Film criticism for movie fans who want to think again about their cine thrills.




 2015 - The Shameless (still 5)

And why not, someone must have thought. The makers of The Shameless describe their movie as a hardboiled romantic thriller. The film has merit but despite the rewarding glimpses of the dark side of urban life it too often feels like hardboiled chocolate. Filmed in black and white it might have been different. The absence of colour would have softened the glamour and added oppression to the alienation. In The Shameless the police detective is handsome. He is super-slim and wears great clothes. His figure complements the long cigarettes he smokes. The actor is more than able but he looks like a film star. Mixing a gangster thriller and intimate romance is valid but it tilts the film towards the wandering plot lines of soap opera. Glossy characters patrolling a grim city give the film a distinct if confused identity.  Not sure if it exists but if there is a musical equivalent of The Shameless it would be called operatic grime.

The movie made money.  In the first five days after it was released a quarter of a million people made the hike to the cinemas to watch a police detective fall in love with a prostitute who was his senior.   The Shameless can be described as Klute for a different generation and an awful lot of South Koreans.  There may be more cinematic skill in The Shameless, and the movie is not without ideas. Compared, though, to what happened between Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland in Klute the relationship between prostitute Kim Hye-kyung and Detective Jung Jae-gon is undercooked. In Klute the prostitute and detective carry social symbolism and need one another to solve the crime and prevent more murders. The symbolism and the mechanics may be crude rather than subtle but they give the film Klute weight. There are moments in The Shameless when what is happening is too subtle, and there are others that are contrived.  Different genres collide.


When sex does occur between the couple, it feels like a one night affair between two strangers rather than an event in a complicated relationship. At least the tentative approach is consistent. The conversation the next morning, loaded with doubt and suspicion, is convincing and impressive. But by this point it belongs in another relationship.  The two violent confrontations are over-choreographed nihilism and are a stylistic intrusion in a movie that requires humanist sensitivity. The inter-gang warfare is relevant to the plot but it does not set a fitting context for the human drama that follows.   If anything it overcomplicates the narrative, and what is not properly explained hangs over the rest of the film and makes us suspicious about what we are watching.   Both the ending and the beginning of the film are weaknesses. The humanity that is revealed is believable, especially when we consider the reaction of Kim Hye-kyung to what has happened to her gangster lover. But it is marred by the final melodrama that follows, melodrama masquerading as ambiguity.

The style of the film, though, should not be dismissed. Darkness is important in The Shameless.   ‘Since I’m in the dark I’ve got nothing to confess,’ says someone. The darkness determines what people will do and what happens next. In the dark the characters can step out of the identities they use to survive in the brutal neoliberal world of South Korea.  Prostitute Kim Hye-kyung and her gangland lover are tough characters but alone they are different.   The aggressive and cold cynicism disappears and they become warm human beings.   This escape from the reality of a dog eat dog world sustains their relationship and each other.   The romance between Kim Hye-kyung and Detective Jung Jae-gon is different. There the relationship is defined by their occupations. The Detective is working undercover, and the prostitute thinks she is employing a hard-case minder. There is no darkness to help their relationship just tricks of the light.   Both betray and tell one another lies.


The city in The Shameless is sordid. In an early scene Detective Jung Jae-gon relaxes in a bath. The walls of the communal or public bathroom are dirty. Like all the locations in the film, it suggests decay and decline.   The Shameless is one of many South Korean films that present a jaundiced view of their society.   GDP may have increased since IMF constrictions were adopted or imposed but the soul has been taken out of their society argue the filmmakers.    The police are the brutal lackeys employed to impose order on the brutalised who themselves are ready to be brutal towards those they can rob or exploit. One of the detectives carries a baseball bat, and the plans they have for the genitals of suspects are best not mentioned.  The poor live in overcrowded homes. In one search Detective Jung Jae-gon steps on the various bodies that are sleeping in the one room.  From a distance the bodies look like additional waste that the economic system creates.  There is rubbish everywhere on the dark streets.  The consumerism of yesterday is the decay of today.

2015 - The Shameless (still 3)


The performance of Jeon Do-yeon as the hard as ice-cold nails prostitute is just about perfect. Before she drinks a glass of whisky she chews a couple of ice cubes. Her face is an indifferent mask, and her eyes are a protective shield that reflects away the thoughts and stares of her accusers. She is also believable as a drunk. Kim Nam-gil plays the Detective. Nam-gil can act, and his handsome features are no handicap when he has to brood. His Detective is better than the men with whom he works.   It requires a suspension of disbelief, though, to think of him as a policeman passing time eating fast food on his stakeouts although the scene where he eats junk food whilst eavesdropping on the couple that are making love succeeds on several levels. The actor Nam-gil appears to live an exemplary life. He is a responsible actor and is intent on preserving a cultural tradition that the moneymen want to destroy.   He supports noble causes.   The physical resemblance to Keanu Reeves, though, is unfortunate.

