Thursday, 3 November 2016

Film: 'Doctor Strange'

I wasn't familiar with this comic book character, but I don't think it's relevant. Word is that the main attraction is the special effects, taking this film onto quite another level. I agree, and that is after seeing it on a less-than-large screen and in 2D. It could well be visually mind-blowing in Imax and with 3D specs, in which format it is also released.  
As to the content of the storyline, well I thought it began in fairly interesting fashion and maintained its hold for the first half of its almost two hours. Thereafter it hit the formulaic buttons resulting in my soon becoming weary. 

Benedict Cumberbatch, leading a stellar quartet of actors, is an arrogant, cocksure, New York neurosurgeon, Dr Stephen Strange, tapping his foot to music whilst performing an intricate operation. While driving home he undergoes an horrific accident resulting in multiple injuries, most notably his hands, rendering him incapable of continuing his work, and which looks like pulling the curtains down on his career. He hears about a man who had similarly extensive neural injuries but was now re-functioning normally. On seeking him out he's told that he was put right by a visit to a place in Nepal. So Strange decides to go there himself (and why not?) and is there overheard making enquiries by Chiwetel Ejiofor who takes him to a building dedicated to esoteric arts presided over by Tilda Swinton as the mysterious and super-powerful 'Ancient One'. He gets a crash course from her on the development of these powers - powers of attack, defence, manipulating reality, time suspension, visiting other dimensions, and many more. He laps it all up and quickly becomes adept, avidly trying to achieve more than is normally allowed for a novice. 
Meanwhile, these forces for 'good' are being challenged by arch-villain Mads Mikkelsen and his gang. Cue many conflicts, fights between the positive and negative , both in the real world and in other dimensions where buildings are tipped and folded over onto themselves, as we saw in 'Inception', now achieved with even greater flawless proficiency. I was impressed.

However, the basic story is quite routine. We all know who is going to win so it's only a question of waiting for him to do it.

Director Scott Derrickson delivers the goods, though there's only limited scope for the cast to display any emotional interaction.

If it wasn't so spectacular and noisy I might have fallen asleep, though I do repeat that it must gain a lot by being seen in big, BIG screen - and additionally in 3D......................5.5

Film: 'I, Daniel Blake'

This is the most heart-rending film I've seen not just in this year but in several years. It's been much talked about in this country and has gained wide praise as being something quite exceptional, which is precisely what it turned about to be.

The film constitutes a howl of protest, desperation and frustration against a government-invoked system for claiming unemployment state benefits, describing itself as 'caring', in particular for those worst placed financially, even though all the evidence speaks otherwise. 

I knew it was going to be hard to watch, dealing as it does, with an ageing, widowed man, a former carpenter in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, still of working age but caught in a 'Catch 22' situation of having a heart condition for which his doctor classes him as being unfit for work, yet is deemed to be capable of working according to physical ability criteria set by the government. He is put in the position of having to look for and apply for work, and providing evidence that he's done so  - work which, if offered to him, he cannot accept. If he doesn't do this he's under threat of losing his benefits for a period, that length of time increasing on each occasion he fails to do what is required.   
In a visit to a Social Security office he witnesses an argument between a single mother of two small children who's just moved up to the north-east from London, and a claimants clerk who maintains that because she's a few minutes late for her appointment (a late bus to blame) she has to start the process again. The man intervenes on her behalf and, for his pains, gets ejected from the building with the family by cold, impersonal staff who are just "following the rules they are given". 
He strikes up a friendship with the young mother, modestly helping her out with his carpentry and other skills where he can. The film follows the rise and falls (nearly all 'falls') in the fortunes of these two, in similar circumstances though disparate as a pair. 

There are distressing moments, when they come up time and time again against the wall of officialdom which requires everybody to act 'just so', and if they fall short in any respect, if they don't tick the necessary boxes, they will suffer in consequence. Just too bad for them! How the young female is, during the film's course, reduced to particular states in two different senses, is frightening and troubling, to say the least.  

The man is played by Dave Johns (better known for his TV appearances here in a range of roles) and the young mother by Hayley Squires. who has made a number of films, though none quite as up-front as she is here.There's already talk of the two of them being certs for award nominations. They are both so outstandingly good in this film that if they don't get at least nods for the BAFTAs it would be a grave injustice - and Oscar nominations would also be well deserved.

