My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
This week focuses on three films directed by Bruce Beresford.
KING DAVID (1985)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Bruce Beresford deserves a lot of credit for making King David one of the most serious Bible adaptations. His locations and visuals are stunning and if I ever work with such material, his film will be a major reference point. However, the script for King David is not strong enough to make it a successful picture.
Deciding to take on too much of David’s life, the result is episodic and spread too thin. The major issue is that Richard Gere (not a good fit for period pieces in my opinion) and the director don’t have time to really develop his character, to show us the true nature of his person. His thoughts, feelings, and faith are unclear from beginning to end, even though I do believe Gere put out his best effort. Again, they try to cram too much in and it becomes a muddled mess. The dramatic failure is not doing more with the Bathsheba story and betrayal of her husband. That could have been a powerful plot point to show that David, who appeared to be the holy contrast to Saul, was capable of the same selfish behavior.
The film is worth watching for its epic battle scenes and stunning location photography. The definitive Bible film has not been made in my opinion. But there is a script out there…
Watched on Amazon Prime.
MISTER JOHNSON (1990)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
I can see why this Bruce Beresford film has not held a firm place in film conversation like BREAKER MORANT. It is even more complex and nuanced that that masterful work, perhaps not quite as good but deserving of renewed attention.
I would categorize MISTER JOHNSON as a picaresque tale. Much like BARRY LYNDON, the episodic narrative follows Johnson through a series of misadventures where he almost achieves success but undermines his own efforts and brilliance. Maynard Eziashi delivers an incredible performance and he’s surrounded by a number of great supporting roles, including a fantastic Pierce Brosnan.
Very critical of most films set in Africa which feel phony, this is one of the best. Bruce Beresford, one of the “Australian New Wave”, does not get enough credit for his ability to transcend nationality and capture the spirit of the place from his very American TENDER MERCIES to this fine work.
Watched on Criterion Channel.
MR. CHURCH (2016)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
I am not at all familiar with Beresford’s recent work. His work from the 80s and 90s remains greatly under-appreciated. If MR. CHURCH is an indication of his current output, he has sadly slipped away from his best instincts.
Despite lots of potential, this well-meaning movie just does not work. I wanted it to be a late-career triumph for Eddie Murphy. He chooses, under Beresford’s supervision, to play Mr. Church in a very under-stated style. It’s ultimately a mistake, going against Murphy’s undeniable charisma. He has been strongest during the 21st century in roles that echoed his iconic performances of the 80s, like DREAMGIRLS and DOLEMITE. Here, his attempt to withdraw and internalize just comes off as flat. I can tell he cares but the results are dull.
Beyond that, MR. CHURCH is just too perfect of a package. Yes, there are some tragic moments but everything is wrapped up tight with a nice little bow. And I’m not quite sure what the story really is. There’s no true narrative in the sense of a character changing from beginning to end. People die, things happen, and everyone goes on as they were before. In some ways, it feels like Beresford and company may have stayed too close to the source material when they should have worked to improve it for the screen.
Watched on Tubi