DRAMA WAVES (TBC) 135min ●●●●● BIOPIC WAR A HIDDEN LIFE (TBC) 173min ●●●●●

There is an old-fashioned, crusading quality to Just Mercy that feels comfortingly familiar. Based on a true miscarriage of justice, it deals in traditional elements of false conviction, unreliable witnesses, crushing setbacks and impassioned courtroom speeches. However, the facts of the case and the heartfelt direction of Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) ensure that it still makes an impact.

In 1988, African-American Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) is convicted of the murder of a white teenager. The case against him is the testimony of one felon, impressively played by a twitchy Tim Blake Nelson. There is no incriminating evidence and little attempt to follow due process. Bryan Stevenson (a charismatic Michael B Jordan) is fresh out of Harvard when he arrives in Monroe County, Alabama to act on behalf of Death Row inmates. There is something of the idealistic Atticus Finch in Stevenson as his efforts on behalf of McMillian become all-consuming.

Cretton keeps hitting home what is at stake here. It builds into an emotional, thought-provoking drama that confronts the racism in American society and the way justice is denied to the poor, huddled masses that the country once claimed to welcome. (Allan Hunter) General release from Fri 24 Jan.

The third feature from Trey Edward Shults (It Comes at Night) is a dynamic tearjerker powered by a jukebox of modern bangers and stone-cold classics. It’s a film of two halves that splits open in the middle after a tragic incident. The first focuses on the agony and ecstasy of Tyler (an extraordinary Kelvin Harrison Jr), who is suffering from a wrestling injury. The second shadows his sister Emily (gentle work from Taylor Russell), who falls head over heels in love with Luke (Lucas Hedges being adorable). Sterling K Brown turns in a powerful performance as their stern father and Renée Elise Goldsberry impresses as their devoted stepmother. Waves is painfully honest and earnest as it

captures the teen experience through creative flourishes that mimic social media posts. Shults delivers blazing bursts of glorious bliss and throbbing sorrow and each performance feels remarkably lived-in. Through the father-son dynamic, the film acknowledges how race can play a part in the doors that are opened and closed. And its whole structure relies on placing the viewer in its protagonists’ shoes to feel their elation, rage and vulnerability, which makes it both a captivating and hard-hitting experience. (Katherine McLaughlin) General release from Fri 17 Jan.

Billed as a return to more conventional storytelling for Terrence Malick, the WWII-set A Hidden Life has the emotional scope and poetic sensibility of an oratorio as it commemorates the anguished defiance of an ordinary man.

There are echoes of Days of Heaven as Malick depicts Austrian conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) as a goodhearted farmer who loves his wife (Valerie Pachner) and children. His life in a small rural community seems idyllic. There are majestic images of tumbling waterfalls, cornfields swaying in the sunlight and mountain peaks with a halo of clouds. It is a paradise on earth. The rise of the Nazis warps personalities and poisons the well of community spirit. Franz refuses to sign an oath of loyalty to Hitler and cannot fathom why others do not recognise what is happening in their midst. Incarceration and prolonged abuse transform him into a Christ-like martyr.

Running close to three-hours, A Hidden Life is a draining, exhausting experience. It has the intensity of a Carl Dreyer silent film but also a timely urgency, as Malick asks us to consider how one individual can hope to make a difference in a world at the mercy of the evil that men do. (Allan Hunter) General release from Fri 17 Jan.


Robert Eggers brought a spare, stark rigour to his feature debut The Witch that promised much for the future. He more than delivers on that promise with The Lighthouse, an oppressive, richly textured slow-burn of a psychological thriller, pitched somewhere between a silent cinema chiller and a Roman Polanski classic.

Set in 19th-century Maine, the film unfolds on a storm-tossed, godforsaken scrap of rock that seems to invite madness. Rookie Ephraim Winslow (a glowering Robert Pattinson) and tetchy old sea dog Tom Wake (Willem Dafoe) are the two keepers embarking on a four-week tour of duty to man the lighthouse.

The insecure Winslow is very much the junior partner in the team. His working life is one of menial chores and none of the important tasks. Wake seems to delight in teasing him and pulling rank. Forced to contend with each other, the duo are also at the mercy of an intense, gnawing loneliness. Winslow conjures up disturbing visions of a mermaid. He can never quite decide if Wake is friend or tormentor, comrade or master.

Filmed in a fierce, shadowy monochrome that encourages comparisons with German expressionism, The Lighthouse is also notable for its attention to detail, rich use of salty period language, and unexpected shards of black comedy. In terms of silent cinema, this is as much the child of FW Murnau as it is the offspring of Buster Keaton.

Some of the dialogue might have come from the pages of Herman Melville and the complex, shifting relationship between the two men seems to belong in a Harold Pinter play. The Lighthouse is a strikingly realised, utterly compelling danse macabre, sustained by the tremendous double-act of a lip-smacking Dafoe and a mesmerising Pattinson. (Allan Hunter) General release from Fri 31 Jan.

1 Nov 2019–31 Jan 2020 THE LIST 97