Director Nick Love knows how to pick up a poisoned chalice. In choosing to tackle a modern day take on Alan Clarkes 1989 The Firm, he risks the wrath of upsetting those who regard the original so highly, while also being accused of jumping aboard the remake bandwagon. As it turns out, though, he gets away with it all. Loves version of The Firm wisely uses the early film as inspiration rather than a firm template. Thus, while the setting remains underground football violence, Love switches the attention to a different character, the youngster breaking into the crowd. This allows the narrative to focus on his becoming accepted by the group, and then his struggle to break free, which settles into a solid three-act story. Its very much aimed at an adult audience, but that doesnt mean that The Firm is a cheap piece of cinema. Far from it, as it happens. Loves film mixed in sharp violence with sparks of humour, and does so to very good effect. In the process, it sidesteps comparisons to the original by simply going off in a different direction, and works well because of it. Its a little more tempered than some of Nick Loves earlier work too, but perhaps as a consequence, its also his best film to date.
With no fewer than eight couples vying for our attention, Love Actually is like the London Marathon of romantic comedies, and everybody wins. Having mastered the genre as the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’s Diary, it appears that first-time director Richard Curtis is just like his screenplays: he just wants to be loved, and he’ll go to absurdly appealing lengths to win our affection. With Love Actually, Curtis orchestrates a minor miracle of romantic choreography, guiding a brilliant cast of stars and newcomers as they careen toward love and holiday cheer in London, among them the Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who’s smitten with his caterer (Martine McCutcheon); a widower (Liam Neeson) whose young son nurses the ultimate schoolboy crush; a writer (Colin Firth) who falls for his Portuguese housekeeper; a devoted wife and mother (Emma Thompson) coping with her potentially unfaithful husband (Alan Rickman); and a lovelorn American (Laura Linney) who’s desperately attracted to a colleague. There’s more–too much more–as Curtis wraps his Christmas gift with enough happy endings to sweeten a dozen other movies. That he pulls it off so entertainingly is undeniably impressive; that he does it so shamelessly suggests that his writing fares better with other, less ingratiating directors. —Jeff Shannon