Adapted from a novel called Morality Play by Barry Unsworth, Paul McGuigan;’s 2002 takes its central notion from Hamlet; after a murder, a staged reconstruction of the crime by actors is used to figure out who the killer is. Set in 14th century England, Paul Bettany stars as a priest who ducks his vows and goes on the run with a dubious troupe of actors, led by the eternally sinister Willem Dafoe. The Reckoning is a metaphysical murder mystery, a medieval movie with brains as well as an unusual setting and one which would make a good double-bill with The Name of the Rose. It’s directed with his customary flair by McGuigan. and featuring a remarkable supporting cast including Simon Pegg, Tom Hardy and Brian Cox.
Sally Potter is one of Britain’s least celebrated directors, but her idiosyncratic take of cinema aesthetics makes her work well worth seeking out for anyone with a yearning for original content. Her follow-up to Orlando is a personal project; she casts herself as Sally, and the film is a likably oddball drama about the trials and tribulations that she goes through as she attempts to learn the tango. There’s no Step Up dance competitions here; Sally falls for Pablo (dancer Pablo Verson) and their affair with each other, and with the dance, takes her on a voyage of self-discovery to Argentina. The Tango Lesson was accused of self-indulgence, but Potter deserves credit for putting herself centre-stage; beautifully photographed by Robby Muller, her film is a mature and passionate film about male/female relationships, rendered in the physical arena of dance.
Burt Reynolds is best remembered for two car-chase franchises, Smokey and The Bandit and The Cannonball Run; his best was the two films he made as hard-lining Gator McCluskey. In White Lightning, originally to be directed by Steven Spielberg, Gator unwillingly joins forces with federal agents investigating a moonshine ring in the Deep South, with Ned Beatty ideal as the lawman. Joseph Sargent’s film is a solid thriller, building up to an impressive car chase and a very neat ending that show’s Gator’s ingenious escape and almost cost the life of the stunt-driver (Hal Needham). The same character returned in 1976’s Gator, directed by Reynolds, and putting him up against sleazy politicians, with Lauren Hutton as a glamorous TV reporter who falls for Gator’s charms. Live and Let Die-style speedboat chases are added to the mix, and both films offer up plenty of entertainment without too much stunt-man bonhomie that weakened some of Reynolds’ later work.
Early work from documentary director Michael Apted, before he moved to a Bond blockbuster level, this engaging curiosity features Vanessa Redgrave as Agatha Christie, and focuses on her eleven-day disappearance circa 1926. Dustin Hoffman is Wally Stanton, an American journalist determined to track down the truth, and Timothy Dalton is the obstructive, philandering husband who stands in his way. Agatha was part of 1970’s cinema’s yearning for the past, but serves up a crisp, well-acted period drama, with Hoffman and Redgrave convincing. Photographed by the great Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now)