Director: Oliver Stone (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Oliver Stone’s ham-fisted biopic of a CIA whistleblower is a sprawling and disjointed essay on espionage. The veteran director explores the conflict between individual liberty and state control by dramatising the life of Edward Snowden, portrayed as a patriot who becomes a dissident martyr to the cause of freedom.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has never been more anodyne than as the CIA employee who became global news when he revealed thousands of classified security documents to the world.

The computer programmer is shocked when he discovers the US spy agency regularly ignores the law and spies on anyone they choose to. It’s difficult to muster sympathy for him. What did he imagine the CIA does all day?

Even so, he’s not totally outraged until his politically liberal girlfriend becomes a target for surveillance by his employer. Shailene Woodley is wasted as Lindsay, and seems chosen as much for her ability to pole dance as for her acting talent. She’s represented as a radicalising influence on Snowden, unfairly shifting the blame for his act of treason from him to her.

Tom Wilkinson, Rhys Ifans and Nicolas Cage offer flamboyant energy, trying to out do each other and making up for the lead’s lacklustre presence. Meanwhile the script is thinly stretched over 10 years and a lot of ground, taking in Japan, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Russia.

Although visually restrained by his own standards, Stone enthusiastically employs a confusion of camera angles, colour filters and a fractured narrative. None of these tricks succeed in making a series of hotel room conversations interesting. There is a lot of staring at computer screens.

Stone is full of righteous angry at the treatment Snowden receives, but he fails to justify the actions of a very flaky individual.


London Has Fallen

Director: Babak Najafi (2016)

Take cover as this big, dumb action sequel drops into cinema with the subtle grace of a lead balloon.

Gerard Butler is in age denial mode as Secret Service agent Mike Banning, the kick ass star of Olympus Has Fallen (2013). He knows no fear, mercy or decent banter.

It’s a noisy barrage of gun battles and explosions with torture to break the tedium. Cars collide, helicopters crash and the touristy bit of the capital are trashed.

Impressive physical stunts are undermined by some poor CGI, ridiculous dialogue and unintentionally funny moments.

Following the sudden death of British PM, Banning must leave his pregnant wife behind and postpone his resignation plan to accompany the US President to the state funeral in London.

As global leaders gather to pay their last respects and with the streets of London protected by fighter jets, horses, dogs, armed police and snipers, an army of terrorists launch an attack on the steps of St Paul’s cathedral.

With London transport on lockdown and the emergency services incapacitated through terrorist infiltration, it’s up to Banning to drag the President to safety.

Aaron Eckhart sighs, frowns and worries about being tortured on Youtube. This demonstrates his scant faith in Banning’s abilities to save him.

Back in the US, Morgan Freeman’s Vice President chuckles his way through the crisis and talks about his fishing.

Boro girl Charlotte Riley keeps her native accent as an MI6 agent. Her forthright intensity   is in contrast to the joshing efforts of  to shame.

Moments of social realism break out during lulls in the mayhem. The British cabinet is portrayed as posh, smug and stupid and the Italian PM is seen having a tryst with a woman half his age.

No one should expect political discourse from this determinedly violent and witless entertainment which assumes flag waving and drone strikes are the price of a free West.

Banning’s impassioned invocation of a 1,000 year rule is delivered without thought to historical precedent.

The leaden script pays lip service to the qualities of the British, despite London being taken down in a matter of minutes and Banning elbowing aside an SAS squad to do their job for them.

It also makes laughably sure the audience is painfully up to speed with the thin story.

Air raid sirens warn the population to stay at home. You can’t say you haven’t been warned.




The Equalizer

Director: Antoine Fuqua (2014)

British TV series The Equalizer gets a full Hollywood make-over in this glossy and violent action thriller.

Even sillier than the original it’s now a patriotic vigilante fantasy about defending homely American values against imported Russian vices.

The late Edward Woodward is replaced by Denzil Washington as widowed ex-CIA agent Robert McCall .

Played by Washington McCall can’t help but be charismatically charming and an impressively mean physical presence.

Living quietly, assisting colleagues with their careers and being an all-round good egg, he even finds the time for a little song and dance routine.

He’s moved to help local prostitute Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz) when she’s hospitalised by her Russian Pimp Slavi (David Meunier).

Armed only with the novels of Hemingway and Mark Twain, McCall visits the gangsters and attempts to buy her freedom.

They reject his offer, there’s some peculiar and unnecessary stuff with a stopwatch and it ends impressively badly for them.

So evil oligarch Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich)  sends over his badass fixer, the sharp suited and silver-tongued Teddy (Marton Csokas).

AsTeddy begins hunting down McCall with the help of corrupt cops, our hero jets off to see his former boss Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) to warn her of the violence to come.

There’s no real reason for this but it’s a handy excuse to include a helicopter; this sort of film has to have a helicopter. And a dockside gunfight. And really big explosions to stride heroically away from towards the camera.

Washington does give good stride.

Action scenes are deftly handled but a strong opening is squandered and plot-holes are scattered all about as it descends into silly brutality.

Director Antoine Fuqua once made the brilliant Training Day (also with Washington) but now lifts all Guy Ritchie’s slow motion action moves but without the same elan.

The bloody finale takes place in a hardware store. A venue that always signifies the honest, hardworking, independence of American men – and provide McCall with a variety of grisly weapons.

Eventually good-hearted Yanks overcome a wave of Russians, embrace redemption, education and self-reliance while wrapping themselves up in the stars and stripes.