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The Many Faces of Benedict Cumberbatch


Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch is an award-winning English actor who has been appointed a CBE by the Queen and included in Time magazine's annual 100 Most Influential People in the World list. Attending the Victoria University of Manchester before enrolling for a Master of Arts in Classical Acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Before Eddie Redmayne became inextricably linked with Stephen Hawking, it was Cumberbatch who had played the late great in Hawking. Rising up through the ranks of theatre, TV and film, you may remember Cumberbatch playing a supporting role to James McAvoy in Starters for 10. While Cumberbatch is best served in leading roles, he has done a great job in smaller supporting roles with an old world look also makes him an asset to war dramas such as Atonement, War Horse, Dunkirk and 1917.

The Many Faces of Benedict Cumberbatch

The actor has been described as the king of impressionists, based on his ability to impersonate people. This probably explains how he's managed to accumulate such a broad range of performances over the last two decades. Cumberbatch became known for his critically-acclaimed performance as a modern Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, a role that garnered many awards and has overshadowed his acting career. Having played the brilliant mind of Sherlock, most of his performances have had a similar edge, making him the go-to when it comes to playing characters of rare intelligence. Having been nominated for his lead performances as Phil Burbank in Power of the Dog and The Imitation Game, it seems inevitable that he will eventually land the covetted statuette.

There are no signs of slowing down as the actor is currently attached to projects such as: Wes Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, a TV adaptation of Hitchcock's The 39 Steps as well as sci-fi drama Morning with Laura Dern and Rogue Male, having just recently released Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Stephen Hawking - Hawking (2004)

Even as far back as 2004, Cumberbatch was attracting challenging roles where he was asked to portray genius. Perhaps its his elongated face, calculating blue eyes or distinguished manner that make him seem intelligent, even a bit alien. In the BBC film Hawking, Cumberbatch plays Hawking in his early years at Cambridge University leading to his struggle with motor neuron disease. The performance, credited as the first portrayal of the world famous physicist on screen not by himself, was lauded with praise from critics in particular putting the young actor on the map.

Vincent Van Gogh - Van Gogh: Painted with Words (2010)

Cumberbatch has an artful quality, something not often as exploited as his aura of super intelligence. While far from being impoverished, the "New King of Celebrity Impressionists" was able to capture the essence of one of the art world's most adored impressionists. A chameleon of sorts, the actor was able to channel his talents into a performance as Van Gogh, which The Daily Telegraph described as "impassioned", "vividly" bringing the renowned artist to "blue-eyed life".

Sherlock Holmes - Sherlock

The list just wouldn't be complete without adding his eponymous role as Sherlock Holmes. The contemporary version finds Cumberbatch giving his own spin to the character whose brilliance is cleverly edited to demonstrate how quickly his mind works. Sparring with Andrew Scott as his nemesis Moriarty in a modern London and joining many adventures with The Hobbit Trilogy co-star Martin Freeman, the revitalised Sherlock benefits from Cumberbatch's immense presence and intoxicatingly wiley charms.

Victor Frankenstein/Frankenstein's Monster - Frankenstein (2011)

Danny Boyle directed a stage production of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein at the Royal National Theatre, which was broadcast to cinemas. The Slumdog Millionaire director's adaptation received high praise, much of which was directed to Benedict Cumberbatch for his performance, which found him alternating between playing Victor Frankenstein and his monster on . It was this performance that garnered Cumberbatch the covetted "Triple Crown" earning him the Critics' Circle Theatre Award, Evening Standard Award as well as the Olivier Award.

Smaug - The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

When people speak about motion capture or "mocap", it's generally Andy Serkis' name that crops up. The undisputed king of motion capture performance, his work is probably the biggest proponent for inclusion at the Academy Awards. While these are still early days when it comes to completely digital characters or those based on physical performance, it's Benedict Cumberbatch's turn as Smaug that's only getting the credit it so rightfully deserves now. Videos depicting his behind-the-scenes performance where "gives it horns" seems like an understatement, the actor contorts his body like Tolkien's dragon would, once again plying his golden voice and air of centuries-old wisdom and intelligence.

