Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

12/06/2017

 

The Man Who Invented Christmas
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (Bleecker Street) is a charming fact-based historical drama that tells the origin story of Victorian author Charles Dickens’ beloved 1843 novella, “A Christmas Carol.”

Dan Stevens brings brio to his portrayal of the complex writer, whose humanitarian instincts seem, initially, to benefit all but those closest to him. And the film as a whole shares much of the warmth of the slender volume whose creation it chronicles.

With his last three titles having failed to sell, Dickens fears falling into debt if his next production is equally unpopular. But, having struck on the idea of a holiday-themed narrative, he struggles with writer’s block and with the endless distractions of his burgeoning family’s domestic life.

A visit from his feckless father, John (Jonathan Pryce), whom Dickens blames for the sufferings of his childhood — flashbacks show us his grim life as an apprentice is a shoe polish factory — is a particular source of worry and conflict. Dickens, who fancifully summons up, and interacts with, his own characters, also spars with dour miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) who here serves as a naysaying critic of Dickens’ work.

When his publishers, Chapman (Ian McNeice) and Hall (David McSavage), turn the prospective volume down, Dickens resolves to publish it himself, thus raising the financial stakes still further. He does at least enjoy the steady encouragement of his patient wife, Kate (Morfydd Clark), and of his friend and unpaid literary agent, John Forster (Justin Edwards).

The conversion story Dickens eventually pens finds a real-life counterpart in the amendment of his own behaviour. So director Bharat Nalluri’s adaptation of Les Standiford’s 2008 book has some positive lessons to convey about consideration and forgiveness.

Since it’s also family-friendly in most respects — a solitary instance of mild bedroom humour is based entirely on inference — “The Man Who Invented Christmas” will likely prove a winner with a broad range of age groups.

The film contains a very vague sexual joke and a single mild oath. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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Roman J. Israel, Esq.
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Writer-director Dan Gilroy’s drama “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” (Columbia) is a generally intriguing character study pitting idealism against the hard realities of contemporary life and the allure of wealth and comfort.

Though the film takes left-wing values for granted, even conservatives may recognize its appeal, much of which derives from an intense performance by Denzel Washington in the title role.

Roman is a disheveled, eccentric civil rights lawyer in Los Angeles who toils behind the scenes so that his legendary senior partner and mentor, William Henry Jackson, can perform successfully in the courtroom. As the movie starts off, Jackson — whom the audience never sees — is stricken by a critical illness from which he is unlikely to recover.

Roman tries to take over Jackson’s case load. But his uncompromising attitude soon has him at odds with prosecutors and judges alike — he’s cited for contempt in one of his first appearances.

Jackson’s niece, Lynn (Amanda Warren), soon makes it clear that the end has come for the unprofitable partnership. Successful high-end attorney George Pierce (Colin Farrell), a former student of Jackson’s whom Roman regards as a sellout, is brought into to supervise its dissolution.

Desperate for a job, Roman turns to social activist Maya Alston (Carmen Ejogo). But the organization whose local office she heads is not hiring. Instead, Roman is forced to consider going mainstream when George offers him a position in his downtown firm.

Though Gilroy’s dialogue sometimes lapses into political rhetoric, the moral shadings of the two main characters keep the proceedings from becoming dull. George is not the uncaring shyster he at first appears, while Roman turns out to be capable, under pressure, of a serious moral lapse. Once committed, his misdeed and its consequences drive the plot forward toward and keep tension high.

Roman and Maya develop a quasi-romantic friendship but one so discreet it never goes beyond the kissing stage. And the minimal violence in the movie is heard but not seen.

The film contains fleeting off-screen violence, several uses of profanity and a milder oath, a single rough term and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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