Thursday 6 August 2015

Michael Douglas is back to his villainous best in desert-set thriller Beyond the Reach

Beyond the Reach
Director: Jean-Baptiste Léonetti
Starring: Michael Douglas, Jeremy Irvine, Hanna Mangan Lawrence
Running time: 91 mins

Michael Douglas plays “rich white arsehole” better than any other actor in Hollywood. Not even Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin can hold a candle (or should that be candelabra?) to him. Douglas’s Gordon Gekko in Wall Street was so perfectly reprehensible he became one of the most iconic villains in movie history, while his Liberace offered a genuinely disturbing window into wealth-induced paranoia and madness. 

This time the 70-year-old is Madec, a high-rolling corporate shark who, between cutting billion-dollar deals, likes to indulge in a spot of trophy hunting. Venal, arrogant and sociopathic, he’s a member of the one per cent who wouldn’t just stalk and kill Cecil the Lion, but would probably find a way of charging the poor beast for the privilege of being shot and decapitated, too.

Despite not having the proper permits, Madec bribes his way past the local sheriff of a remote town in America’s south-west, and sets off to hunt game in the Mojave Desert accompanied only by an impoverished young tracker named Ben (Jeremy Irvine). But when Madec accidentally kills an elderly prospector (Martin Palmer), it sets off a game of cat and mouse in which he tries to murder Ben to cover his tracks. It turns out the businessman has been working on a massive deal with the Chinese and being implicated in someone’s death would surely torpedo the whole thing.

On the surface, Madec is an extremely one-dimensional villain but Douglas – that wicked little twinkle ever present in his eye – makes him so much more interesting than that. He lends the character gravitas, gives him a steely presence he simply wouldn’t have if played by a lesser actor. Half-baked bad guys are 10 a penny (see my recent review of Ant-Man) and it takes a truly accomplished performer to breathe life into them.

Against such a powerhouse, British actor Irvine (War Horse, The Railway Man) was always going to come off second best but does well with a fairly limited role in which he’s asked to do little more than take off his shirt, run about a bit and pine for his girlfriend Laina (Hanna Mangan Lawrence). He imbues Ben with an uncomplicated, underdog decency that immediately gets you on his side. Without becoming too political – although the subtext is pretty apparent throughout – he’s the living embodiment of the kind of struggling working guy Madec happily rides roughshod over; there to be bought and sold, bribed and threatened. But, much to the older man’s horror, Ben possesses a steely determination to survive in the punishing heat of the desert and it’s this battle of wills and wits that really elevates Beyond the Reach into an effective, tight and satisfying thriller. 

It turns out the Mojave Desert is the perfect setting for this type of story, too, its wide-open spaces, caves, hidey-holes, jagged rock formations and the late prospector’s old mine giving director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti plenty of scope to deliver some gripping set-pieces and cinematographer Russell Carpenter (True Lies, Ant-Man) an abundance of visual riches to shoot. It’s a terrible cliché to say so, but the desert is the film’s third main character, its heat, dust and forbidding terrain every bit as vital to the plot as Madec and Ben.

Rating: WWW

Beyond the Reach is in cinemas now and also available on VOD


WWWW = Wonderful
WWW = Worthy
WW = Watchable
W = Woeful

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