Khan - Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Playing Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness just seemed obvious for Cumberbatch, maybe too obvious considering his work on Sherlock. While Kirk and Spock's romance take centre stage, it's Khan's scheming, scene-stealing performance as the "superhuman" character with personal vendettas that align his deceptive machinations that make him every bit as mysterious and troublesome as Loki in The Avengers.

Julian Assange - The Fifth Estate (2013)

Besides Smaug, playing Julian Assange is probably one of his most dramatic transformations. It's not often that Cumberbatch makes a drastic physical transformation like his Stuart: A Life Backwards co-star Tom Hardy, who didn't get enough credit for his unrecognisable performance as Bain in The Dark Knight Rises. So, it's usually a slight physical alteration and more about his actual appearance from the shoulders up. Going for long white hair is a bit of a shock for audiences who have become accustomed to seeing Cumberbatch transform more gradually on screen or stage. While the film was a little underwhelming, Cumberbatch got a chance to try something completely different in the paranoid Fifth Estate as the WikiLeaks bigwig.

Alan Turing - The Imitation Game (2014)

Benedict Cumberbatch seems to be more concerned with capturing the essence of his characters than making a dramatic transformation by way of prosthetics or make up. Slight adjustments are acceptable but the actor prides himself on being able to transport audiences with the minutiae of his performances. The Imitation Game finds Cumberbatch reaching for greatness opposite an equally admirable Keira Knightley. Playing the British cryptographer and genius (it's Cumberbatch), the film made some startling revelations about the strategy around the enigma decoding machine. Offering nuance and yet another thoughtful performance, Cumberbatch allows an equal measure of himself and Turing to carry the performance to give the gist in a more authentic and grounded fashion.

Dr Stephen Strange - Doctor Strange (2016)

Having played professors, inventors, scientists and many forms of genius, adding neurosurgeon to the mix didn't seem like that big a leap. Just like Robert Downey Jr had his detractors before the launch of Iron Man, there must have been a few question marks hanging over the head of Cumberbatch before taking on Doctor Strange. Any doubts were quickly quashed with Cumberbatch's performance, injecting life and wonder into the role. Swishing about, it's refreshing to have an actor of Cumberbatch's calibre donning a superhero cape and veritable sidekick. While spectacle seems to be trumping star quality in today's blockbuster world of superheroes and fast cars, this casting decision does show some promise, even if Cumberbatch is best served in a leading role.

Thomas Edison - The Current War (2017)

The Current War was a surefire hit on paper but unfortunately didn't reach its full potential, in spite of its heavyweight match up between Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison and Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse. The historical drama portrayed the epic saga as both Americans tried to push their agendas in a bid to see which electric power delivery system would serve the United States. While Cumberbatch relishes the opportunity to play Edison, who's rarely portrayed in contemporary film, his performance is undermined by the character's distance with both men waging war without offering enough points of identification. Still, it's wonderful to see Cumberbatch working his way into roles like playing with a Rubick's Cube.

Dominic Cummings - Brexit (2019)

In Brexit, Cumberbatch plays Dominic Cummings, an undeniable kingpin in the Brexit crisis and Leave EU campaign. Reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes for his strategy, the Social Network type TV film treats the Brexit debacle like a sports drama with each team trying to outplay the other. A tense, smart exploration of the behind-the-scenes campaigning and digital rights, it's a fascinating political drama with Cumberbatch chiming in with another magnificent and transformative performance as Cummings.

