Inside Out; Southpaw; Hot Pursuit; 13 Minutes; Maggie; Rififi – review

Inside Out provides emotional manipulation the whole family is meant to enjoy, but Jake Gyllenhaal struggles to make contact in a predictable boxing drama

Precious few megabillion corporations inspire feeling the way Pixar does: its most successful films unusually unite children and adults on points of emotional empathy. Its highest-concept blockbuster to date, Inside Out (Disney, U), dares to literalise this process, guiding viewers’ feelings by personifying them, placing them at the centre of a narrative they’d usually accompany. Does Joy – bouncy and blue-haired and Amy Poehler-voiced – ever feel sadness? And Sadness joy? Where are inactive feelings filed? Where do broken hearts go? Inside Out attempts to direct such abstract questions into the brightest, most schematic form of hero’s-journey storytelling. For that, it’s quite remarkable. I wish I liked it more.

The film’s organisation of an 11-year-old girl’s brain is cheerfully, unavoidably reductive. Five core emotions of Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust, but mostly Joy, this being a Disney enterprise, direct her psychological traffic, constituting a control hub for our inconstant “islands” of personality that prompt pinballing high jinks when they collapse. It’s a clever construction, and a cute one.

Dare I say it’s also somewhat cold, making plastically rigid what should be amorphously strange? For a film with such a high EQ, it steers cautiously clear of any nascent notion of non-familial love or desire; its gender definitions are oddly conservative. (Only our young heroine has emotions characterised as both male and female; her parents’ minds are respectively populated by chiding women and doltish men.) Inside Out seems encouragingly likely to spur generations of internal questioning as it becomes a family-room fixture. But it’s a film I find hard to believe and harder still to feel.

Watch the trailer for Inside Out

Inside Out has more on its mind than the punch-drunk protagonist of Southpaw (EiV, 15), a pummellingly predictable boxing melodrama designed to showcase Jake Gyllenhaal’s clenched commitment to his craft. And as a rough-and-tumble foster kid turned heavyweight champ, the actor is exhaustively, impressively not himself – strenuously bulked up and slurring his lines as if through a mouthful of kitchen towel. But such a gale-force assault of technique soon runs out of places to go and the beef-brained revenge arc of Kurt Sutter’s screenplay doesn’t give Gyllenhaal any fresh prompts.

As brashly targeted “for the gals” as Southpaw is testosterone-burdened, though not, disappointingly, a whole lot smarter, Hot Pursuit (Warner, 12) at least milks a few laughs from the snappish comic interplay of Reese Witherspoon’s type-A compactness and Sofía Vergara’s louche Latin excess. As a by-the-book policewoman and an unwilling witness embroiled in a corrupt cross-Texan chase, they can fill ample gaps in coherence and wit with sheer brazen force of personality – you can tell they’re aiming for The Heat, but the film barely gives them the embers.

German director Oliver Hirschbiegel also fails to clear the bar set by a past film, in this case his own Downfall, in 13 Minutes (Studiocanal, 15), a lumpen portrait of Georg Elser, the man who attempted to assassinate Hitler in 1939. It’s stoic, well-burnished film-making, but “nearly was” stories can be difficult to animate into compelling history.

Moving on to less lethal Austrian-born politicians, Arnold Schwarzenegger offers the novelty of an actual performance in Henry Hobson’s undervalued zombie drama Maggie (Universal, 15). As a midwestern farmer reluctantly facing his teenage daughter’s inhuman transformation while the undead apocalypse looms, he’s the not-quite-all-American anchor this uneasy story needs. Better still is Abigail Breslin as the girl in question, observing her changing self with a blend of flintiness and panic; you could argue for the film as a grisly coming-of-age metaphor to file alongside Carrie and Ginger Snaps.

Watch the trailer for Rififi

At Philip French’s funeral service, an affectionate reference to Rififi put me in the mood for Jules Dassin’s fleet-footed French noir. Happily, it’s one of the very few pre-1960 classics (fewer still of them in a foreign language) available in Netflix’s jumbled library. Sixty years on, it keeps its cool, even as hindsight brings out the McCarthy-blacklisted Dassin’s political fury, seething beneath its lean, heist-movie framework. The crime itself, a jewel robbery wordlessly choreographed over 30 minutes, implicates viewers as fellow outsiders or even outlaws. And at this bitter time, Rififi can be appreciated as one of cinema’s great Parisian films – no touristic Valentine, but suavely attuned to the city’s velvety mysteries.

Contributors

Guy Lodge

The GuardianTramp

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