Russell Brand | Re:Birth
It’s fair to say that Russell Brand and controversy go hand-in-hand. The outrageous comedian has had his fair share of scandals, from violence with the paparazzi to lewd messages left on answerphones. This is, for many, his main selling point, and if shallow outrageousness is what you seek, look no further than Re:Birth.
Those excited for the politically-charged, ‘more presentable’ Brand shown in The Trews will leave the show disappointed - he’s clearly made an effort to return to old form here, dwelling on politics only long enough for a few gags. Indeed, there’s a clear intention to distance himself from the outspoken social revolutionary he’s sold himself as over the past few years; a screen, displaying clips of Fox News, CNN, the BBC and others criticising him opens the show, with Brand noting that his involvement in the past few general elections was “weird”. Instead, the focus of the show is his new experiences with fatherhood, and all the self-examination that comes with it. Over the course of the show, Brand attempts to dissect his own struggle with addictions, from drugs to sex, whilst considering the kind of person he wants to be as his child grows up.
What this show really seems to be about is peddling Brand’s new self-help book, Recovery, which promises to “free you of all addictions”. Whilst an admirable desire, Brand’s presentation of himself as some sort of self-help ‘guru’ doesn’t feel genuine - the lines between performer and therapist are blurred throughout the show, in what can only be cynicism or delusion.
A particularly uncomfortable section had Brand reading out surveys voluntarily filled in by audience members, unwittingly disclosing their worst sexual encounters and embarrassing moments with parents’ to the whole audience. This would at best have been a risky, if funny move by Brand - had he not followed it up by announcing the rows each person was in, and projecting their faces on-screen for the entire theatre to see. This was comedic overkill - the surveys on their own were risky humour, but the moment the house lights came up the whole audience were subjected to real second-hand-embarrassment.
There are several real laughs to be had in the show, but they’re more often than not overshadowed by Brand’s repeated attempts to unify and shame the audience as much as he shames himself - in the hands of someone like Frankie Boyle, it could have worked, but Brand fails to cut it.
Overall, Re:Birth is a somewhat enjoyable, if misguided show that misses the mark for all but the most die-hard Brand fans, and comes across as more of a desperate comeback tour than natural return to stage.
This summer, audiences were treated to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, a dramatic adaptation of the historic British evacuation from the beaches of France towards the beginning of the Second World War. This is not that story. 100 miles away, Joe Wright sets his sights on another war story, one of political intrigue and moral rumination, but one just as important as any guns blazing tale; Winston Churchill’s first days in office.
As ever, Gary Oldman simply disappears into his role. One does not for a second doubt that Churchill himself is up on the screen, with simply flawless attention to detail taken to replicate his appearance, speech and mannerisms. Oldman also mixes in quite a helping of humour, a welcome characteristic of Churchill’s that was disappointingly lacking in 2017’s Churchill. Ben Mendelsohn turns in an excellent performance as King George VI, a match for Colin Firth’s portrayal of the same figure in 2010’s award-winning The King’s Speech.
Set over the few weeks from appointment as Prime Minister to the evacuation of Dunkirk, the film shies away from Churchill’s problematic past; his time in the First World War, for example, is not dwelled on for too long at a time, whilst the future of the war, and his position in power, is only referenced in epilogue text. In this way, the piece remains rooted in its mission to depict Churchill in a time of change and vulnerability, though fails to delve too deep into his character as a whole. For the most part, the story is strong, focusing on Churchill and his difficult transition into Downing Street, as well as the machinations of politicians such as Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax to remove him as soon as he’s arrived. There are, admittedly, weaker moments - a particularly whimsical scene has Churchill travel on the tube to Westminster, ingratiating himself with everyday Londoners, which compared to the rest of the carefully executed plot felt rather cheap.
Visually, the film is a marvel to behold - cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel paints scenes filled with contrast, from the godlike rays that pierce parliament to the sombre, shadowy framing of Churchill during scenes of great sadness and confusion. The camerawork is also sublime, and far more creative than one might expect from a period drama, with long tracking shots and extreme close-ups immersing the audience with excellence and enthusiasm.
Gripping, stylish, and quite funny, Darkest Hour is a tour de force for Oldman, who carries the piece to victory in typical bombastic fashion in spite of some farcical plot elements - the definitive Churchill film, but by no means perfect.