Phil Burbank - The Power of the Dog (2021)

Now best known for playing Doctor Strange based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe's popularity, it must come as some surprise for some fan boys who watch Doctor Strange in anything else. While Cumberbatch may have been mostly drawn to the pay check and refreshing change of direction in bringing Doctor Strange to life, he shows he's still got what it takes with the revisionist western and psychological drama, The Power of the Dog. Taking a step down in terms of the art of cinema with a role as a comic book hero, he dismisses any naysayers with an Oscar-nominated performance firing on all cylinders in Jane campion's widely acclaimed actor's showcase, The Power of the Dog. Unlucky not to win for his immense performance as the toxic powerhouse that is Phil Burbank, it shows Cumberbatch's intent with a string of high profile nominations during awards season.

 
AfterLife Film Festival 'Short Film of the Year' Finalists


The AfterLife Film Festival is an extension of SUPP, a subscription-based streaming platform for viewers and hub for filmmakers to showcase their productions, collaborate, attract funding and engage audiences to earn revenue through views. SUPP's selection of best local film of the month winners get to compete for best film of the year. Spling helped adjudicate this year's AfterLife Festival for best local films. This selection represents the finalists, whose short films are currently in competition for Best Film of the Year.

Mallemeule

Director: Jaco van Bosch

Mallemeule (Merry-go-round) is a time-travel sci-fi romance comedy drama about Chris, a university student who together with a time-traveller try to orchestrate the perfect date with a secret crush. This short film has been lovingly created, taking a page from About Time in its mix of fun-loving romance and contrasting this with more emotional real world complications. In a move not unlike Boyhood, it appears that lead Wenzel Grobler plays opposite himself a few years apart. While it takes a few minutes to figure out what's actually happening, this short film captures much of what made the Richard Curtis film, About Time so entertaining.

Watch Mallemeule here

Izilwane

Director: Killian A. Roux

Izilwane is a hard-hitting social drama about a homeless woman who dreams of a better life for her and 6-year-old brother. When Kgosi goes missing, Grace tracks him down by way of the usual suspects only to be faced with a difficult decision. Offering a slice of docudrama realism, Izilwane is a gritty drama about life on the streets that has faint echoes of films like Life is Beautiful and Bicycle Thieves. Galaletsang Koffman's head wrap often obscures her world-weary performance, yet this earnest short film is representative of far-reaching issues faced by the most vulnerable people who are at the mercy of welfare charity organisations and the criminal underground.

Watch Izilwane here

Verloop / 'n klip gooi / Leemte

Director: Daniel Christiaan Human

A triptych of three different narrative strands, this construct includes the short films: Verloop (Course), 'n klip gooi (A Stone's Throw) and Leemte (Void). Much like Heavy Metal, a dark animated cult classic, a central element links all three films as this exploration of the past, present and future is interwoven with life, birth and death. Starting with a pregnancy in Verloop, this poetic undertaking serves as a showcase for a young actor who is able to express the elation, joy and even sorrow of birth. Transitioning into a Lynchian space with 'n klip gooi, things take on an eerie and surreal quality as a mysterious man in a suit with a briefcase enters another dimension. Coming in to land, Leemte's experimental edge offers a literal window on a world as a soundscape intensifies to breaking point.

Watch Verloop, 'n klip gooi and Leemte here

Wie is Christiaan Olwagen?

Director: Armand Roussouw

Wie is Christiaan Olwagen? (Who is Christiaan Olwagen?) serves as a tribute to contemporary writer-director, Christiaan Olwagen. Adopting a similar trademark continuous shooting style, look and feel to Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie, this coming-of-age short film settles into a similarly dysfunctional domestic situation. Questioning the disillusionment of white Afrikaans youth, Wie is Christiaan Olwagen? fleshes out a family portrait of siblings who are working through mental illness, obsessive compulsion and substance addiction with their parents nowhere in sight. It's a gritty, edgy and confrontational drama with committed performances from Liza du Plessis, Megan Fourie and Jan-Daniel Naude with a raw spontaneity established through the choice to mimic Olwagen.

