Thursday, May 2, 2019

Good, intelligent filmmaking for folk who know their history: Trevor Nunn/Lindsay Shapero's RED JOAN

Oh, yes: And it also has Dame Judi Dench in the leading role (senior version; up-and-comer Sophie Cookson plays her younger self). If Dame Dench isn't enough to garner the mainstream/ arthouse crowd to RED JOAN, nothing will.

A set of very mixed reviews (only 30% positive on the notoriously unreliable Rotten Tomatoes site) oughtn't keep at least senior moviegoers away, for the film's very structure and execution is so by-the-book that few viewers should find it difficult to follow.

In this case, however, the "book" the film is "by" proves perfectly acceptable in its own right. The screenplay (from Lindsay Shapero) may be very dialog-heavy, but since the dialog is quite good, so what? Unfortunately, many in our younger critical establishment are more special-effects happy than dialog-prone, and I fear their understanding of world history is also somewhat lacking. This movie demands that, and many of our senior viewers are fairly fluent in it.

The film's director, legit theater's Trevor Nunn (above) also has the needed appreciation of dialog, and his filmmaking skills are good enough to adequately take us crisply and energetically along.

Though the film is said to be based upon a real-life case, it seems to TrustMovies that almost everything we see and hear has been so very added, changed or re-arranged that one might as well approach the movie as fiction, and simply sit back and go with the flow.

Red Joan begins with arrest of said red, now a very elderly woman (Dench, above), then immediately flashes back to those younger days (via Cookson, below), and continues this back-and-forth throughout, as we see how the young Joan is slowly and quite understandably sucked into the brand of mid-to-late 1930s European Communism that proved so popular with the younger generation of that day, when economic times were grave around the world and the Spanish Civil War was simultaneously erupting.

Two love stories figure into the plot, one with a hot young student, Leo (Tom Hughes, shown at bottom, left) who doubles as spy, the other with our heroine's older-but still-attractive boss, played by that fine actor Stephen Campbell Moore (below, right), who here -- despite the good work of Dench and Cookson (shown above), manages to provide both the film's emotional and moral compass.

The moral question is one of having to choose between betraying one's country (but not, as in Auden's example, one's friend) and betraying the world at large. While the choice will seem right or wrong, depending on your view of things, how and why that choice is made is presented quite well, I think. And Red Joan ends up an intelligent and pretty classy example of not really a thriller (as unfortunately the film is being marketed) but a thoughtful piece of history that doubles as moral dilemma.

From IFC Films, the movie opened last week on our cultural coasts and now expands to other cities across the country. Here in South Florida it will open tomorrow, Friday, May 3, in the Miami area at AMC's Aventura Mall 24 and Sunset Place 24, Landmark at Merrick Park and CMX Brickell City Centr; in Fort Lauderdale at the Classic Gateway 4; at the Movies of Delray and Movies of Lake Worth; in Palm Beach Gardens at the Cobb's Downtown at the Gardens 16; and at the AMC's City Place 20 in West Palm Beach. Wherever you are around the country, click here to find the theater nearest you.

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