mon 18/11/2019

Third Star | reviews, news & interviews

Third Star

Third Star

Road-trip buddy movie doesn't quite know where it's coming or going

Benedict Cumberbatch in 'Third Star': His adroitness is not enough to keep a sentimental road trip on track

A low-budget Britflick in which four middle-class young men go on a sentimental road trip to Pembrokeshire: doesn’t sound like much of a movie, does it? The twist is that one of them has terminal cancer. To prick your interest further, he’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch. There is a small actorly elite whose members can read out the phone directory and make it sound like the King James Bible. Cumberbatch has lately become one of them. He’s the reason Third Star got past first base and boy does it lean heavily on the charisma of his performance.

The title is a misquotation from Peter Pan – “second star to the right and straight on till morning” (although the word “star” was in fact added to the Disney animation). The difference is that unlike Pan, the gift of eternal youth has been thrust upon Cumberbatch’s character: he is already facing certain death and glugging liquid morphine when we meet him blowing out the candles on his 30th birthday cake. His three oldest chums have been enlisted to take him on a nostalgic trip to a favourite corner of the Welsh coast. A sturdy chair rigged to wheels is brought along as transport for the invalid, and off they trot armed with rucksacks, tents and a determination to go wild.

“Don’t you ever get the urge to do something really dangerous?” Cumberbatch’s character James is soon asking his pals. This buddy movie promises more than it delivers in that regard. The boys get into a pub punch-up, winch themselves precariously down a sheer wall, ride James’s wheelie contraption down a grassy slope (pictured below). It’s as if the script has dropped half a tab of Ecstasy to get itself up for the trip of a lifetime. Along the way James, who has nothing to lose and loose ends to tie up, wants to talk about the afterlife and lectures his pals about how they are wasting the lives that have been gifted to them. Miles (JJ Feild) is a novelist thwarted by grief. Bill (Adam Robertson) is in a cul-de-sac both professionally and romantically. Davy (Tom Burke) is a carer motivated by neediness. Tensions may ebb and flow, but it's somehow difficult to make any emotional investment in the characters in front of you, let alone the ones they often refer to offscreen.

bb-02Somewhere inside Third Star there is a thoughtful drama about the awfully big adventure. Among other Edwardian tints to Vaughan Sivell’s script are faint allusions to the explorers of the Heroic Age. When one of their tents is incinerated by a wayward firework they cram like Captain Scott’s men into one tent. And there is a palpable sense that James, like Captain Oates, is preparing himself for self-sacrifice. JM Barrie and Scott, it's worth recalling, were great friends. But these allusions are not flattering.

Patagonia, another recent Welsh film, looked death and disappointment in the face with much less of a manipulative hand on the tiller. Third Star, directed by Hattie Dalton, looks beautiful enough, even if there are maybe too many shots of the quartet on clifftops in twilight. And there are some colourful cameos: a ferryman in eyeliner (Karl Johnson), an acid-casualty beachcomber (Hugh Bonneville in denim hotpants, if you can picture that), a surly boy in angel’s wings who steals Miles’s watch (time being a commodity which is running out). They all feel like mythic figures who have been flown in from older, bigger tales.

However much welly Cumberbatch gives to his performance, crying and laughing and suffering ever so adroitly, it’s not enough to authenticate a film that doesn’t quite know what it is or who its characters are. One of them passingly alludes to “unnecessary fake soul-searching which everyone is doing these days”. In a film which asks you to accept its own soul-searching as non-bogus, such a hostage to fortune really does count as dangerous.

Watch the trailer to Third Star


It’s as if the script has dropped half a tab of Ecstasy to get itself up for the trip of a lifetime

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You're lucky you even got to see it. The film is only in 1 cinema in London and a few University halls. Not sure why anyone's actually reviewing the film based on so few screens showing it. As a fan of Cumberbatch it looks like I'll have to wait for the DVD.

Doesn't sound much of a movie? Four middle class young men on a sentimental road trip to Pembrokeshire? I'm trying to think what could be more of a movie than that.

It was gut-wrenching. I cried like a friggin baby, and I think the fact that you know minimal information about the characters actually works in its favor because you can imagine yourself in the story. The chemistry between the 4 characters is what makes the film worth watching. There's certainly enough to make you realize that Cumberbatch's character is beloved and non-expendable. Honestly, few dramas I've ever watched have made it so difficult to breathe. You don't want the inevitable to happen, and just like the characters in the film, you (the audience) are powerless to stop it. Cumberbatch is a master at making you like him and then hanging on that moment between life and death. If you can find it, folks, see it. It's beautiful.

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