Watch Wie is Christiaan Olwagen here

The Birth of a Karen

Director: Nadiya Jooma, Jaco van Bosch

Being referred to as a "Karen" is a term reserved for a stereotyped character in society who is epitomised as "a middle-aged white woman with an asymmetrical bob asking to speak to the manager, who happens to be as entitled as she is ignorant". The term is problematic but gets a playful send up in The Birth of a Karen, as a "Karen" gets her daughter to face up to a delivery guy who's just trying to do his job. When they unbox the product and it's broken, a comical scenario ensues as a Karen-in-training takes the wheel. This zippy short film features Laré Birk as Mom and captures the fun through its upbeat performances and lively banter, turning a typical suburban situation into a spunky representation of a voiceless "Karen" and her protégé.

Watch The Birth of a Karen

esCape Town

Director: Colin McRae

esCape Town is a documentary short film that focusses on Edgar Combrink, an ex-convict from Cape Town's Pollsmoor prison. Over capacity and notorious for its gang culture and numbers gangs, the prison system has been criticised for its poor repeat offender numbers and lack of rehabilitation. Being one such repeat offender, Edgar explains how difficult it is to reintegrate into society and keep his family going against all odds. High murder rates, inequality, unemployment and a flagging education system, esCape Town grapples with Edgar's plight, representative of so many men who get stuck in a vicious circle. Featuring sleek shots of Cape Town with many stark contrasts, this emotive documentary gets a kitchen sink behind-the-scenes on a complex problem that seems to be worsening as the cost of living keeps going up.

Watch esCape Town

 
"Film" vs. "Movie"


It's rare for anyone to refer to a film or movie as a motion picture, moving picture or photoplay. "Motion picture" is often reserved for filmmakers or marketing teams wanting to elevate their product (it is essentially a product) and talk about it as something distinct and somehow better than the rest. "Moving picture" and "photoplay" are hardly ever used anymore (that's if you've even heard them) and would probably seem more organic if you're wearing a top hat and a monocle. So, it mostly falls on film and movie, the two shortest words to describe this sometimes immersive form of entertainment.

The sheer number of cinematic and straight-to-video or streaming products being churned out demands some further categorisation. Let's let motion picture stay where it is. The phrase is a mouthful and is only really used in promoting a new title or during awards season when penguin suits also make sense. That leaves "film" and "movie". While these two words are considered interchangeable, there are some nuances that are worth noting. This also plays out in the arena of "movie critic" and "film critic" but has far-reaching application and should be widely accepted.

Film vs Movie

Film

The word "film" is all-encompassing. In terms of definition it refers to the end product "a story or event recorded by a camera as a set of moving images and shown in a cinema or on television" and the act of creation, to "capture on film as part of a series of moving images; make a film of (a story, event, or book)".

Film is also more closely linked to the craft. It's used in the word filmmaking, which is much more commonly used to describe the act than moviemaking.

Film is deemed to be more sophisticated. Being 'in the know' and part of some tap-your-nose and wink-wink secret society, it's a word that's used to elevate the whole process of telling stories for a living. "I'm a filmmaker" sounds much more elevated than "I make movies", unless of course the person uttering these words is doing this to downplay their tremendous abilities.

Film makes you think arthouse more than blockbuster. No one's going to look at you funny if you use either word to refer to the latest superhero extravaganza but they may give you a sideways glance if you refer to The Tree of Life or The Seventh Seal as a movie.

Movie

The word "movie" is definite. It refers to "a cinema film", so there's very little bend and mystique to this term. Our guess is that it probably also travels quite well, meaning you'll be hard pressed to find someone in another country who doesn't know what you mean. Add the charades hand gesture if you need to give them another clue... although based on the origins, don't be surprised if they say "oh, film".

Movie is more colloquial. "Let's go to the movies" or "what movies are showing?" are the kinds of easy-going phrases that are likely to crop up on the get-along gang WhatsApp group. It's also easier to switch between and say "movie" and "movies", much easier than "film" and "films". Films just seems like an extra hurdle.

