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A classic Australian western

A classic Australian western

Our pick of the best new films and TV

Our pick of the best new films and TV

April/May 2018


FILM

This land is my land
With its panoramic desert vistas, six-gun shoot-outs and stark depiction of frontier justice and colonial genocide, Warwick Thornton’s magisterial Sweet Country could easily be mistaken for a classic American western. Instead, it is rooted in Australia. Set in the Northern Territory in the 1920s, it stars Hamilton Morris (above) as Sam, a middle-aged Aboriginal farmhand respected by his Christian employer (Sam Neill). Not everyone in the area is so enlightened. When Sam shoots and kills a “white fella” in self-defence, he is hunted through the furnace-hot outback by a posse of policemen led by the racist Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown). His pursuers don’t just want to catch him, they want to prove that the sweet country belongs to them alone.
On release: Mar 16th (US), Mar 9th (UK)

Not horsing around
Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds joins “Heathers”, “Wild Things” and “Cruel Intentions” in the pantheon of delectably dark comedy thrillers about American teenage girls. Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) are childhood friends from suburban Connecticut who reconnect in high school when Lily is paid to help Amanda revise for her exams. It soon becomes apparent why no one else wants the job. Amanda is a self-diagnosed sociopath who has just butchered her own horse. But Lily, like the viewer, is drawn to her all the same. Thanks to two magnetic performances, we come to sympathise with the new BFFs, even as they hatch a plot to murder Lily’s hated stepfather. It’s good, neo-noir fun, yet “Thoroughbreds” is also a curiously touching study of youthful alienation, friendship and the amorality of the one percent.
On release: Mar 9th (US), Apr 6th (UK)

The devil inside
In Lynne Ramsay’s nerve-jangling adaptation of Jonathan Ames’s hardboiled novella, You Were Never Really Here, Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a tough ex-soldier, is hired to rescue a senator’s daughter from a sex-slavery ring in New York. A standard-issue plot for a Hollywood thriller, you might think. In fact, Ramsay (director of “We Need To Talk About Kevin”) has made a haunting, hallucinatory anti-thriller. Rather than glamorise Joe’s skills with a gun and claw hammer, she keeps the violence off-screen, as if Joe himself were disgusted by it. And rather than making him a cocky swash-buckler in the vein of Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher, she turns him into a bearded loner who would regard Travis Bickle of “Taxi Driver” as a kindred spirit. There may be hitmen on his trail, but the scarred, suicidal Joe is more likely to be defeated by his own demons.
On release: Apr 6th (US), Mar 9th (UK)

Beast of burden
Bored and lonely one summer, quiet 15-year- old Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) gets a job with a small-time racehorse trainer (a delightfully foul-mouthed Steve Buscemi). It changes his life. Not only does the experience give him a sense of purpose, he bonds with Lean on Pete, the ageing horse that gives the film its title. But a jockey (Chloe Sevigny) offers him a word of warning. “Don’t get attached to a horse,” she says. “It’s not a pet. It’s just a horse.” Anyone who sees “Lean on Pete” should be similarly wary. Adapted from the novel by Willy Vlautin, Andrew Haigh’s atmospheric drama begins as a warmly lit, rootsy ode to rural America. But don’t grow too settled into the comforting mood. The narrative gets bleaker and harsher in its second half until a laidback yarn becomes a shattering survey of life on the poverty line.
On release: Mar 30th (US), May 4 th (UK)

Nicholas Barber is a film critic for The Economist and BBC Culture online

TV

Terrors of the deep
In 1845 two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, left England with the aim of finding a way through the Northwest Passage, the sea route to the Pacific via the Arctic Ocean. They never returned, though historians have traditionally veered away from the suggestion, aired in this deliciously spooky adaptation of Dan Simmons’s novel, The Terror, that their crews were all hunted down and sliced to ribbons by a towering, demonic beastie. This odd blend of “The Thing” and Patrick O’Brian makes for great TV, though. Expedition leader Sir John Franklin and his fellow captain Francis Crozier are superbly played by Ciaran Hinds and Jared Harris, presiding  over their two ice-bound vessels in the gloom of the Arctic winter. The wrecks of the real Erebus and Terror were finally discovered in 2014 and 2016, but that does not detract from this grim fantasy’s slow-burn suspense. One terrified seaman, hearing noises in the distance, moans: “It’s the ice. It’s only the ice.” Spoiler: it’s not.
On AMC from Mar 26th

Agent provocateur
If you had to predict Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s next project after her jet-black feminist comedy, “Fleabag”, you would not choose  this show about a team of spies on the trail of a globetrotting contract killer. Happily, the mordant, lawless, slightly evil tone of her writing is a perfect fit for Killing Eve, based on Luke Jennings’s novels. Hapless intelligence operative Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) finds herself trying to stop a psychotic hit-woman called Villanelle (Jodie Comer) from slaughtering her way across Europe. There are great supporting performances from Fiona Shaw and Kim Bodnia as the mentors to the two leads, and the action fizzes merrily between grotty old London and the glam locations where Villanelle is piling up bodies. The real treat, however, is the script, which takes aim at the genre’s macho clichés from a smirkingly subversive female perspective.
On BBC America from Apr 8th

Blood money
An atrociously rich and morally questionable patriarch, surrounded by a scrum of trophy companions and useless adult sons, tests his underlings while pronouncing that he “values loyalty above all else”. Yes, well guessed, it's the oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, as played by Donald Sutherland in Trust, a propulsive drama based, with an edge of malice, on true events. In 1973 Getty’s 16-year- old grandson is kidnapped in Rome by Italian mafiosi, but Getty won't pay the ransom, the police think it's a prank, and only his mother (Hilary Swank) and a laconic Getty security man (Brendan Fraser) seem interested in getting him back. The story has already provided material for one film this year – Ridley Scott's “All the Money in the World”. Thanks to Danny Boyle, who produces and shares directing duties on a buoyantly wicked script by Simon Beaufoy (“The Full Monty”), it works even better as a series. This is “Dynasty” for grown-ups.
On FX from Mar 25th

Tim Martin writes about TV, games and technology for 1843