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London Fields: Director’s Cut

London Fields is awash with controversy. Starting in 2001, screenwriters and directors have been yearning to bring Martin Amis’s prose to the big screen. When it was ready for release in 2015, director Matthew Cullen sued the producer’s for using a cut he did not support. Barring it from festival viewpoint, the film was finally released in 2018, where it became a critical bomb. However you feel about Rotten Tomatoes as a system, establishing 0% as a grade shows that something went very, very wrong along the way.

And it needn’t have been that way. Watching Cullen’s vision, there is a measured picture of neo-noir nihilism at play here, detailing the turmoils and tyrannies Billy Bob Thornton’s distressed writer undergoes, through a kaleidoscope of psychedelic images. A space craft hovers over the Johnny Nash single I Can See Clearly Now, juxtaposing a cylindrical journey into the outré. Thornton, laptop ridden and scared, brings a surprisingly nuanced performance, betwixt the pictures he sees of the irrepressibly beautiful Amber Heard. Admittedly, I am biased to director’s cuts. Both Brazil and Batman V Superman benefitted hugely from their original vision, tarnished by shorter run times. Richard Donner’s Superman II flew much better when shorn of the myriad gags. Blade Runner was a film more cryptic in tone when Ridely Scott re-cut the film, much to his fans delight. The same logic applies to Cullen, bringing a compelling tale to the screens.

Clairvoyant femme fatale Nicola Six has been living with a dark premonition of her impending death by murder. She begins a love affair with three different men, one of whom she knows will be her murderer. If there’s an eerie sense of déjà vu, there should be. It stars Heard.

Much has changed in Heard’s life since 2015. She’s made it into the news twice for stories truer than celluloid. Firstly, she and partner Johnny Depp apologised for falsifying quarantine documents, secondly, divorcing Depp with allegations too horrible to repeat. Unintentional these stories have been to her performance, they add a pathos, tragedy and stimulus to a performance heightened by Cullen’s excellent use of colourisation. A willowy “it normally ends very badly with me” response betrays demons foretelling the real life Heard. Distressing, Heard never gives less than an alluring performance in every scene.

Black and white television sets set the scene for a third world war. Heard wraps a bandage around the finger of a thug she knows all too well cares little for her. Thornton’s writer reads the pages alone, the layered light leaping at his face as he reads the narration. Cullen is a stylist cut from the same coloured cloth as Michael Mann is, London Fields shares many of its cues with Mann’s eighties opus Manhunter. There are derelict darkened hallways charged through with daylit demeanour demonstrating the good and the bad in one room. Whenever characters meet one another, their bodies stand apart. Thornton and Heard share many scenes together, yet they’re always alone. Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Desperado, Jackie Brown, Pan’s Labyrinth) finds the fine line between the horrific and the entertaining, brimming with visual cues cool in concomitant cuts.

Yet there’s fun behind the mass of bloodied fingers. A soundtrack inputting Sia, Nick Cave, Brian Eno, Johnny Nash, Lykke Li, Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark, Dire Straits, Apparatjik, and The London Philharmonic brings a collection of chilled songs to the film, ensuring certain levels of Tarantinoesque fun. Adding twelve minutes to the run time, Cullen ensures that Amis’s, admittedly, convoluted story has further room to breath and settle. It’s a dazzling display of detail, demonstrating the age old aphorism; the director always knows best