The film actually makes the fictional landscape of the gangster film more real, by taking its troublesome boys and distant, unknowable broads and making them children at an age when that’s just the way things are. The mysterious sexual tension is made strangely innocent, though the archetypes haven’t changed from when Bogart and Cagney inhabited them. Bugsy Malone is a gangster film that took a good look at itself and wondered if it could do better. It’s really close.
Without Joe’s perspective of the world he hates, there’s nothing – not even resentment – with which we can empathize. Joe is left merely with things we can’t condone. This doesn’t prevent it from stopping your blood with its performances. The depth of Cage’s eyes describes hurt in ways that words fail.
Martin Campbell, who mined James Bond for the repressed roar of all his debonair instincts in Casino Royale, seems to have no mission briefing on Quan. The Foreigner is so disinterested in its lead that it seems to be made by a computer, which would not be able to tell who is more interesting except by how handsome they are.
From Willem Dafoe approximating a German to Penelope Cruz approximating a maid to Judy Dench stretching no imaginations as a frowsy curd whose gaze would cure mustard, the train certainly carries cargo with the promise of becoming precious. But the cogs it winds up never outgrow their clock: the plot remands wit to the backstage of Branagh’s eyes and the film lulls almost indefinitely as soon as the mystery begins.
What DreamWorks have done with Ghost in the Shell, if it is a cultural invasion, is more potent than catering to an international market (or their idea of it). The new film is an inversion of its material, to an extent that its entire symbolic framework has been hacked by the virus of three-act Western superhero stories.