Red Lights boasts an impressive cast with a unique plot. Robert De Niro plays a reclusive psychic, part stage magician part Uri Geller. Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy are professors in psychology who test such gifted people in laboratory conditions that always prove them frauds. Toby Jones and Elizabeth Olsen co-star.
Parts of the film that debunk charlatan tricks are interesting but the action keeps progressing to sparks and loud noises in place of psychic phenomenon. As occasionally interesting as Red Lights unfolds the film never finds a foothold as to whether it wants to be Poltergeist without ghosts or a more reality based psychological thriller.
It’s a far cry from The Watch, a film that trips on every genre stone it attempts to overturn. There’s comedy aplenty though none of the laughs stick. Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, and Jonah Hill do their shtick and The Watch feels like the least interesting episode of a television series that’s doomed to cancellation. One interesting character, sort of the fourth wheel, not unlike Ernie Hudson in Ghostbusters, is played by UK actor Richard Ayoade (who directed last year’s brilliant coming of age tale Submarine). Ayoade gets some smiles mainly because unlike his buddies in the film his shtick is new. The Watch is epic failure from its R-rated vigilante jokes to its aliens taking over Earth subplot.
Trishna finds Michael Winterbottom adapting his muse Thomas Hardy with radiant results. Winterbottom has done magnificent Hardy adaptations in the past: The Claim, Jude, and now Trishna based on Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
Setting the story in India and moving the story to contemporary time allows Winterbottom to keep the themes of Hardy’s book intact while slightly changing the ending still finds room to explore the different castes of society.
In an elaborate style that uses different editing techniques to advance the story Winterbottom at times lets the action progress in single shots, while other times cutting fast and furious as if to comment on the many layers of economic and social strata the characters are experiencing. An educated man (Riz Ahmed) from a wealthy family helps a poor woman (Freida Pinto), whose family lives in a peaceful kind of squalor, advance by getting her a job at one of his father’s hotels. At first their romance is very boy-meets-girl cute but that soon evolves into a more meaningful physical relation. As in any love affair one person soon emerges as the stronger and therein lays Trishna’s trajectory. Trishna delivers a moving meditation on relationships and the role community plays in keeping people on separate playing fields. The story while serious enough has the kind of scope that gives credence to all the characters at different times, establishing them in their environment then moving them into other spheres of influence.
– Michael Bergeron