It's a Ken Loach film. Loach, now 80 and a lifelong ardent socialist, has been, through his long line of politically-edged films, a thorn in the side of Conservative governments for over half a century - and this is surely his most polemical film of them all.

I've just two complaints about this otherwise excellent film. The first is my old bugbear of indistinct dialogue. Being set in Newcastle, many of the accents are Geordie  - a part of the country not far from where I myself hail, so I normally don't have any trouble with the dialect. But the delivery of the words here sometimes leaves something to be desired - most especially when there's a scene change and in this film, instead of the action moving in next shot straight to the new scene there's a slow fade-to-blank screen a number of times, giving the impression that what's just been said is of crucial importance. Sad, then, that on at least two occasions I couldn't make out what the final words of the most recent scene were when they were obviously material to the development.
The second reservation is that one of the children, the girl aged about 9-10(?), is so refined and speaks in such mature tones, unlike her mother and younger brother, that she is scarcely believable.

However, even with these two provisos it didn't shake me from my conclusion that this is indeed a remarkable film. I was deeply moved a number of times and, I'm not ashamed to say, actually came out of the cinema moist-eyed. I wouldn't be at all surprised to be told that quite a proportion of the always totally-attentive audience would have experienced a stage or two even beyond that condition............8.


Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Film: 'Jack Reacher - Never Go Back'.

I've been trying to identify something original about this film. Anything! Still struggling. We've seen it all before numerous times.
Tom Cruise reprises his creation of Lee Child's invincible, hard-man, quick-thinking, violent character - righting wrongs and saving the world in the process. 

His earlier position as army major leads to his being a useful target for framing and put out of the way as part of a government conspiracy involving opium trading with fighters in Afghanistan. All too complex for me to want to remain engaged. It involves his freeing from detention of a female military general (Cobie Smulders - a name I'd never heard of, just like all the rest of the cast) and both go on the run as two wanted figures, along with a 15-year old girl (further complications I can't be bothered to explain - heigh ho!).  
Action starts in Washington then moves down to New Orleans, culminating in (guess what?) yes, fleeing during one of the city's grand costumed parades! 

Many fights both with fists and weapons with the couple's pursuers, all very violent, all very predictable.
Edward Zwick's film as director ought to be best appreciated by those who aren't familiar with this kind of film, and how many of those can there be?

Will there be a third Jack Reacher film? I do hope not, but if there is it had better have something more to say than this one............5. 

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Film: 'Valley of Love'

Very unusual, this. Despite its dreadful English title, which is apparently also used in France (director, Guillaume Lecloux) it's set in and around Death Valley, Calif., and stars Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu - their duologue (which comprises 95% of the film's talk) being entirely in French.

They play a long-divorced couple having been out of contact with one another for years (she, now re-married but in the throes of another divorce, he still single) brought together by each getting letters from their son some months previously, in which the son tells them that he has now killed himself, without proffering them any reason why. He'd become estranged from both of them years before, they not having concerned themselves too much with his withdrawal from their lives, though they know that he had gone to live in San Francisco with his male lover. But the most curious thing about the letter is that he says he will briefly re-appear to them on a day when they are at one of the seven official Death Valley view-sites at a certain time, meaning that at that particular hour for a week they must be at one of the locations. Of course, they have no idea about what he could mean, they having travelled from their homes in France, but now their meeting up again dredges up a range of recriminations on both sides about their past, though a residual affection between the two of them keeps resurfacing in spite of their bickering moments. It's Depardieu who is the more sceptical of the two of them by a long way - which begs the question as to why did he bother to come, though the son did stipulate that they must both be there together.

As you can surmise, very big, mysterious questions are raised from early on in the film. I can tell you now that those who demand resolutions are going to feel short-changed by the time of the final credits, which is very much the way with filmic riddles these days. I didn't feel dissatisfied at all. There were very faint echoes of one of my all-time favourite films, 'Picnic at Hanging Rock', which left its audience gasping for answers, yet was brilliantly effective. I don't class this new film anywhere near the exemplary exercise in mystery that was 'Picnic', though the conclusion of things left in the air was extremely similar.

I've also got to say that Depardieu (now 67) has become huge, with a belly as big as two barrels. (Luckily, the film is in widescreen!) His spending much of the time here without a shirt - because of the oppressive heat, even though it was supposed to be November! - is a less than savoury sight. 
Huppert at 53, manages to look younger than she actually is.