Movie comes across as more commercial. Seeing movies on the big screen and watching blockbusters at the local cineplex just seems more in tune with the word and have possibly been more closely linked to the word "movie" over time.

We could have gone into a breakdown of the words with "movie" conjoining the noise a cow makes with a derogatory hand gesture but that seems a bit much. Especially since the contrast would be a hands down victory for "film", which is a conglomeration of fill and mmm - a word and sound that are far more gratifying.

When it comes to reviewing, this critic has actually started to differentiate. During the Talking Movies show I like to give audiences an idea of how to receive the critique by pre-empting each spoken review with "A film now showing..." or "A movie now showing...". If you're expecting a film, then you're anticipating the work of an auteur or a production aiming for something more artful and substantial. Whereas movie signals that this title isn't as serious about the finesse of the craft but rather geared towards maximum popcorn entertainment value. So there's a difference. It hasn't forced a switch from movie review to film review or "Talking Movies" to "Talking Films" but it's still worth noting the nuances and the aura of meaning they carry.

 
Michael Bay: How Music Videos Transformed into Blockbusters

Michael Bay is a director who people love to hate. Whether your name is Mark Kermode or you've come to despise the Transformers series for its extreme, over the top, guns-blazing and near-pornographic display of alien robot carnage, it must be said – Michael Bay doesn't do himself any favours. Recently he admitted that he should have taken the advice of Steven Spielberg who said that he shouldn't make too many Transformers movies. The franchise has come to serve as an ode to a beloved '80s animated TV series about the Autobots and Decepticons, who battle for ultimate control of the earth, hiding in plain sight from humans in the form of vehicles and aircraft. While there have been a few winners, including Transformers and Bumblebee, the rest of the series has paled in comparison, with one of the worst sequels of all-time in Transformers 2.

Bay came up through the ranks based on a slew of big budget music videos for artists such as Meatloaf, Tina Turner and The Divinyls. This helps explain the Michael Bay experience, which is characterised by short bursts of intense audiovisual extravaganza. Music videos have traditionally been quite loose on storytelling, character and dialogue giving the director a great deal of freedom, there to manage egos and siphon the best possible performances from artists who are much more comfortable with music than acting. Creating spectacle from a radio-friendly few minutes, there's room for panache and crafting something that doesn't have to make complete sense or live within the realm of possibility even. This is why Michael Bay's films are big, characterised by eye-popping visuals, over-the-top performances in constant pursuit of the elusive "money shot".

Michael Bay: How Music Videos Transformed into Blockbusters

Having blooded himself on action films such as Bad Boys and The Rock, Bay's bombastic and loud, colourful style seemed like a perfect match for the Transformers series. Pairing his ability to ground larger-than-life visions with the charm of Shia LaBeouf and sex appeal of Megan Fox, the original Transformers set the standard for the series, unfortunately never equalled. Much like Bumblebee's spin-off success, the secret to compelling such a ridiculous premise was in the slow reveal. In both instances, Bumblebee emerges from the shadows slow enough for the audience to be immersed in the world without completely leaving their senses in a matter of seconds. If Transformers had simply fast-forwarded to an alien robot city destruction in The Avengers start-with-a-climax style, it would have lost audiences bar the Transformers fans who bought tickets to see all of the sequels. When it comes to science fiction, the 80/20 rule is golden, meaning that for these films to work they typically require a ratio of reality versus unreality that allows a slow immersion into the realm of the Transformers versus the Star Wars 20/80 formula where much of the action takes place in an otherworldly realm that harks back to familiar things that offer some grounding.

At the time, the action overload made full use of the theatre experience with an impactful display of visuals set against visceral sound design. The stand-off takes place deep enough into the film that you get a real chance to care for the characters and a better opportunity to suspend disbelief. Blending action, comedy and sci-fi, the balance in the first Transformers movie made it much easier to roll with it, especially with Sam Witwicky as our guide.

