Munich: The Edge of War (12A, 123 mins)
Verdict: Flawed but still classy
Boiling Point (15, 92 mins)
Verdict: Tense, though overdone
Even beleaguered prime ministers, mentioning no names, can generally rest assured that their place in posterity’s league table will never end up below that of Neville Chamberlain.
But a new Netflix film, Munich: The Edge Of War, attempts to show that the prime minister widely judged to have been catastrophically naive in September 1938, and to have been ignominiously duped by Hitler into boasting that he had secured ‘peace for our time’, was in fact an astute old cove whose resourceful actions might not have averted World War II, but stopped Britain losing it.
The film is an adaptation of Munich, Robert Harris’s bestselling 2017 novel, which I confess I have read and enjoyed. But more conspicuously than the book, the film wears its agenda on its sleeve.
Netflix film, Munich: The Edge Of War is an adaptation of Munich, Robert Harris’s bestselling 2017 novel
The Nazis wear their agendas on their sleeves too, in the sinister form of swastika armbands.
But Chamberlain (splendidly played by Jeremy Irons) still thinks their territorial ambitions can be resolved by a spot of old-fashioned diplomatic brinkmanship. Good for him, is the film’s message.
He did the right thing, buying 12 more months in which to prepare.
I’m not at all convinced. Shouldn’t the policy of appeasing Hitler have crashed headlong, much earlier than it did, into the realisation that Hitler couldn’t be appeased?
Still, once that rather basic note of dissent is removed from the equation, we are left with a decent political thriller, which threads a fictional story through actual events.
Six years after they formed a close friendship at Oxford, Hugh Legat (George MacKay) and Paul von Hartmann (Jannis Niewohner) are both high-rising civil servants, one in England, the other in Germany.
They have lost touch, but Legat is now a secretary to the prime minister, who is about to travel to Munich to sign a peace agreement with Hitler (Ulrich Matthes), Mussolini and the French leader Daladier.
Then intelligence chiefs in Whitehall get wind of a secret document that has fallen into the hands of the anti-Nazi von Hartmann, proving that Hitler is bent on seizing land by force until he has the Lebensraum (living-space) he wants for the German people. What exactly does the document say and is it genuine?
Classic film of the week on TV
The Sisters Brothers (2018)
Classic movies don’t have to be decades old. This is a western for the ages — funny, suspenseful, moving and gorgeously acted by Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly in the title roles, with top-notch support from Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Sunday, 10pm, BBC2
If so, then surely it will expose Hitler as a man who cannot be trusted (which Winston Churchill, even though he has been airbrushed out of this narrative, already knew).
Legat joins the deputation so he can make contact with his old friend and get hold of the document, leading to a lot of urgent running around Munich late at night, with MacKay sporting the same worried expression that he carried through the Sam Mendes film 1917.
The 1930s detail is exemplary, the script (by Ben Power) is intelligent, and German director Christian Schwochow keeps the tension simmering.
Furthermore, the supporting cast includes a reassuring number of British actors of a certain age who seem to have period drama running through their veins, among them Alex Jennings, Nicholas Farrell and Robert Bathurst. And Irons, to reiterate, is impeccable as Chamberlain, whether or not you approve of the halo under his homburg. But the film also makes a few missteps.
A scene in which von Hartmann gets a chance to assassinate Hitler (spoiler alert, he doesn’t) feels like a manufactured attempt to elevate the tension rather than an organic part of the story.
Also, the book’s careful depiction of Legat’s unhappy marriage gets such a perfunctory nod that it should probably have been erased altogether, despite the welcome presence of Jessica Brown Findlay as the disgruntled wife.
Oh, and there’s a nasty SS officer with a scar on his chin; the perfect physiognomies in this movie belong to the goodies. And yet, for all that, there are more reasons to watch than not.
The same is just about so of Boiling Point, starring the always excellent Stephen Graham, so ubiquitous on our screens these days that it would come as no surprise to see him pop up reading the news, doing the weather forecast and presenting Gardeners’ World.
The same is just about so of Boiling Point, starring the always excellent Stephen Graham, so ubiquitous on our screens these days that it would come as no surprise to see him pop up reading the news, doing the weather forecast and presenting Gardeners’ World
He plays a talented but edgy chef, Andy, slicing and dicing his way to the end of his tether. Andy’s personal life is a mess and he needs a cocktail of booze and drugs to get him through the service from hell, which begins with a lecture from a condescending hygiene inspector.
To make the evening ten times worse, his slimy former mentor (Jason Flemyng) turns up wanting a debt repaid, with a well-known food critic in tow, while his trusted second-in-command Carly (Vinette Robinson) publicly roasts the nasty restaurant manager (Alice Feetham).
Meanwhile, the customers include a racist bully, a bunch of obnoxious Instagram influencers, and a woman with a serious allergy whose needs, to put it in anything-but-a-nutshell, are not met.
Director and co-writer Philip Barantini turns the temperature up considerably by filming all this in a single take, so that we feel the stress too. It’s a neat tactic, but the collision of all these kitchen nightmares is decidedly overdone. Still, it seems fair to anoint Boiling Point with three stars, a chef’s holy grail if not a film-maker’s.
Munich: The Edge Of War is in select cinemas now and on Netflix from January 21. Boiling Point is in cinemas and on digital download.
Girls beat the baddies but not the cliches
The 355 (12A, 124 mins)
Verdict: Lively but unoriginal
Anyone who feels aggrieved at the way action movies (not least the Bond franchise) have objectified women down the decades will get a big kick out of The 355, in which the biggest kicks are all delivered by female characters led by a maverick CIA agent, played by Jessica Chastain (also the film’s executive producer).
Men, by contrast, are depicted either as gentle, stay-at-home types anxiously waiting for their womenfolk to return from saving the world, or as duplicitous, untrustworthy rotters.
The 355, in which the biggest kicks are all delivered by female characters led by a maverick CIA agent, played by Jessica Chastain
If MeToo were a film production company, it would be proud to have made The 355 (its very title a reference to the codename of a female spy during the American Revolution).
All of which is well and good. I’m all for women turning the tables in the movies, and there’s an awful lot of table-turning in this one. Regrettably, the robust gender politics serve a preposterous plot, as yawningly unoriginal as in any of the pictures this film tries so hard to subvert.
A fiendish piece of computer software has been devised which can wipe out the power grids of entire cities, make planes crash and hobble financial markets.
If it falls into the wrong hands, notably those of an arch-rotter played by Jason Flemyng (it’s a busy week for him, see my review of Boling Point, left), then the world as we know it is a goner.
The task of retrieving this devastating weapon falls to a, dare I say, sexy cabal of international spies played by Chastain, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o and Fan Bingbing, with Penelope Cruz as the only one not tooled up with deadly combat skills, who sobs when the going gets too tough and who, it is absolutely no spoiler to reveal, will perforce execute the crucial shot.
Director Simon Kinberg has made some of the X-Men films and knows how to choreograph energetic action — some of the chase and fight scenes are terrific.
But The 355 feels like a missed opportunity. It has none of the wit of 2018’s all-female Ocean’s 8, for example, and while pointedly swerving the biggest cliché of all — men as ruthless heroes, women as sex objects — it skids disappointingly into too many others.