2015 - The Shameless (still 2)

The prostitute has inspired romanticism in both the male and female imagination. Male and female writers have wondered about their remote mystery and what might be happening behind the ice-cold stares.  Some writers have suggested that whores make the defiant protest of the outsider. The two best films about prostitutes are Vivre Sa Vie (My Life To Live) and Sommaren Med Monika (Summer With Monika). In Vivre Sa Vie, Jean-Luc Godard filmed the brothel as if it was a hospital where flawed men sought treatment and healing. He also created the image of the prostitute leaning her chin on the shoulder of her client and staring past his head into the distance. The prostitute finds solitude in the place where her client cannot see her face. The image was borrowed for Jane Fonda in Klute.   Ingmar Bergmann in Sommaren Med Monika was more puritanical. Monika was neither a victim nor an agent of protest.  Monika was a great person to help share the summer but that was her problem. She did not want the summer to end.  For Monika that meant avoiding work and settling for the favours from rich old men.

In The Shameless Kim Hye-kyung works as a prostitute because she is in debt.  Detective Jung Jae-gon is a policeman because he needs to earn a living.  They do what they do because they are obliged.  Both are required to be something they are not, to prostitute themselves and betray themselves and each other.  Identity is determined by subservience and status, the roles we play and how we prostitute ourselves. The rewards for prostitution are urban isolation and what will be in the rubbish bins of tomorrow.


A man who has always been prepared to settle for the complicated rewards of modern day-to-day survival is Donald Trump.  He likes to own golf courses and aeroplanes, especially now other people are paying for them.  Although he is able to flatter and seduce women there is no evidence of him being generous when not pursuing seduction. He prefers not to pay taxes.   Whether, like Detective Jung Jae-gon, he has been attracted to a prostitute and has made commitments he should not have, only Donald Trump will know.   He did, though, sleep with adult film star Stormy Daniels.   The feeding of Trump requires a production line, and Daniels, so she says, consented because she felt obliged. She was subservient, and he had the status.  The night and encounter should have been forgotten and would have been except someone was determined that Daniels kept quiet about the incident.   Daniels claims threats were made about harming her child.  Trump has an image to protect and maybe he has a sensitive side.  His reputation has had little regard to virtue.  Powerful men are concerned about status and rank.  It preoccupies the policemen in The Shameless. Trump does not want people to listen to anyone who will undermine his swagger. And the modern media is evidence that more than one piper can play the tune. The Shameless is correct. The tragedy for the President Of The United States is that money only adds to the decay that time demands.  His swagger has been confirmed as the bravado of an adolescent.

Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.





So far Tesis Sobre Un Homicidio has not been made available to the people of Britain.  The DVD, though, can be imported from Spain. The bonus is that it has English subtitles. Tesis Sobre Un Homicidio came from the same company that produced the memorable Argentinian movie, Los Secretos De Sus Ojos.  Inevitably the two films were compared. Los Secretos De Sus Ojos recalled the Argentinian dictatorship and was great but, despite the acclaim and relevance, it had one big hole in the plot and an overextended ending. Los Secretos De Sus Ojos was not perfect.  And neither is Tesis Sobre Un Homicidio.   Indeed most of the film is tosh.  Argentinian cinema, though, is accomplished and smart, the strongest in South America. There is tosh and slick tosh.



In the same way that grey London is often disguised by BBC drama the photography in Tesis Sobre Un Homicidio flatters Buenos Aires.  We see attractive restaurants, flawless apartments and really big buildings.  The movie is not just good to look at.  Tesis Sobre Un Homicidio is an example of how the conservative ears of cinema audiences can be satisfied without making the soundtrack routine. The orchestral arrangements remain but are highlighted by additions, simple chord arrangements emphasised by the piano or a horn. The contrived thriller plot of Tesis Sobre Un Homicidio may require indulgence but the film is more than a guilty pleasure.  If too much of what happens in Tesis Sobre Un Homicidio is unbelievable, the movie is luxuriant.  It also stimulates thought. The film has something to say about masculinity.  Female characterisation suffers, of course, but thanks to the presence of the handsome, sympathetic and accomplished actor Ricardo Darin as Roberto Bermúdez the film also appeals to women.

Mixing homage and the novel, clever audacity and some corn, Tesis Sobre Un Homicidio is rooted in or sourced from three films. These are the two classics by Hitchcock, Rear Window and Strangers On A Train, and the far from classic Sleuth.  Rear Window needed the paranoid suspicion of a weakened man.  Strangers On A Train had a destructive friendship between two accomplished but naïve males who were unable to understand one another.  Sleuth explored a problematical relationship between two men separated by age. All these elements exist in Tesis Sobre Un HomicidioSleuth began as a one set play.   Tesis Sobre Un Homicidio is Sleuth out on the streets and given fresh air.


