Movie Review: A United Kingdom

united-kingdom-kpbs.jpeg

Sereste and Ruth Williams Khama (David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike) go to Africa in A United Kingdom. (Source: KPBS)

Movies featuring interracial couples can be tricky. If done poorly, it would be over-manipulative and over-sentimentalized. Last year’s Loving works due to the subtle nature of its subject matter (Loving v. Virginia). The U.S. has another movie featuring an interracial couple from the U.K. Directed by Amma Asante (of 2014’s overlooked Belle, about a mixed-raced girl raised as an aristocrat in the 18th century after England abolished slavery), A United Kingdom brings an important part of history to life.

The movie opens up in London in 1947. Serest Khama (David Oyelowo) is an heir of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) who is studying in Oxford. One night, he meets the lovely officer clerk Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). She’s white. He’s black. After going out dancing, they begin to fall for one another and eventually get married (despite the dismay of Ruth’s parents).

Their marriage conflicts between the British and South African governments. The latter initialized the apartheid policy, meaning black people can’t live with white people. The interracial couple end up in Africa, so Sereste can talk upon the villagers about taking the throne from his uncle.

Born in London to Ghanaian parents, Asante and screenwriter Guy Hibbert (Eye in the Sky) do a terrific job balancing romance with the politics of the time. Love is equal no matter the color one’s skin is. With World War II ended two years ago, a white person marrying a black person was not only rare but shocking to the world. Bechuanaland and South Africa were ruled by the British government who have easy access to gold, uranium, and other minerals. Sereste and Ruth fight for their lives to gain independence from the British.

Oyelowo’s powerful performance as Sereste proves how great of an actor he can be from starring in minor roles (such as Lincoln) to playing Martin Luther King in Selma. It’s hard not to take your eyes off of him, especially when he delivers an uplifting speech about his love for his country, his people, and most importantly, his wife. But—this is the beginning of his troubles. British government official Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport) and district commissioner Rufus Lancaster (Tom Felton, Malfoy from Harry Potter) fear about losing their resources. If he gets exiled from his homeland, what would he do without his wife and child? After her brilliant turn in Gone Girl, Pike gives a subtle performance as Ruth, in which she receives compassion from the villagers. Her chemistry with Oyelowo is truly one-of-a-kind. They provide enough warm-hearted wit to carry through the rough times.

Despite the incredible true story feeling, at times, forced and ignoring the “show, don’t tell” technique, A United Kingdom is a gorgeously shot, tender love story and historical piece. Good stuff!

3/4

Movie Review: Eye in the Sky

EITS.jpg

Lt. General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) makes a decision whether to strike the Kenyan terrorists in Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky

With the ongoing War on Terror, everyone is trying to come up with a bright solution. To quote Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers, “Eye in the Sky asks a provocative question: Does conscience still figure in modern warfare?” Director Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ender’s Game) gives the audience more than just your standard war film. He handles the issue with care, kudos to his excellent direction and Guy Hibbert’s sharp screenplay.

Col. Katherine Powell (Dame Helen Mirren) is a British military officer in command of a secret drone mission. The people who are involved include Lt. General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman), U.S. pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), and Kenyan field agent Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi). They are planning to capture a Kenyan terrorist group.

When Powell discovers two of the terrorists planning a suicide bombing, she sends out Watts to take them out. As Watts is about to engage, a nine-year-old girl (Aisha Takow) enters the killing zone (without her becoming aware of it) selling bread. This causes a dispute between the U.S. and U.K. governments as they try to make a decision as fast they possible can.

Unlike his previous films, Hood allows the audience to think as well as hanging on the edge of their seats with his outlook on the war. With a $4 million budget, the movie primarily takes place in London, Las Vegas, and Nairobi, Kenya. He uses limited amount of CGI with modern warfare technology such as drones in disguise of birds and beetles. Eye in the Sky is more about the debate of modern warfare and risking the lives of Kenyan civilians.

The performances all-around are excellent. Mirren brings enough confidence and fierce energy as opposed to letting a male actor play the role as originally intended. With most of the movie taking place watching surveillance of the situation, there is one agent that is actually on the ground aware on what is going. He is trying to get the girl out of harm’s way. In his first role after Captain Phillips, Barkhad Abdi plays the Farah brilliantly. In his last performance before passing away early this year from pancreatic cancer, Alan Rickman is definitely worth the price alone (especially in an early scene in which he buys a doll for his daughter). He embraces the issue with such dignity once he starts watching the surveillance (given he has contributed to the war for a number of years). This is the finest moment of his career. Rickman will surely be missed.

Eye in the Sky is what Batman vs. Superman isn’t: a suspenseful, intelligent, thoughtful political thriller. Go see it in theaters and strap in for one hell of a thrill ride!

4/4