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Film Talk: Latest Movie Releases – The end is far from Nighy for brilliant Bill

Like many people of my generation, my first experience of the great Bill Nighy was when he starred in a certain well-loved Christmas film.

Bill Nighy gives a dazzling performance as a terminally ill father in director Oliver Hermanus’s Living, a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 drama, Ikiru
Bill Nighy gives a dazzling performance as a terminally ill father in director Oliver Hermanus’s Living, a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 drama, Ikiru

When Love Actually hit the silver screen in 2003, and Nighy appeared in his first scene as ageing rocker Billy Mack, I laughed until I cried at the sublime delivery of the expletives that came gushing from his mouth.

Quite simply, any man who could make a nonsensical string of simple curses that funny was a man with a talent to behold and bow down to.

Not long after watching Richard Curtis’s magnum opus, I caught Nighy for the second time in 1998’s Still Crazy – another flick in which our Bill dons the mantle of a washed-up rock star. As with Love Actually, his performance here was perfection, deliciously channelling the vanity and well-matured pretentiousness of a forgotten rock icon whose band were looking for a comeback.

Nighy had the requisite pout, prancing and prima donna pomp down to a tee, yet again forcing me to stand up and recognise.

After catching him in The Boat That Rocked (another stint as a rock and roll lothario) and Shaun Of The Dead (the ‘immortal’ Shaun of the Dead, if you please), my opinion that Nighy was one of the funniest British actors ever to have lived was solidified. But until now I never really appreciated how great he is outside of the comedy genre.

Put plainly, if Bill Nighy doesn’t pick up an Oscar for his turn in Oliver Hermanus’s Living, The Academy may as well hang up their boots. His performance is nothing short of extraordinary and will leave no heart unbroken. If you go and see one film this year folks, let this be it. Let’s take a closer look...

LIVING (12A, 102 mins)

Released: November 4 (UK & Ireland)

Powerful feelings may surface for many during director Oliver Hermanus’s exquisite English-language remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 drama Ikiru about a terminally ill man who acknowledges the emptiness of his existence just before it is cruelly snatched from him.

Relocated from post-war Japan to London by Nobel and Booker Prize-winning novelist and screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains Of The Day), Living wreaks emotional devastation in the lingering silences between characters who have kept calm and carried on since the Second World War.

Those moments when the right words do not materialise – between a dying father and his clueless son, between sharp-suited civil servants at the mercy of bureaucratic red tape – are heartbreaking, and Hermanus allows us the time and space to feel each desolating blow.

A career-best central performance from Bill Nighy, who will be a formidable contender for Best Actor at next year’s Oscars, galvanises every elegantly crafted scene.

He delivers a mesmerising masterclass in painfully quiet servitude tinged with regret that dials back the comic flamboyance we have come to expect from the gregarious star of Love Actually.

Touching interludes with co-star Aimee Lou Wood’s work colleague, one of the few people to know his medical diagnosis and witness a renewed resolve in the shadow of death, glister like perfectly polished gemstones.

Widowed bureaucrat Mr Williams (Nighy) diligently shuffles papers at County Hall, overseeing public works alongside Mr Middleton (Adrian Rawlins), Mr Rusbridger (Hubert Burton), Mr Hart (Oliver Chris), Ms Harris (Wood) and new arrival Mr Wakeling (Alex Sharp).

A medical check-up reveals a diagnosis of terminal stomach cancer and once Mr Williams finally whispers the dreaded words aloud (“The doctor has given me six months… eight or nine at a stretch”), he seeks peace by personally championing plans for a children’s playground.

Living is a magnificent meditation on mortality that savours every second of the 102-minute running time.

Nighy delicately plucks our heartstrings, whether he is stumbling through a booze-sodden jaunt with a sympathetic stranger (Tom Burke) or weathering awkward exchanges with his unsuspecting son (Barney Fishwick) and daughter-in-law (Patsy Ferran).

Cinema is most powerful when reality is refracted through a lens.

Hermanus’s picture refuses to avert its sympathetic gaze.

Life is a series of discomfiting and joyful first takes until some greater power calls “cut”.

WATCHER (15, 96 mins)

Released: November 4 (UK & Ireland)

Maika Monroe in Watcher

Cinema is an act of voyeurism – an open invitation to spy on the day-to-day activities and private moments of other people from the comfort of a darkened theatre.

