Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Joe Wright – Movies Spotlight – April 2011

British director Joe Wright is best known for his engaging period dramas. Making his first feature film in 2005, he has since established himself as part of the new generation of auteur filmmakers with fantastic style and narrative command. This month his new film Hanna opens starring Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett. It looks to be a wonderfully kinetic film combining action and thriller aspects with a coming-of-age story (plus a great score from The Chemical Brothers).

Early Career:

Wright got his start at a young age working for his parent’s puppet theatre. He had always had an interest in the arts: painting, making films with his Super 8 camera and spending time acting with a local drama club. Being dyslexic, he left school and decided to take classes at the Anna Scher Theatre School. From there, he acted professionally on stage and camera. He spent a year at Camberwell College of Arts before taking a degree in fine arts and film at Central St Martins where he received a scholarship from the BBC to make a short film, Crocodile Snap. It was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Short Film. On the success of his shorts, he was offered to direct the serial Nature Boy, which was also critically heralded. From there he worked on the well-received TV series Bob & Rose and Bodily Harm, culminating with his work on The Last King (aka Charles II: The Power & the Passion) which won the BAFTA for Best Drama Serial in 2004. With his success Wright was ready to tackle features.

Music Video Director:

However before working in TV and then film, Wright had a very successful career directing and producing music videos. During the 90s, he worked for Oil Factory a music video production company based in Kings Cross. Throughout his time there, he occupied a variety of roles. He also got the opportunity to direct a few of the videos himself, giving him early exposure to professional directing work, which helped him formulate his second short The End. He also created visuals for various electronic bands such as The Chemical Brothers and Underworld. Wright lists the aesthetic and emotion of the UK rave scene as an influence on his work.

Period Dramas:

After tons of success in TV, Wright made the jump to features with his adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Pride & Prejudice. The film stars Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, winning Knightley an Oscar Best Actress nomination as well as Wright a Most Promising Newcomer BAFTA. The film was universally praised by critics and showcased Wright’s wonderful aesthetic style, utilizing a fluid camera (with a few long takes, that have become a directing trademark), and an attention to character and narrative structure. One film in, and Wright was already a director to watch – Variety naming him one of their 10 directors to watch in 2006. For his next film, Wright tackled Ian McEwan’s esteemed novel Atonement. Working with essentially the same principal crew, he again cast Knightley to star (setting forth a continual working relationship including a series of Chanel commercials, here is the latest), James McAvoy, Vanessa Redgrave and Saoirse Ronan (star of his new film Hanna) round out the excellent cast. The film focuses on a relationship and the lie that devastates it, set in war-time England during WWII. The film features a particularly brilliant look at the British evacuation at Dunkirk (done with quite an astounding long take tracking shot). The film again shows off Wright’s directing skill and style, resulting in an Oscar win for Best Score, nomination for Best Picture and supporting actress for Ronan and winning a BAFTA for Best Film. These two films catapulted Wright into auteur status. Atonement opened the Venice Film Festival, making Wright the youngest director ever to have a film open the festival. But everyone has a hiccup now and then.

The Hiccup:

For his third film, Wright decided to leave England and not work again with Knightley instead making an American film with American stars. He took on the difficult story of a homeless Julliard-trained musician and cast Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. to star. The Soloist was initially scheduled to be released by Universal Pictures and DreamWorks in November of 2008. But after testing poorly, the studios realized that Wright had not delivered the Oscar bait that they had hoped. The film was delayed until April of 2009 and released by Paramount Pictures to mediocre reviews. The film is not bad; it is just very disappointing given Wright’s previous work.

Future Projects:

Wright returns to Europe and familiar cast members (Ronan and Tom Hollander who was also in Pride & Prejudice) with Hanna. Next up for Wright is his adaptation of Anna Karenina, which he will be again working with Knightley on (they were also briefly rumored to be working together on a new version of My Fair Lady, but it fell apart). It is scheduled for release in 2012. He is also attached to a project called Indian Summer and rumored to be making a live action version of The Little Mermaid.

Joe Wright’s Career Highlights:

1.)    The Last King (2003) – Director [DVD/Rent]
2.)    Pride & Prejudice (2005) – Director* [Blu-ray/DVD/Rent]
3.)    Atonement (2007) – Director* [Blu-ray/DVD/Rent]
*Editor’s Picks

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