Dir Paul W.S Anderson US (15+)
People killing people for entertainment value: some films have tackled this well. Arnie in The Running Man is an action classic. Cult Japanese flick Battle Royale is oddly compelling, if a bit silly. Maybe it is because these films have some spark of originality that we ignore the uncomfortable truth – they draw in crowds for the very violence they comment on. Death Race is not a good enough film to distract us from that.
A remake of 1975’s Death Race 2000, the action has been shunted a dozen years forward to 2012. The economy has collapsed (sound familiar?) and the prison system is making money from pay-per-view TV. The highest rated show pits inmates against each other in a car race where, driving vehicles stacked with weapons, the winner is the last one alive.
Back in 1975 that premise may have been unique, but today it seems tired, especially when there is little attempt to tell a proper story. Jason Statham does a fair job as heroic hard man Jensen Ames, but his role never goes beyond the two-dimensional. The murdered wife and child back story plays a generic second fiddle to exploding heads and skewered bodies, demonstrating the latter are the true crux of the tale. All we are offered is an unending series of action movie clichés – bad guy rival, hot chick who doesn’t do much, elaborate death scenes – every one of which has been done better before.
Want to watch a gratifying action film? Rent The Running Man instead.
Captain Abu Raed
Dir Amin Matalqa Jordan (G)
The world cinema darling of 2008’s film festivals, this Jordanian drama won a host of awards, including an audience’s choice gong at Sundance and Best Actor at Dubai International Film Festival. Did it deserve them? You bet.
In Amman, we meet Abu Raed, a janitor at the international airport. When he finds an old aeroplane captain’s hat in the bin, he wears it home, only for the neighbourhood children to see him and demand tales of his travels. At first, Abu Raed is reluctant. But when he realises what his stories inspire, he takes to the role with gusto.
It sounds like a nice enough story, but where Abu Raed surprises is that it is about far more than you expect. Just when you think you know where it is going – Abu Raed (played almost serenely by Nadim Sawalha) wins over the kids, finds friendship with the beautiful Nour (Rana Sultan) – it turns and takes us somewhere else. All the while, we are invited to experience the people and places of Amman close up. Even where the film’s ‘social issues’ could come off clichéd, they feel real.
Maybe what is most refreshing about Abu Raed is that at its heart is a good story with good characters. Simple. Not a remake, nor a poorly scripted vehicle for special effects, but a story. Hollywood: take note.