Capturing the nostalgic feelings around one's first car, a young adult's attempts to "be cool" and matching them with a vehicle that converted Knight Rider's appeal into a mechanised Robotech-esque warrior, it's easy to see how this strange series captured the imagination of many kids and still holds a special place in their hearts now after they've transformed into adults.

After the runaway success of the original movie, Bay was compelled to adopt the rinse-and-repeat approach somehow managing to "get the keys" to Optimus Prime after a dismal second installation. As much as you could hate his approach to film, which almost seems anti-cinematic in its dedication to all things blockbuster, we are living in a world where gaudy spectacle trumps artful finesse. Maybe it's always been this way. While there is certainly an art to creating a Marvel or DC superhero blockbuster, a Fast and the Furious box office juggernaut or a Disney-Pixar animated epic, this mainstream appeal is the reason directors like Michael Bay will continue to have a foothold.

Acting like a kid in a toy store, there are enough viewers who live vicariously through his self-indulgence and magpie sensibilities to sustain him. We do need directors who dream big, don't take things too seriously and just want to make cool movies to help counterbalance and necessitate the other end of the spectrum. Even if just to fuel enough pundits who want to evoke change and shift the spotlight for auteurs who have something to say beyond "HELL YEAH". While he may have his army of detractors, creating visual extravaganzas that activate several senses is the kind of popcorn excitement that seems to satisfy most moviegoing audiences and necessitates the size and power of the movie theatre.

So as much as it pains some cinephiles to have the likes of Michael Bay in the world, he is in fact a major proponent of keeping cinemas alive with his big-screen sensibilities and box office draw. The director knows how to weather the blows, bouncing back like a jack-in-the-box to our surprise and dismay. It just seems unfortunate that he isn't able to channel his passion into more films like 13 Hours, Pain and Gain and now Ambulance, which show a slightly more mature and controlled filmmaker at work.

 
Unpacking 'Last Blue Ride: The Hannah Cornelius Story'


True crime documentaries seek to delve into the darkness of the human psyche, re-investigate a crime to stoke renewed interest, analyse fresh evidence with retrospective wisdom to reveal compelling new insights or offer a comprehensive overview of much-publicised or long forgotten crime. In the case of Hannah Cornelius, a Stellenbosch student whose murder made world headlines, the goal seems to be more in line with the idea of delivering a comprehensive overview. Last Blue Ride: The Hannah Cornelius Story is written and directed by crime journalist, Anthony Molyneaux, who says the documentary "intends to honour her memory and highlight the difficulties rehabilitating criminals inside South African prisons".

Last Blue Ride

The story of two hijacked Stellenbosch students was followed by millions of South Africans, who were alarmed by the senseless brutality and eager to see justice take its course. Hannah Cornelius became the face of the incident much like Laura Palmer did in Twin Peaks but it's her surviving friend, Cheslin Marsh, whose traumatic night found him bundled into the boot before being stoned in the middle of nowhere and left for dead. A resilient yet vulnerable Marsh is a key interviewee, who relays Hannah's character and the events of the night from his limited perspective. A family friend offers some insights from the Cornelius side with her father and autistic brother the only remaining members of their home after her grandmother's passing and her mother's disappearance, all within the space of two years. Many marriages struggle to endure the loss of a child under normal circumstances. However, when one's pride and joy is taken away in such a violent, disturbing and public manner - the consequences can lead to even more tragedy.

This is what makes Last Blue Ride such a tricky documentary. Having only taken place 5 years ago with the ongoing gender-based violence crisis, you can understand the sensitivity around the crime's re-emergence as well-publicised as it was. Add the tragedy's far-reaching implications for the family and you can understand why no direct family members feature in Last Blue Ride. As one of the criminals says, it's already happened - there's no going back. This is what makes Last Blue Ride powerful yet awkward, wanting to cover the crime without becoming as lurid as many other documentary films within the canon of true crime.

