Talking Movies: 1917, The Front Runner and The Mule

Spling reviews 1917, The Front Runner and The Mule as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.


Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…

This week, we’re talking about a war adventure drama, a political drama and a crime comedy drama.

Starting off with a film now on circuit…


Two young British soldiers during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will save the lives of 1,600 soldiers.

Director: Sam Mendes

Stars: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay and Daniel Mays

– 1917 is a simulated one shot World War I masterpiece from director, Sam Mendes, whose credits include: American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road and Skyfall
– instead of getting bogged down with the meagre rations and futility of trench warfare, the filmmaker sidesteps the cliches to present a sprawling depiction of the dire circumstances
– focussing on a soldier’s random selection as a plus one for a dangerous mission, we too are transported to the age on a vicarious journey across war-ravaged France
– led by the ever-dependable George MacKay, he becomes a conduit allowing us to get a firsthand account of what it could have been like to undertake such a mission
– 1917 is a technical masterpiece, owing to the film’s unique perspective and free-flowing cinematography
– cleverly composing shots on a seemingly continuous shot, the planning and meticulous detail is what makes 1917 so special and impressive
– using production values, wardrobe and design that takes you back in time with a set that seems to extend for kilometres in every direction, it’s a marvel – taking a page from films like Dunkirk and Birdman
– the conduit war experience is compelled by solid performances, anchored by some British heavyweights
– while it starts off a little stagey with full lighting that takes away from the true grit of the illusion, you soon adjust to the format
– the characters could have had a few more contact points to make the journey more emotionally resonant and gripping as well as experiential
– in spite of its flaws, its largely redeemed by its artful, original, fluid, gut-busting and epic take on World War I warfare

An excellent 8 on the splingometer

Moving on to a film now available to rent…


In 1987, U.S. Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaign is derailed by serious accusations.

Director: Jason Reitman

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga and J.K. Simmons

– Jackman may be best known for playing Wolverine, but is an accomplished and likable actor with good screen presence
– playing Gary Hart, the casting call enables the character to walk a precarious line at a time when politics started to hinge on the impression of a squeaky clean private life
– Reitman connects us with Hart’s presidential campaign as the front runner found himself in line for the presidency
– with everything to lose, the candidate found himself in the middle of a news frenzy as a hot tip led a political journalist on a private investigation
– casting a political figure’s reputation and a newspaper’s ethical conduct under scruntiny, this drama deals with morality as it relates to leadership
– taking an ambigious line, Reitman tries to blur the truth as we together with the media circus specualte and crystalise our thoughts on what actually happened behind closed doors
– Jackman is typically solid with some great one-on-one moments, supported by the some terrific character actors in Farmiga and Simmons, who is just effortless and immense as a campaign aide
– while well-acted and immersive in terms of its ’80s era feel, The Front Runner has an indecisive and familiar feel to the political campaigning and scandal
– it’s a fascinating tipping point in US politics, made all the more interesting by its contrast with today’s standards in Trump America
– the tense news environment and PR-spinning create some good suspense, but the net result is a bit open-ended

A satisfactory 6 on the splingometer!

And finally another film now on rental…


A ninety-year-old horticulturist and Korean War veteran turns drug mule for a Mexican cartel.

Director: Clint Eastwood

Stars: Clint Eastwood, Patrick L. Reyes and Bradley Cooper

– The Mule was inspired by the New York Times Magazine Article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule”
– ironically, a one-trick pony… Clint Eastwood manages to expand on the simple story and keep it in check without being overly repetitive
– taking the angle of a stubborn man, who has become estranged from his family, we discover complexity at the core of Earl who is leading a double life
– falling on hard times, the award-winning horticulturalist stumbles into a cross-country drug-running gig for a Mexican gang
– while suspenseful, there’s an undercurrent of comedy to Eastwood’s film as the war vet transporter becomes a Robin Hood style outlaw
– Eastwood is always a strong lead and commands the screen with his usual trademark grit, not unlike his turn in Gran Torino
– from getting in too deep to playfully roadtripping under the nose of the FBI, this is an entertaining crime comedy drama and character portrait
– while it does stray into the territory of melodrama and doesn’t exploit its true comedy potential, Eastwood manages to craft a film with heart and plenty of spirit
– it’s not going to go down as one his best, but on the verge of ninety the legend’s energy and verve is awe-inspiring

A satisfactory 6 on the splingometer

So just to wrap up…

1917… Mendes swathes us in the amazing sights and sounds of this artful, harrowing and visceral World War adventure drama… An excellent 8!

THE FRONT RUNNER… Jackman’s winning performance compels this intriguing and thought-provoking US political drama… A satisfactory 6!

THE MULE… an engaging lead performance and amusing premise underscore this entertaining comedy crime drama… A satisfactory 6!

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And remember, Don’t WING it, SPL!NG it!