Sometimes those lives in motion are real, captured raw and spontaneously by documentary filmmakers.

More often, they are wildly imagined by screenwriters or adapted from rich source material. Writer-director Chloe Okuno’s unsettling horror draws breath from the most relatable type of voyeurism – furtive surveillance of neighbours – and steadily cranks up dread by imagining the consequences if one of those nearby residents was a serial killer on the hunt for their next victim.

Based on an original screenplay penned by Zack Ford, Watcher revels in suggestion and paranoia, pushing an increasingly unhinged heroine to the brink of a nervous breakdown as she feverishly questions her intuition in a foreign country where she barely speaks the language.

Lead actress Maika Monroe confidently rides that emotional rollercoaster with whitened knuckles.

She has excellent form in the genre, narrowly escaping the clutches of a sexually transmitted spectre in It Follows.

In Watcher, Monroe brilliantly evokes the spirally disorientation of an outsider starved of sleep and rational thought, who fears no one will hear her cries if her darkest fears are realised and she is being stalked by a murderous predator.

Cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen takes notes from Stanley Kubrick and Roman Polanski to mine terror from wide, open spaces. Nowhere is safe.

Actress Julia (Monroe) and husband Francis (Karl Glusman) relocate from New York to Romania, his mother’s homeland, for a promotion to the Bucharest office of his marketing company.

They move into a spacious apartment with large windows overlooking a courtyard and a similar block of flats.

Francis spends long hours at work. Thankfully, next-door neighbour Irina (Madalina Anea) speaks English and is sensitive to Julia’s feelings of isolation.

Alone in the apartment, Julia notices a man across the street staring back at her.

She learns the capital is in the grip of a serial killer nicknamed The Spider and Julia fixates on the possibility that the neighbour opposite, Daniel Weber (Burn Gorman), might be the perpetrator.

Following an unsettling encounter with Daniel at a local supermarket, Julia and Francis review CCTV footage.

“He’s staring at me!” she professes, referencing a frozen image on the screen.

“Or he’s staring at the woman that’s staring at him,” calmly rationalises Francis.

Watcher is a stylish and clinical study of psychological disintegration, tethered to Julia’s powerlessness because no crime has been committed.

Monroe hits every emotional beat as her character is dragged repeatedly through the wringer and Gorman perfects a chillingly silent stare that could be social awkwardness or something sinister.

Writer-director Okuno’s vice-like grip loosens in the final 10 minutes but the hard work has already been accomplished.

CALL JANE (12A, 121 mins)

Released: November 4 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Elizabeth Banks is in the driving seat as Joy in Call Jane – a gripping story of civil rights and activism

An expectant mother believes she should decide what happens to her body in a timely drama of civil rights and activism, based on a real-life underground movement in Chicago called the Jane Collective, which helped women seek safe abortions. In 1968, Joy (Elizabeth Banks) and her husband Will (Chris Messina) are looking forward to adding to their family, which already includes teenage daughter Charlotte (Grace Edwards).

Joy senses something is not right with her blossoming body and a visit to her doctor reveals a serious heart condition.

Chances of surviving the pregnancy and staring into the eyes of a second child are 50% at best.

A termination on medical grounds is considered but Joy and Will must persuade the all-male hospital board to approve the procedure.

They decline the request and, consequently, Joy responds to a card in a telephone box to “Call Jane”, introducing her to a secretive movement led by Virginia (Sigourney Weaver).

The Jane Collective promises to perform the abortion for 600 dollars and provide necessary aftercare, under the direction of a brilliant medic (Cory Michael Smith).

HUNT (15, 125 mins)

Released: November 4 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Hunt: Lee Jung-jae as Park Pyung-ho and Jung Woo-sung as Kim Jung-do

Former allies are pitted against each other in a high-stakes South Korean espionage thriller directed and co-written by Squid Game actor Lee Jung-jae.

In 1980, following the assassination of president Park Chung-hee, agents from the Korean National Intelligence Service (KNIS) hunt a mole within the ranks.

Park Pyung-ho (Jung-jae) and Kim Jung-do (Jung Woo-sung) are independently tasked with unmasking the spy.

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