There are benefits to growing old but they soon disappear when challenged by the young.  Tesis Sobre Un Homicido may have faults but no one can claim it lacks ambition. Too much ambition is the problem.  Tesis Sobre Un Homicido attempts to deliver a crowd pleasing thriller full of surprises and a psychological study of a flawed man and even masculinity.  Each of the two elements weakens the other.  The plot means less attention is given to the psychological aspect, and the psychological drama undermines a story that, because of its contrived and abstract nature, needs to be a watertight puzzle.  Rear Window and Strangers On A Train have daft plots and require coincidence but the psychology is handled in a light way.  Their plots survive as sound constructions.  Sleuth may have more fame but it is inferior to Tesis Sobre Un Homicidio. The Argentinian film is never quite as self-regarding or as self-important as Sleuth.  This makes it more likeable.  Of the three films that provide the source it is the most ambitious that is inferior to Tesis Sobre Un Homicidio. This is not a coincidence.



Throughout the movie the age of Roberto Bermúdez is made obvious and emphasised. He is an academic and legal celebrity who benefits from the flattery and attention of young admirers.  At the launch of his book he is picked up by a young attractive woman. They have a one-night stand, and later we are given a glimpse of her naked body.  The shot is discrete but it is enough for the audience to realise her physical perfection.  After the glimpse of the young woman the camera cuts to Roberto in his boxer shorts and t-shirt.  It is clear that this has not been a sexual encounter between physical equals. Roberto is phoning his ex-wife Monica, the woman he really wants to share his bed.  He apologises for the late call and tells Monica he was not aware of the time.  On at least three occasions in the film he has to ask someone the time.   When he visits a shopping mall, he asks Monica if the glasses he tries are suitable for his age. Roberto neither understands ageing nor how the passage of time will affect his life.  The emotional explosion of Roberto occurs in a discotheque. Frustrated by being remote from the young he becomes violent. His progress to self-destruction becomes inevitable. The discotheque scene is not the equal of the football match in Los Secretos De Sus Ojos but, like the tracking shot that leads into the football ground, there is no other discotheque in cinema that is so distinct. The entertainment is spectacular and loaded with surprise.  We see a man running and tied to a spot and bodies splash against a plastic sheet covered in water.   This peek into the sub-conscious reveals the troubled spirit of Roberto and his burden, a masculine identity that refuses to concede and mature.

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Although Roberto attracts girls who are interested in seduction his relationships with women are unsatisfactory.  Roberto may not be a rock star but in his world there is flattery, and it has not helped him understand the opposite sex.  The relationship with Monica, his ex-wife, is important because she is the one person who knows him. Their scenes, though, are underwritten. When Monica and Roberto meet, they do nothing more than provide exposition. The scenes between Roberto and Monica demonstrate how the plot of a thriller can undermine characterisation. More about the two people is revealed by his answering machine. Roberto has left the name of Monica on the message for callers. He is still dependant on her but this dependency is not explored in the script.


Flattery from admiring students is transient. The real friends of Roberto are his male colleagues and rivals. Roberto abuses his body with cigarettes and ubiquitous whisky but he has the idea that his training as a boxer will help him to remain potent.  Instead of intimacy with women he has competition with other men.  Gonzalo Ruiz Cordera is the young man that Roberto suspects may be the psychopathic murderer.  Roberto may have his issues, and the cigarettes and whisky do not help, but it would take a lot more than the fragility and vanity of a middle-aged man to believe Gonzalo is a psychopath after one brief conversation at a book launch. The suspicions of Roberto occur too early in the film.  The plot would have benefitted from his suspicions appearing after a subsequent encounter in an art gallery.  Even then Gonzalo has said little more than a rebellious know-all student. The relationship between the two men, though, is interesting. The naivety of Gonzalo and his links to the unrevealed past and youth of Roberto benefit from being obscure.  The sparse dialogue of Tesis Sobre Un Homicidio, though, does not always aid exposition.  A viewer has to be alert to understand just what and how Roberto is investigating.   Neither the theft of the keys to the flat of Gonzalo nor the significance of the supermarket bill makes much sense although the latter is a clever idea.


There are several movie references.  The water that falls from the bathroom shower into the glass of whisky is a neat variation on Psycho. The ending evokes the final shot in Citizen Kane. It suggests ambiguity except any sane viewer will form only one conclusion. Either that or ignore how the scene in the discotheque ended.  It does not matter too much.  If the two elements in the film do not always hang together, the proceedings move at pace and demonstrate gifted invention.

This week there has been familiar British indignation in an overheated Parliament about an international incident that deserves to be condemned but pales into insignificance when compared to the recent war crimes that the UK Government and its Russian foes have facilitated.  The talents behind Tesis Sobre Un Homicidio should not be criticised for struggling with a difficult cinematic challenge.  The film attempts to entertain and confront native weaknesses within Argentinian masculinity.  The ambition may be excessive but such objectives only exist within those who have a sense of responsibility. In British politics responsibility has been rare for some time. This week free school meals have been abolished for low-income families that earn less than £8000 per year. The elected representatives who passed this legislation claim each year on average £180,000 worth of expenses.  Tesis Sobre Un Homicidio examines the consequences of faded potency, paranoia, obsession and pathetic chest beating.  It is made by people who have a conscience. They should be welcomed even if on this occasion a not unpleasant result needs to be indulged.

Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.