Avoiding sensationalism and paying respects to the survivors, this documentary serves as more of a true crime overview than a retrospective investigation. Yet, there's an awkwardness in wanting to capitalise on a sensational story but then chronicling it from some distance. This respectful air makes it safe, shying away from presenting the heinous details of the rape and murder using the victim's image and tragic story as a way to usher in criticism around rehabilitation in South Africa's overburdened prison system. While Molyneaux's open statement helps explain the film, the true crime documentary is primarily sold on the name and recognisable face of Hannah Cornelius.

Last Blue Ride

Leaning heavily on CCTV footage and a map to show the movements of the stolen vehicle and its occupants, Last Blue Ride pieces together the events of that fateful night. The strange and mysterious title refers to the distinct and iconic blue Citi Golf, which was hijacked outside student apartments in the early hours of the morning. Following this, we get an aerial view of their many stop-offs and crimes over the hellish 11-hour ordeal. The spontaneity and rawness of the actual footage does what news stories can't, relaying the blue Citi Golf's drive through the Stellenbosch region with an overarching doom to what are a young woman's final hours.

Last Blue Ride: The Hannah Cornelius Story does serve as a tribute to Cornelius, whose youth and model looks constantly remind us why this tragic story became so easy to circulate. At one point, someone describes her as Reeva Steenkamp-ish to connect the dots with another high profile murder case. The 21-year-old had a promising future, an unknowingly beautiful person whose life was cut short by a brazen and senseless crime. While we cycle through many photos of the late Cornelius, it comes as some relief that her friend Cheslin Marsh is still with us today despite some scars and a loss of hearing in one ear. Interviewees reiterate that while Hannah's bright light and independent spirit shone through, this spotlight could have fallen on many other women who suffer equally violent and tragic deaths.

The first half of Last Blue Ride chronicles the night's events and crimes, getting special insights from interviewees and presenting CCTV footage to piece the puzzle together. While Hannah's name is in the title, the documentary shifts focus in the second half, moving over to the names and faces of the accused. As they find themselves in court, the focus sharpens as their gang affiliations come to light and the documentary zooms in on South Africa's failing prison system with an 87% repeat offence rate. Being members of the 26 and 28 numbers gangs, the political ecosystem of prisons means these criminals are simply shifting into a regimented power structure with an established ranking in jail. Unable to get work and kickstart their lives after serving time in the outside world, it becomes clear how repeat offences and a brazen attitude amount to near-invincibility when there are simply two states of being.

This switcheroo is directly related to the first part of the documentary, but skews matters as the filmmakers attempt to understand the motivations of the criminals and point the finger at the state's failings. While this detour is timely and fascinating, there's enough material to justify a broader investigation and standalone documentary without overshadowing the victim in the process. This scattershot focus makes it seem as though the film had to be salvaged from a different version or rescued from some fundamental problems. Perhaps key interviewees pulled out or there was a last minute change in direction or funding, either way it just comes across as a hybridisation.

Incorporating this prison system aspect makes it seem like an add-on to stretch out Last Blue Ride into a feature film. Coming in at 58 minutes, it's still quite short and provides an overview rather than a deep dive. This is a pity because the safe and relatively lightweight treatment seems content to avoid key interviews, tough questions or a detective's hat re-examination. Last Blue Ride: The Hannah Cornelius Story does offer a compilation of important points, behind-the-scenes footage and serves as a thought-provoking retrospective, but seems to come up short in a bid to necessitate itself.

Last Blue Ride: The Hannah Cornelius Story tries to blend several perspectives in its retelling, largely compelled by the spontaneity of the real footage, dramatisation and heartbreaking interviews. Offering a good overview of the story from the hijacking to sentencing, it's at its most powerful in the courtroom in the presence of emotive testimonies and in the face of hardened criminality. Swathed in timely themes around crime and punishment within the context of GBV, these emotional outbursts help the true crime documentary land a gut punch.

 
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