I thought both lead roles were marvellously acted - their showing in alternate fashion both tetchiness and mutual affection.

For myself, I found considerable satisfaction with the film, much more than some of the unenthusiastic reviews I've seen. I'd recommend it quite strongly, but with the sole proviso that you're prepared to come away from it with questions remaining unanswered.....................7.


On making an exit from the cinema this afternoon.........

.......I espied this pavement billboard outside one of the adjacent eateries:-

I don't know how widespread this can be viewed - and in particular, whether it's shown in the U.S.A. (if it is, then with one word spelt the American way, of course), but it gave me a chuckle. I hope that if you also haven't seen it before then it may do the same for you.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Film: 'Swiss Army Man'

Completely preposterous story from beginning to end - as were also my last two films reviewed, 'Miss Peregrine' and 'Inferno' - though this was better than both, and certainly not having the over-serious pretensions of the latter.

For all but the final minutes of the film there are only two characters, played by Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, but the story is so absurd, yet totally original, that it held my interest right through. I've never heard of anything like it either in literature or certainly not on film. Having said that, I was yet not spectacularly impressed, though it certainly had its moments.

Paul Dano, is about to hang himself, apparently having been living as a castaway on a deserted island, and grown tired of living alone. Dishevelled and bushy-bearded, he's just about to step off for the noose to tighten when he espies a body (Radcliffe, of course) washed up on the beach. Investigating that it really is a corpse, he's about to give up and return to the task of suicide when he's intrigued by the sound of built-up gases escaping from the deceased. (An oft-repeated but key 'joke' this, so if one finds farting funny, there'll be laughs galore throughout the film.)
Pulling the body onto dry land he tries to resuscitate life into it but gives up, though allowing it to keep him company in his lonely existence. To his utter amazement he finds that, despite its state of decomposing, the body starts to talk, initially in slurred, disjointed fashion, then sightly more coherently so that he can even have conversations with it.  
He also gradually discovers that the corpse has a number of features which he can use to his advantage, hence the film's title. Although it cannot move without his assistance, he gets it to use an astonishing inordinate physical strength in various activities, some of which involve using gas expulsion. In its talking, it seems the body has forgotten what life was like and Dano has to teach it/him the basics. In an old magazine, when Radcliffe sees a certain photograph of a beautiful girl he becomes aroused and prominently tumescent under his trousers, this seeming to be the only activity he can do himself, even though it's involuntary. (Very unrealistic depiction, this - at least in my experience I've never seen such an actively 'mobile' one! But so what? The entire story requires a complete suspension of disbelief!) 
Dano now has been given a direction to his life, his mission now to instruct Radcliffe on the art of courtship, and with makeshift skirt and wig he shows the corpse how to achieve success with the female sex. 
One of the numerous curious qualities which the Radcliffe corpse had was that he could belch up drinkable water for Dano. As Radcliffe had been drowned, why wasn't he bringing up sea-water? But this was just one of the countless holes in the story, which doesn't play well if one dwells too much on it. You just have to dismiss such nit-picking and let the story run on regardless.
Can't say too much more without spoiling it, and definitely not what the end comprises. 
I've been rather bemused by reading some of the 'interpretations' read into this film by some viewers, including those going to extraordinary lengths to rationalise the story, theorise on its meanings and to suggested 'symbolism'. I'll have no truck with that. It's just an entertainment, for heaven's sake, and I don't think it was intended to be any more than that. 

Both Dano and Radcliffe give spirited performances, one might say, - though in the case of the latter I think 'lifeless' would be a better description, here in the most appreciatively appropriate sense.

It's jointly written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, both of whom played parts, most notably, in the 'My Best Friend's Wedding' project with Julia Roberts.

I give the film very high marks for originality and cheeky daring, though the final result left me feeling just a bit short of what it could have been. Its being very slightly over 90 minutes in length is another point in its favour. If you're particularly fond of fart jokes you might think it of greater worth than my own.................6.5.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Film: 'Inferno'

Oh dear, I do find these Dan Brown screen adaptations every bit as exhausting as reading his books, and this one is no exception, though here not being quite the marathon that 'Da Vinci' was, both on screen and in print.
I've read five of Brown's novels out of the six he's written to date, 'Inferno', another in The Robert Langdon series of extravaganzas, being my only unread one. Can't say I'll be rushing to complete the set.

