Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (UK/ USA, 2004)
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Gary Oldman
One of the most perplexing and irritating aspects of Hollywood is the way it continues to churn out samey, mediocre fare based purely on the financial success of previous instalments. Having endured the first two Harry Potter films, and seen them gross more than $800m each, we might have expected the series to plod on ad nauseum, with every year or so bringing us another disappointing and inconsequential adventure for the little wizard.
Gravity. But he was by no means a shoe-in to direct. Guillermo del Toro said that he wasn't interested because it was too "bright and happy and full of light", while Marc Forster turned it down because of his work with child actors on Finding Neverland. In the end it came down to a three-way choice between Cuarón, Thelma and Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri, and Kenneth Branagh, who had appeared as Gilderoy Lockhart in the previous instalment, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
The Philosopher's Stone, I likened its visual style to sanitised adaptations of Charles Dickens which are common in America; as a general rule, I argued, British adaptations of Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and the like are more content to leave all the edges on. This film is shot by Michael Seresin, Alan Parker's cinematographer-of-choice who would later team up with Cuarón again on Gravity. Cuarón clearly understands the darker, more distinctly British routes of the series and the genres upon which it draws, and allows Seresin to work his murky magic with piercing blues and encircling blacks, making it look like a horor film for children.
Twelve Monkeys or Timecrimes will instantly recognise the territory we are in, with the characters constantly trying to avoid running into themselves, and events being repeated from different perspectives. Coming as it does towards the end of the film, our natural instinct is to conclude that it's surplus to requirement, one twist too many. But if we allow it to play out and watch as all the pieces fit together, we discover that it ties into the central themes of trust, and reputation quite nicely. Besides, if we can accept the existence of horcruxes, sorting hats and hippogriffs, time travel isn't much of a stretch.
Gangster No. 1. Gary Oldman's performance is equally remarkable, being much more operatic in scale but still retaining a gentle humanity. Oldman resists the urge to simply ham it up and play mad, imbuing Sirius with a tormented quality which makes him compelling.
NEXT REVIEW: Much Ado About Nothing (1993)