fascinating journey to undertake if you can stomach a bit of weirdness.
Also Opening This Week In Limited Release