Film Reviews: Bethlehem, Better Living Through Chemistry, Le Week-End, UWANTME2KILLHIM
Frontiers Staff

Starring Shadi Mar’i, Tsahi Halevi, Hisham Suliman
* * * *

Bethlehem is an urgent and gripping drama about Sanfur (Mar’i), an Arab teenager working as an undercover asset for Razi (Halevi), an Israeli Secret Service officer. When Razi’s brother, Ibrahim (Suliman), takes responsibility for a suicide bombing in Jerusalem, various double crosses and betrayals occur. The dramatic tension builds as Sanfur and Razi’s relationship is possibly compromised. Director Yuval Adler keeps the characters and their motivations clear, and he moves the action along nimbly. A sequence in which Ibrahim is chased and killed is particularly intense. There are also some shocking acts of violence. Viewers will be absorbed in the drama and care deeply about the lead characters as they operate in secret and face pressures ranging from Sanfur’s uneasy relationship with his family to Razi getting static from his boss, who perceives he made a procedural error. Adler conveys a strong sense of time and place, creating a feel for the stresses of daily life in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Both Mar’i and Halevi are excellent; they are particularly expressive when they are hiding their real emotions. If the film gets a little contrived in the last act—when a situation prompts Sanfur and Razi to confront each other—Bethlehem still ends powerfully.
—Gary M. Kramer

Better Living Through Chemistry
Starring Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Norbert Leo Butz
* *

Doug Varney (Rockwell) is a milquetoast pharmacist married to the aggressively fit Kara (Michelle Monaghan). Doug doesn’t connect with his troubled 12-year-old son, Ethan (Harrison Holzer), and has just taken over his bullying father-in-law’s (Ken Howard) drugstore. Doug dispenses medication for others, but he needs a tonic himself. So when he meets Elizabeth (Wilde), the bored trophy wife of Jack (Ray Liotta), he finds a kindred spirit. They begin an intense affair, which is enhanced with drugs from his store’s shelves. The adulterers also plot to kill Jack and run away together. As Doug becomes empowered with Elizabeth’s tutelage and influence, he bonds with his son, mans up with his wife and is unexpectedly investigated by DEA agent Andrew Carp (Butz). Better Living Through Chemistry has all the makings of a snarky farce, but most of its comedy falls flat. There is a glimmer of joy when Rockwell hits his manic comic stride, going ninja badass with Ethan, but the exchanges between Doug and Agent Carp lack tension and humor. Wilde plays the femme fatale role well, but the film lacks sizzle when she is off-screen. Better Living Through Chemistry needs an injection of fun. —G.M.K.

Le Week-End
Starring Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Jeff Goldblum
* *

Le Week-End has the pedigree of a high-class romantic comedy—its director is Roger Michell (of Notting Hill fame) and it’s set in the city of amour, Paris. Following an elderly British couple who escape for a romantic weekend to recapture their spark, Le Week-End plays like a French New Wave romantic tragedy. It begins as light as air—Meg and Nick Burrows (Duncan and Broadbent) arrive in Paris on the Eurostar, grab a taxi to the old Montmartre hotel they stayed in 30 years before and then, soon after, the conflict begins. She hates the upgrades (too much beige); he’s neutral on the suite and only wants to please his wife. But Meg has an arsenal of mercurial emotions that are whiplash quick. She can both praise and cut down her husband in the width of a single sentence. He has troubles of his own. (He’s recently been asked to resign from his philosophy post.) Broadbent and Duncan are magnificent, inhabiting the minefield of a resilient marriage, and Goldblum delights as the vain writer they run into. Yet the film beats us down. Its charms grow weary before the weekend nears its end. —Dan Loughry

Starring Jamie Blackley, Toby Regbo, Joanne Froggatt
* * * *

On June 29, 2003, in North London, Mark (Blackley) stabbed his classmate John (Regbo). Based on a true story (reported in Vanity Fair), UWANTME2KILLHIM toggles back and forth in time, presenting the months leading up to the crime and its curious aftermath. It’s an absorbing story of how Mark befriended his victim after falling in love with John’s sister Rachel (Jaime Winstone) over the internet. While viewers might suspect Mark is being catfished, the unlikely bromance that develops between the handsome, popular Mark and the lonely, bullied John is all too real. UWANTME2KILLHIM takes interesting twists as Mark asks Janet (Liz White) an MI5 agent, the titular question. While he ignores her warnings, his friends and family ignore the warning signs the troubled Mark is giving off. Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Clayton (Frogatt) uncovers the truth behind Mark’s actions. UWANTME2KILLHIM may be a cautionary tale about bad lads wanting “mad lives,” but director Andrew Douglas wisely concentrates on the palpable bond between the boys. Blackley and Regbo deftly convey Mark’s susceptibility and John’s vulnerability as they hang out, play videogames and imagine scenarios to exact revenge on Rachel’s abusive boyfriend. The big reveal may not be shocking, but it still has some potency. —G.M.K.

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