Twee Grade van Moord (Two Degrees of Murder) is an Afrikaans drama about love and loss. We follow Aleksa Cloete, a renowned psychologist and author of "Love Doesn't Hurt", whose life is turned upside down when her loving husband, Ben, is admitted to hospital for examination. Having agreed to participate in a documentary about her breakthrough therapy, one of her patients arrives on her doorstep looking for help after her boyfriend dies.
This ambitious drama certainly looks and sounds the part, harnessing the talents of a fine cast and setting them against a technically competent feature film. The subject matter has the same potential as The Sea Inside and you get the impression that the filmmakers were inspired by dysfunctional suburban dramas like American Beauty. However, Twee Grade van Moord suffers from seemingly invisible flaws: a lack of story focus, tonal shifts, unlikeable characters and too much padding.
Sandra Prinsloo and Marius Weyers are two veterans of Afrikaans cinema, whose wealth of experience makes their mere presence a boost to any film project. In Twee Grade van Moord, they essentially take on the role of co-leads, playing a happily married couple tasked with a critical decision. At least, this is probably what the film should have been about, leaning on their acting prowess and funneling into an Away from Her style drama about the bounds of love when it comes to dealing with a degenerative disease.
While they give their characters impetus and there's a sense of history, it's not an entirely comfortable fit. The supporting cast includes: Shaleen Surtie-Richards as nanny Fy, who could have her own spin-off film, Hilda Cronje who dives in head first as a free-spirited yet fragile soul and Roelof Storm in a headstrong performance.
"Love doesn't hurt... pah."
Unfortunately, for its own sake, Twee Grade van Moord is a much more complicated affair. It functions more like a character-driven ensemble drama, trying to draw in dysfunctional strands from American Beauty. As such, we discover subplots involving a dejected son and his lover, a nosy family housekeeper, a distraught patient in an abusive relationship and an invasive documentary film crew. While these elements serve to layer the storytelling and contrast the emotional interplay, they simply distract from the central relationship.
Instead of creating depth, each subplot soaks up time and stretches the canvas, keeping a good pace but not really giving us a chance to care for the characters. While there's some playful intimacy between Aleksa and Ben at first, all of the characters seem self-centred and dedicated to carrying out their own singular objectives. This makes it difficult to empathise for any of them and further distances us from their pain. The documentary crew seems like an add-on, or a clever sub-narrative device to patch up the converging stories, and boils down to the role of a news reporter.
Twee Grade van Moord also suffers from an inconsistent tone. It starts in a bubbly way as if it were ramping up to become a provocative comedy about love in later life with a shower scene and some nudity. Then as if you were channel-hopping, it shifts into a sombre disease drama, then into a crime thriller only to round-off as a court room drama. These tonal fluctuations keep you guessing, but struggle to balance a film already dealing with soap opera tendencies that would have been better served as a dark comedy.
It's a pity that the quality of the parts don't add up to something more considerable. While the film-makers may have approached this curious drama with the noblest of intentions, Twee Grade van Moord remains elusive, off-balance and scattershot.
Spling reviews The Idol, The Legend of Tarzan and Triple 9 as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.
"Me Tarzan, you Jane." This is the essence of Tarzan, King of the Apes. A feral man tries to relate to a civilised woman, creating a tension between their worlds as they attract and society repels. In The Legend of Tarzan, we are cast into the future beyond the events of Greystoke: the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.
Instead of Tarzan's revolutionary transition from ape to man, the story concerns a return to the wild and adopting old ways. Tarzan, now better known as John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke, has grown comfortable in his new life as an aristocratic gentleman and folk legend. However, he reverts to Tarzan after he's lured back to the Congo to investigate activities at a mining encampment.
Much like Dracula Untold, this revision of a tale made famous by Edgar Rice Burroughs, has been given a revamp and the superhero treatment with an emphasis on human strength, fist fighting and the ways of the jungle. Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes was more dramatic with Christopher Lambert sporting the loincloth and communing with men dressed in ape costumes.
With the advent and success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you could say that it was high time for yet another Tarzan movie. Instead of Lambert, we have Alexander Skarsgård, who made a remarkable physical transformation through heavy workouts and diet demands. Skarsgård is a solid actor and one of the few actors in Hollywood able to be taken seriously without a shirt on. According to him, he took the role to please his father and brother, fans of the Tarzan character and comic books.
"Boy, that escalated quickly..."
Skarsgård has got a coldness, which keeps you on the outside, something that works for and against The Legend of Tarzan. Like an animal, there is a primal intensity to his performance but we never get close enough to form any attachment with his character, beyond the role of hero. To soften the edge, we have the ever versatile Margot Robbie as the tough damsel, Jane, and Samuel L Jackson as George Washington Williams in one of his most comical performances in recent memory. Playing a sharpshooter and sidekick, he completes the alternate buddy movie team in a Danny Glover "I'm getting too old for this shit" way. His Quentin Tarantino connection is made even more evident by the presence of Hollywood's favourite bad guy, Christoph Waltz, who stars as the shifty and sly Leon Rom. Waltz does his usual thing as the charming moustache-twirling Poirot style villain with a few maniacal quirks. It's a terrific cast, rounded off with the likes of Jim Broadbent and Djimon Hounsou.
Director David Yates, best known for the Harry Potter series, connects the classic story with contemporary visuals. This is essentially a period piece action-adventure with dramatic and romantic elements. The visuals have finesse, while the visual effects and production design are impressive, setting the cold architecture of London off against the tropical jungles and African plains of Congo. The gorilla species and animals are real enough, but pale in comparison with films like Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Jungle Book. The Legend of Tarzan is a feast for the eyes with everything from the visual artistry and locations to the beautiful cast and wardrobe.
Although, this is definitely a case of style over substance. While you could imagine the filmmakers hoping you'd equate this with The Last of the Mohicans or The Ghost and the Darkness, it lands in the same territory as The Mummy. While it features a strong cast, it's emotionally distant, offering the audience great actors playing flimsy characters. Unfortunately, it's tonally-challenged veering from period piece sincerity to cheesy buddy movie fluff. While entertaining, there are plenty of unintentionally funny moments, from Tarzan's effortlessly caveman physique to his variety of mating calls. It's not quite Ace Ventura: Nature Calls ridiculous, but you imagine it's going to be a boon… or baboon to the spoof genre someday.
The Legend of Tarzan is somewhat redeemed by its stellar cast, classic tale, social conscience and visual splendour - making it simple yet entertaining. While everything looks the part, it fails to engage beyond the surface of things, playing to action-packed laughs instead of sweeping drama. If you want to disengage and immerse yourself in almost two hours of pure escapism, you could do worse, but this skimpy Tarzan revamp doesn't have the weight of character, emotion or imagination to make it truly great.
Spling reviews Elvis & Nixon, Me Before You and Zootropolis as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.