A familiar set-up, early history clues left around (helpfully in English) as Tom Hanks, playing Langdon again, wakes up in a Florence hospital with various non-life-threatening injuries, having lapsed memory (doesn't know how he got there nor what he's doing in Florence) and subject to bad hallucinatory visions of plagues, people with heads turned backwards, Hell itself and God knows what else, but that's enough to be getting on with. Attended in his hospital bed by an English doctor (Felicity Jones, whom we saw two years ago as Mrs Stephen Hawking in 'The Theory of Everything) he's suddenly under attack from unknown human forces, including police, with unclear motivation, and the two of them flee to lose themselves in the city. The first half of the film, set entirely in photogenic Florence is basically a chase, with Hanks filling in the blanks in his memory and trying to make sense of a projection device mysteriously found in his pocket which refers him to Dante's Inferno and a mighty plague. Being the walking encyclopedia that he is, he makes connections and works out that there's an apocalyptic event in the offing in the form of the aforementioned worldwide plague to be deliberately unleashed in order to reduce the human population by several billions down to a manageable level.
The World Health Organisation is on his track and determined to stop him by whatever means from frustrating their plans. I got a bit lost here - as I did in several other places - with so much pseudo-scientific and cryptic gobbledygook. In fact, despite virtually non-stop action this is also a very 'talkie' film. In addition to all this rigmarole there's a quest for Dante's death mask, apparently forming an intrinsic part of the puzzle. All very confusing.
After Florence the scene shifts to Venice and then to Istanbul.
Predictably, the plot involves those considered as allies turning out to be his enemies and vice versa. I hardly think that with Dan Brown that can be considered a spoiler as it's a device he likes to use over and over again.

Director of this serving of, frankly, heavy stuff is none other than Ron Howard. I doubt if this film will be considered one of his prouder achievements. Even most of the cast seem, at times, to be half-hearted about the whole fantastic caper Was Felicity Jones purposely under-acting? She never seemed to be terribly emotionally involved even when on the run with Hanks with her very own life at stake. In contrast, though, I have to say that Tom Hanks gives it his all - showing confusion and desperation on his face (just like I had with the story) without having to say a word, and in this film he is as good as he just about always is.

'Inferno' does have its moments of tension and excitement but it also requires a fair bit of concentration to follow which, ultimately, works against it providing a satisfactory level of entertainment in terms of relaxation. So if you want a film just to wash over you without you having to do much work this would not be an ideal choice. Great for Dan Brown fans, certainly, as well as for conspiracy-theorists. Not one I'd care to sit through again, though......................5.5.


      

Friday, 14 October 2016

Cor, stone the crows! I'm a septuagenarian!

 

Yes, three score and ten today (15th) - the first age which my father never reached (as also didn't an elder brother), so I ought to feel privileged. What have I done to deserve this honour? It's a dubious achievement, especially when there's been so little to show for it. However, I'd much rather be here than not, so I'll get on with life unmoaning.

Here's some recent pictures of my triumvirate of 'masters' who expect me, their long-suffering slave, to be at their beck and call 24/7.


Blackso must be getting on for 18 now. Getting rather wobbly on his legs, sleeping about 23 hours a day, only waking to eat and my putting him out twice a day to do his business, after which he's waiting to come straight in again. As sweet as ever, purring and rubbing my face whenever I pick him up and always wanting to get on my lap. May he still have a long, healthy life yet to come.


Noodles, probably around 13 now, is the 'nuisance' of the household, never ceasing to cry for food - just pecking at what he's given, then leaving most of it. Of the three he's the least demonstrative with his affection (what affection?), only purring when I'm giving him his breakfast, which he'll mostly waste anyway. Won't let me pick him up, never jumps in lap, he lives in his own world, using me solely as a means to help him survive. Can only think that he must have gone through some tribulations as a kitten which he's never forgotten. 


