The Screen Critic: A so-so biopic, an unnerving Holocaust drama, a fine superhero jaunt and a winning film about grey power

Feb 16, 2024
Source: Kingsley Ben-Adir in Bob Marley: One Love (Paramount); Dakota Johnson in Madame Web (Sony); Annette Bening in Nyad (Netflix).

There are some pretty good moments in Bob Marley: One Love that manage to capture the influence and inspirational spirit of the peace-loving father of reggae.

The unifying power of his music underlies Marley’s brave staging of a concert during a turbulent Jamaican election period. We also witness why and how Marley created reggae as an artform for the people.

British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir does a very convincing job portraying Marley as a loving family man whose global fame did little to inflate his ego. We watch him gain massive popularity, knock heads with money-hungry record executives, and valiantly battle a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Unfortunately, the film’s laudable commitment to authenticity produces a lot of heavily accented performances that, frankly, are difficult to understand. At a guess, perhaps half of the utterances in the film would have been well-served with subtitles. Still, the music is great.

In a rather pleasant surprise, the latest superhero offering, Madame Web, is quite an enjoyable, well-mounted lark, even though the film has been savagely mauled by critics.

Dakota Johnson (from the 50 Shades films) plays a New York paramedic who discovers she has Spider-Man-type powers as well as the ability to see into the future. She must protect three young women (Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, and Isabela Merced) who are being pursued by a villain who wants all four dead so he can be free to get on with his evil plan to exploit a rare spider venom.

The pulpy plot is silly, but it’s no sillier than plenty of other superhero films, most of which have been especially silly of late. What’s good about this adventure is the bond that grows between the three girls and their protector. It gives the action a nice dramatic grounding, with Johnson putting in an above-average performance for a film of this ilk.

Now, be cautioned: Madame Web has been critically reviled in no uncertain terms and with great speed, even though it chimes in as one of the better superhero multiplex fillers.

If there are any major upsets at the upcoming Oscars they’ll likely be caused by The Zone of Interest, an outstanding film that offers an unusual view of the Holocaust that is unnerving, disturbing, and compelling.

Much of the film’s sedate drama involves the everyday domestic duties that take place in the well-appointed house of an SS officer. There’s cooking, cleaning, and gardening to be done while kids play and the officer attends to his job.

The thing is, his job is running the Auschwitz concentration camp; the house is located right in its midst, surrounded by high walls laced with barbed wire.

While everyone goes about with their day we get hints of the horrors happening on the other side of the wall – screams, gunshots, smoke billowing from chimneys.

Written and directed by Jonathan Glazer and based on the book by Martin Amis, The Zone of Interest is a prime example of how powerfully understatement and suggestion can evoke a deep feeling of dread. Don’t miss it. (Opens 22 Feb)

Driven by terrific, Oscar-nominated performances from Annette Bening and Jodie Foster, Nyad tells the heroic, if bittersweet tale of sexagenarian swimmer Diana Nyad and her determination to freestyle her way from Cuba to Florida.

As a young swimming champ, Nyad had attempted the crossing but valiantly failed. Some 30 years later she finds herself in need of a new venture to put purpose back into her life and so dedicates herself to trying the feat again.

Recruiting her longtime best friend and fitness instructor Bonnie Stoll (Foster), Nyad pushes back at criticisms that she’s too old and gets into shape for the big swim, aided by salty expert navigator John Bartlett (Rhys Ifans).

Bening’s splendid portrayal presents Nyad both as a defiant figure intent on smashing ageist stereotypes and as a bullheaded, egocentric prat who expects everyone to go along with her dream.

Based on the book Find a Way by Diana Nyad (now 74), the film really shows how thin the line is between dogged determination and sheer stubbornness.

Foster and Bening are firing on all cylinders in this movie, with Ifans clocking in with A-grade support as their no-nonsense navigator.

Catch it on Netflix.

For more visit and @jimschembri on X for updates.

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