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The long White House service of an African-American butler
Cecil Ganes (Forest Whitaker) is used as a prism through
which we view the development of the civil-rights movement.
As the liveried Cecil, silent and dignified, serves sandwiches
and coffee and exchanges courtesies with a variety of chief
executives, Cecil’s son, Louis (David Oyelowo), becomes a
militant and manages to hit every highlight, including the
Freedom Rides in 1961, and Martin Luther King’s motel room
on the day that he’s shot. The movie’s right-mindedness is
relieved now and then by scenes at Cecil’s house, where his
wife, Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), grows restive and resentful,
drinks and dallies with a neighbor.
The title of Neil Blomkamp’s new film, set in the year 2154,
refers to a space station: a haven for the wealthy, spinning just
beyond the limits of our polluted planet. Our hero is Max (Matt
Damon), who, like the majority of humans, toils and sweats on
Earth, where the cops are intemperate robots. After an accident
at work, he takes on a reckless task, assailing an evil billionaire
(William Fichtner) and winding up on a shuttle to Elysium,
hell-bent on reaching this artificial heaven and obtaining
justice. Rather than viewing a future world from a distance and
admiring its digital enhancements, we feel thrust into the thick
of it with such immediacy and sensory impact that, like most of
its inhabitants, we can only dream of escape.
This mild romantic comedy has an up-front twist that’s beside
the point. Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a California divorcée who
works as a masseuse, goes to a party and meets Marianne
(Catherine Keener), a poet who becomes a client and a friend,
and Albert (James Gandolfini), a TV historian, who soon
becomes Eva’s boyfriend – and who turns out to be Marianne’s
ex-husband. Much else is beside the point, too, such as Eva’s
trivial conflicts with her daughter, Ellen (Tracey Fairaway),
who’s about to leave home for college, as is Albert and
Marianne’s daughter, Tess (Eve Hewson).
The New Yorker. September 23, 2013, p. 22 (adapted).