Patchie, the latest arrival since around 3 years ago, will now be about eight yeaars old, according to his one-time owners. Like the other two, he left his own home to come and live with me. Notwithstanding his relative youth, he tends to bully the other two and he's become self-appointed 'sentry' at the kitchen window, vetting those who want to come in, and refusing entry in particular to one tortie with long bushy tail who likes to come in and pick at the leftover food  of which there's always plenty. (She came in this very morning, a fish-morning, something which she won't eat, so had to open some meaty for her). She only comes in when Patchie's elsewhere, he currently liking to sleep on my bed, daytime, as well as at night with me - and gets really annoyed when, in order to get into bed myself, I have to disturb him. But he will insist on sleeping in dead-centre of bed, leaving me with just the choice of margins, struggling to cover myself with duvet and trying not to fall out. 


And here's me at the youthful age of 69 - yesterday.  'Scuse me for not giving a toothy smile ('toothy' being the operative word!) as you'd be getting more than you'd bargain for.

So come on the 70s! Do your worst! - or maybe, on second thoughts, be gentle, please.






Film: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children'

Really oughtn't to have exerted myself to see this Tim Burton latest, based on contemporary writing by one Ransom Riggs. 

Aware that it was well outside of my usual kind of film, I thought that it might make for a pleasant change. Well, if any change there was, it wasn't in providing entertainment which someone of my age and tastes can appreciate.   

19 year-old Asa Butterfield (he of 'Hugo', 'The Boy in Striped Pajamas', 'Son of Rambow' - and here playing five or six years younger than he actually is), lives in Florida with parents and grandfather (father, Chris O'Dowd and grandpa Terence Stamp), where the latter intrigues him with stories about a large house in Wales where mysterious forces are at work.  So, father being an ornithologist, both go off to visit the place, his dad ostensibly going on a bird-watching expedition.
By himself, the boy looks for the house, only to find it a crumbling, overgrown ruin. On entering the derelict he finds himself being spied upon by a number of mysterious children and, eventually getting to talk to one of them, finds out that the entire building is now preserved in original condition within a time-loop of repeating one single day in 1943 (German bombers overhead) in 'Groundhog Day' style, managed by the pipe-smoking lady owner of this 'home', (Eva Green) who winds back the portable master clock daily at a specific time so the day can run again and again, though in this case they're not tied to having to repeat the same actions ad infinitum
There are ten resident children, each with unique powers or characteristics, such as one boy being invisible (only seen by his moving, apparently empty, clothes), another a young girl with super-human strength, another being an older girl who's so light that she'd float away were it not for the heavy shoes she has to wear to anchor her to earth. Then there's a boy whose body is inhabited by a swarm of bees which he can let out orally at will to cause havoc, and so on.  
The idyllic existence of the children is threatened by  a group of metamorphosing, tentacled monsters led by Samuel L. Jackson. In fact it's the guest appearances in this film that helped to engender the minimal interest I had in it . In addition to the aforementioned Terence Stamp there's Rupert Everett and, in a brief contribution that she probably knocked off in an hour or less, Judi Dench.

The final special effects-laden confrontation in which Samuel L. Jackson dominates as arch-enemy, takes place in a funfair at the end of a Blackpool pier. One can guess beforehand that all of the children will, in turn, get to use the particular power which each possesses.

This is clearly intended as a kids' film, though maybe not for those under, say, ten, as some of the scenes are graphic and gory., while the older ones will just lap it up. I found it pretty standard fayre for this kind of film. Tim Burton's trademark visions are here though perhaps slightly more muted than one usually expects from him. 
Oh, there is one bonus. Unlike Mr Burton's recent projects, this one does not feature wifey, Helluva Bon-bon Carthorse!

For its target audience I should have thought that going over two hours was pushing it a bit. It tired me out somewhat. But I think that if it's the kind of film you're inclined to feel favourably towards, then you're probably going to be rather more impressed than I was...............5.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Film: 'War on Everyone'

The big mystery is how director and writer, Michael McDonagh, responsible for such a fine, must-see production as 'Calvary' (one of my top films of 2014), could have come up with this unimpressive, predictable mush of violent tedium, where the 'humour' (if that's what it's intended to be) is almost entirely based on using ripe, swear-laden, un-p.c. language masquerading as 'wit'. (Ho ho!) I was left virtually unmoved by the whole sorry feature, as was also the rest of the audience, as far as I could determine from their impassive non-reactions.  

