TIFF ’15 – Day 2: Jorge Unchained

Helen Mirren in fatigues: Hot.
Helen Mirren in fatigues: Hot.

Not my finest day of interviews. The directors I talked to –Jay Roach, Gavin Hood- were gracious, interesting and fun, especially when you talk shop with them. The actors were also gracious, but not nearly as talkative. Not necessarily their fault: Journalists out of breath are rarely good conversationalists. Luckily, there are plenty of filmmakers (and a few thespians) coming my way for me to hone my craft. Or screw it up royally.

Eye in the Sky (USA/UK, 2015): As morally debatable as the use of military drones in civilian areas is, everybody agrees the flying killing machines are not particularly cinematic. After watching several drone movies involving conflicted pilots drowning their sorrows in alcohol, it seems that once you have seen one, you have seen them all (looking at you, Ethan Hawke).

Eye in the Sky mercifully takes a different approach. It focuses on one specific operation in Nairobi whose goal is the capture of two Al-Shabaab operatives. The mission involves British, American and Kenyan operatives, with political authorities a phone call away. Soon it becomes clear the terrorists are preparing a suicide mission, which changes the tone of the undertaking entirely. The kicker is the presence of an innocent child selling bread right next to the house the extremists are holed in.

Director Gavin Hood (Ender’s Game) takes us to every single room involved in the operation, from the foot soldiers inside a van down by the river, to the heart of London, where attorneys discuss the legality of the procedure. Under the pressure of time, tempers flare and frank discussions regarding collateral damage take place. Hood does a remarkable job fuelling the tension while presenting every position fairly. There is nothing groundbreaking about Eye in the Sky, but this meat-and-potatoes approach is worth your attention. It doesn’t hurt to have Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi and Aaron Paul around for good measure. Three and a half prairie dogs in the crosshairs.

He Named Me Malala (USA, 2015): Considering the amount of media coverage Malala Yousafzai has received in the last five years, you would think everything there is to know about the Nobel Peace Prize winner is already out there.

Director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) digs deeper in the tidy, touching documentary He Named Me Malala. Instead of focusing on Malala’s crusade for girl’s education, Guggenheim looks for the factors that shaped the remarkable Pakistani teen into a veritable world leader. Chief among them is her father, an outspoken teacher not necessarily aware his activism would be embraced by his daughter, at least at the beginning.

Guggenheim avoids exploiting the sentimentality around Malala. His approach is clinical, asks some hard questions and lets the girl’s overwhelming nobility seep through the cracks. I have a soft spot for Malala Yousafzai (I would rather see her hosting the MTV Video Music Awards as opposed to Miley Cyrus) and this documentary does her justice. As role models go, it doesn’t get any better than her. Four prairie dogs assuring they are not crying. It’s just being raining. On their faces.

Tomorrow, I’ll be interviewing Saoirse Ronan. Likely, I’ll be mispronouncing her name (Surise? Sarise? Sundae?)

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.