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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Safe House
Adapted from Deborah Moggach’s novel These Foolish Things, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a hilarious and touching comedy about growing old disgracefully. Ol Parker’s warm and witty script provides the predominantly British cast with moments to shine and tug our heartstrings as love is lost and found beneath a foreign sun. John Madden, who directed the Oscar-winning Shakespeare In Love, captures a different side to life in India than the poverty and crime of Slumdog Millionaire.
The teeming streets of Rajasthan burst with colour and vitality and composer Thomas Newman adds plenty of spice with his evocative score. Performances are an embarrassment of riches, from Maggie Smith’s racist housekeeper, who surveys a black nurse at her local hospital and sneers, “He can wash all he likes — that colour’s not coming out”, to Penelope Wilton’s well-to-do wife, who constantly belittles her husband, telling him, “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”
Evelyn (Judi Dench) has recently lost her husband and is coming to terms with solitude in her twilight years. Determined to start anew, she abandons Britain for the balmier climes of Jaipur and a grand retirement home called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. En route, she meets six other retirees all bound for this “luxury development for residents in their golden years”: cantankerous wheelchair user Muriel (Smith), who is bypassing the NHS waiting lists to undergo a hip replacement abroad; waspish snob Jean (Wilton) and her long-suffering husband Douglas (Bill Nighy); retired judge Graham (Tom Wilkinson); ladies’ man Norman (Ronald Pickup); and love-hungry spinster Madge (Celia Imrie).
When the exhausted travellers arrive at their destination, they discover a building in disrepair and an inexperienced manager, Sonny (Dev Patel), struggling to keep the creditors off his back. “I have a dream to outsource old age. And it is not just for the British. There are other countries that hate old age!” he informs his dubious guests.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a delight, milking laughter and tears as characters reach crossroads in their lives. Like The King’s Speech, it’s a film with appeal across the generations, tapping into universal fears of being forgotten in old age.
Dench is the emotional heart, narrating drolly in voiceover, while Wilkinson delivers a beautifully nuanced performance as a man with heartbreaking ties to India. Imrie and Pickup are delicious comic relief, the latter asked at one point: “Aren’t you scared about having sex at your age?” Without missing a beat, he replies: “If she dies, she dies!”
Smith is in imperious form as a xenophobic working-class battle-axe, who shuns Indian food in favour of packets of chocolate biscuits because “I don’t eat anything I can’t pronounce”.
Agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is caretaker of a CIA hide-out in Johannesburg in Safe House. Humdrum routine is thrown into disarray by the arrival of grizzled agent Daniel Kiefer (Robert Patrick) with a prisoner: rogue operative Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), who famously sold out the agency to the highest bidder.
In the middle of a highly charged interrogation, the building’s defences are compromised by a gang of gun-toting thugs led by Vargas (Fares Fares).
Matt escapes the hail of bullets with Tobin, bundling the prisoner into the boot of a car as he makes a hasty exit, alerting his boss David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) and senior agent Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga) to the clear and present danger as a protracted game of cat and mouse begins through the streets of South Africa.
Safe House accelerates into top gear in the frenetic opening ten minutes and barely touches the brakes as director Espinosa orchestrates each set piece with aplomb, including an extended car chase that culminates in vehicles smashing through the central reservation into the face of oncoming traffic.
A race through the crowded favelas of Johannesburg has obvious similarities to the highly-charged Morocco sequence from The Bourne Ultimatum, but still gets our blood pumping as corrugated iron roofs give way under the strain of stampeding feet.