Two New Mexico bent cops (Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Pena) form a 'double act' (yawn!) in intimidating just about everybody to whom they take a dislike, criminal or not, and squeezing out a tidy profit for themselves - a little of the old blackmail is jolly good fun, after all! Then they find they've bitten off more than they can chew in the form of a young, influential Englishman (Theo James) who doesn't take kindly to having the pair interfere in his own corrupt domain, which includes horse racing, night clubs, porn - while he himself is surrounded by a phalanx of loyal, toughie bodyguards.

Can't be bothered to say much else about it. I've been searching my mind for something positive to mention. Well, I suppose the film does have energy, but even that's only apparent sporadically. There are no moments of suspense sustained over a number of minutes, not helped by the fact that personal interest in or sympathy with any of the characters is remarkably low. But I did like their visit to Iceland, though far too short, in which I could wonder at the fabulous, snowbound scenery. There was also a short pursuit down an Icelandic street (can only be in Reykjavik, can't it?). I think it must be the first time I've seen a view of any street in that country on screen. Additional to these rare delights, there's also a pleasing soundtrack including two or three of Glen Campbell's well-known hits.
As to the storyline, just about everything is what we've already seen before, and done better - though one particular method of a certain person's demise has only been rarely depicted (usually confined to 'oriental' films) though it's only a minor detail. 

I'll be generous with my rating, but only because if I scored it any lower it might come into the category of looking so bad that it might be thought to be just worth seeing. It's not!................4

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Film: 'The Girl on the Train'

Based on "the book that shocked the world" (by Paula Hawkins) trumpets the trailer. Is that so? I'd never heard of it.
I'd seen this trailer so many times over the last few weeks that it had just about killed off any curiosity I had about seeing the film. But rather half-heartedly, I went.

The plot is basically a 'whodunit?' - or, more precisely, what happened to her and was anyone else involved? But there is an unusual added dimension to this story viz. the narrator is a self-aware, struggling alcoholic, and Emily Blunt captures the character utterly magnificently. Rarely have I seen on screen so realistically displayed all the nuances of someone with a drink problem - every shade from slightly tipsy, to merry (with an underlying menace), through to being sozzled and violent with it. We also see her fully sober yet dying to have that drink, resisting even when she's offered one, as well as her first visit to an A.A. session. It was a remarkable performance which I really do think is worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Divorcee (and childless) Blunt travels daily from Washington to New York on a train which takes her past her former house where her ex-husband (Justin Theroux) still lives with his new wife (Rebecca Ferguson) and their baby daughter. Quite close to this house is another which she gets fascinated by because she can see a couple there through the windows or on their balcony (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett) who seem to be very much in love. It seems they represent the ideal relationship which the Blunt character wishes she could have had. All the while on the train she is sipping from what looks like a transparent water bottle, but which she has had filled with vodka. During her journeys her mind wanders to the past and therein, I think, is the weakness of the film. There are far too many flashbacks, not necessarily in chronological order, leaving me confused several times as to what was happening - and in addition, was this real or is it part of her alcohol-befuddled fantasies? The problem is further exacerbated by having the two women already mentioned having very similar long, blonde, wavy hair. Because I didn't know the two actresses involved I did now and again get confused as to which was which. But as I already do have a particular problem in recognising and remembering faces in real life, others may not have the same difficulty.
There is a third man involved, a counselling psychiatrist (Edgar Ramirez).
The Blunt character, having built up a picture of an ideal relationship for this couple which she notices daily, one day witnesses something that jars on her vision of presumed marital bliss. And, no doubt fuelled by alcohol, she can't keep her mouth shut, even though it's nothing to do with her. Then someone goes missing. The police are called in and, due to the drink, she has difficulty in recalling her own movements on the day of the woman's disappearance.

We do finally get to see what happened, and since the number of suspects is very limited - only the three men plus two women, one of whom is Blunt herself. (Was she herself involved during one of her regular blanked-out periods?) When the solution of the mystery is revealed it's hardly a shocker, though it is gruesome.

I don't know if the book contained as many flashbacks as are in the film, but I think the latter was weakened by having so many as to approach being exasperating, particularly as I found some of them quite confusing. 
Director Tate Taylor ('The Help', 'Winter's Bone') builds up tension well at a number of points. It's one of those films with cumulative suspense and it is achieved pretty well.
The major part of the honours for the film really must go to Emily Blunt though, in a role which marks her out as a really remarkable actress with great potential. I think she lifted this film, without which it would have been a  significantly less successful product...............6.5.