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CANNES — After a disastrous mission in the Arab world, a top British journalist hopes she’ll just have to report on cats stuck in trees in Sussex in A Dark Reflection, from pilot-turned-filmmaker Tristan Loraine.
This handsomely mounted fiction feature is a logical extension of Loraine’s filmography, which notably includes the 2007 documentary Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines, about contaminated cabin air on planes. The dangerous problem, which affected Loraine’s own health when he was a commercial airline pilot, is clearly still at the forefront of his mind, as a fictionalized but very similar story is uncovered by the intrepid protagonist of his latest film.
Though clearly both passionate and knowledgeable about the subject, the narrative proper feels more often like a low-rent, TV-movie Erin Brockovich, which means the film will have to try and sell itself on the merits of its still under-reported subject, rather than its execution. Following its Cannes market premiere (reviewed here), the film was substantially recut with new scenes added and the running time shortened.
The early going drops audiences right into a dangerous — mainly because Moritz Schmittat’s score tell us so — reporting job that the apparently fearless Helen (Georgina Sutcliffe) is doing somewhere in the Middle East (and shot in Jordan). It’s not really clear what she’s investigating, also because her quick interactions with the locals, in Arabic, aren’t subtitled, though the sequence is clearly more about the emotional shock of Helen seeing her cameraman (Luke White) being killed in front of her eyes, which leads her to a job interview for a small local newspaper in Sussex where she hopes she can take it easy for a while.
Of course she won’t, as otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a movie, and this is telegraphed from the very start, when she’s introduced to the chatty Natasha (Rita Ramnani), a fawning cub reporter at the paper who follows Helen on Twitter — which the film seems to think proves Helen must’ve been a really big deal when she was reporting on whatever it was she was reporting on before — and who becomes the veteran’s loyal sidekick and guide to local sources. Also livening up the scenes at the Sussex Standard offices, though of little narrative value, is the paper’s seen-it-all editor, played with scenery-chewing gusto by Paul Antony-Barber (V for Vendetta).
The big story Helen and Natasha have to uncover is handed to them on a silver platter by Joe (TJ Herbert), a middle-aged air traffic controller who suspects that the almost-accident that got him suspended is really due to something inside the plane that made the pilots drowsy. Oh, and apparently Joe is also Helen’s boyfriend, though the film doesn’t really have time for the characters’ private lives, even though one assumes that between having witness the killing of a colleague and being suspended for something they probably didn’t do, these two would have a lot to talk about.
In a parallel strand, the top brass of the fictional company Jasp Air are introduced, so they can twirl their mustaches and menacingly say things in the vein of “I want to know if she books a ticket on one of our flights and I want to know it immediately!” It’s a shame the film paints its villains so clearly and so early on, as it robs the films of suspense as well as nuance since they are so clearly the bad guys, though their bad behavior apparently doesn’t extend to harming people who aren’t on their flights, which leads to the quick deflation of several supposedly nail-biting sequences in which nothing happens to Helen, even if, again, the score might like to make us think otherwise.
The film, which was supported by various airline crews and unions, is certainly didactic about the problems associated with contaminated air but as a thriller about an investigative reporter, it has neither a character audiences can relate to emotionally — since Helen has no private life to speak of — nor a savoir-faire in terms of mise-en-scene that would allow the film to become something of a white-knuckle ride.
That said, the acting is adequate and Nicholas Eriksson‘s cinematography crisp.
Production company: Fact Not Fiction Films
Cast: Georgina Sutcliffe, Stephen Thompkinson, TJ Herbert, Rita Ramnani
Director: Tristan Loraine
Screenwriters: Tristan Loraine, Vivienne Young
Producer: Tristan Loraine
Executive producers: John Hoyte, Adrian G. Pop, Ian Ryder-Smith, John Davison
Director of photography: Nicholas Eriksson
Production designer: Chloe Potter
Costume designer: Ella Lewis
Editor: Tristan Loraine
Composer: Moritz Schmittat
Sales: Fact Not Fiction Films
No rating, 110 minutes
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