Thursday 30 May 2019

"Rory's Way" (Guardian 31/05/19)

Rory’s Way **
Dirs: Oded Binnun, Mihal Brezis. With: Brian Cox, JJ Feild, Thora Birch, Rosanna Arquette. 107 mins. Cert: 12A

Every now and again – between Question Time bookings – the actor Brian Cox reminds us just what a powerhouse screen presence he can be. Since his terrific work in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation and Michael Cuesta’s underseen L.I.E., however, television has provided his most notable roles: the gentleman-impresario of Deadwood, Neil Forsyth’s blustering Bob Servant, and recently media mogul Logan Roy on HBO’s Succession. This middle-of-the-road drama sees Cox crafting something notionally characterful in the guise of Rory McNeil, an ailing Highland crofter (hobbies: whittling, skinny-dipping) yanked decisively into the 21st century. Yet he’s doing so within a film which sets its satnav for that grey hinterland between soporific matinee fare and reactionary bunk. Silver Screen audiences should approach with caution.

Its arcs and beats are as careworn as your grandfather’s armchair. Once Rory is installed in the chichi San Franciscan apartment of sous chef son Ian (JJ Feild) ahead of an appointment with a medical specialist, we’re waiting for the gruff Rory to resolve any unfinished business and meet the Reaper head-on. Israeli imports Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis while away time pitting their protagonist against some of the West Coast’s more forward-facing aspects, as if he were a kilted Crocodile Dundee. Rory never strays into the Castro district, regrettably, but many tuts and grumbles are elicited at the expense of selfie-snappers, segues and cocktail mixologists. Handed a vaporous brew labelled the Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Rory mutters “Smoke gets in my bollocks, more like”, which is as close as the five credited writers get to wit.

Capable performers pepper these otherwise nondescript digital frames, vainly trying to persuade us we’re not watching some rogue telefilm. Thora Birch makes a welcome return to our cinemas as Rory’s daughter-in-law, a character defined chiefly by her powersuit; Rosanna Arquette’s gallery owner extends the prospect of a final fling; and Peter Coyote plays the academic taking an interest in Rory’s profane strain of Gaelic. (The film may yet accrue value as a rare cinematic record of a vanishing tradition.) All, however, are secondary to an uneventful matter of lineage that yields first defensive spluttering at the ways of the new world, then tatty and obvious platitudes. Cox grants the occasional sentiment a semblance of heft, but everything else gets flimsier by the frame.

Rory's Way opens in selected cinemas from today.

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